My partner is such a good guy that he always seems to effortlessly put others before himself.
It’s the thing I admire most about him.
Because, although I’m not proud to admit it, I know that I have a selfish streak.
I can be reluctant to put myself out for the sake of others.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the special qualities that make someone selfless.
Here’s what I’ve concluded about these types of people…
1) They are humble and don’t see themselves as special
I mean, we’re all special. But that sort of makes nobody special in the process. Everybody has equal intrinsic value.
People who put others first, don’t think they have any more right to happiness and health than anyone else in the world.
So they don’t get trapped in entitlement.
This modest humility also ensures that those who consistently put others first don’t seek recognition or praise for their actions.
Instead, they get pleasure from knowing that they have made a positive impact. After all, research shows that helping others out does increase our own well-being.
I’ve certainly found this to be the case and have always got a glowing feeling when I do something like donate to charity.
But here’s my confession:
When I do something nice, I also can’t seem to help myself and feel the need to let someone know about it. Even if I do it in a “casual” way as if it’s no big deal.
It’s almost like my act of generosity doesn’t count if nobody knows about it. That’s why I know I still have some work to do around humility.
2) They are kind and actively care about other people
It’s probably obvious that in order to put others first, you have to give a damn about people in the first place.
That’s why kindness is a trait that radiates from individuals who prioritize others before themselves.
It’s not just every now and then, they do it consistently.
Their genuine concern for the well-being of others drives them to lend a helping hand, offer a listening ear, or help in whatever way they can.
Their compassionate nature means they want to alleviate suffering and make a positive difference in the lives of the people they encounter.
Part of this sensitivity towards others no doubt comes from empathy, as we’ll see next.
3) They are empathetic and can put themselves in other people’s shoes
Empathy and compassion often go hand in hand. But empathy goes beyond kindness as it creates a deeper sense of understanding.
Selfless people use their empathy to really get to grips with the experiences of other people, rather than focusing on their own side of things.
They can think to themselves:
If I were in that situation, how would I feel?
This helps them to not just understand where other people are coming from, but actively share in their emotions.
This makes it much easier to respond compassionately and offer support where it’s needed.
4) They are generous and happy to share what they have
I don’t think of myself as an ungenerous person. I do get pleasure from giving.
But generosity is another area where I feel some real shame about my selfish approach sometimes.
Let me give you an example:
The other day I was at a holiday gathering. It was at a bar, and there was lively music, along with food and drinks for sale.
There were some desserts that my partner and I had wanted to try, but the line was so long that we couldn’t be bothered to queue.
Out of the blue, one woman who was standing near us offered us a dessert, saying they didn’t need it and we should have it.
It was a kind gesture and got me thinking:
Would I have done the same?
If I had “spare” dessert, would I give it away or would I have taken it home for later?
The problem is that it’s so tempting to think of ourselves before others.
It’s easy to mindlessly justify selfishness and think along the lines of “I paid for the dessert, I queued for the dessert, so why shouldn’t I keep it”.
I know it’s just a small thing, but all of these small acts add.
To some people, generosity is at the core of their being. They think nothing of giving to others without expecting anything in return.
5) They are patient and understanding towards others
Selfless individuals often possess an abundance of patience. This allows them to put themselves out without it really bothering them.
Patience allows people who always think of others first to:
Sit and listen to your problems for hours on end because they know you are hurting.
Go to a restaurant that you prefer to eat at because they know it’s your favorite.
Tolerate activities that they don’t find particularly fun because they know its important to you.
They understand that life brings up a few frustrations and we’re not always going to get our own way.
Their patience means that they handle this with grace.
6) They are altruistic and think of the group
At its heart, putting others before yourself is in essence an act of altruism.
It involves putting someone else’s welfare first, even at a cost to ourselves.
Even though it’s fair to assume that selfishness should serve us the most, there is evidence to suggest that altruism is hardwired into us.
As noted in Greater Good Magazine from the University of California, Berkeley:
“Studies have found that people’s first impulse is to cooperate rather than compete; that toddlers spontaneously help people in need out of a genuine concern for their welfare; and that even non-human primates display altruism.
Evolutionary scientists speculate that altruism has such deep roots in human nature because helping and cooperation promote the survival of our species.”
Yet we’re also equally capable as a species of acting in our self-interest. Those who think of others first clearly lean more toward the altruistic side.
7) They are courageous enough to take risks for the sake of others
Let’s face it, it’s challenging enough to step out of your comfort zone for your own sake. That’s why doing so takes guts.
But there are people around the world putting themselves on the line, displaying bravery as well as selflessness.
They are the ones who will run into a burning building to save a stranger.
They are the ones heading into war zones to distribute vital aid.
Their deep sense of humanity overrides any fear for personal safety. This is partly due to the moral obligation they feel for others.
8) They are principled and show integrity
One common misconception of people that put themselves out for others is that they’re suckers.
They must be weak, otherwise, they would push their own interests to get ahead in life.
But rather than be meek and stand for nothing, it’s quite the opposite. These are some of the most principled people on the planet.
They believe in fairness, justice, and doing the right thing above all else — even above what serves them the most.
So they strive to always act in alignment with these noble values.
9) They have a positive mindset and like to see the best in people
Here’s what I’ve noticed:
The happier and more positive we are, the easier it is to share kindness in the world.
It’s the people in pain that do the most harm.
That’s why mindset plays a role in our ability to extend goodness to others.
When we take a positive approach, we actively look for the positives in the world around us too — that includes our fellow man.
You’re more likely to give people the benefit of the doubt.
An ‘every man for himself’ attitude usually grows out of negativity.
When you have an abundant mindset you don’t fear lack. You can give and share without feeling like it takes directly from you.
You always feel like there is enough to go around — enough love, enough kindness, enough resources for everyone.
10) They are compromising and know how to find a middle ground
The more self-absorbed we are, the more stubborn we become.
Getting our own way matters more than finding a solution that suits everyone.
That’s why people who are able to think of others are capable of compromise.
They put their own preferences aside for the sake of harmony and cooperation.
The goal becomes finding a situation where others don’t feel resentful.
Selfless people don’t mind not winning so that others don’t have to feel like they have lost.
Selflessness should never be at the expense of self-care
Being someone who thinks of others is no doubt commendable. But I think it’s also important to add a caveat.
Because that doesn’t mean we should constantly sacrifice our own needs and wants.
Giving to others is no longer a gift if you feel like it is stealing from yourself.
That’s why self-care and healthy boundaries are always a must.
People who always think of others before themselves use their remarkable qualities to unbegrudgingly share what they have.
That ensures that it doesn’t become a cripplingburden to them.
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