How A Joy Practice Makes Your Ego Your Friend

The Cambridge Dictionary defines the ego as your idea or opinion of yourself, especially your feeling of your own importance and ability

The definition of the ego varies according to who is defining it and there are many different perspectives about it. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, in psychoanalysis, the part of a person\’s mind that tries to match the hidden desires (= wishes) of the id (= part of the unconscious mind) with the demands of the real world is how they define ego. 

Many spiritual traditions define the ego as a part of us to eradicate, a part of us that is undesirable. 

So it is fair to say that the ego is a complex topic that we will not look at exhaustively. It is not our purpose to argue for one group\’s definition over another. What is apparent, however, is a general perception that the ego can be a source of problems, and to many, eliminating it is the answer in life if you want peace and harmony. 

Ego Problems

To eliminate the ego, though, which is your self, is to eliminate many things that are unique to you and that can contribute to your participation in the world. Your ego is where you experience the relationship between yourself and the world, and it can be comfortable or awful, depending on many things. 

We grow up in a highly competitive world right now, and so ego is often felt as the behavior of those who are ruthlessly competitive. Egoic behavior can be how individuals support themselves after a lot of disappointments – a way of propping themselves up. 

There is an additional wrinkle about ego. In hierarchical systems, which are prevalent as the social system of choice, those more elevated in the hierarchy often receive more entitlements than those who are lower in hierarchical status; when we talk about ego in these situations, we are talking about someone behaving in an exploitive manner toward others, presumably socially inferior. 

Those hierarchical entitlements or privileges are often a form of abuse but can be perceived as ego manifesting in harmful ways. 

A Healthy Ego

Because we have so many problems with the ego, to many people, it is something to dispense with – an unfortunate part of us. However, our ego is essentially our executive function, the part of us that takes action in the world. We need to be able to take action in a healthy way. So, what does a healthy ego look like?

A healthy ego has the ability to access and integrate many facets of life: self, others, social, cultural, and natural, and work with them in an intelligent way. It has 

  1. self-regard and self-appreciation. 
  2. a grounded sense of self in the world
  3. knowledge of self, including the good in oneself,
  4. an ability to see needs for improvement and self-development, and a willingness to do so.
  5. gratitude as a foundation for living.
  6. a connection with reality.

A healthy ego combines humility and self-appreciation, groundedness with ambition, kindness and compassion with honesty, and respect for all life, including one\’s own. 

A healthy ego creates a grounded, generous, and authentic person. A person with a healthy ego is a contributor rather than simply a competitor, and I know that is an oversimplification, but it is worth considering. Our world pits one against another in endless games of favoritism, rejection and dramas about who is in and out. These competitive dynamics do not bring out the best in people usually, except for some skill-based activities like sports. It is a social construct that creates social antagonism. 

It is worth noting that when we discuss the ego as a competitor, we are talking about the self operating in the world from a relatively limited perspective. Is there another approach that can help us?

How A Joy Practice Helps Us

A joy practice shifts our interests, intentions, and purpose to be constructive, caring, and serving the common good. In doing so, it takes us out of unnecessary competition and helps us to be our best while giving our best as a contributor to quality of life in the world. It has a more ecological perspective, an investment in creating quality of life and thriving, so its interest is different.

Conquest and victory are not important goals. Quality of life and thriving are. So a lot of the unhealthy ego behaviors that create harm are not really an interest when an individual has a healthy ego and an interest in quality of life. I think it is a relief for each of us and others when we operate this way. It opens up newer and greater possibilities for collaboration, something we need more of in the world.

It is also a relief, knowing we can create a friendlier world. 

Photo by Mark mc neill on Unsplash

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