The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

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Why do you (Dr.Kenner) claim love is selfish?






























(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


Dr. Kenner:      Tessie, you have a question about love and selfishness? 


Tessie:             Hi Dr. Kenner. I’m a high school student and someone gave me your number to call and talk to you about my term paper. After my term paper, I’m kind of trying to prove that love is inherently selfish and that’s not a bad thing. I kind of just wanted to get your opinion on that and what you think about it? I saw you have a quote on your web page by Ayn Rand and I’m focusing on her for my essay and I just want to get your thoughts.


Dr. Kenner:      For people listening, Ayn Rand is my favorite author.


Tessie:             Mine too.



Dr. Kenner:      She is the author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. I’m one of those people that can say she changed my life, or I changed my life after reading her ideas. The whole idea of selfishness, let me give you first an example, and then you can guide me where you want to go. When I was at Brown University, I wanted to be good. I wanted to be a nice person, Tessie. When I dated, I remember one boyfriend in particular, I tried to do everything for him. I bent over backward. I went to the restaurants he wanted to go to. I bought him with money I had earned at a little ice cream restaurant that I worked at and I worked in catering, I bought him a cashmere sweater. And I did so much for him and the more I did for him, can you tell me the result?


Tessie:             Yeah. It sounds like my first boyfriend. It doesn’t work. You need to be selfish. I just think love is selfish. You’re making yourself happy and there’s nothing wrong with that.


Dr. Kenner:      See, the conventional term, the conventional use of the word selfish, what most people think of as selfish as, “I’m going to take advantage of everybody. I’m gong to walk over them, so if I have a boyfriend, I’m going to wag my finger and he’s going to obey. And I’ll make him pay for me. Maybe I won’t even have to work, I’ll just get my nails done all day long and do nothing else, sit by the pool.” So that’s when most people hear the word selfish, they say that’s the last thing I ever want to be. What they don’t think about is selfless, without a self. That’s the worst thing you would want to be. Well, both of them are bad, equally bad. Because when you’re selfless, you make yourself into a doormat and there’s no “you.” I wasn’t choosing what restaurant I wanted. I wasn’t making the decisions on maybe what movie I wanted to go see. It was me being in his shadows thinking I was the good wife – I wasn’t married to him, but that’s what they called it in the 1950s, the good wife – and I just became more and more depressed. I did not want to go the bitter route. A lot of people come to see me nowadays, they grew up in the 50s and say, “I spent my whole life taking care of my husband and my kids and now it’s time for me!” But they’re so cynical and bitter that it’s really hard for them to enjoy their lives. It’s too late. Don’t do that to yourself.


What Ayn Rand says is that is a false alternative. You don’t have to give up yourself and you also don’t take advantage of anybody else. You don’t take advantage of your romantic partner. Instead, it’s win, win, win, win, win all the way. You both win. You both respect each other’s minds. You both deal with differences by learning where each other is coming from, learning the context and coming to some compromise or understanding of why you might have a difference, and learning how to resolve it. That is what Ayn Rand calls the virtue of self-valuing, self-interests, selfishness. I’m going to pause for a minute. Jump in.


Tessie:             This is great. This is exactly what I wanted. In Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, the two characters for your listeners, Dagny and Hank are the two central characters, and they believe in these values. How do you think they kind of portray them through their relationship, their affair in the novel?


Dr. Kenner:      You mean how do they portray self-valuing?


Tessie:             Yes, and their selfishness and their love for each other? How is it that these two people can love each other but be selfish at the same time? 


Dr. Kenner:      If you have the wrong definition of selfishness, you can’t get anywhere, right? But if you know that what they are immensely attracted to are the virtues of character in one another. They’re both productive. They’re both ambitious. They both are honest. They both have joy or want joy. Dagny more so than Hank, but Hank comes alive with Dagny. He’s able to experience a side of himself that he hasn’t been able to in his God-awful marriage. I don’t want to do too much plot spoiling here, because if anybody hasn’t read Atlas Shrugged, it is the novel of a lifetime. It’s worth picking up right now. It’s also on mp3 and CD, you can go to any bookstore and get it or if you want to.


Tessie:             My mom has the 1950s copy and she gave it to me to read and now it is just falling apart. The covers are broken off. I’ve had to tape them so many times. Because I write notes in it and I kind of keep a journal with it.


Dr. Kenner:      That is absolutely phenomenal. I once went to an author, my favorite children’s parenting book, I brought the book to be signed by her, and my book was so well-used like that, instead of bringing a brand new book to have her autograph. She loved it. She said, “Oh my gosh, it’s so wonderful to see a used book.” Someone that really read and digested what she did. So you’re doing that. Atlas Shrugged is fabulous. It liberates you to love your life, to go after happiness and to build yourself into a person that’s lovable. So listen, also, I have a book that Dr. Ed Locke and I have written, you can check it out on or at Thank you so much for your call.


Tessie:             Thank you very much.



Dr. Kenner:      You’re very welcome. I’m Dr. Ellen Kenner. 


Movie clip        

Male 1:             Can I get two couches in my office? Because if I have friends come over, I want them to feel comfortable.

Male 2:             What office?

Male 1:             Frank was nice enough to give me some sort of creative executive position.

Male 2:             You gave him the job that I wanted?

Male 1:             I’ve been getting your coffee and doing your work for five years now. When I started here, I was promised advancement opportunities. And breaking that promise, to me, is unacceptable. (sound of CRASH ! )


Dr. Kenner:      That is from Anger Management and even though I knew that was coming, it still rattled me. I’m Dr. Ellen Kenner and my show is The Rational Basis of Happiness. I’m a clinical psychologist. How do you handle your anger? When things feel unfair to you, that’s where the motion of anger comes from. It’s your mind’s evaluation that this is not fair. I’ve gotten your coffee. You promised me a promotion. You promised me advance or opportunities for it. I’m not advancing. Obviously, who would want to advance that person? But there are situations where you’re just pushed to the limit and you’re ready to blow. You don’t want to blow. You want to be able to handle yourself so you can reflect back on it maybe five years later and say, “I was cool in a crisis. That was an awful crisis but I kept my dignity” and you might even move ahead that way and have a more likely chance of moving ahead in that case.