Self-Care vs. Self-Indulgence: What’s the Difference?

Woman in red knit sweater sitting on bed sipping out of a mug
Image by Allison Christine

I’ll be honest. I don’t like to work.

Given the choice between attending a meeting with my boss and sleeping until noon, I would pick the latter every time.

So when the self-care craze began a few years ago, I was thrilled. I kept seeing posts and articles about how I should take a day off and get my nails done. It’s good for you, they said. Go ahead, you deserve it!

Here’s the thing. It can be hard to remain disciplined and exercise self-control, especially if you work from home. I’ve spent so much time letting myself take the easy way out in the name of self-care. And I soon found myself asking the question: Am I practicing self-care or am I just being self-indulgent?

What is self-care?

It’s about moderation and balance.

It’s about short-term vs. long-term joy.

Sometimes self-care is having a spa day when you’re overworked and need a break. Sometimes it’s staying in bed with your favorite book when you’re having a bad day and really can’t bring yourself to do anything else.

But sometimes it’s organizing your room when the clutter is causing you stress. Sometimes it’s pulling yourself out of bed when you know that sleeping too much will only make you feel sluggish.

Do the things that will make it easier for the future you to feel good. Depending on your situation, that may mean doing something pleasant or doing something a little less fun.

Self-indulgence is okay every now and then.

So allow yourself that extra slice of pie on Thanksgiving, even if you know you don’t need it. Cancel your plans and stay in, even if your only excuse is “I just don’t feel like going.” Buy that V.I.P concert ticket to see your favorite band, even if you have to dip into your savings a bit.

Happiness can be achieved in many ways. Life is too short to deny yourself happiness when the opportunity comes. You deserve to get that instant gratification rush every once in a while.

Stick to what you need to do most of the time, but occasionally, do what you want because life is meant to be enjoyed.

The takeaway…

It can be a challenge to get right at first. I’m still learning. But I have a feeling that once I do, I’ll notice a big difference in the way I feel.

Originally published at on October 4, 2020.

Writer, travel enthusiast, and human being (not in that order). I help people succeed with engaging, relatable articles about travel and wellness.