And then my roommate lent me a collection of addresses by an old Cambridge professor named C.S. Lewis who had already written down the lesson I was trying to learn, in "The Weight of Glory," words both eloquent and insightful:
If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love.
Lewis goes on to claim that instead of trying to be unselfish, we should endeavor to love better, others and ourselves. And it makes sense: Love thy neighbor as thyself.
God has promised us blessings in heaven we can't now imagine. This is no mere bribe, says Lewis. This contributes to two things--first, if we love ourselves then we will desire the best for ourselves, which is exactly what God wants to give us. Wanting good things for ourselves is a way of actually attuning our own will with God's. Second, if we love others, then we will want to help each and every one of them to achieve the blessings of exaltation too:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. [...] There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.
So, the problem is not wanting too much, it's wanting too feebly. Lewis says,
we are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us [...]. We are far too easily pleased.