The New York Times has an op-ed today on the benefits of self-examination, or lack thereof:
What can we do to improve ourselves and feel happier? Numerous social psychological studies have confirmed Aristotle’s observation that “We become just by the practice of just actions, self-controlled by exercising self-control, and courageous by performing acts of courage.” If we are dissatisfied with some aspect of our lives, one of the best approaches is to act more like the person we want to be, rather than sitting around analyzing ourselves.
Social psychologist Daniel Batson and colleagues at the University of Kansas found that participants who were given an opportunity to do a favor for another person ended up viewing themselves as kind, considerate people – unless, that is, they were asked to reflect on why they had done the favor. People in that group tended in the end to not view themselves as being especially kind.
This is what I was talking about the other day when I said I don’t care why Bill and Melinda Gates give all that they do to help others. Not only is the benefit to the people receiving the aid the same regardless of the motives of the giver, but it also seems like just the act of giving has a positive effect on the giver.
As for the article’s general argument that self-examination can do more harm than good, I leave you with the words of Annie Savoy from the movie Bull Durham: “The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness.”