Self-Care vs Self-Indulgence: What is the Difference?


The rise of mental health awareness,  especially following the COVID-19 pandemic, has spotlighted the concept of self-care. Initially, self-care was introduced to preserve physical and mental health. 

However, people often take this message literally and associate self-care with doing things that provide instant gratification. Although having pleasure or enjoyment is not a bad thing per se, it is essential to remember that it is not necessarily self-care.

One of the common mistakes that people often make is mistakenly considering self-care as self-indulgence or the other way around. Since one activity could be considered as self-care and self-indulgence, it is important to know the difference between them. 

This article will help you understand what each concept means and the criteria that differentiate both concepts, thus ensuring you engage in healthy self-care activities and spot self-indulgent ones.

What is self-indulgence?

One easy way to recognize if the activities that you partake in are self-care or not is to ask yourself the question, “How will this affect me in the long run?”. If you feel like you’re only doing those activities to get instant gratification or you’re only doing them to avoid certain situations and negative emotions, chances are, what you’re doing might not be self-care but self-indulgence. 

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, self-indulgence is “excessive or unrestrained gratification of one’s appetites, desires, or whims,” while according to research in 2021, self-care is “the ability to care for oneself through awareness, self-control, and self-reliance to achieve, maintain, or promote optimal health and well-being.” 

Differences between self-care and self-indulgence

Self-care could become self-indulgent when the activities are used as unhealthy coping methods. Though the activities might be the same, there are specific criteria that could differentiate self-care from self-indulgence, such as:

Self-care is long-term, while self-indulgence is short-term

The purpose of self-care is to maintain and preserve physical and mental health. People need to have some sort of self-care routine and activities to sustain their physical and mental health consistently and in the long run. 

While self-indulgence might feel good at the moment, that positive feeling is fleeting and might even lead to negative outcomes in the future. 

An example is when you resort to impulsive buying to relieve stress. While it is okay to do so occasionally, this could become an unhealthy coping mechanism when done excessively and could affect other aspects of your life, such as bad financial situations or feeling guilty and shame afterward

Self-care could include uncomfortable things, while self-indulgence is all about pleasure

Getting enough sleep, taking care of one’s diet, and exercising regularly are all basic forms of self-care — improving not only physical health but also increasing psychological well-being. These activities might seem obvious and something that people should do every day. However, people often sacrifice their self-care routine to engage in self-indulgent activities. 

For example, binge-watching your favorite shows through the night even though you have to wake up early the next day, or sleeping in instead of going to your weekly gym session because you don’t feel like it. 

While self-care often requires self-control and discipline to maintain your health, self-indulgence is all about following your whims and desires at the expense of your health and goals in life. 

Self-care leads to happiness, while self-indulgence leads to discontentment 

Self-care replenishes your energy and enriches you so you can live your life how you want. By maintaining your health through self-care, you will have the energy to work better, have more fulfilling relationships, do your responsibilities, and it can even help you avoid burnout

Self-indulgence will make you feel good temporarily, especially if you’re using it to avoid certain situations or negative emotions. But after the initial pleasurable feeling fades away, you will be forced to face reality. And as a result, self-indulgence could do more harm than good. 

For example, instead of fixing your relationship with a friend you have conflicts with, you choose to hold on to anger and sever ties. When people act from a place of self-indulgence, they only think of the present moment and easily be swept away by their emotions.

In conclusion

While indulging yourself is okay and even necessary occasionally, it is important to do so moderately. Self-indulgence can become harmful when used as an unhealthy coping mechanism or mistaken for self-care. 

For example, treating oneself to a favorite food is a common form of self-care; however, it could become self-indulgence when you always choose to make unhealthy eating decisions. 

On the other hand, activities like getting a massage or going on a spa day are often viewed as luxuries and can be seen as indulgent. However, when done in moderation and with careful financial planning, these activities could be considered self-care and should be viewed as a necessary expense.

People need to be more intentional with their self-care practices and pay attention to what is truly beneficial to them in the long run.

If you would like to know more about self-care, visit the Happiness Science Labs. The lab uses the research of the Institute for Life Management Science to produce courses, certifications, podcasts, videos, and other tools. Check out Happiness Science Labs today.

happiness science labs

Photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.