6387443525_bee5464f9b_zIn Bikram yoga class the other day during the almost impossible standing-head-to-knee posture, the teacher said that the pose is not so much about balancing on one leg as it is about finding balance in yourself and your life. That statement got me to thinking about how absolutely essential balance is to everything we do. I’ve come to believe that balance is the single most important, underlying key to happiness and success in almost every area of life.

All personality traits exist on a spectrum and aren’t good or bad by themselves. The unique manifestation of a particular characteristic in specific circumstances and even the intention behind it factor into its appropriateness and value in a particular situation. Achieving the delicate, elusive, ever-shifting balance of just enough, but not-too-much can mean the difference between happiness and misery.

Selfishness requires finding this tricky equilibrium.

Having had more than enough up close and personal experience with narcissists in my past, I always strived to be the farthest from anything remotely like selfish and bent over backward to be the exact opposite, an over-giver. I earned this title so well that I never got my own needs met. Not even close. A little selfishness is healthy and even essential to being happy, I’ve found.  Balance.

The Dalai Lama had this to say about selfishness:

It is important that when pursuing our own self-interest we should be “wise selfish” and not “foolish selfish.” Being foolish selfish means pursuing our own interests in a narrow, shortsighted way. Being wise selfish means taking a broader view and recognizing that our own long-term individual interest lies in the welfare of everyone. Being wise selfish means being compassionate.

While giving, empathy, and altruism are seen as desirable qualities; even these traits can be taken to unhealthy extremes. Formerly an expert at this, I was the person everyone knew they could turn to for help moving, when they needed someone to watch their kids, when a school party needed organizing or baking or decorating.  You name it. I did it. However, I neglected to take care of, give to, and help myself first – or last even.  As a matter of fact, I wasn’t even on my list and gave and gave until there was nothing left of and for me. Empty.

I used to act this way because I thought that my giving and doing were like an unspoken insurance policy. The more I gave to everyone else, surely, the more people would give back to me. Right? Wrong! I ended up attracting “takers” in my life who were more than happy to take and take and keep on taking. Because this was what I was comfortable with, I allowed it in my life.

While I was giving and giving, I became more and more depleted and resentful because I was getting pitifully little in return. I realize, in retrospect, that I was giving to get. That’s not giving. It’s taking. This scenario perfectly exemplifies the belief that everyone in your life is a mirror. The takers were reflecting back to me a part of myself which I didn’t acknowledge.

I’ve learned to say “No,” and to give to myself first. You have to take care of yourself before you have anything extra to give someone else freely with no strings attached. I sustained a brain injury,the result of a suicide attempt, which actually taught me how to make myself a priority and how to give to myself.  I had to in order to recover, and I simply didn’t have the energy to do otherwise. Funny how life gives you the lessons you need.

In every situation, there is always a compassionate, caring way to respond which considers what is being asked of me, my feelings, needs, and happiness as well the desires and wishes of the other party.  First and foremost, I need to be compassionate and caring with myself. My response doesn’t have to be yes or no and is usually something in between.  Balance.

Finding balance is about learning to listen to and incorporate all of the wisdom available to you. A person will greatly benefit from allowing their heart, head, and gut to have input in directing their life and finding balance.  In the past, my bossy brain dominated the show, incessantly chattering nervous nonsense, freaking out, and barking orders. The voice in my head used to be so critical, relentless, and just plain mean. Through practices such as meditation, mindfulness, thought reframing, yoga, and cognitive behavioral therapy, I’ve calmed and taken control of my mind to find balance and happiness.

Oh, and as I’ve found more balance in my life, the one-legged yoga postures have gotten easier!

Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/yogendra174/

Share this article!


  1. …and on a related note –
    Gabby Giffords realized this same truth of which you are writing. Because she accepted that she deserves the time necessary for her own recovery, and that she can’t help her constituents while in such need herself, even the jaded members of Congress saw her resignation as a compassionate choice.

    I had to follow this path myself when I gave up care giving. Though I am still physically strong enough to lift people, I am also old enough to know I must begin to avoid risks like back strain and knee damage from preventing someone’s fall. I lift passive weight now, and I stay off ladders and hire people young enough to “bounce” if they fall.

    Everyone deserves love. That means you must also offer it to yourself. I’m so glad that because you take better care of yourself now, you have more inner resources for acting with compassion toward all.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      I agree with you totally. I have thought from day one that Gabby needed to focus on herself and not even bother with public office. I would like to see her get herself to the point where she feels like she iis able to turn her efforts and attention elsewhere. I am glad you found this out a rather wise and less traumatic way! I used to learn from crisis. I think I can go the more gentle route now. You are so right, the more compassionate and loving we are to ourseles, the more we can be to all. Seems so simple, doesn’t it?

  2. In order to love and serve others we must first love and serve ourselves. We have been conditioned to believe that this self-interest is selfish and destructive. Once we develop this “wise” self-interest it helps us find the balance to serve others without doing destruction to ourselves. Like you I had a hard time focusing on my own needs and gave of myself to others to my own detriment. I thought I was being a good friend and family member. I found out that I didn’t like myself and didn’t feel I desrved to be treated better by myself or others. I became resentful of others when I felt they were taking advantage of or not grateful for my giving nature. Fortunately I learned to love myself and found a balance bewteen satisfyling my own need and servicing others. Much happier now. You post was a great reminder as it is easy to slip back into unhealthy habits.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Tony, I can relate so much to your experience. I think it was just the way we and a whole generation were raised to think that having even a healthy self interest was negatively selfish. I am hoping that the next generation will learn differently and be more aware of the need for self care first. It could be because I am different and interact with different people now, but it seems to me as if the average person is becoming more familiar with this concept. When we are more compassionate and loving to ourselves, we can be to others and the whole world and Earth.

  3. Marty Coleman, The Napkin Dad Reply

    I love this wisdom you have gained. When you have this balance your giving is so much more enjoyable; done with enthusiasm and sincerity. It’s the only way to sustain one’s happiness over the long haul.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      I love it, too, Marty. It makes life much more enjoyable and much easier! I know that I may teeter out of balance in the future, but I have learned the tools to get myself back to balance and on the path. That feels good!

  4. Pingback: How Happiness Can Actually Be Unhealthy - The best brain possible

Write A Comment