The real reason why you have been struggling to put your happiness first

Photo by Gianluca Carenza on Unsplash


Of late, you are tired and on the verge of being burnt out.

You start your days caring for your loved ones, then for your colleagues at work, and finally back to your loved ones at the end of the day.

You barely have time for yourself, much less for anything you enjoy doing. You have just enough time and energy to plop yourself on the couch to watch a Netflix episode before going to bed and repeating your day tomorrow.

You know your needs are not being met and it gnaws at you. But for some reason, you can’t even get started with putting yourself and your happiness first.

What you are doing is just not sustainable and you have to start putting your happiness first.

What you want is less stress, a bit more joy, and to escape from the realities called life.

What you need is to care for yourself and to consistently put your happiness first.

You know you could dance for just 10 minutes just to feel better about yourself, or cuddle up in bed with hot cocoa and a romance novel, or leave the kids with a nanny for an additional hour to have an hour to work on your first novel but you just can’t bring yourself to do it.

The reason why you’re not putting yourself first is simple

You do not know how to face the inner struggles to take action on your happiness. Because at the core of your actions and your thoughts are the non-supporting self-beliefs.

This reason might seem too simple for you but consider five common self-beliefs that may be holding you back from putting yourself first.

1. Your cultural norms say that you have to take care of others before yourself always

We are born with instinctive survival skills to look out for our safety and life. But, some cultures make you put yourself second or last.

Here is one of my husband’s pet peeves about his childhood: “You must share.” This statement was indoctrinated into him as a child so much that he gave up most of what he had to his younger siblings. What he did as an adult was dictated by his family to put others before himself.

Single women and men are constantly asked to always care for their children before themselves. While ensuring their children are safe, sound and healthy is their primary responsibility, they are often criticized by close family for wanting to pay extra to leave their kids in daycare for an additional hour or two.

The modern woman has both a career and a family. Those pursuing careers in medicine, law, and the armed forces often have to work long hours caring for others, go home to care for their families and often lose sight of their own happiness, all because their cultures say they have to put their families first before themselves.

Luckily for me, I grew up with my mother collecting us from school, taking us home, making sure we were safe and watched over so that she could have a nap before her second shift as a mom. She had the support of my dad and my mother-in-law to do this. And no, this was not a self-care activity that she learnt from her mother but something she desperately needed for herself.

Each family has its own nuances but both women and men need to question cultural self-beliefs that prevent them from seeing to their happiness first.

2. You’re lazy and can’t change as fast and as easily as your friends

You may have had that one friend who quickly and easily turned her life around but when you tried to do the same you failed. Now you believe you could not change because you were lazy or did not work as hard enough.

But what you don’t know is that few people are able to quickly make changes for themselves and their lives quickly and easily to put their happiness first.

A number of things work in their favour in addition to their motivation to change: supportive family and friends, having more time and energy to see to themselves and having some experience already.

However, for the vast majority, change your behaviour is slower and harder as you may have fewer resources at your disposal and more skills to learn.

But, you can put your happiness first if you are honest to yourself about the resources you have and where you are starting from to make changes.

Putting your happiness first works only when the changes you want to make can easily be incorporated into your daily or weekly routines. But, you need to become more aware of these routines.

So the next time you hear about a friend changing faster and easier than yourself, wish them well. And, stop comparing yourself to others because first, it is not a race as happiness for each person is different. In the long-run, everyone wins once they begin to put themselves first in one way or another.

3. You can’t change.

You may have tried to put your happiness first in the past and failed. Now you believe you have no willpower to change and therefore you can’t change to put yourself first.

This self-belief is defeating for five reasons. Firstly, when you believe you can’t change you will of course not make any effort to change. You will not look for support or things in your environment to help you put yourself first.

Secondly, you look at yourself as the only piece of ‘evidence’ that change cannot happen, that you cannot make yourself happy even for a short time. However, there are many articles online with people describing how they put themselves first and why they needed to do so for their happiness. There is too much evidence showing people can change.

Thirdly, when you believe the change you need to act on to put yourself first depends on your willpower or lack of it, you don’t look for other techniques to enact change. However, behavioural scientists such as James Prochaska, Carlo DiClemente and John Norcross have found that willpower is only one technique to help you change. Relying on willpower alone is not enough.

Fourthly, most people who have been successful would have failed at least once before their successful attempt. They would have had several attempts before getting to where they want to be. With each attempt, you learn something new about yourself that could be used to help you in your next attempt.

Lastly, most people are not aware that changing your behaviour to put your happiness first is a process with multiple stages and each stage has different techniques to apply. Sadly, the process of change is not widely taught. Also, some techniques need to be used longer, more frequently, and at the right time to be effective.

Your self-beliefs drive your actions

Putting your happiness first is hard. It requires you to change your behaviours and attitudes and to act differently. But your actions and attitudes are driven by your thoughts and your thoughts are a result of your self-beliefs. To a large extent, your self-beliefs determine how successful you will be at putting yourself first.

However, there is hope because you can work on your self-beliefs.

You can learn how others have challenged their beliefs and learn to do the same.

You can work on your thoughts and learn to put your happiness first.

You can learn of the various stages of change to make your next attempt at putting your happiness first easier and faster.

And best of all, these are within your reach because it depends on you doing the right work at the right time with your current resources to put your happiness first.

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