Doing Good to Feel Good

Last week I watched an old re-run of Friends where one of the major plotlines of the episode was one of the characters, Phoebe, trying to prove to another character, Joey, that a selfless good deed is in fact possible.  Of course, the moral of the story was that in fact truly selfless good deeds do not exist, and that even the most difficult task to perform as a good deed is at least rewarded with the “good feeling” the person has for completing it.

This is kind of a popular “dilemma” in our culture.  I put “dilemma” in quotes, because I think it is a silly one to get caught up in.  Actually to be a bit more blunt, I think it is kind of dangerous to get caught up in.  The mindset that reprimands humanity for “feeling good” about doing good is kind of twisted when you think about it.  We seem to measure the goodness of the action performed by the amount of pain it brings us, as if our good actions are somehow “tainted” by the fact that we enjoy them.  “Well, so-and-so only does all of that good work because it makes him/her feel good.  It’s really kind of selfish when you think about it.”

I’m not arguing that we should only do what makes us feel good; I’m just saying that the fact that we feel good about doing good ought to be celebrated, and is not at all something to be ashamed of.  If the “good feeling” someone has about performing a particularly grueling task is all that will get that person through the task that will help another, then we should encourage positive feelings about helping others.  We somehow seem to think that we are only supposed to do things because they are “the right thing to do,” and that finding joy in doing the right thing makes it less right.  This is nothing short of insanity.  Our life and our actions ought to be motivated by what will make us truly happy in the long run, and helping others should certainly be on that list.