Merriam-Webster defines the word selfish as follows:
Concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself: seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others.
Sounds bad, doesn’t it?
Not something you’d want to aspire to…
There are two parts of the definition that make the idea of “good” selfishness a hard pill to swallow.
Firstly, the word “excessively” which describes a person who only and always thinks of themselves.
Secondly, the phrase “without regard for others” which describes a person who doesn’t care how their actions impact the people around them.
If we remove those parts, we have a possible definition of “good” selfishness:
Concerned exclusively with oneself: seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being.
That’s a bit better, isn’t it?
Perhaps selfish is not even the right word. Maybe self-serving or self-indulgent or self-centered are better options.
But as with selfish, these words get a bad rap in today’s society.
Let’s talk about why they shouldn’t.
Here are 14 reasons why being selfish is good – within reason, of course.
1. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
It’s a common saying used to promote self-care, but it really is true.
If you are physically, mentally, and emotionally drained, how do you expect to be of any service to others?
You can try to help others and work yourself into the ground, but the value of your input diminishes along with your personal well-being.
In other words, if you’re not looking after yourself, you can’t look after others.
So selfishness – the good kind – is necessary in order to make a positive contribution to society and the lives of the people around you.
2. You avoid resentment.
How do you feel after you have given your all for somebody else?
That will partly depend on how thankful they are and if they ever return the favor.
But it also depends on whether you make self-care a priority.
If you have gone above and beyond in order to help someone, but you feel run into the ground as a result, you’ll likely be filled with resentment.
If, on the other hand, you set reasonable limits on the amount you are able to give, you will hold on to the warm feeling that comes from being of services to others.
Some self-sacrifice is often a good thing. Just don’t take it to extremes.
3. You’ll have time to work on your physical and mental health.
You know what it’s like when you’re run ragged trying to take care of everyone else… you let your own care suffer.
You eat more junk food, you exercise less, and you don’t check in with how YOU are feeling.
As soon as you start to be a little bit more selfish, you create time and space to work on your health.
You can make nutritious home-cooked meals.
You can follow an exercise regime or play sports you enjoy.
And you can do things that nourish your mind.
4. You can develop your skills.
It can take a long time to become good at something. It takes practice and perseverance.
If you are forever giving up your time to other people and causes, you won’t have time to develop the skills that matter to you.
You won’t be able to learn new things or improve the ways in which you do certain tasks.
You will struggle to excel at something if you aren’t able to dedicate some time to practicing it.
So selfishness is necessary for self-improvement.
5. You can follow your goals.
As with skills, goals do not achieve themselves. They require grit and determination… and time.
You can’t expect to make progress toward your goals if you are too busy serving the needs of other people.
By ring fencing a proportion of your time to spend working on yourself, you can maintain steady forward movement in the direction of your goals and dreams.
This has other benefits too. You will feel more satisfied with your life and more motivated to help others when you can see the things you aspire to getting ever closer.
6. You’ll have more time for self-reflection.
It’s important to check in with ourselves from time to time in order to ensure we are living the kind of life we wish to lead.
Self-reflection allows us to examine how we feel about what we are doing now so that we can adjust our efforts to focus on the things that are of greater importance.
This could be assessing our goals and aspirations to make sure they are still a good fit for us.
It could be asking where we can be of most help to others so that we spend more time on those things.
Or it could be identifying things that we don’t wish to do anymore.
You may also like (article continues below):
- How To Invest In Yourself: 4 Things That Give The Best Returns
- 10 Ways Being Too Nice Will End Badly For You
- What It Really Means To Be Kind To Yourself: 9 Ways You Can Show Self-Kindness
- 7 Priorities In Life That Should Always Come First
7. You’ll realize your independence.
When you are wrapped up in the lives of others, it can be hard to see and value your own independence.
When you take a step back, you’ll realize just how capable you are of looking after yourself.
And when you remember how independent you can be, you’ll appreciate it all the more.
You’ll start to take better care of yourself and you will feel more confident in your abilities.
You’ll feel more comfortable being alone and won’t seek to fill every waking moment with solving other people’s problems.
