Why you should be selfish to be happy

This article is in answer to some thoughts kindly shared by a reader who puts others first before themselves. It’s OK to be selfish for your own happiness. Period.

Let me explain why in this article

We need to do the things we want, to be happy for ourselves but also to positively impact others.

  1. If your boss gave you work that you found boring everyday, what would happen?
    You would start looking for a new job.
  2. Can you imagine if Federer’s wife told Roger she wanted to be a WAG and he had to become a pro footballer and not play tennis?
    I’m sure he would be pretty good, but if he doesn’t like it, he won’t ever get to the top. He’s going to be frustrated.
  3. If your other half made you do things you don’t like doing in your free time – i.e. lets say every date night you go for Mexican food, and you absolutely hate Mexican (okay who hates Mexican food..? bad example but bear with me…) , eventually what will happen? Arguments, disagreements – breakup.

In all 3 instances (granted it’s a bit simplistic), for your own wellbeing – you need to say no, be “selfish”. Because by doing so, as a byproduct- you will help those you want to help.

Telling your boss No I’m not doing the boring work, and instead maybe offer to do other work the boss also needs done = happier employee, more productive, greater efficiency, you don’t quit, boss doesn’t have to find and retrain your replacement = you happy, boss happy.  

Telling your other half No we not doing Mexican food, but say how about Chinese?
Happy medium. Or if you really want to sacrifice for your other half, go for the Mexican, but eat something else before so you don’t have to eat so much Mexican.   

Going deeper into relationships:

Relationships are a bit more tricky with regards to saying “no”.

In the Mexican food example above – you might think – okay I could eat food before going to the Mexican restaurant, so that you don’t have to eat so much Mexican once there.
But why should I have to do that when we can both go to the Indian restaurant..?

Personally I think it’s great to be considerate.
It’s what makes relationships-  maybe your boyfriend likes football games and you absolutely hate them – however you make the effort. On the other hand- guys making the effort to go shopping with their other halves:

It’s give and take. However where do you draw the line?

Why do you have to be the one sacrificing and eating before.
Why do you have to wait for your other half to finish shopping or go to the football game?

Let me go off on a bit of a tangent and give you a personal example of when I was “selfish” to be happy:

Previously, I had a brief stint as a teacher – and it felt amazing to teach others, seeing their progress, impart knowledge.

I once had a student approach me asking for an extra half hour after class as they had difficulty understanding a concept.

The answer was: Why don’t you do some further reading first on the first principles, and we can revisit at a later time?
(Actual meaning= no sorry I couldn’t as I had a packed schedule and a ton of homework and other stuff on my plate).

Was I selfish?

No. Because agreeing that extra time would have meant a massive drain on my energy, pushed my already busy schedule back and subsequently the rest of my evening. Had it been 5 minutes, most likely I would have helped.

The result? The next day’s lessons for 5 different classes went ahead smoothly as I had planned and felt my students had learnt a lot.

Had I accepted the extra half an hour to help 1 student which would have impacted my wellbeing – the next day’s lessons for 5 different classes would be less detailed, enthusiastic (as a result of my energy levels being drained) in which case 100s of students would have been worse off.


Effectively, when it comes to drawing that line as to how considerate and nice to be, there is no right answer as it the case with a lot of things. Everything is dependent on situations, circumstances.

How about in the first example with your video game playing brother. However before the video games, he previously worked hard for the best part of 15 years before losing his job, wife and house.

How about if the student who approached me for extra time had spent hours and hours researching the topic in further detail but still didn’t understand, and always gave 100% effort to your homeworks, was a model student and helped their classmates?

Regardless of all the extra details and circumstances- what I personally think is that if you are ever questioning yourself about if you are being too nice/helpful/ putting others first, this is definitely a sign for some reflection, and to explore further with regards to boundary setting.

Yes I think everyone needs a degree of flexibility and consideration- to what extent is up to you to determine. Some might think not giving the half hour to the student is wrong, others may think giving 5 minutes is wrong – class is over and you’ve done your best during class time.

I had colleagues who would be happy to devote another 2 hours of their personal time to help a student asking for help (which probably explains why I didn’t pursue a career in teaching…).

Just remember that this is your one life and you need to live for yourself first– I’ve written an entire article dedicated to living for yourself here. Set the boundaries as you see fit.

As a byproduct of you being selfish to be happy – you will in turn make others happier as well as yourself than if you were miserable.

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