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Selfish vs. Selfless: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on December 30, 2023
Selfish behavior prioritizes one's own needs and desires often at the expense of others, while selfless actions put the needs and well-being of others first.

Key Differences

Selfish behavior is driven by self-interest and personal gain, whereas selfless actions are motivated by the welfare of others, often disregarding one's own needs.
Selfishness can strain or damage relationships due to a lack of consideration for others, while selflessness often strengthens bonds through empathy and altruism.
In selfishness, decisions are made based on what benefits one personally, whereas selfless choices are made with the intention of benefiting others.
Selfish actions may lead to short-term gain but can result in long-term negative consequences, whereas selflessness can foster community, cooperation, and positive social relationships.
Selfish behavior is generally viewed negatively in society, contributing to conflict and inequality, while selflessness is seen positively, promoting harmony and understanding.

Comparison Chart

Primary Concern

Own needs and desires
Needs and well-being of others

Impact on Relationships

Often detrimental, leading to conflict
Typically positive, fostering empathy

Decision Criteria

Personal gain and benefit
Welfare of others, often sacrificing own needs

Societal Perception

Generally viewed negatively
Viewed positively, associated with altruism

Long-term Effects

Can lead to isolation and resentment
Encourages cooperation and communal harmony

Selfish and Selfless Definitions


Acting to increase one's own welfare or advantage.
She was known for her selfish habit of always putting her needs first.


Characterized by altruism; unselfishly generous or concerned for others.
The firefighter's selfless bravery saved many lives.


Lacking consideration for others.
Her selfish attitude made it difficult for her to make friends.


Exhibiting a lack of selfishness.
In a selfless act, she shared her lunch with a hungry classmate.


Concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself.
He was criticized for his selfish decision to take the largest slice of cake.


Having little or no concern for oneself, especially with regard to fame, position, money, etc.
Her selfless volunteer work inspired everyone around her.


Marked by an absence of concern for the welfare of others.
His selfish behavior at work alienated his colleagues.


Putting the needs and happiness of others before one's own.
He made a selfless decision to donate his bonus to charity.


Prioritizing one's own needs over the well-being of others.
He selfishly refused to share his resources with those in need.


Acting without regard to one's personal gain or benefit.
She showed selfless dedication to the cause, never asking for recognition.


Concerned chiefly or excessively with oneself, and having little regard for others
A selfish child who wouldn't share toys.


Having, exhibiting, or motivated by no concern for oneself; unselfish
A selfless act of charity.


Showing or arising from an excessive concern with oneself and a lack of concern for others
A selfish whim.


Having, exhibiting or motivated by no concern for oneself but for others; unselfish.
In a selfless act of gratitude for saving his mother's life, Peter committed to giving money to his local breast cancer charity each year for the rest of his life.


The present quote doesn't illustrate the meaning very well.Holding one's own self-interest as the standard for decision making.


Having no regard to self; unselfish.
Lo now, what hearts have men! they never mountAs high as woman in her selfless mood.


Having regard for oneself above others’ well-being.


Showing unselfish concern for the welfare of others


(video game characters) Relying on their own actions and capabilities to be effective in the game, rather than on other characters.


Caring supremely or unduly for one's self; regarding one's own comfort, advantage, etc., in disregard, or at the expense, of those of others.
They judge of things according to their own private appetites and selfish passions.
In that throng of selfish hearts untrue.


Believing or teaching that the chief motives of human action are derived from love of self.
Hobbes and the selfish school of philosophers.


Concerned chiefly or only with yourself;
Selfish men were...trying to make capital for themselves out of the sacred cause of civil rights


Can people change from being selfish to selfless?

Yes, with self-awareness and effort, people can adopt more selfless behaviors.

Can selfish behavior be justified?

In some cases, prioritizing oneself can be necessary, but excessive selfishness is generally discouraged.

Does society value selflessness?

Generally, society views selflessness positively as it promotes cooperation and empathy.

How does selfishness affect mental health?

Selfishness can lead to isolation and strained relationships, impacting mental well-being.

Is selflessness always a good trait?

While often positive, extreme selflessness can lead to neglecting one's own needs.

Is it possible to be too selfless?

Excessive selflessness can sometimes result in personal detriment or being taken advantage of.

Are there benefits to being selfish?

In moderation, prioritizing one's own needs can be important for self-care and personal growth.

How can one become more selfless?

Practicing empathy, volunteering, and considering the needs of others can foster selflessness.

Can selflessness be harmful in professional settings?

Overly selfless behavior might lead to being overlooked or overburdened at work.

Can selflessness be taught?

Yes, through empathy and understanding the impact of actions on others, selflessness can be nurtured.

Does culture influence selfish or selfless behavior?

Yes, cultural values and societal norms can impact the prevalence of these behaviors.

Are children naturally selfish?

Children are often self-focused but can be taught the value of sharing and empathy.

Is selfishness a natural human trait?

To some extent, self-preservation is natural, but excessive selfishness is not typically innate.

Is altruism the same as selflessness?

Altruism is a form of selflessness, involving self-sacrificing behavior for others' benefit.

How do selfless acts benefit the doer?

Selfless acts can bring personal satisfaction, happiness, and a sense of purpose.

Can selfish people be good leaders?

While leadership requires some self-interest, excessive selfishness can hinder effective leadership.

Do animals exhibit selfish or selfless behaviors?

Animals can display both, often driven by survival instincts or social bonding.

How does selflessness affect personal growth?

Selflessness can lead to personal growth through empathy, understanding, and meaningful connections.

What are the signs of a selfish person?

A lack of empathy, prioritizing personal gain, and disregard for others' feelings indicate selfishness.

Can selflessness improve relationships?

Yes, selfless actions often strengthen relationships through trust and mutual respect.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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