What Are You Denying Yourself?


Most of us aren’t shameless hedonists. Our approach to life isn’t to grab as much fun and excitement as possible, seeking thrills and highs. Instead, we take a look at the big picture, and we think about financial security, the people we love, the career path we want to follow, our health, and our long term goals.

Along the way, though, we can end up veering too far away from pleasure-seeking. We end up denying ourselves quite unnecessarily – and ultimately, we can feel empty and drained. There may even come a time when we wonder what the point of life is any more, or when we question whether we truly can ever be happy.

So what are you denying yourself? Is it one of these big three?

  • Time
  • Happiness
  • Success

And is it time for something to change?


When we deny ourselves time, we pack our lives full with activity. Work, chores, even social events, can all become a way to keep ourselves occupied – when what we desperately need is some time alone.

I used to think I was okay with this. Then a few weeks ago, I started reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. In that, she emphasizes the importance of a weekly “artist’s date” – two hours (or more) to do something, on your own, purely for fun.

I’ve managed it once in four weeks, and that was only because I was sick and couldn’t work one Saturday.

That shocks me a bit. I know that I have two hours a week to spend on myself. But somehow, there’s always another blog post to write, or my novel to work on, a podcast to listen to, or my neglected fiancé to pay attention to, or the housework … And when I am too tired to do any of those, I end up doing something mindless like playing around on the internet.

Of course, I enjoy all those activities – but they’re not what Julia Cameron has in mind. I’m not sure why I’m denying myself the time to do something meaningful and fun. Perhaps it’s because I’m not even too sure what I would do with a couple of spare hours!

Are you denying yourself time to simply be? Could you find two hours – or even one hour – this week to do something which you really enjoy for its own sake?


Do you ever feel, deep down, that your happiness doesn’t really matter? You might focus a lot of time and attention on taking care of other people – partners, children, parents – but your personal mantra is “So long as they’re happy, it doesn’t matter about me.”

You might know intellectually that your happiness is important too, but do you really believe that?

I know I struggle with this sometimes. I tell myself that I’m happy when the people around me are happy – which is true, but it’s not the whole picture! Charlie Gilkey’s post Your Happiness Counts really struck a chord with me:

“Being happy counts. Feeling good counts. Enjoying the moment counts. Singing a silent song of joy counts. They count without qualification or justification”. – Charlie Gilkey

Are you denying yourself happiness? We come up with all sorts of reasons to do this:

  • “I can’t afford to have fun” (but being happy doesn’t need to cost anything)
  • “I don’t have time” (see above…)
  • “I need to keep my partner/child/parent happy”
  • “I’ll be happy when I’ve achieved this”
  • “It’s selfish to focus on my own happiness”

What really needs to change, though, is our attitude towards ourselves. When did we learn that our happiness doesn’t matter? Why do we value our friends’ happiness over our own? Is it really so impossible for us to find a few little things in each day and week which we can truly enjoy?


Often, we’re denying ourselves time and happiness in the name of something else: success. We’re chasing a promotion, we’re forcing ourselves to study, we’re trying to get fit, we’re starting a small business, we’re working diligently through our list of should-dos.

And, along the way, we’re sabotaging our chances.

Denying yourself success takes lots of forms. It’s hard to recognize because we rarely do it consciously. But all of these are ways to subtly self-sabotage:

  • Trying to achieve too many goals all at once
  • Focus on what we feel we should do rather than what we want to do
  • Refusing to spend even small amounts of money which would help us
  • Refusing offers of help from friends and colleagues – insisting on going for it alone
  • Not taking good care of our own health and wellbeing – burning out

Perhaps we’ve convinced ourselves, on some level, that it’s safer to fail: after all, we can then blame the world for being against us. In a perverse sort of way, we can stay secure in the life we currently have, and insist that we tried changing, but it just didn’t work out.

What are you denying yourself? How could you start making real changes?

Photo by Raleene

21 thoughts on “What Are You Denying Yourself?”

  1. I think that this is so true, especially with moms, who aim for the happiness of their children, their spouse, their pet, even, but have a tendency to put themselves on the back burner. Great post. One other very important point is the “I’ll be happy when” syndrome. Many, many people have that. Be happy now. Enjoy the moment. Cheers!

    1. I get that impression from quite a few moms … I think I’m slightly dreading having kids myself (it’s a few years off yet, but it’s something I want to do — I just don’t want to lose “me” in the midst of it all). And great point on “I’ll be happy when” … we’re moving house in June, and part of me keeps thinking “When we’ve moved, everything will be perfect.” Probably not true, as I’ll still be the same person! ;-)

  2. Hey Ali

    I’ve been experimenting with creating more time for myself, though ironically it’s because I think it will make me more productive =p. Time boxing work, blogging and replying to comments on my blog forces me to be ruthlessly efficient during those times (e.g., no more spending lots of time looking for the perfect picture for a post – I pick one that looks cool and move on). Every morning I set aside some time to read my mission statement, plan my day – and meditate.

