There’s a spectrum of people who care too much about other people at one end, and at the other end there are those who care too much about themselves. I’ll call it the self-others spectrum. The former works so hard to help others, constantly giving, that they wear themselves out into a husk. Common examples are overworked mothers and exhausted charity and social workers. The latter are selfish bores, who dominate conversations with uninteresting stories, let everybody else do the work while they laze about, and are generally disliked by society.
Being overtly selfish is less common because it’s an undesirable trait, so you get socially punished for it. However, over-givers get all sorts of social rewards. They’re nice to be around. They help you out. This leads to them being liked and respected. Their contributions lead to them having solid support networks and good friends.
The problem is that if you give too much and don’t think of yourself, for many it leads to a sadder life. You don’t enjoy what’s going on; you’re just doing it because it makes others happy.
I definitely had an era of my life where I went too far on this end of the spectrum, but I think I’ve found a way to balance both. First off, I find people who like what I like. Second, when I’m in a social situation, I ask myself this question, “How do I make this interaction awesome for them and me.” Not how do I make them happy. Not how do I enjoy this situation. How do we both enjoy it.
This has fantastic results, because you aren’t giving too much of yourself away. You’re not wasting your precious life on things that you don’t like, but you’re also bringing that gift to others as well. It’s a classic win-win, and a great way to stay at a healthy part of the self-others spectrum, making your loved ones and yourself happy at the same time. Try it out. Think of the next person you’re going to hangout with and ask yourself, “How will I make this interaction awesome for them and me?” See how it transforms people-pleasing into creating a shared joy.
I'm an effective altruist who co-founded Charity Science Health and Charity Entrepreneurship.