Do you enjoy helping others? Do you feel good when you do good and/or when you assist someone else with a task at work or a problem at home?
If you answered yes, then there’s a good chance you’re a good person. Good people do good; happy people do good; collaborating with and helping other people is part of what connects us as a community, as a society. And that’s important. Feeling a sense of connectedness and belonging is one of the most critical contributors to health and wellbeing whereas isolation and loneliness can almost literally kill via depression and hopelessness.
Looking at this from a slightly different angle, it’s a well-established fact that real happiness is not the same as selfishness; so, it stands to reason that selflessness is desirable and helpful.
It is and it isn’t.
There’s no doubt that living a good life should be living a life that’s about more than just us as individuals. When those we love and care for or, for that matter, when anyone with whom we come in to contact asks for or needs help it’s a wonderful thing to say “yes”. In giving we receive so in saying yes, we’re not just helping the other but we’re also helping ourselves.
Unless, that is, we’re not.
There’s a point where helping others too much might mean neglecting ourselves. If we spend so much time helping others that we don’t have time for self-care then ultimately, we’re helping no one. Because ultimately something will give; and that something will probably be you.
There’s a saying that goes “you can’t fill from an empty cup”; which means we can’t help others if we become depleted, so sick and tired that we’re of no use to anyone. So ultimately, we need to find a way to be both selfless and selfish. Selfless so we do good as often as we can for others; but selfish so we can sustain that goodness over time.
Not surprisingly, this requires saying “no” sometimes. It requires putting yourself, your long-term health and wellbeing, before another (at least in the short term). Surely this makes sense. Surely saying that one syllable, “no”, couldn’t be that hard?
But it can be! It can, in fact, be terribly difficult for some people in some contexts!
How and why?
Well there are many reasons saying “no” can be difficult, but I’ll list the two most common ones below along with what I’ve found to be the secrets to overcoming them:
- Most of us don’t like to upset other people or feel like we’re letting them down. And that’s fine; that’s understandable. But the reality is we can’t please everyone all the time. And if you try to, you’ll end up suffering in some way and, therefore, probably let people down while you need to take time out to recover! So, don’t try to please everyone all the time. And don’t underestimate other people’s ability to understand that you might not be able to say “yes” every single time
- Most of us also undervalue our own health and wellbeing. It’s very easy to put other people’s needs ahead of our own; which in some ways is an admirable trait. But it’s not, as referred to above, something that can be maintained in the long term. So, it’s not, ultimately, a realistically helpful strategy. The solution lies in blending selfishness and selflessness. Find your balance, which will change over time, and be mindful of how much you can do without risking your own self