Research Shows Focusing on Others Brings More Happiness than Self-Focus


So much of modern life emphasizes a focus on self, and yet unhappiness is at epidemic proportions, while both psychologists and the Bible advise the opposite of emphasizing helping others.

Rejecting Self-worship in a world that emphasizes focusing on yourself

“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”

– James 3:16

Advertisers have given us a slew of slogans that speak to our sense of self.

· “Because You’re Worth It” – L’Oreal

· “Think Different” – Apple

· “The relentless pursuit of perfection” – Lexus

· “Have it your way” – Burger King

· “Just Do It” – Nike

· “No Rules, Just Right” – Outback Steakhouse

The above slogans are all about us: Our needs, wants, and imply that we deserve “perfection” and to “have it” our “way” because we’re “worth it,” no matter what anyone thinks. After all, we “think different,” and there are “no rules” to hold us back, so we should “just do it” whatever it is.

The above are just a sampling of the slogans we have constantly bombarded with that use the psychology of self-focus to manipulate us.

The self-help/self-esteem movements

It’s not only advertisers that are giving messages of self-worship to the world. The self-help/self-esteem movements played a considerable role in the self-focused mindset that many people have Today.

Many articles on the Internet claim the self-esteem movement began in the 1980s, although its origins go back much farther. It evolved out of the self-help movement, which began with the establishment of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935. Some argue it really hit its stride in the 1950s when Norman Vincent Peale released his self-help blockbuster, The Power of Positive ThinkingPeale used a biblical approach, but others moved away from having a strong influence on theology as the movement progressed.

Another milestone self-help book was “I’m Okay, You’re Okay,” written by psychiatrist Thomas Anthony Harris in 1969, which reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list in 1972. An explosion in the self-help genre followed. In the 1980s Anthony (Tony) Robbins dominated the field with books like “Personal Power” and “Awaken the Giant Within.”

Social media: Boot camp for narcissists?

A 2018 study looked at participants between the ages of-18-34 and found that higher amounts of social media use predict higher levels of grandiose narcissism. Subjects who posted large quantities of photos and selfies demonstrated a 25 percent increase in narcissism. Specifically, people who used platforms such as Facebook and Instagram and others, which focus on images rather than words, became more narcissistic over time, the Newport Institute reported.

A 2019 article on Psychology Today also reported that research found strong associations between aggressive “grandiose narcissism” and a whole range of social media behaviors, including the frequency of posting selfies, tweets’ frequency, and time spent on social media. Further, there were differences in narcissism between Facebook and Twitter. Those with narcissism high in “superiority” feelings prefer Twitter, while those with narcissism high in “exhibitionism” prefer Facebook.

One thing psychology and the Bible agree on: caring for others

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

–Philippians 2:3

Numerous psychological studies have shown that we may benefit more from helping and giving to others rather than focusing on ourselves.

A caption from Psychology Today article read: “New research on well-being shows the importance of putting yourself second.”

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

– John 13:34 

According to the results published in the journal Psychological Science a 2019 study showed people who spend money on others experience a larger boost and happiness than spending on themselves, at least in the short term.

“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

– Luke 6:38 

Jesus taught that the best sense of self is one of self-denial and putting others first.

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'”

–Matthew 16:24

Psychological studies seem to indicate that we are more fulfilled and happier when we show love and contribute toward the happiness of others.