    I’m not sure what metrics I can track to see if it works, but it definitely makes me focus more when I am working – and I enjoy having some time just for myself =)

    1. I think you’ve hit it in the last sentence there, with “I enjoy having some time just for myself”. I agree that becoming more efficient is a useful way to make the most of our time, though I also think it can go too far at times.

  3. Thanks Ali, this is a really important topic.

    Your list of the ways we can subtly self-sabotage ourselves around success really strikes a chord with me. I think I’ve done all of those – and recently too!

    As for denying ourselves time for ourselves, this is very very common. I’ve been thinking and writing about this a lot lately, because I work with so many women who struggle with it, and I do too.

    There’s so much talk in the personal growth world about slowing down and taking time for self-care, but most of the advice fails to acknowledge that it’s very hard to do! If we’ve been running around busy and outer-directed for a while, slowing down and being with ourselves is uncomfortable at first. It’s natural for us to avoid it. And it is also worth it to notice the resistance and not let us stop us – because that time is so vital and important.

    Thanks Ali, I always love your clear, strong writing voice.


    1. Thanks Tara! I agree it’s incredibly hard to slow down — and I really enjoyed your recent post on the topic (if anyone wants a good read, it’s here: http://wiselivingblog.com/2010/03/22/braking-without-breaking-or-why-its-hard-to-slow-down/)

      It’s easy to get very prescriptive and glib about personal development, offering lists that are supposed to magically fix everything that’s wrong … I think that’s a case of trying to treat the symptoms not the illness! Real *change* is, for me at least, surprisingly hard!

  4. Nice post Ali. Sometimes we get caught up in so many things at once, that we forget to set time aside and ask what we could do for fun in our free time, what we can do to make us truly happy, or what things we are doing that are sabotaging our chances to be truly successful? Sometimes we may lean in one direction more than the other, but to be more satisfied with how things are going in our lives, it’s better if we can maintain a good balance between time, happiness, and success.

    1. I think balance is really important — hard to do, though! You’re right about getting caught up; life can end up feeling a bit like a treadmill.

  5. Hi Ali, I really like your question at the end – how could you start making real changes. Firstly, by reading your post! It’s hard to accept that sometimes we are the authors of our own misfortune, and yet once we do, it becomes possible to take control and to re-write the story.

    Any yes, I have denied myself the right to spend a small amount of money towards my success (because there are always kids’ shoes to buy, dentist bills to pay etc). But you’ve made me realise the folly of that, it’s not a real saving, it’s an unquantifiable expense that I can’t afford!


    1. Thanks Topi! It *is* very hard to accept that we’re the ones in control of our lives … it’s much easier to blame other people or outside forces (I know I do).

      There’s a big difference between spending money you *can’t* afford, and spending money in a reasoned and measured way. I tend to swing back and forth a bit on being frugal, and I know I’m a bit prone to thinking “I don’t really *need* that so I shouldn’t buy it” — when that’s not necessarily the best long-term approach.

  6. Hello,
    I really like this post, thank-you. It is amazing how many people find it so difficult to do nothing. As you say, spend time alone and not filling it with chores etc. Just sit for an hour or so alone and do nothing at all (especially no TV!!)
    Harder than it sounds but very calming.
    Best wishes,

    1. Thanks! I wonder if defaulting to “doing nothing” or “doing something” is something we condition ourselves into. I know that a few years back, in my teens, I didn’t have any problem whatsoever in doing nothing … as my parents can probably attest. ;-) Whereas now, if I end up with unexpected time on my hands, I automatically turn to my to-do list!

  7. this is true and I agree with Hulbert we tend to be busy in our own preoccupations and we forget to spend time on our own enjoyment. There are some cases that even the time for our self can be sacrifice because of our work and duties. These can hinder our selves for being happy and we really denying our self. But its not too late we still have time to make changes happen try to move on and start today. Great post. keep it up!

  8. Nice post and picture. :)

    Mine would mainly be time, but I find working at my personal projects immensely satisfying – making me happy and successful. Is there a way to win? :p My partner would love this advice though, she tends to deny all 3.

  9. Spending time doing things you enjoy without some sort of financial gain involved is a good way to look at what you would spend your free time on. I think we get so caught up in making money that we forget how to spend time doing or thinking of anything else.

    I was reading your post and thought, “man it would be fun to go and play soccer with some people”. That’s the kind of fun I think shes talking about, just something that has nothing to do with money. If your writing is that kind of fun then just keep doing that. If not then take the time to get outside, go for a hike, take some photos of a thunderstorm, etc.

  10. What is the point in wanting to be “happy”? Why cann’t I be “happy” being the robot I should be? Why spend your life looking for “happiness” when it is apparent you will not find it?

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