The human experience is solitary. You will never be able to share a persons actual thoughts and feelings, so your experience is purely subjective. If only you share your entire experience, can the concept of a “selfless act” even exist?
Lets take the instance of tipping a waiter at a restaurant. If you tip him below 15% you are considered to be selfish, because you are keeping more money for your self. If you tip him more than 15%, you are considered to be selfless, because you’re sacrificing what could bring you pleasure for someone else’s sake.
I claim that they are both selfish decisions. You are in a way paying to feel good about yourself. The higher the number you write down for the tip, the warmer the feeling you’ll get when the waiter realizes your generosity.
Even in moral situations, when someone undergoes intolerable amounts of pain or even death to preserve the well being of another, the action is a result of your conscience not being able to tolerate an alternative. This makes the action a noble one, but nonetheless still a selfish one.
There is no escaping this. You cannot escape your mind, so you cannot escape making decisions that are biased to your own consciousness. Does this view remove a sense of meaning from your choices?
That’s up to you. Which feeling do you prefer, the feeling of keeping things for yourself [selfishness], or the feeling of being praised for your empathetic actions [still selfishness]? Whether you picked the former or the latter, the decision was made out of your own interest because the decision came from a mind that understood how you would be affected by the aforementioned decision. You picked the decision that resulted in a scenario your mind felt that you could deal with.
In order to abolish the notion that selfish actions are inherently bad, actions should be categorized as “positive” and “negative” actions (both being selfish). Positive selfish actions would be actions that are beneficial to others, while negative selfish actions would be actions that are detrimental.
Don’t let this realization depress you, look for more opportunities to be selfish in a way that’s beneficial for other people. Most people would agree it’s easier to focus on a goal if you know it will bring you pleasure, so think of how good it will make you feel to give. We can make the world a better place, and you don’t have to feel ashamed if you want that for selfish reasons. That’s what all of us want, some of us just don’t want to admit it.