Success Secrets 3: Happiness & The Self-Sufficient


“Happiness belongs to the self-sufficient.” Aristotle

“You cannot give what you do not have.” Unknown

In this special ‘Success Secrets’ series we are looking at the hidden gems of wisdom that are often overlooked or misunderstood when the Challenging Waves of Life disrupt our Life Strategy to Live The Endless Summer. In this article I want to have a look at the very powerful and practical words of Aristotle who said: “Happiness belongs to the self-sufficient”.

I love this quote, as it is indeed true that people who are self-sufficient are usually happier than those who have to rely on others constantly to survive. However, it is important not to confuse being self-sufficient with being selfish or being alone and isolated.

Self-Sufficiency Benefits: The 4 E’s

Being self-sufficient in the comprehensive way referred to by Aristotle is more than simply having enough money or possessions. To understand the various dimensions of self-sufficiency let’s have a look at the 4 E’s of Self- Sufficiency (Emotions, Education, Economics & Environment).

Emotions – Being self-sufficient emotionally is fundamental to healthy relationships and wellbeing. Whilst it is vitally important to be able to give and receive love, comfort and support, there is an important fine line between this being an added benefit versus a crutch you need to survive. Simply put, becoming emotionally dependent on someone else will lead to unhealthy relationships whilst being emotionally independent and self-sufficient will increase the likelihood of successful relationships.

Educational“The only thing constant in life is change” is a great saying that reminds us that education is a life long venture and people who are self-sufficient in this area of their lives are open to continuous learning and have the self-discipline and ability to prioritize their time and money to be able to access continuing education that is relevant for their careers and interests.

Economic – Having to rely on other’s to provide for you financially can be very disempowering and create a lot of tension and angst. By having your own income and being able to earn a living independently of other people you can know real value in the marketplace and align your spending expectations to your earning capacity. Whilst this may initially cause angst, as you have to downsize your expectations, the positive challenge of lifting your earning capacity to match your spending ambitions will produce all sorts of amazing growth opportunities.

Environmental – Being self-sufficient is harder than it seems for many people when it comes to the environment. If we didn’t have a garbage disposal service and had to store all our own waste in our backyards we would quickly realize how unsustainable our lives really are! How can you cut down the excess and waste in your life so that in the event there is no garbage disposal available you are not troubled by mountains of rubbish piling up in your backyard.

Self-Sufficient: The Two Caveats

Extremism of any type is usually bad! When it comes to Self-Sufficiency there are two important caveats to avoid the extremist positions of ending up “Selfish” and “Isolated”

Self-Sufficient vs. Selfish

Being labeled “selfish” does not always necessarily mean you are behaving badly towards another. Over the years I have seen that the most selfish people are usually those running around telling everyone else how selfish they are!

So what does selfishness mean? A quick search of the net (thanks suggests a definition of devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others’. This last part of the definition is the most important – ‘regardless of others’.

When dealing with others on day-to-day matters, it is not selfish to set limits or say no if you do not have the resources to give without depleting your own ability to be self-sufficient. Self-sufficient people need to put their own oxygen mask on first – after all you cannot give what you do not have. A good guide to determining the difference between self-sufficient and selfish is the law of “unnecessary withholding” – meaning when you have the resources spare (time, energy, money, etc.) but withhold them out of spite or dislike (as opposed to withholding to help people become more responsible themselves) then you are crossing the line into unhealthy selfishness.

Self-Sufficient: Together or Alone – But Never Lonely

I am a rock, I am an island… if I never loved I never would have cried a line in the classic Simon and Garfunkel song “I am a Rock” which highlights the emotional extremism of moving beyond emotional independence to emotional isolation – clearly taking things to an unhealthy extreme.

Being self-sufficient emotionally and psychologically is about being able to be alone and enjoy your own company without needing to be dependent on others, however this should not outweigh the importance of having healthy relationships with others. A powerful illustration of this point comes in the final scene in the movie “Into The Wild” showing the last moments of Alex McCandless life, and his ultimately fatal mistake of pursuing emotional isolation to the extreme, where he reflects that the true purpose of life is more than just learning to be fully self-accepting and the ultimate purpose is to be both self-sufficient and living and sharing love with another.

Therefore, whilst times of being alone and solitude are essential to be able to be emotionally self-aware and independent, this should never be confused with becoming isolated and missing out on the warmth and joy of healthy relationships.

Self-Sufficiency and You….

Life is messy and our needs and wants, and those of the people closest to us are in constant flux making self-sufficiency across the 4 E’s an ongoing challenge for many people.

This can be further compounded by the messages we receive in marketing and media to expect more, want more, need more money, possessions, status and experiences in life.

Maybe it’s time you did a self-sufficiency stocktake? Rate your level of self-sufficiency from 1 (not self-sufficient at all) to 10 (fully self-sufficient) on each of the 4 E’s (Emotions, Education, Economics & Environment) and any action steps you need to take to become more self-sufficient.

Also take some time out to reflect on whether your behavior crosses over from Self-Sufficient to Selfish (remember to ignore the criticisms of others at this point) and steps you may need to take to correct this.

Finally, review self-sufficiency in terms of your relationships to make sure you are emotionally independent but not self-isolating so you can give and receive love in the most healthy and fulfilling ways!

Ride The Waves of Life!

Dr Pete

The Stress Surfer

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