Learning to be Selfish to be Happy
“When empathy turns to sympathy, others might see you as a bleeding heart”.
I came across this phrase earlier this week while reading an overview of a personality test I had to take for work. Every personality exam that I’ve taken has always ranked empathy as my most prominent characteristic. Though I’m incredibly grateful for this quality, I have found that my empathic tendencies can also lead me to consistently put others before myself.
Since I’ve graduated college and moved to a new city, I regularly started to do some self-reflection. Through this self-reflection, I discovered that the absence of selfishness in my life and my inability to put myself first have greatly impacted my ability to grow as an individual and experience self-fulfillment and happiness.
About a month ago I made the decision to start being a little more selfish and truly focus on the things I want in life. I began to really listen to myself and think about how I feel before jumping to the rescue of someone else. For example; previously if I was having the “worst day ever” and a friend contacted me in need I would have dropped everything to listen even if I was a mess myself. Typically, once my friend finished discussing their own problems, I would notice that I started feeling worse. When the conversation ended, I would feel the impact of both my “worst day ever” and theirs. This past month, rather than taking on someone else’s problems when I was struggling to come to terms with my own, I made the decision to tell them I was not feeling great and ask if I could give them a call back. While this sounds incredibly small, it truly has improved my happiness.
I also chose to be more selfish with the time I gave to others overall. Living in a sorority house the past two years and overall a college life bubble, I had gotten very used to being with other people nearly 24/7. I had basically forgotten how to have alone time. I have been challenging myself to find at least half an hour every day that is completely my own. By having my own time, I have discovered and rediscovered many things I love to do. I have been recreationally reading books for the first time in probably five years, journaling, taking photos, and doing these seemingly small activities and more for myself has greatly impacted and improved my life.
Overall, I had this moment of clarity where I realized that I am 22 and if I’m not selfish now… when the heck will I be? Your early twenties should be all about trying new things to determine what you like and what you want out of life. It is okay to be selfish from time to time, it does not make you a selfish person! While I still love to help others I had to learn to put myself first. If you want to be happy with the life you are living you have to be selfish every once in a while. I’m not telling you to completely ignore your friends in their time of need, but if you need to take care of yourself before you can help them then do it! If they aren’t understanding that you need some time for yourself then maybe take a look at your friendship and determine whether or not you’re getting back as much as you’re putting into that relationship. If empathy is also one of your most prominent characteristics, it will definitely serve you in life. But remember you must be conscientious of what you need from life too!