”But, in the first place, even though virtue is sure to bestow pleasure, it is not for this reason that virtue is sought; for it is not this, but something more than this that she bestows, nor does she labor for this, but her labor, while directed toward something else, achieves this also. As in a plowed field, which has been broken up for corn, some flowers will spring up here and there, yet it was not for these poor little plants, although they may please the eye, that so much toil was expended — the sower had a different purpose, these were superadded — just so pleasure is neither the cause nor the reward of virtue, but its by-product, and we do not accept virtue because she delights us, but if we accept her, she also delights us.
The highest good lies in the very choice of it, and the very attitude of a mind made perfect, and when the mind has completed its course and fortified itself within its own bounds, the highest good has now been perfected, and nothing further is desired; for there can no more be anything outside of the whole than there can be some point beyond the end.
Therefore you blunder when you ask what it is that makes me seek virtue; you are looking for something beyond the supreme. Do you ask what it is that I seek in virtue? Only herself. For she offers nothing better — she herself is her own reward. Or does this seem to you too small a thing? When I say to you, “The highest good is the inflexibility of an unyielding mind, its foresight, its sublimity, its soundness, its freedom, its harmony, its beauty, do you require of me something still greater to which these blessings may be ascribed?”
Seneca, (On the Happy Life, 9)
I struggle with the motivations for my decisions: am I doing what is best for my self and others because it is right decision, or because I am seeking to be seen by others as a good person (and therefore have the excuse to tell myself I am)? I have come to the conclusion that in the end it does not matter. I am unlikely to ever achieve perfect altruism in my actions, and to attempt to do so wastes my mental energy and time in useless self analysis.
I will do the right thing because it is right, not for the praise I give myself or expect from others. Rather than analyzing the decision beforehand for the motivation, I will look to how I feel about the reactions of others (or lack thereof) afterward.
If I am largely indifferent to the reactions (or lack of reaction), then my motivations were properly for the best. If I am offended by criticism, self satisfied by praise or annoyed that no one noticed, then I know my motivations were more driven by my self interest (the monkey mind seeking praise and self importance) than by my rational self.
This does not mean that I cannot do things that benefit myself – if anything most decisions and actions that I take are for my benefit. What I need to watch for however is my inner motivation – whether it is to feed my monkey through expected praise or the congratulations/envy of others, or because it is the right thing to do, regardless of whether others notice. That is what I will strive to make my benchmark.