Yesterday I was having a discussion with someone about volunteering for charity. I spoke about the kind of work that I’ve done and the kind of work I would like to do. After that moment I began to think to myself, ‘What is it that makes people want to do charity work?’. There is the simple - and mostly true -answer of good intentions and a heart determined to give back to a world that is so full of selfishness, but I think it can probably be a bit more complex than that.
It comes to the widely debated question: can we ever truly be selfless? In my opinion, we can but we have to redefine the word selfless. It isn’t the setting aside of your own gains, it is simply understanding that more can be gained later on. Every good deed is based upon the pleasure principle (yes, I went Freud on you), we simply want to feel good. There are two ways you can achieve this: immediate gratification and delayed gratification (no, these probably aren’t the same classifications given by Freud but I’m working off of memory and my own thoughts here).
Immediate gratification is the simple act of doing something because it will make you feel good straight away. This can apply to pretty much anything you do, I’ll give you an example. Say you’re walking down the street and you see a child fall over so you run over, help them up and tell them a joke and make them laugh. You’re clearly a lovely person - there is no denying it. But there is more to that, you’re instinct is immediate gratification in this instance, you subconsciously decided that the guilt you may feel later on for not helping the child is not worth it and so you will instead please yourself and avoid that suffering by helping them. Or maybe a simpler example is just eating a bar of chocolate now rather than later - chocolate is awesome.
Delayed gratification explains why we do things that don’t make us happy in the short term. So let’s say that you’ve just been through an awful heart-wrenching breakup and you feel like your soul is dying, your heart is bleeding and all that stuff people say when they are sad and it all feels world-ending. It sucks and it is awful, but you don’t text your ex (an immediate gratification) instead you wait out the storm until one day you wake up and you don’t want to text them. The pleasure was delayed so that a greater pleasure can be found later on.
You might feel that I’ve gone off on a tangent, admittedly I do it quite often, but here it is all part of the wider explanation. The pleasure principle defines us in everything we do, but in regards to charity work I think it is mainly the delayed we work for. It won’t always be fun, it can be hard work and sometimes boring, but the pleasure it brings about when you realise you’ve helped raise money to stop innocent animals being slaughtered or made a child smile is something that is worth waiting for.
I think that people do charity work to make them feel better about themselves, and that doesn’t take away from the fact that they are amazing people who are selfless (this post isn’t taking away from that, simply trying to explore what selfless really means). I have not done nearly enough during my lifetime - and the turning point is now - but I have to admit to the fact that volunteering is something that stems from a desire to be the best version of myself. It might not be that for everyone, but I think it is fairly common to want to help others so that you can not only change someone else’s life but also so that you can change your own.
So as per the norm, I have reached no solid conclusion on the matter, but I guess that is natural. The mystery of the human psyche isn’t really going to be solved in a random blog post about charity work, but hey, a girl can try.