C.S. Lewis Reflects on his Ideal Day and the Difference between Selfishness and Self-concern

For if I could please myself”¦I would choose always to breakfast at exactly eight and to be at my desk by nine, there to read or write till one. If a cup of good tea or coffee could be brought me about eleven, so much the better. A step or so out of doors for a pint of beer would not do quite so well; for a man does not want to drink alone and if you meet a friend in the taproom the break is likely to be extended beyond its ten minutes. At one precisely lunch should be on the table; and by two at the latest I would be on the road. Not, except at rare intervals, with a friend. Walking and talking are two very great pleasures, but it is a mistake to combine them.

The return from the walk, and the arrival of tea, should be exactly coincident, and not later than a quarter past four. Tea should be taken in solitude”¦for eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably. At five a man should be at work again, and at it till seven. Then, at the evening meal and after, comes the time for talk, or failing that, for lighter reading; and unless you are making a night of it with your cronies, there is no reasons why you should ever be in bed later than eleven. But when is a man to write his letters? You forget that I am describing the happy life I led with Kirk or the ideal life I would live now if I could. And it is an essential of the happy life that a man would have almost no mail and never dread the postman’s knock.

Such is my ideal, and such the (almost) was the reality of “settled, calm, Epicurean life.” It is no doubt for my own good that I have been so generally prevented from leading it, for it is a life almost entirely selfish. Selfish, not self-centered: for in such a life my mind would be directed toward a thousand things, not one of which is myself. The distinction is not unimportant. One of the happiest men and most pleasing companions I have ever known was intensely selfish. On the other hand I have known people capable of real sacrifice whose lives were nevertheless a misery to themselves and to others, because self-concern and self-pity filled all their thoughts. Either condition will destroy the soul in the end. But till the end, give me the man who takes the best of everything (even at my expense) and then talks of other things, rather than the man who serves me and talks of himself, and whose very kindnesses are a continual reproach, a continual demand for pity, gratitude, and admiration.

–C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (Harcourt Brace, 1956), pp.141-144


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3 comments on “C.S. Lewis Reflects on his Ideal Day and the Difference between Selfishness and Self-concern

  1. Terry Tee says:

    I am one of those people left cold by C. S. Lewis. Too often he writes platitudes or truisms. Sometimes, by contrast, as in the final paragraph quoted here, he becomes bafflingly convoluted and intestinal. Sorry, all you C. S. Lewis fans, including presumably that good Oxford man Kendall. Lewis is too much like Kierkegaard, that other wallower in unnecessary self-torment.

  2. Milton says:

    Perhaps Kierkegaard wallowed in self-torment, but I find no instance in either Lewis’ own writings or descriptions of him that fit that category. Apparently Lewis knew some people who were either selfish or “served” only others in whining martyrdom. Come to think of it, I’m sure most of us could bring to mind people who tortured us with their “service” 😉

  3. Dcn. Michael D. Harmon says:

    Terry: De gustibus non disputandum, but I regard your comments about Lewis, who has inspired literally millions of readers, as I would the words of a person who said he took no joy in ice cream or disdained 12-year-old single malt, or looked at gorgeous sunsets and didn’t exclaim, “Praise be to God!” as the light faded. I hate to tell you, but the Bible is chockablock full of platitudes and truisms, too.