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Julia Matheson


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is happiness selfish?

I have to be real with you, the word happiness hasn’t always sat well with me.

(You might recall my stance from previous post such as: The Pursuit Of Happiness)

But my own personal definition of happiness* is slowly changing. It’s moving away from the superficial and frivolous, and merging towards deep fulfilment, peace and joy. (* Notice the power of language, and the meaning that we create from EVERYTHING? Sometimes you just need to stop, reflect and dust-off some words that have become clouded with pre-conceived judgement or expectation.)

Today’s modern world places so many demands on us, on our time and our energy. Most of us don’t even stop to ask ourselves – am I happy?

Often, we spend morning, noon and night doing and buying things for others. We take care of everyone else’s needs at the expense of our own. When we get home late, we are hungry and so exhausted that we lack the time and energy required to spend some time on us. It is as though the cookie jar filled with love is now empty, and there is not but a crumb of love left to give to ourselves.


– Sherri Simpson

Most women I coach tend to have difficulty putting themselves first. Carving out that previous ‘me-time’ for themselves – weather it be looking after their physical body (going to the gym, getting on their yoga mat, eating nourishing foods) spiritual body (massage, reike, healing, doing things they love) or emotional body (journalling, reading, meditation expression etc)

Or worse, sometime we act like martyrs, and think that happiness is a selfish frivolous notion and that we need to actively choose un-happiness to have a worthy life. Crazy huh.

Happiness, some people think, isn’t a worthy goal; it’s a trivial, American per-occupation, the product of too much money and too much television. They think that being happy shows a lack of values, and that being unhappy is a sign of depth.


Mastin Kipp explains it so wonderfully here:

“Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish. It’s self-ish. You have to have some level of self-focus and self-care in order to be able to have enough to give away.  If you are so worn out that you end up resenting those you are helping, what good is that to you or them? 

It can be scary to dive into self-care. It can be scary to take time for you. But it might be just what you need. Maybe clear out that packed schedule for some down time. Maybe take yourself out for some yoga, a massage or just take time for some good old fashioned silence. Maybe say no to all those people asking for your help — not because you’re selfish, but because dammit you need some rest! The world won’t come to an end if you say no to others so that you can take care of yourself. Though you sometimes might think otherwise, others can survive without you for a little while while you take care of yourself. 

Also, consider this – is it possible that you’ve been hiding from living your own dreams by putting all your focus on someone else and not on you? Hmmm… what a convenient distraction from your dreams! I’m not suggesting that you abandon those whom you Love, but what I am asking is have you abandoned yourself in the process of taking care of others? If so, what might getting yourself back look like?”

So not only could denying yourself of happiness be abandoning yourself and your dreams, but it also has an adverse affect on the people around you.

You think that it’s selfish to deeply love yourself and create a life that you’re crazy about. Well, FYI, your misery is affecting everyone – aging your mother, depleting your father, annoying your brother, depressing your friends, scaring off new ones, and rippling through the lives of every person. It is infinitely more selfish to remain miserable.

–  Saren Stiegel

Misery ripples through the lives of every person you come into contact with, have you ever thought about that? Hows that for a truth bomb?! It might be hard to hear, but start to entertain the thought that your mood, your behaviour, your outlook on life, has a direct impact on others. This is no longer just about you. It can be uncomfortable to hear that, I know.

Gretchen Ruben in her “Happiness Project” explains it bang on – “The belief that unhappiness is selfless and happiness is selfish is mis-guided. Its more selfless to act happy. It takes energy, generosity, and discipline to be unfailingly light hearted, yet everyone takes the happy person for granted.”

She goes on to say “Striving to be happy isn’t a selfish act. After all, one of the main reasons that I set out to become happier in the first place was that I figured id have an easier time behaving myself properly if I felt less anxious, irritated, resentful, and angry; when I reflected on the people I knew, the happier people were more kind, more generous, and more fun. By being happy myself, id help make other people happy. And vice versa. Do good, feel good; feel good, do good.”

The other argument I wanted to cover, and perhaps the most serious criticism of happiness: it’s not right to be happy when there is so much suffering in the world. This is a HUGE one. But happiness and service to the world are not actually mutually exclusive. Here’s some of the science to back it up:

Studies show that happier people are more likely to:

  • help other people,
  • more interested in social problems,
  • do more volunteer work,
  • and contribute more to charity.
  • Plus, they’re less preoccupied with their personal problems.
  • So being happy actually makes you more likely to help aid suffering in the world.

So there you have it, incase you needed a gentle reminder – looking after yourself is NOT selfish.

There is always enough love to go around.

Love yourself first.

It will allow you to take much better care of others.



Some criticise a focus on self-love and enjoyment as selfish or hedonistic, but its neither. Enjoying life and helping others – or feeling good about yourself and increasing the greater good, are not mutually exclusive. One does not preclude the other.

– Hugh Mackay

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