Everyone is selfish (yes, even you). But selfishness can be either unhealthy or healthy. "Healthy selfishness," as I like to call it, can be thought of also as self-love.
Most of us have been taught to think selfishness is a bad quality — and it certainly can be. But it's not admirable to neglect mental, emotional and physical well-being, and to live in the world with stress, resentment and a lack of joy.
Nature was designed to thrive through self-love. Think of an apple tree, which could not offer oxygen for us to breath, apples for us to eat, or shade for us to find shelter beneath if it did not take care of itself — absorbing water and light from the sun to grow strong and healthy.
As an integral part of nature, we were designed to function optimally through practicing self-love. Our bodies, hearts, and minds not only work best when we give ourselves what we want and need most to be well, happy and strong, but the natural byproduct of this dynamic is that we also have much more to give to others and to life.
Yet so many of us have spent, or still spend, the majority of our lives perceiving selfishness as negative, bad, wrong, unhealthy and sinful. We please others and put ourselves either second or last when dealing with family, friends, and partners.
The truth is that even when we try to avoid selfishness in these ways, we are still selfish. This kind of selfishness is self-destructive, often masked as a celebration of selflessness. In this way, we limit our experiences by limiting our thoughts about ourselves. We are giving ourselves exactly what we want: we are keeping ourselves down.
I often joke with my clients that I'm one of the most selfish men you will ever meet. Five days a week, I work with clients individually, supporting them in their difficult processes to overcome mental, emotional and physical suffering, and to achieve their eventual life goals. I've now helped over 10,000 people. When I'm not in my office, I'm often traveling and speaking, or writing articles like this one to share what I have learned to help me and those I've worked with to be healthy, happy, fulfilled and at peace.
But I'll admit it: all of the services I offer stem from healthy selfishness. For years, I practiced unhealthy selfishness. Rather than living in the present moment, and acknowledging my needs and desires, I ran away from them. I was addicted to drugs and alcohol. I lied, stole and cheated. I compromised myself for other people to love, accept, and approve of me, while unknowingly hurting and betraying myself as deeply as one can.
Then, I embarked on my healing and spiritual journey whereby I learned to love, value, accept, forgive, be true to, and care for myself fully and wholeheartedly. After years of learning to live in this way, I found that I had not only filled my own cup up with health, happiness and purpose, but I had also mastered using these tools in a way that benefited others who were struggling with the same emotions, needs, desires and dreams that I was.
So selfishly, I make my living doing this. And I enjoy it, which makes me good at what I do. I have no shame about this because I know that acknowledging and honoring my needs and desires is the best thing I can do for those around me.
Fear is the greatest obstacle to turning unhealthy selfishness into the type of healthy selfishness that benefits us and everyone we know and meet. Fear of hurting others, fear of being judged, fear of being rejected, fear of losing love, fear of losing support, fear of losing a partner, spouse or friend, and fear of being alone are some of the most common ways we justify our self-destructive tendencies.
Healthy selfishness feels like taking a risk. It does not mean disregarding other people's feelings and needs. It simply means we do not disregard ourselves to please others or to support others at our own expense. It means we take care of our body and value our needs, desires, feelings and dreams.
It is not wrong to want to be healthy and happy. It is not wrong to want to feel valued, appreciated and respected. It is not wrong to be the best person you can be. Believing we are selfless and ending up miserable does not serve the world. We were not born to suffer. Period.
Blake D. Bauer is an internationally recognized author, counsellor, alternative medicine practitioner and qi gong and meditation teacher. His work and bestselling book You Were Not Born To Suffer have helped thousands of people around the globe to improve the quality of their life, health and relationships.