t is all too easy to find cases of injustice in your life, if you seek them out. Who hasn’t been treated unfairly from time to time? Who hasn’t been kicked when they were down?
Self-pity is not only the domain of the downtrodden, of course. There is a certain misfortune-focused mindset that allows even the privileged to conclude they’ve been unfairly barred from happiness. Rich people lament that they weren’t born beautiful; beautiful people lament that they weren’t born rich; beautiful, rich people lament that they have no talent; talented, beautiful, rich people lament that they can’t find love or they don’t have enough friends or they’re too fatigued to work.
The British humanist, actor, and writer Stephen Fry calls self-pity the most destructive vice and the worst possible emotion a person can have. He warns that self-pity “will fulfill all the prophecies it makes and leave only itself.” Your grievances may not be purely imagined. Some of them might be factual. Perhaps if your luck had been different, even just a slight bit different, your life would’ve turned out much better. “But to pity oneself as a result,” says Fry, “is to do oneself an enormous disservice.” And that is an important point. It’s so important that it deserves to appear in bold:
Self-pity never helps you, it only adds to your problems.
It’s not that you don’t deserve compassion. You certainly do. By all means practice compassion toward yourself. But pity is not a form of compassion. Pity toward others is a veiled form of disgust, and pity toward the self is best described as an attempt to earn a merit badge for being relentlessly shat upon. How does that help you? It just doesn’t.