Sometimes I have problems logically reconciling my cold, capitalistic view of the world and my desire—nay, my personality trait—of wanting to help people. I probably spend at least a third of my spare time doing things for other people in some way or another, be it answering requests for support, writing code to help people, or et cetera. Yet, I have trouble lending things and even more trouble owing people things. Or favors. I have problems accepting gifts, yet tend to become annoyed when people do not accept mine.
I believe in a world where people follow their desires and does what benefits them. (I tend to not remember exactly which terms apply to which ideas. Capitalism is not really the right word here.) What I can't quite account for is why I, and other people, don't always act selfishly. Why do I write software that I don't myself have a use for, give it away for free, and then spend my time supporting it? Am I simply acting illogically? I don't think I am. No, I think that the reason is at least twofold: first, I recognize that it helps me develop skills that are useful in my trade, and gain much broader experience in the software industry than I otherwise would have; and second that it simply makes me happy. This philosophy doesn't dictate what makes me happy, rather that I should do whatever does make me happy. The act of doing things for other people is one such thing for me. There's no accounting for it. My own personal search for happiness merely includes things that benefit others as well.
This post is starting to sound like ego-stroking, and that wasn't the point. Like any other interest, it waxes and wanes. Sometimes I don't feel like being helpful to anyone. I think it may be sort of an outlet for any excess extrovert energies I may have—if I've been around people too much and need to switch into hermit mode, I'm a lot less likely to want to do things for people for a while, even if those things involve writing email or otherwise do not involve interactions with other humans.
Anyway, many weeks ago, I was at Taco Bell, and the cashier showed great interest in my necklace, demanding to know where I purchased it. I told him that I made it myself, and he excitedly asked if he could buy one. I said he could have one if I still had the stones and could find my equipment. I didn't want to get anything out of it; I just wanted to do something for someone. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get it to him yet—he no longer works at Taco Bell. I need to track him down, which shouldn't be too hard since I have his phone number somewhere. (Things would be easier without my introverted anxiety at calling random people on the phone.) It's kind of disappointing to decide to do something nice for someone only to have them not get any benefit out of it, robbing me of my satisfaction in seeing someone else become happier.
So I guess there's no complicated theory behind it. Just simple psychology—in the past, I've been rewarded for doing nice things for people in that their joy brings me joy. So, I'm more likely to continue those behaviors in the future. That sort of makes the behavior selfish even though it seems fairly selfless. Takes a bit of the magic out of random acts of kindness...