When Is it Okay to Be Selfish?

11/28/2017 03:01 pm ET Updated Nov 29, 2017
 DigitalVision/Getty Images
DigitalVision/Getty Images

When is it okay to be selfish? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Sarah Knight, New York Times bestselling author of YOU DO YOU, on Quora:

It’s okay to be selfish when it’s not hurting anyone else, or when it would be helping you MORE than it would be hurting others. I write about this extensively in You Do You because I’m very passionate about proving to people that “selfish” is not a four-letter word. (And I think I know quite a bit about four-letter words…)

As I say in the book, in part:

I get it. “Don’t be selfish” is an axiom that’s been drilled into us since we were hanging out in the communal sandbox. Selfishness meant hurting others, or only helping yourself at others’ expense. If we exhibited it, we got scolded. Our parents told us not to be selfish with our toys. Other kids’ parents told our parents to tell us not to be selfish with our toys. We also may have gotten bonked in the face with the Nerf water gun we were trying to yank back from the kid who thought it was okay to “share” our brand-new birthday present before we had a chance to break it our damn selves. We were taught that sharing was caring, and, conversely, that not sharing was not caring—that if we didn’t give of our toys, freely and without restriction, we were being “bad.” It’s a good, simple lesson for young’uns who are just being introduced to the social contract, but it shouldn’t obligate us to give of OURSELVESwithout restriction, always and forever. We’re adults now. We understand nuance. And if you try to go through the sandbox of life being completely selfless and never selfish, you’ll wind up buried up to your neck with ZERO toys, and watching the other kids have all the fun. (Which, I might add, leaves you wide open for a bonking.)

Throughout You Do You (and indeed, all of my books), I keep coming back to the central idea that selfishness is a form of self-care, despite what this guy has to say about it.

It’s vital to your enjoyment of life to set boundaries on your time, energy, and money, and to create opportunities for yourself to relax and recharge. A lot of my practice of “selfishness” boils down to doing what I want, when I want—or not doing what I DON’T want. And if it’s not hurting anyone else, or hurting them less than it helps me, then I think that’s okay. (By the latter I mean, for example, turning down an invitation. Maybe my friend is disappointed that I won’t be at her baby shower, but she’s less disappointed—I guarantee you—than I will be if I DO go.)

I could go on and on about selfishness (and also the perils of selfLESSness, which I write about in You Do You as well) but in sum, also from the book:

The mental block a lot of people have against being selfish arises because we think of selfishness in terms of taking away from others. So instead, let’s think about it in terms of preserving our own wellbeing. Do you wear a seatbelt in the car? Sunscreen at the beach? Furthermore, do you go to sleep when you’re tired and drink water when you’re thirsty? If the answer is yes, you’re already a pro at protecting your own self-interests! And you have to be selfish about this stuff, because unless you’re an infant or a billionaire with manservants attending to your every whim, nobody else is responsible for doing it for you. Well, the same goes for protecting your happiness. It’s wonderful to have relationships with friends, family, and partners where you make each other happy—but all I’m saying is, if you forget to put on sunblock, whose fault is it that you got burned?

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