Selfishness in Reverse: How to Lovingly Give More of Yourself

“Selfish people are, by definition, those whose activities are devoted to bringing themselves happiness. Yet, at least as judged by others, these selfish people are far less likely to be happy than those whose efforts are devoted to making others happy.” – Dr. Bernard Rimland, Ph.D.

What does it mean to be self-giving? I (Les) like to think of it as selfishness in reverse. It’s a quality we must have if we want to love like Jesus did. Selflessness gives without the expectation of repayment or appreciation. It’s something we extend out of kindness and compassion.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in self-interest. If we’re honest, most of us struggle with being selfish. But self-giving can bring us tremendous joy–more than we ever thought possible. The key is learning how to break our habit of putting our interests first and shed the fear of missing out on our own wants.

How can we learn to put others’ needs first and practice self-giving in our everyday lives?

Cultivate Empathy

When we practice empathy, we put ourselves in another person’s shoes in order to imagine how they feel and think. If we’re not used to relating to people this way, it can take a little time to develop empathy into a habit.

As we begin to pay closer attention to the people around us, empathizing with them tends to have a snowball effect:

  • We gain new perspectives on their lives and struggles that we never had before
  • Then, we begin learning how to treat them the way we would want to be treated if we were in their shoes
  • We’re able to learn how to turn our full focus on the people who need us, becoming more attentive as we do so
  • Then, we can grow more comfortable playing second fiddle while we help meet those needs
  • We learn generosity–and how to love others as we love ourselves
  • Finally, we begin to put other people’s needs before our own

When empathy becomes a habit, it changes every aspect of how we approach our lives and the people in them.

Do Small Things with Great Love

Self-giving isn’t necessarily about doing a complete 180 and giving up ourselves entirely. It’s not about self-denial or giving up our own goals, rights, and dreams. Instead, it’s all about being willing to put others first–even in small ways.

We might think every act of self-giving should be earth-shaking. But it can be as simple as:

  • Encouraging your friend who didn’t land the job she wanted
  • Generously tipping a server who appears to be having a rough time
  • Offering to unload an elderly person’s groceries in the rain

Self-giving means living our lives in a way that promotes service over status. Take Jesus, for example. He tells us in scripture that He came to serve–not be served. One of my favorite examples of Jesus’s self-giving is the story of how He washed His disciples’ feet himself. It was a premeditated act of service–and a beautiful one. It was a small thing done with great love.

Go the Extra Mile

In Jesus’s time, Roman law required young boys to help carry the packs of Roman soldiers one mile from where they lived. This gave soldiers a rest from carrying their gear, but it was hard work for the boys who helped them. In order to only fulfill the law’s minimum requirements, boys would often place a stake one mile from their house so that they’d know when to stop carrying the pack.

But Jesus referenced this mile in one of His sermons, encouraging followers to go an extra mile if they were forced to carry a soldier’s pack (Matthew 5:41). In other words, do more than is expected of you. This is a guaranteed way to give of yourself every day.

Don’t Keep Score

We’re not truly selfless if we keep a tally of all the things we’ve done for people–and the things we expect from them in return for said favors. Keeping score is a surefire way to ruin a relationship. It means you’re keeping your self-interest front-and-center, while acting in ways that suggest otherwise.

If you really want to be self-giving, don’t pay attention to how much you’ve done. Don’t keep track. And don’t expect anything in return.

Want to learn more about how to love like Jesus?

In my new book, Love Like That, we take a deep dive into 5 ways Jesus loved, and how to love like Him in our own lives. To get free access to chapter 1, a 30-day devotional study, a copy of the Deep Love assessment, and more, pre-order your copy today.

If you’d like to join the Love Like That launch team, sign up here.

When we stop fighting to get our own way all the time, and when we learn to reverse our selfishness, we find our life. How have you found yours? Share your examples of self-giving (or the people in your lives who have made an impression through giving) in the comments section.


  • Dusten says:

    No comments yet??? Must be a lost art.

    I’ll go first. My neighbor approached me today to ask if I would help replace some damaged siding panels on his house. He knows I’ve been a professional exterior finisher for over 10 years and is offering to pay me for my efforts. I told him I would do it for free. It’s likely to take less than a hour of my time. But I’m sure my time spent with him will go a long ways in building a trusting relationship and showing them the love of Jesus.

    As I read this article an illustration came to mind when Les gave the simple examples of doing small things for someone. I thought of this word picture, when you give of yourself in a small way, imagine your handing them one of those small rubber balls that come out of a vending machine that is no bigger than an inch in diameter. But to that person receiving, it may seem huge like a massive beach ball that is 5 feet wide!

    Your small contribution to someone can have massive effects on their end. So go that extra mile, go above and beyond, it’s worth it!!!

  • Becky Hutson says:

    I love this term – selfishness in reverse!! I’m going to think on that today and see how I can put it into action.

  • Barb Burley says:

    Walking a mile in someone’s shoes is real perspective for empathy! Thoroughly enjoyed this practical article☺️

  • Stephanie Hallford says:

    Self-giving means living our lives in a way that promotes service over status.
    This is great advice. As a nurse, I experience compassion fatigue. It seems like I’m giving of myself so much that I burn myself out and just crash. Compassion fatigue isn’t a topic that is conversed about very often when it comes to the type of work your spouse does. One of my new favorite bible verses is Ecclesiastes
    9 Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
    10 If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
    But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
    11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?
    12 Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
    A cord of three strands is not quickly broken

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