Want to be Happier? You Need to Start Living for Yourself
Let me get this out of the way right up front. Living for yourself is not the same as being selfish.
I feel it’s important to say that because it’s the exact opposite of what we learn practically from the moment we’re born. We live in a society that values sacrifice. Our biggest public heroes tend to be people who give up what they want in order to help other people. We talk about “the greater good” and “being selfless” as great virtues. Children learn early on that “being selfish” is a bad thing
We also get early lessons on what “success” looks like. Successful people have a lot of money. They have a lot of friends. They get famous for the things they do. They have the power to do the things they want to do. They seem to be living lives that anyone would envy. We believe they must be happy — but we often find out that many of these successful people are deeply, miserably unhappy. How could someone with all that success, all that money, all that fame be unhappy?
The answer is simple. They’ve spent their lives living for someone else instead of doing the things that make them happy.
You don’t have to be rich and famous to fall into that trap, either. Many people are living the lives they think they should be living instead of doing things that make them genuinely, authentically happy. If you feel like you’re doing everything right, but somehow you still feel lonely or unhappy, this could be you.
Today, I’m going to talk about three things:
- Why Living for Others Is a Trap
- Why Living for Yourself Is Healthy
- How to Start Living for Yourself and Find Happiness
So settle in with your favorite beverage and start reading.
The Trap of Living for Others
I often talk to people who are unhappy and don’t understand why. On the surface, they have all the markers of success — a good job, a relationship, a lot of friends. They may own their own homes, have college degrees, or have a comfortable bank account. Even with all of that, they just don’t feel happy. Even worse, they often feel trapped and anxious. Why?
Three Reasons People Live for Others Instead of Being Happy
Very often, the reason their “success” doesn’t make them happy is that it doesn’t allow them to do the things they really want to do. In fact, they’re doing something they really don’t care about because they believed it was the “right” way to live. They believed the messages they’ve learned from their parents, their friends, their religion — even from the movies and shows and ads they see around them.
Let’s look at three reasons people stay in lives that make them unhappy instead of one built on doing what they truly want to do.
They followed the common “path to success.”
We all know what that looks like. Get an education. Find a good job with a “ladder” to higher-paying jobs. Find a partner. Settle down. Become a parent. It varies, but society gives us powerful messages about success, in business, in romance, and in life. Because of those messages, people often end up doing things they wouldn’t have chosen. I wrote about this a while back. Here’s a bit from that article that I think is important:
Even if you are able to achieve the status and success you were searching for, you likely still feel empty. Why?
Because you never wanted those things in the first place. And, because on the path to getting them, you spent less and less time with your loved ones, exploring your hobbies, and taking care of your body and mind.
They want to please other people.
This one is so common that it’s a popular theme in popular movies and fiction. It’s the guy who becomes a doctor because it’s how his parents measure success. It’s the girl who marries her high school sweetheart because everyone expects them to take that next step. It doesn’t stop when we become adults, either. There are people who stay in jobs they hate because they want to be “good providers.” Other people accept promotions they don’t want because their company “needs” them to step up.
It’s not just related to work, though. These are some other common ways that people make choices because they want to please other people, even though it makes them unhappy.
- Visiting their parents every weekend even though it means giving up other plans.
- Buying a house in the suburbs even though you love city life.
- Volunteering for things because you think you should or because you were asked by someone you like.
- Doing things you don’t enjoy because all your friends are doing them.
They want to be good people.
Like I said at the beginning, we learn very early that good people do things to make other people happy. This is a basic belief in nearly every world religion, and even among people who don’t belong to any religion. Good people do things for other people. We want to be a good person — a good son or daughter, a good spouse, a good parent, a good neighbor. So we do things we don’t enjoy — and that keeps us from doing things that are good for us.
Why Living for Others Is Unhealthy for Us — and The People Around Us
You may have heard the saying, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” Trying to live a life based on what other people need is exhausting. It drains you physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Unless you’re doing things to refill your “cup,” you’ll eventually run dry. When you’re exhausted, you can’t be fully present in your life — not for yourself, and not for the people you love. You may find yourself being irritable, anxious, or angry. If you do it for too long, you may even make yourself sick.
There has to be a better way, right?
Why Living for Yourself Makes You a Better Person
When you are genuinely living for yourself, you’ll feel better and be better able to do the things that are really important to you. Living for yourself means making yourself a priority in your life. It means making choices that are healthy for you. It means saying no to things that drain you and keep you from being happy.
Here’s the important thing, though. Living for yourself does not make you a bad person. You don’t have to be a jerk to prioritize your happiness and live a life that’s centered on yourself. In fact, it can be one of the best things you do for yourself and for the people you love.
Five Things to Do to Start Living for Yourself
- Evaluate your life. Figure out where you spend your time and what makes you happy or unhappy.
- Figure out where you want to be. Once you know what makes you unhappy, figure out what you want to do that makes you happy.
- Set goals for yourself. Once you know what makes you happy, set goals that help you move towards making them part of your daily life.
- Avoid toxic people and activities. Learn how to avoid the things that make you unhappy and unwell.
- Focus on getting and staying healthy. Health is one of the most precious gifts you can give yourself and those around you. When you make your wellness a priority, you are making a decision to stick around and enjoy your life for a long time to come.
Living for yourself is healthy, not just for you, but for all of your relationships. By making your goals, happiness, and health a priority in your life, you are taking the first step to living a happier, more fulfilled and fulfilling life.
If you are looking for more tips and tricks to change your life for the better, check out my book Life Hacks: Simple Steps to a Healthier Life.
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