Why Do You Do Good–For Ego or Humanity?

I’m on a plane headed toward a conference filled with spiritual self-help authors. They’re committed to helping people live their best lives. At these events, I always hear people approach these celebrity authors and gush about how their lives were saved because of the books they wrote. I have no doubt these gushers genuinely mean it. It’s an honor to share the stage with these life-saving pioneers.

But something about all this keeps troubling me.

What Motivates Do-Gooders?

This past summer I got back from an event focused on what motivates visionaries to change the world. The conference was full of well-intentioned do-gooders trying to make the world a better place. Amazing things were being birthed as a result of this impulse to do good. But I couldn’t help wonder whether this impulse to be of service came from a pure, noble intention or whether it came from some sort of underlying sense of unworthiness or ego-driven motivation. In other words, why do we do what we do?

Some of my readers asked, “Who cares why? As long as the world is benefiting from these impulses, why question them?” Yet, as one of those self-help author do-gooder types who is committed to getting my own ego out of the driver’s seat and letting the Divine take the wheel, it matters to me.

Is Your Self-Worth Tied To Your Good Deeds?

I have a theory about all of this: I think those of us who commit to acts of altruism on behalf of making the world a better place do so because it makes us feel better about ourselves. Something within us doesn’t feel good enough, valuable enough and worthy enough unless we’ re devoted to helping others. We don’t believe that we’re good and valuable and worthy not because of any external action but because we all have within us a spark of the Divine which makes us inherently worthy. So we go out and help people, and people tell us how we’ve saved their lives, and then we feel more worthy. We matter because we matter to someone else. Then our worried, scared, “never good enough” egos feel better.

So what would happen if someone waved a magic wand and all the do-gooders suddenly woke up and knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that they were worthy — without all the accolades, affirmation and applause from those we’ve helped. Would they lose all ambition to help others? Would they just sit on a park bench and bask in our awakened worthiness?

I don’t think so.

The Pure Impulse To Serve

I think it’s part of human nature to feel the impulse to ease the suffering of other living beings. When Eckhart Tolle woke up and realized that everything he had ever desired existed right here in the present moment, he spent months sitting on a park bench, basking in the bliss of his awakened state. He suddenly knew he was a valuable, worthy child of God who didn’t have to do anything to earn that grace. But Eckhart didn’t stay on that park bench forever. At some point, a pure impulse to share with others the bliss of what he was experiencing in the present moment motivated him to write The Power of Now and A New Earth. I don’t think the sharing of this message was motivated by ego. I think it was motivated by this pure impulse to ease the suffering of others who were missing the bliss of the present moment by living in the past or the future.

This is all just my theory, but I now think we’re often motivated to do good things because we’re trying to feel worthier. But, it’s possible to know we are worthy and still serve others from a pure, clean impulse to ease the suffering of others.

I Can’t Do It

So as I get ready to speak to an audience of people I hope to help with my words. I am doing a worthiness meditation so I can get my ego in the backseat and let the Divine use me in service to those who might be suffering. I remind myself that I’m already good enough, valuable enough and worthy enough without gushing fans or long lines at book signings or getting to sit next to Louise Hay at dinner. I am asking for Divine guidance. I am realizing, ironically, that I am speaking at an I Can Do It conference, and yet, perhaps, as Tosha Silver suggested, “I Can’t Do It.” Or rather, I Choose Not To Do It — because I want to let the Universe do it instead.

That’s what I hope to relay to those I serve at this conference. I don’t want to just feed their scared, worried, “not good enough” egos. I want to help them remember that they don’t have to do it. If they get their egos out of the way and let the Divine take the lead, all will be well and they will finally find the peace they’re seeking.

Do You Feel You Must Help Others?

Generosity, altruism, charitable acts and self-help teaching are all great. Don’t get me wrong. But if you find yourself compelled to be of service, I invite you to examine your motivations. Are you trying to feed the hungry ghost of the ego, which never gets filled no matter how many people you help? Or are you motivated by that clean impulse to ease the suffering of others? Share your thoughts in the comments.


Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.  She is on a grass roots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.  Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities - HealHealthCareNow.com and OwningPink.com. She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.


Gautam Gigoo
Gautam Gigoo10 months ago

do good to others always i pray for their good lots of love and best wishes

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson3 years ago

Because I care I do what I can.

Julie C.
Julie C3 years ago

I remember an episode of "Friends" on TV when they talked about this. In the end, it doesn't matter to the people you help, as long as you don't make them feel small. I do feel better when I help people and I have learned to let other people help me because I know it makes them feel better. It's part of being human. Just don't brag about what a good person you are. If you really are a good person, people will find out on their own.

Anne K.
Anne K3 years ago

Thank you!

Tanya W.
Tanya W3 years ago

I do care 2 to make a difference... To give back to the universe and help those who need my assistance. It also make me feel good but I don't do it for ego! Only my family and a couple of friends know of my work on care 2. I don't do it for the recognition - it's my secret and I don't do it for the accolades.

Tanya W.
Tanya W3 years ago


Val M.
Val M3 years ago


Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vaga3 years ago


Rose Roma
Rose R3 years ago

You speak so sincerely and insist we believe you, but refer dismissively to others who are speaking with their own truth as "gushers". Still dividing yourself off into us and them. Real compassion is totally pure and appropriate. If prone to self examination (or stepping off to observe another) please do so
with an overall spirit of forgiveness.