Selflessness and Societal Wellbeing

A more widespread adoption of selflessness is unlikely to lead to higher levels of societal wellbeing.

  •  Professor Mariano  RojasProfessor Mariano Rojas
    Completely disagree
    Regard for others may translate into greater societal well-being through many channels. First, having good intentions makes it more likely to take actions that benefit others. Second, people who know that others are concerned about their situation may get a greater sense of value and this increases their well-being. Third, acting in the benefit of others may also contribute the the well-being of donors. Fourth, selfless people who focus more on the situation of other people may be less focussed on attaining materialistic rewards; selflessness may produce a change of focus: from materialistic values (the realm of objects) to relational values, which contributes to generate societal wellbeing.

  •  Professor Ruut  VeenhovenProfessor Ruut Veenhoven
    Disagree
    A bit more selflessness add to societal wellbeing, among other things by reducing 'free rider' behavior

  •  Professor Ada  Ferrer-i-CarbonnellProfessor Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonnell
    Disagree
    Selflessness behavior is likely to increase societal wellbeing, as it has the potential to improve the well-being of a large number of individuals, while selfishness aims at increasing only onea??s well-being. If societal well-being is the (weighted) sum of individualsa?? well-being, it seems that selflessness has the potential to increase societal well-being. This statement of course assumes that selflessness does not have a cost for the individual in terms of well-being, or at least the cost is smaller than the benefits for the others. The literature seems to show (ignoring causality issues) that individuals contributing to social capital are not unhappier than the others, which supports this hypothesis.

  •  Professor Bruno  FreyProfessor Bruno Frey
    Neither agree nor disagree
    Selflessness is often welfare increasing but may also lead to the promotion of the particular goals of the persons concerned which may deviate from overall welfare.

  •  Professor David  BlanchflowerProfessor David Blanchflower
    Neither agree nor disagree
    I don't know

  •  Professor Leonardo  BechettiProfessor Leonardo Bechetti
    Agree
    I follow the approach of Antonio Genovesi when saying that "if you care about yourself, and you are not crazy, than you should be virtuous and care about wellbeing of others" or similarly John Stuart Mill "Those only are happy, I thought, who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness, on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way [Mill, 1893, pg. 117]. My point is that "true self interest" is acknowledging that we are relational human beings and therefore taking care of others cannot be defined as selflessness. Or, said in other term, contributing to wellbeing of other is the best way of pursuing one's own interest

  •  Professor Heinz  WelschProfessor Heinz Welsch
    Disagree
    There is ample evidence that individuals who behave altruistically (e.g. through volunteering) are happier (more satisfied). Though it is not entirely clear which way the causation runs (from behavior to happiness or the other way round), some experimental evidence suggests that there does exist an effect of selflessness on happiness. Another strand of the literature suggests that altruism may be competitive, that is, the altruism of others reduces the altruist's happiness. I do not think, however, that the negative comparison effect eliminates the overall positive effect. With respect to environmentalism (taken as a form of altruism) there is also some evidence that a greener self-image is associated with more happiness, independent of actual green behavior. As to the "recipients" of generous/altruistic acts, there may be opposing effects. On the one hand, their objective circumstances improve. On the other, there may be sentiments of shame or embarassment. My gut feeling is that on balance societal well-being would benefit from more selflessness..

  •  Professor Wenceslao  UnanueProfessor Wenceslao Unanue
    Completely disagree
    Altruism, and the need for benevolence, are among the most important indicators of people and societiesa?? happiness. Our data show that altruism increases hedonic well-being as well as eudaimonic well-being, and not only at the individual level, but also in the workplace and at the societal level.

  •  Professor Paul  FrijtersProfessor Paul Frijters
    Agree
    This is a very tricky question because there is no easy definition of selfishness or any obvious mechanism to make a whole population more or less selfish. Yet, if we think of a selfish system as one that openly advocates the pursuit of self-interest as the motor of its economy via private ownership and profit-driven enterprise, then all the most happy countries are countries that openly have a place for selfishness: all the Northern European and Latin American places with high wellbeing are market economies that have a central role for materialism and private gain. Places that openly profess they are some form of selfless utopia (which is what you see in authoritarian places or countries dominated by a religious hierarchy) are not doing so well. It is also an old point of the defining pieces in economics, such as Bernard de Mandeville's 'Fable of the Bees' where he argues that a place where everyone is selfless and oriented towards the public good is dull, uncreative, somewhat poor, and bound to be taken over by more selfish and vibrant places. Wellbeing and some degree of selfishness are thus not each other's opposite.

  •  Professor Homa  ZarghameeProfessor Homa Zarghamee
    Disagree
    Selflessness entails taking on the wellbeing of others in one's own decision-making. Societal wellbeing is hindered by externalities in markets for private goods and freeriding in markets for public goods. If selflessness takes the form of internalizing societal costs of one's own behaviors, and internalizing the benefits to others of curtailing freeriding, then societal wellbeing is unambiguously improved. If, however, selflessness is a sublimation of self to, for example, violent groups that would engage in arms races with other groups, then societal wellbeing may benefit from focus on the self.

  •  Professor Martin  BinderProfessor Martin Binder
    Disagree
    More selflessness could lead to more volunteering, a stronger civic mindedness and civil society and a strengthening of our communities and social networks. I am convinced this would translate into a better world and more satisfied people in it.

