Is self-development a first world privilege?

I’ve already written about happiness (not) being a first world privilege here.

Now this one’s about self-development. (As per James Clear: self-improvement is the improvement of one’s knowledge, status, or character by one’s own efforts. It’s the quest to make ourselves better in any and every facet of life.)

This sounds pretty universal. But still, our first idea of a self-developer might be a guy with a six-pack, stepping out of his red Ferrari to enter an air conditioned gym to start gulping an avocado-freshly squeezed orange juice for detoxification before warming up.


I kind of thought so and agreed with Tyler Durdan (another handsome six-pack guy) that self-improvement was masturbation.

But still, while I wouldn’t masturbate all day long (and for years) I’d think of ways of bettering the individual thinking – and achieving both happiness and positive changes on the outside world.

I’ve known for a long time that you don’t need a Ferrari, a million dollar or a six-pack to be happy. But what then? What do we need?

After traveling a bit in the world, often in quite poor areas (like in Myanmar, away from the main tourist sites) it seemed like having a family, health, a shack and some 3-10 euros a day is enough to smile, be nice and enjoy life.

While those guys had more feel for the family and community, needed (and wanted) less for themselves and had a completely different background I’d never connect their happiness to my (our, Western) self-development.

But Csíkszentmihályi’s Flow (I’ve written about it here) gave me a different perspective. Suddenly self-development (and the control of the mind) became something timeless and available for all.
Epictetos, a slave and Marcus Aurelius, a caesar both tried to control their minds – 2000 years ago, way before air-co. And so do people try in many parts of the world (I’ve written about this about Jordan here) to make their and their fellows’ life better.

Self-development, in my opinion, is NOT about external factors (getting rich, getting fit and slim, having a Porsche, etc.) but about internal ones / how we perceive life. Self-development is the control of the mind (that can happen through martial arts, cooking, friends, philosophy and hundreds of other things). Self-development is the basis of thinking we all have to (and every generation has to) learn for itself. Again and again, as human history continues.

As Csíkszentmihályi argues: “There are literally thousands of such volumes in print or on the remain­der shelves of book-stores, explaining how to get rich, powerful, loved, or slim. Like cookbooks, they tell you how to accomplish a specific, limited goal on which few people actually follow through. Yet even if their advice were to work, what would be the result afterward in the unlikely event that one did turn into a slim, well-loved, powerful million­aire? Usually what happens is that the person finds himself back at
square one, with a new list of wishes, just as dissatisfied as before. What would really satisfy people is not getting slim or rich, but feeling good about their lives. In the quest for happiness, partial solutions don’t work.”

My wife, after having been told that I plan to become a self-development person she said I’d cater to a select few, mainly far from my country. She argued that I’m trying to find purpose in something that’s just not very important.

I disagree. My earlier turning points on this topic were
1. thinking through important things (is it really more important to teach someone to learn and write than teaching him engineering at the university?; is it more important to feed everyone than making technological inventions?, etc. – I’ll translate that article to English soon, in Hungarian it’s here)
2, reading a long article from Wait But Why.

“Society at large focuses on shallow things, so it doesn’t stress the need to take real growth seriously. […] religions tend to focus on divinity over people, making salvation the end goal instead of self-improvement. The industries that do often focus on the human condition—philosophy, psychology, art, literature, self-help, etc.—lie more on the periphery […]. All of this sets up a world that makes it hard to treat internal growth as anything other than a hobby, an extra-curricular, icing on the life cake.
Considering that the human mind is an ocean of complexity that creates every part of our reality, working on what’s going on in there seems like it should be a more serious priority. In the same way a growing business relies on a clear mission with a well thought-out strategy and measurable metrics, a growing human needs a plan—if we want to meaningfully improve, we need to define a goal, understand how to get there, become aware of obstacles in the way, and have a strategy to get past them.”


I think I have the right personality for this. I care about the inside, the serious, the growth. Here I come!
As “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (WHO), self-development is part of creating well-being and raising the quality of life. Primarily (but not necessarily) to those who are healthy and interested. Let their income be 1 US or 100.000 US a day.

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