Wanting to Feel Good and Look Good: Why Do We Do What We Do?

Sun Goddess

“Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” ~Shakespeare

Have you ever stopped to question why you do what you do? Or how it looks to other people?

I’ve done this pretty much all through my life. In fact, an outsider might say that I’ve spent more time analyzing my place in the world than experiencing it.

In some ways, this is true, and not uncommon for someone who’s chosen to be a writer.

As a young child I used to silently mouth the words of what I’d just said after every sentence I uttered.

Even as a kid, I felt this need to rethink my thoughts after speaking them, and because I was too young to realize it looked strange, I did this while moving my lips.

I wondered why I’d said what I’d said, and how others might have heard it.

This followed me through life, and later manifested in a desire to not only say the “right” thing, but also to do it.

Never was this more important to me than in my mid-twenties, after I’d spent the majority of my adolescent and young adult life self-destructing and unintentionally hurting others—something that, I feared, confirmed that I was a bad, selfish person (ironically, the same fears that led me to self-destruct).

I wanted so badly to be good. To do good. To look good. I imagined and hoped that this was the key to feeling good.

I didn’t want to be selfish—that was bad. So I concluded that I needed to be selfless.

I didn’t want to crave so much attention—that was bad. So I concluded that I needed to be humble.

I didn’t want to be or be seen as manipulative—that was bad. So I concluded that I needed to prove that I had good intentions.

In retrospect, I can see that these realizations and conclusions sparked my initial interest in the personal development industry six years back, and they informed how I did what I did.

When I was spending most of my time helping people, often sacrificing my needs to do it, I felt I was finally embodying everything I should embody.

I was putting other people first. I wasn’t hoisting myself into the spotlight. I was doing the right things for the right reasons.

I was being good. And as a consequence, I imagined, I looked good. And I finally deserved it.

No one in the outside world could possibly reflect back to me the former identity I found so shameful, because I was doing everything in my power to be the opposite of who I used to be.

This isn’t to say this was my sole motivation for making the choices I made; but I realize now these subconscious thoughts and beliefs underscored my conscious intentions and decisions.

Over the past couple years especially, as I’ve gone further down the rabbit hole of what it means to be authentic, I’ve realized that things aren’t quite so black and white.

Who I was before wasn’t bad, and trying to be the exact opposite isn’t good—but more importantly, I can’t be possibly be good to myself if I’m so focused on what’s bad and good.

And I can’t be good for other people unless I’m good to myself.

So what have I learned and changed as a result of this realization?

I’ve learned that I don’t need to focus first and foremost on serving other people—and that I don’t want to. Yes, I want to help others. But the question I want to answer first is: “How do I enjoy serving others?”

And I want to ask this question without repeating it my head, like that little girl moving her lips, questioning if it’s bad or selfish to say that.

Because I’ve realized this is the grey area: finding the sweet spot between what makes me feel good and how I can use it to do good.

That means writing some, editing some, and leaving myself time for new projects, both related to Tiny Buddha and otherwise. 

I’ve learned that I don’t need to worry about being humble—and that I don’t want to. No, I don’t want to let my ego run the show. Still, the question I want to ask is: “What do I really want to do with the attention I get?”

Because I’ve realized this is the grey area: knowing it’s okay to want to be seen, so long as it’s not to confirm that I have value, but rather with a confidence in the value of what I have to share.

That means putting myself out there more when opportunities come up, as I did recently when an editor friend invited me to be part of a feature in a nationally distributed magazine.

Lastly, I’ve learned that I don’t need to worry so much about proving my good intentions. Because ironically, when I’m worrying about whether or not I appear to be doing things for the right reasons, I’m disconnecting myself from those reasons.

I now know my intention more clearly than ever before:

I enjoy helping people by sharing my experiences and insights and enabling others do the same; it’s neither selfish nor selfless, neither right nor wrong, neither good nor bad.

It’s what’s right for me and my vehicle to do right by others; it’s what makes me feel good and my vehicle to do good in the world.

It’s blissfully grey, and yet illuminated by a renewed sense of purpose. And as a consequence, I’m no longer metaphorically mouthing those words, wondering why I said them and how they sound to others.

Now I have a why that’s based in joy, not fear. And the clearer I’ve gotten on that why, the more it’s shaped my how.

Why do you do what you do? Does that affect how you do it? And do you feel good about that?

Photo by learning_machine

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha and Recreate Your Life Story, an online course that helps you let go of the past and live a life you love. Her latest bookTiny Buddha's Gratitude Journal, which includes 15 coloring pages, is now available for purchase. For daily wisdom, follow Tiny Buddha on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram..

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  • I do what I do because my actions bring forth results that I know propel me forward in the right direction. Lately it is like everything is just falling in place and it’s because I’ve planted these seeds from before.