  •  Doctor Maarten  Vendrik Doctor Maarten Vendrik
    Disagree
    By now it is well known from happiness research that giving to other people makes you happier. Hence, we can expect that when people become less selfish, they as well as the favoured other people will become happier. However, selflessness should not go too much at the expense of the satisfaction of one's own basic needs. Otherwise, selflessness may in the end lead to less happiness of the selfless person to such an extent that it is not compensated by higher happiness of people favoured by the selflessness of the selfless person. However, when everybody in a social group becomes more selfless, in the end everybody is likely to become happier. On a higher level of aggregation, when higher selflessness does not lead to less motivation to do one's best in paid work, societal wellbeing is then likely to rise as well.





If you look at the most satisfied individuals in surveys, they look more like Donald Trump than the Dalai Lama: they are on average richer, more extraverted, married with children, and self-absorbed.

  •  Professor Mariano  RojasProfessor Mariano Rojas
    Completely disagree
    I really do not know what surveys you are referring to. I have many surveys from Latin America where low to mid income people are highly satisfied with life. They do not have to be rich and less to be millionaries. Latin Americans are very happy and they are abnormally happier for their income levels; and the main reason for their happiness is that they are relational people. Latin Americans are not self-absorbed, they have a lot of non-instrumental relations, they care about their nuclear and extended family and about their friends and colleagues, and for them income is just a necesity and not a source of power, status, and humiliation of others. Of course, you do not need to be a spiritual leader (like the Dalai Lama) to be happy, but being a wealthy, materialistic and self-absorbed person is not the path to happiness and, less, to the happiness of those surrounding you.

  •  Professor Ruut  VeenhovenProfessor Ruut Veenhoven
    Neither agree nor disagree
    Happy people tend to be richer, more extraverted and married with children, but more 'self-absorbed'. They are also more satisfied with themselves, but not more 'serlf-centered'. Happiness rather facilitates openness to others

  •  Professor Ada  Ferrer-i-CarbonnellProfessor Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonnell
    Neither agree nor disagree
    Economist have largely focus on studying the role of the above mentioned variables (married, money, children, a?|) to conclude that there is a positive correlation between these and happiness. Nevertheless, there are other variables, such as leisure time, meditation, and contributing to an ONG that can also contribute to own well-being. Therefore, it is unclear who is happier. An important contribution to the literature would be to understand the causal relationship between social capital (leisure, etc.) and happiness, although we lack a good identification strategy.

  •  Professor Bruno  FreyProfessor Bruno Frey
    Disagree
    It all depends what concept of happiness is considered.

  •  Professor David  BlanchflowerProfessor David Blanchflower
    Neither agree nor disagree
    I don't know

  •  Professor Leonardo  BechettiProfessor Leonardo Bechetti
    Disagree
    They have higher income, they have a rich relational life, they have a succesful family and are not self-absorbed...the key for happiness is generativity, capacity of contributing to wellbeing of others and/or creating good relationships. I do not know about Dalai Lama but a great philantroper is definitely happier than Donald Trump. My comparison is between the actual role of Bill Gates and Donald Trump

  •  Professor Heinz  WelschProfessor Heinz Welsch
    Disagree
    Too many aspects are mixed in this question to allow for a clear answer. Clearly, richer people are more satisfied on average. But I presume that more wealth goes with a more materialist attitude which, per se, is detrimental to satisfaction. How are such diverse aspects to be weighted in a happiness function? While happiness research usually assumes that individuals have the same happiness function (meaning their happines responds in the same way to factors like wealth, family status etc.), I deem it unlikely that the homogeneity assumption applies to Donald Trump and the Dalai Lama.

  •  Professor Wenceslao  UnanueProfessor Wenceslao Unanue
    Completely disagree
    According to my knowledge, the most satisfied individuals are those who (1) pursue intrinsic life goals (e.g., self-development, altruism and relations), (2) satisfy their psychological needs (e.g. autonomy, competence, relatedness, (3) find meaning in life, and (4) behave in an altruistic and compassion way.

  •  Professor Paul  FrijtersProfessor Paul Frijters
    Agree
    This is a question about the characteristics of individuals who are more satisfied with their life. Like it loathe it, but indeed, in all the main datasets I know of from around the world, we indeed find that those who are more satisfied are more likely to be married, richer, with a family, and are more extraverted. The greatest uncertainty is around self-absorption. Self-worth, greater personal control, and greater 'Internal Locus of Control' are certainly strongly related to higher levels of life satisfaction, but these are not exactly the same as self-absorption which is a more extreme form of selfishness. Ali and Chamurri-Premuzic (2010) have an interesting paper on this, looking at 300 women from around the world, finding that "primary psychopathy was associated with greater intimacy, passion and commitment....individuals with psychopathic traits are expert manipulators." suggesting that life satisfaction and some types of extreme selfishness inherent in primary psychopathy are not actually opposites.

  •  Professor Homa  ZarghameeProfessor Homa Zarghamee
    Disagree
    Donald Trump is not problematic because he is rich, extraverted, married with children, or even self-absorbed. He is also not the average person with these traits. Nor is the Dalai Lama venerable for being less rich or extraverted, for being single and childless, nor is he the average person with these traits. I don't think either is representative of their demographic type, nor do I think either is important because of their life satisfaction.

  •  Professor Martin  BinderProfessor Martin Binder
    Disagree
    Are happier people really more self-absorbed on average?

  •  Doctor Maarten  Vendrik Doctor Maarten Vendrik
    Disagree
    On the one hand, people who are on average richer, more extraverted, and are married with children tend to be more satisfied, but on the other hand people who are more self-absorbed tend to be less satisfied. I expect the latter effect to be stronger than the sum total of the former effects, implying that people who look more like Donald Trump would tend to be less satisfied than people like the Dalai Lama.