8. You’ll be more resilient.
Part of being selfish is looking after yourself. By doing so, you’ll be in a better position to deal with the setbacks of life.
We all face times that are either painful or difficult or both. If you are well-rested, generally happier, and have a handle on your main duties, you’ll feel better able to cope with such setbacks.
Selfishness also means you are more willing to forego other commitments in favor of getting through the difficult times you face.
You won’t be overburdened by responsibilities and will have a little breathing room that you can use to address whatever issues crop up.
9. You’ll increase your self-worth.
The worth you see in yourself and the amount of time you spend working on/for yourself are directly connected.
And it’s a two-way relationship.
Yes, if you have high self-worth, you are more likely to properly care for yourself.
But the very act of taking care of yourself and making yourself a priority increases your self-worth too.
So being selfish means recognizing that you are a person who is worthy of your own care and attention. You don’t have to give it all to other people.
10. You won’t live by the expectations of others.
When you are entirely selfless, you give away control over the type of life you lead.
You are always at the beck and call of other people and thus you live by their expectations of you.
Equally, you may not wish to disappoint important people in your life – primarily your parents or partner – and so you do what they want you to do.
You follow a career path they set out for you, you dress how they want you to dress, and you act how they want you to act.
A little selfishness is good in these instances. Instead of falling in line and obeying their wishes, you can pursue things that are important to you, not them.
11. You’ll choose quality over quantity.
Are you suffering from FOMO – the fear of missing out?
So many invitations to do things and go places. So many people to keep happy.
So you say yes to everyone and everything because you think that’s what you should be doing.
But half the time you aren’t that keen on doing the thing or seeing the person.
In fact, you just want to stay at home with a good book or TV series.
Well, being selfish allows you to do that. It gives you confidence in your ability to say no.
It allows you to focus on the quality of the things that you do say yes to, so that you get the most enjoyment out of them.
12. Your relationships will benefit.
As has already been established, if you are always giving to other people, you have little left for yourself.
And if you are running on empty, you will not be able to maintain the bond that is so vital for relationships to remain strong and healthy.
In fact, you’re more likely to snap at others and generally be grumpy toward them.
So, as counterintuitive as it sounds, a little selfishness can actually be good for your relationships.
You will be better company to be around, you will have the energy to partake in proper conversation, and you will feel more caring and loving.
13. You will be more productive.
When you take care of yourself, you are better equipped to do all of the things you need to do.
When you don’t stretch yourself too thin with commitments, you can really focus on those that you do make.
So you will be more productive in all things.
At work, you will be able to get on with the job at hand whilst also thinking about your future career.
At home, you will be able to take care of your family without neglecting yourself.
You will actually get more done by being selfish than you would if you weren’t.
14. You will require less care from others.
If you spend your entire life involved in the concerns of others, there’s a good chance that you will need someone to take care of you.
Burning yourself out in the services of other people will make you more susceptible to physical ailments and mental health concerns.
At the very least, you will find yourself venting your troubles and frustrations onto those close to you.
So you have to ask yourself whether this is what you want. Do you want to burden a loved one because you are trying too hard to be all things to all people?
The answer you’re looking for is “no.”
How To Be Selfish – The Good Kind
By now you should be convinced that being selfish is good sometimes.
But remember that we are aiming for the good kind of selfish.
How do you know if you are practicing good selfishness? Well, it comes back to those things we removed from the original definition that began this article.
First, we removed the word “excessively.”
This means that you should be selfish within reasonable constraints.
A day of “me” time as a parent is no bad thing. Taking a week’s holiday whilst your partner looks after the children is probably excessive.
Saying no to a friend’s request for help when you really don’t feel able to is okay. Saying no to all of their requests for help will probably destroy the friendship.
Secondly, we took out the phrase “without regard for others.”
This means that your selfishness should not harm others or put unreasonable expectations on them.
Cooking a really spicy chili because that’s how you like it, when your partner and/or children like it mild – that’s the bad kind of selfish.
Signing your child up to a soccer team when they’d prefer to take dance lessons – that’s the bad kind of selfish.
To practice the good kind of selfishness, all you have to do is avoid being excessive with it, and take other people into consideration.
Do that and you’ll receive all the benefits above.