The more complete quote is this: 'Virtue is its own reward, and brings with it the truest and highest pleasure; but if we cultivate it only for pleasure's sake, we are selfish, not religious, and will never gain the pleasure, because we can never have the virtue.'
John Henry Newman; Author. Profession: Clergyman; Nationality: British; Born: February 21, 1801; Died: August 11, 1890
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I am of an age where I went to school in the 40's and 50's; I was exhorted to do well by doing good. That is, I should strive to succeed in all things as a matter of virtue.
But when I asked what I would get from that, teachers and parents responded with some version of the Newman quote above. “We could and should expect that we would help others by our success and that we would be content with that.” The unspoken corollary was that if I wanted some more direct reward, then I would be bright and industriousness enough to find it myself.
Then one day it happened that everything I was responsible for exploded at once. After some introspection, it dawned on me that all I did was to make sure everything and every person was OK. It was exhausting. And, it didn’t work. None of them were OK.
It was hard in later life for me to switch from a mindset of being helpful to others to a mindset of looking for personal rewards. Most of my friends had no such problems; their selfish mindset was a given: Some of them just did not get the whole 'help others first' thing.
But, like me, some of us did.
And, some of my friends and I who accepted the premise of helping others first have reached a point in mid or late life when the 'giving to others' mindset has reached its end. Sometimes it happens that I cannot give any more. Sometimes the recipients of my gifts either do not show any improvement in their personal happiness or they do not show any gratitude. .
Then, I imploded. The emotional tank I gave from was empty and I could not give any more.
As a solution to the impasse, I tried to find in every situation those things which would refill my giving tank; and, to find those replenishing things before giving any more.
It wasn’t easy to change the giving mindset toward a more selfish mindset. The first step was to figure out what I actually felt. That was hard. A life of helping and/or providing for others first took some time to overcome.
At the start, just knowing what emotions I had was a big step. But then, I could start giving again after my tank was filled.
I lost some friends who could not adjust to the new me, and the people who remained are much truer friends. I started to experience happiness and joy. Then, I could find happiness in everything life provides and consider each day and each event as a gift.