    It feels great actually and I wake up every morning proud of what I’ve done. Things can only get better if I keep the attitude of building upon the blocks already there. The future is exciting, Lori, and I’m doing what I am because it’s bringing results.

  • Razwana

    There is a fine balance between being selfish, selfless, humble and egotistical. For me, it is easy to detach myself from what makes me feel god and be guided by what will make me look good to others.

    I do what I do because I want to help people have direction in their careers. They can take profit from my experience. And it makes me feel great when I see results – but *my* feeling great is not the end goal.

    – Razwana

  • I think I used to try to “help” people all the time, because I had felt so helpless so many times throughout my life. I realized this recently, and have cut back on trying too hard. We can’t help the world if we haven’t helped ourselves.

    I was exactly like you (except I didn’t move my lips, I just rehashed what I just said over and over and over again in my head before and after). It made me so nervous doing this that I developed a lisp, which made me even more self-conscious than I already was.

    It’s so funny looking back at my life now and seeing the bigger picture – the reasons I did all the things I have done. It almost makes me laugh sometimes, because it is obvious now that I can look at my life as a whole.

  • Jen K.

    Great article!
    When it comes down to it, it’s the difference between focussing outward (other peoples’ approval) and focussing inward (our own experience and approval).
    When we focus inward our lives open up!

  • Lorrie Jones

    I do what I do because I feel great joy in participating in mentoring and inspiring others to rediscover their goodness…and in doing so, make healthier choices in life. I have learned that to do a small thing (one client at a time) with great love (as it has been said) is how I can contribute…to a world at peace. Thank you for this wonderful post.

  • Akemi Gaines

    “And I can’t be good for other people unless I’m good to myself.”
    I think this is the realization we all need. So many people self-sacrifice for a good, well-meaning reasons rather than self-nurture.

    Deep down, this comes from the myth of separation, I guess. If your interest and my interest conflicts, then one of us has to give way to the other, right? But this universe is not made this way. We are all connected.

  • Graham Fraser

    The universe does work that way…. or there’d be two presidents of the US at any given time: a Dem. and a Rep.
    But every four years one gives way to the other.
    Can you explain this for me? I can’t follow the logic. Ice and water are connected, too…. and when ice damns a river it isn’t long till it gives way to the weight of the water.
    What am I missing?

  • Thanks for sharing! A great source of reflection, similar topic as in the famous TED talk of Tony Robbins which touches a very similiar question, I believe.

    Why do I do what I do? It fulfills me and it is less stressful if you know where you are heading. However, I do not believe that I have really changed my approach, I am still me. Developing slowly, one step at a time.

  • Uncanny how so many TB posts come just at the right moment; this one was wonderfully honest…

  • Shelly Miller

    Thank you for sharing your experience Lori. Knowing who you are is a life long journey, the rabbit hole never ends – when I realized this everything became so much more clear.

  • Akemi Gaines

    In human society, there are conflicts. For example, there is only one seat for presidency, so two candidates fight for it.
    On the invisible level of energy, we are all interconnected. If I steal something from you, I might get the stuff, but I lose things like trust in honest relationships, trust in my ability to have it in a proper way, etc. And even though these are invisible qualities, gee, I bet they are dearer than the stuff I steal.
    There is another way. If I earn it, I get the stuff plus more self-confidence. You keep your stuff, and you inspired me to have it. I call this the expansion of the universe.

  • That’s wonderful, that everything is falling into place. If you wake up feeling proud of yourself, there’s nothing better than that! =)

  • You’re most welcome, and thank you! I’ve concluded the same thing, and it’s liberating to realize that. Ironically, knowing that I will never stop learning about myself makes me feel more comfortable with who I am in this moment; I know I never need to be “finished,” and therefore it’s perfectly okay to be exactly where I am now.

  • Thanks Nicholas. This was one of those ones I read, re-read, and then wondered if I’d said what I meant to say–ironic considering the topic, I know! It felt like a risk to put this out there, but usually those are the ones I know I want to share because they feel so real.

  • You’re most welcome! I actually haven’t seen that talk, but now I feel compelled to check it out. As for your approach, that sounds like a great way to operate. =)

  • I think for me, I never thought so much about whether my interests conflicted with someone elses. I just went right to, “I need to focus more on yours than mine in order to be a good person.” It was a limiting belief that caused me a lot of stress, because I realized I’d never feel good enough. I could always find reasons to call myself “selfish” because regardless of what I did, I really wanted to look out for myself–and resented when I didn’t.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes we have to give way to others, but often when we don’t get what we want, we still get what we need. And even when it doesn’t seem that way, we can always find something we needed within whatever we got. There’s always a lesson to be learned. We receive even when we don’t; and oftentimes we give even when we don’t. It’s a paradox in that way!

