A friend of mine who studied World Religions in grad school is fond of quoting a famous religious leader of the fifth century:
"If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And, if not now, when?"
The point he says is that being good to yourself, and doing what you need to fulfill your life, is something that is blessed. I agree with him. Self-love is the key to happiness, and that happiness is contagious. Hillel isn't the only person in history who has written about the necessity of self-love.
The Buddha said, "You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserves your love and affection."
Those statements put the seal of approval on loving oneself as being a good and healthy thing to do. The message is loud and clear. We need to love ourselves and treat ourselves well. It seems simple and straightforward.
The problem is that too often love of oneself is erroneously seen as being selfish. Call it our heritage from the Puritans. Call it the time-honored dictates of religions that subtly demand sacrificing for others, and you have people who will look askance at anyone who puts themself first in life. Sacrificing your life is "good" and is seen as a virtue, but the word self becomes a four letter word when it is attached to love. If you put your life first, you're selfish and therefore "not good."
The theory of self-love cannot, and should not, be equated with selfishness. True selfishness is nothing like self-love. Selfish people are those who wear blinders. They are immune to anything or anyone around them. In the mind of the selfish person, the world revolves only around one person, and that person is him or herself.
There is a huge difference between selfishness and practicing self-love. When you love yourself, you are your own best friend, and a best friend is always there to help, guide and be kind. In reality "being there" for yourself is a healthy way to live.
Certainly going for regular medical check-ups and having early detection health tests, such as a mammography or a prostate check, is a form of self-love. Even something as simple as the routine of going to the dental hygienist to have your teeth cleaned shows care of self. Why should going after a personal goal be any different?
How is pursuing a dream and putting your own life first wrong? You care for your physical self through health-wise decisions; why not care for your emotional and mental self by loving yourself enough to make the decision to be first in your life?
Too often we see a successful person as someone who is selfish and self-serving. This is far from the truth. A successful person is one who makes sure that they are reaching goals and pursuing personal dreams, but is still aware of others. One of the most successful and charitable woman in the field of entertainment was Lucille Ball. Her dictum was, "Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world."
Ms. Ball got what she wanted, but also was a powerful and positive force in the lives of many others. As successful as she was, she always remembered friends and family and was a generous benefactor to many people.
A form of healthy self-interest is a key ingredient in living a full and fulfilling life. Make your own needs and wants number one. This in no way is about ignoring your family members or friends; it's not about becoming self-absorbed to the point of narcissism. You need to love yourself enough to say no to others demands on your time and energy so that you have the time and energy for yourself first. Unhappiness is not being able to live your own life.
Making your own life a priority is not "selfish." In order to give the most and the best that you can to other people, you first must become your best. Happiness breeds energy, being miserable breeds anger and lethargy.
When you start putting your needs and desires first, you can grow and develop as a healthy and generally joyful human being. This is the only way you will be able to help other people do the same in their lives. If you learn to put yourself first, you will also feel less stressed-out, and your self-esteem and confidence will improve naturally.
Your life should never be written on the margins of the page; it should be centered and prominent. Invite yourself to the feast of life. Be a participant not an observer. Love yourself enough to put you first. Begin now.
© 2011 Kristen Houghton
To read more from Kristen Houghton, peruse her articles at KristenHoughton.com
You may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the book critics call "sane and savvy advice for all a must-read," ranked in the top-selling 100 books of 2011 by Tower.com "And Then I'll Be Happy! Stop Sabotaging Your Happiness and Put Your Own Life First."