Should I Focus on Helping Others or Myself?

 In Better Life

I’m reposting this tip because I feel like now, more than ever, we need self-care AND we need to support others.


I hear messages about how important it is to take care of myself, and I hear messages that true happiness comes when I focus on helping others. If you’re like me, maybe you find these conflicting ideas confusing. Which is it?

When I was at the World Happiness Summit (WoHaSu) in April 2019, I had the opportunity to hear one of my favorite Positive Psychology experts, Tal Ben-Shahar, address this confusion. He talked about the importance of thinking “Yes, and . . .” Is compassion and generosity towards others important? Yes! AND compassion and generosity towards ourselves are important, too. He said we need a balance between being selfish and selfless so we can be self-ful

Tal pointed out research from Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take – A Revolutionary Approach to Success. Adam compares the performance of givers, takers, and matchers (I’ll give you as much as you give me).

The top-performing category was dominated by givers. The middle performers were predominantly takers and matchers. The surprising finding was that the bottom performers were also givers!! As they dug into the differences between these givers and the givers that were great performers, they found that the top performers also gave to themselves! The givers in the bottom category only gave to others so they suffered from burnout. It wasn’t sustainable.

Tal shared a quote from the Dalai Lama,

“Caring for others based only on your sacrifice doesn’t last. Caring must also feed you.”

How can we use this advice in our daily lives? So much in our lives is about balance, which requires constant adjusting based on our current situation. Each time we’re faced with a choice that means serving others or serving ourselves, we need to check in. Are we feeling overextended and stressed? Is it time for some self-care? Or are we ready and able to give to others? Will it feel like a heavy chore or a gift we want to give?

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