  • You’re most welcome, and thank you for sharing your thoughts! I think that’s a wonderful approach, doing small things with great love. It’s so tempting to want to do “big” things, but I’ve found the little things create the big things.

  • That’s one way to sum it up! Approval-seeking has been a lifelong struggle for me. I once wrote that I popped out of the womb saying, “Look at me!” and then immediately said, “What are you looking at?” It was that need for attention/validation, combined with an insecurity about how I was seen. I suspect this is something I’ll continually work on and challenge all through my life. I know I’ve made great progress, but I’m sure there’s more to be made!

  • Your comment really struck a nerve with me, because I also felt helpless for a very long time. And I also had a lisp as a kid. I was in speech therapy for a couple of years, actually. I remember feeling afraid to say the wrong thing pretty much all through my childhood.

    I know what you mean, about how obvious it is in retrospect. Everything makes sense when I look back at where I’ve come from; it just took me a while to connect all those dots, not just intellectually but also emotionally!

  • That’s great that you have such a clear sense of purpose and that it makes you feel good! I really think that is the winning combination. If we’re only serving ourselves, we know something’s lacking; and it’s the same if we’re serving others without serving ourselves.

  • Ardent

    I absolutely LOVE this. Thanks so much.

  • Erica

    “…knowing it’s okay to want to be seen, so long as it’s not to confirm that I have value, but rather with a confidence in the value of what I have to share.”

    Wow, that statement really struck a chord with me. I’ve always been so focused on getting validation from others (in jobs, from men, and so on) and lately I’ve been trying to sever my attachment to that external validation. But it never occurred to me that I actually might have something of value to offer (wow, now that I just wrote that I realize how unhealthy it is).

    Thanks as always for your wisdom and guidance, Lori.

  • You’re most welcome. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  • You’re most welcome. This felt like a big epiphany for me too. I’m so glad to know that my story and experiences helped you!

  • Ian O

    I feel that it’s ok to ask why we do things, without getting a clear answer. I’m not sure why I make music, it is just something that happens. It doesn’t always give me joy, but there is enough satisfaction to keep it going. I’ve found the most valuable questions to be the ones that don’t have a clear or singular answer. This doesn’t make those questions meaningless, necessarily, but the open-ended nature of motivation renders your last three questions there rather open-ended for me, and somewhat difficult to answer.

  • I know what you mean Ian. I’ve found that, for me, the questions are often more important than the answers, because the answers change over time. But if I ask myself the right questions, I’m better able to access my intuition about what’s right for me in a given moment.

  • jerry friedman

    I have been reading Tiny Buddha for several months now. I had the opportunity to see you “live’ on a taped webinar you did and I must simply tell you, after reading this post, you have done a wonderful thing by creating a place, a community, where all the information and wisdom of out times can be shared. Let me assure you have done a beautiful, selfless, cool, smart, creative thing. Period.


    Jerry Friedman

  • You’re most welcome Jerry, and thank you for taking the time to write. I really appreciate that acknowledgement. =)

  • Alex

    For a while I have been having a battle with my thoughts about what is normal looking, such as healthy eating vs. unhealthy eating, and understanding if it is normal to be thin or to be thicker..this scares me because i am skinny but my biggest fear is having an eating disorder. I have been to the doctors and they have told me that I don’t have one but my fear stems from my sister’s eating disorder… I just want to be completly free from my thoughts and not worry about my size or if i am too skinny, i just want to be confident and okay with the way i look.. after reading this article it brought me many memories because i too was living for others and not for myself. I love to help out community but I have to help myself out before I can lead that step..
    If you have any suggestions I would greatly appreicate it

  • Hi Alex,

    As someone who struggled with an eating disorder for a long time, I understand what it’s like to have body-related worries and fears. A few questions: How old are you? Are you underweight? Do you believe your eating habits are unhealthy, or is it more than you worry you’re “too thin”?


  • Alex

    Hi Lori,
    I am 20 years old and I weigh 115 & I am 5’2. I worry I am too thin but would not like to be obese. I like having a fit body , however i get confuse as to what is healthy eating. But at the same time i would like to feel comfortable in my own skin

  • Hi Alex~ You’re within a healthy weight range for your height! (I know because I’m around your height and weight.) I can understand wanting to be fit. Do you get regular exercise? I find this helps my state a mind a great deal (in addition to helping my body) since it releases endorphins.

    In regards to healthy eating, I would summarize that as: eating a balanced, moderate diet without excessive restriction or overeating (including all food groups, healthy fats, etc); eating when you are hungry (not when you are dealing with emotions you want to avoid); and eating mindfully (so not eating quickly without really paying attention).

    Do you feel you do those things?