Oak City Psychology

Serving the City of Raleigh and Surrounding Areas

Category: happiness

Love Your Body

When I practiced in Atlanta a local charity group focused on raising eating disorder awareness sponsored Love Your Body Month every February.  I got used to thinking of February as a time to not just honor relationships that we value but to also work on valuing our relationship with our own bodies.  As a female in our society, and more often as a male as well, it can be hard to love the body you’ve been given.  We receive messages from the media about how our bodies are toned enough, aren’t wrinkle free enough, aren’t young enough, aren’t beautiful enough, aren’t sexy enough, and on, and on, and on.  As busy professional women, wives, mothers, daughters, and friends (and in some cases all of or a combination of those) our own self-care can get lost in the shuffle.  Time alone, time to exercise, time to prepare delicious food, and time to relax all take a back seat to work projects, house projects, kids projects, and friend projects.  All of those identities scramble for attention and we forget to take care of the vessel that carries us from place to place and interacts in a physical way with the world.

In Baroque art the female body was beautiful.  And the more curves you could see the more beautiful the body.  As women moved from being only a prop for art and into a more active role in society, the image of a beautiful woman’s body also began to change.  We have hit extremes in these areas – Twiggy in the 60s and Kate Moss in the 90s – but it seems that at least some areas of society are finally starting to recognize the damage we have done to women and girls by placing unrealistic expectations on their bodies.  We are starting to see that deadly eating disorders are wreaking havoc on the lives of girls as young as 8 and 9 years old.  We are starting to see that women’s hatred of their bodies leads them to over exercise, restrict their foods, and stop enjoying life.  We are starting to notice the woman who has been punishing herself on the elliptical for over an hour.  And it’s about time.  I work with so many women and girls who’s desire to be thin has outweighed their desire to be alive.  Women who see themselves only as a number on the scale or on the tag in the back of some clothes.  Women who measure their worth by the width of their waist.

It’s time we moved past those incomplete measurements.  It’s time we started measuring a woman by her intelligence, her kindness, and her wisdom, and not by her waistline, her weight, and her BMI.  My wish for every girl is that she is able to say with confidence that she loves her body.  My wish for every woman is that she is able to say with confidence that she is learning to love a body that has been abused by our society for too long.  It’s time we all loved our bodies, our round, curvy, thin, lean, overweight, pregnant, infertile, scarred, and unscarred bodies.  They are beautiful as they are.  They are perfectly imperfect, just as they are.  This February, I hope you focus on building a healthy relationship with your own body and learn to truly love the body you have.

Much Ado about Happiness

This may be the most often made statement in therapy – “I just want to be happy.” It’s amazing to me how often the person making this statement cannot answer the logical follow up question – “Well, what do you think would make you happy?” Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think they necessarily have to have a full, complete, detailed plan, but some idea of what happiness would look like would be helpful. What started me thinking about this common issue was an article from the October 5, 2009 issue of Newsweek. In that issue, Julia Baird wrote an article entitled “Positively Downbeat: Sometimes happiness isn’t everything.” The basic gist of the article was that we spend so much time trying to reach this goal of “being happy” that we forget to enjoy the process. I think she has a point.

I’m sure that you, just like me, have received the relentless message from your parents, your friends, your siblings, even exes that “we just want you to be happy.” And for the most part, we find this message comforting. It expresses unconditional love, in that no matter what you are doing as long as you’re happy I’ll be supportive. However, it can also be used as a weapon when someone disagrees with your actions, i.e. “The only reason I’m telling you that your boyfriend/girlfriend/best friend is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad person is because I want you to be happy.” or “The only reason I’m discouraging you from pursuing your dream of being a chef/artist/psychologist/fill in the blank is because I want you to be happy.” Am I discrediting the intent behind these words – absolutely not. Am I questioning the impact they have on the people who receive them – you bet I am. Humans are innately social creatures. We make determinations about our lives based on the reactions that we receive from other people. If you are surrounded by healthy people, who are completely unselfish in their intents, and will always think of your well being first, that’s a great way to be. However, if even one person that you trust and depend on employs the “I just want you to be happy” excuse to stamp on your desires and dreams, then you have a problem. Done over a repeated amount of time, in many different situations, the message becomes “You will not be happy until you agree with me.” Which in turn leaves you unable to decide what happy is for you.

In addition to these messages that most of us have gotten since birth, we are also living in a society where positive thinking has become the gold standard. Books, talk show hosts, even morning DJs encourage people to think positive in situations that in truth deserve, if not outrage, at least frustration. We are encouraged to ignore the unfair, unjust events that happen in our lives, in the pursuit of happiness. Friends try to convince us that “everything happens for a reason” and “it will all turn out for the best.” In all honesty, I’ve probably said these things myself when at a complete loss for words in the face of a loved one’s pain. Now, I’m not endorsing that you dwell on every negative event that has ever happened in your life. I am, however, endorsing that you allow yourself to experience the emotions that come along with these hard events. When we attempt to block our emotions, we usually end up blocking anger, sadness, guilt, and shame. Unfortunately, we usually end up blocking happiness, joy, peace, and contentment too.

So, the next time someone tells you “I just want you to be happy,” remember that your happiness may not match their picture of happiness. Use the tragedies of your life to learn about your strengths. I’m not saying that happiness does not exist, just that the paths we are currently taking to get there may actually lead to depression related to not understanding ourselves, anxiety over our abilities to be happy, or guilt about our inability to be happy. On our way to happiness, we may be missing laughter, joy, hilarity, and moments of grace. Many of us would be able to agree that the Dali Lama is a model for happiness – the secret to his happiness and probably to ours, is an open heart and mind to what is happening in the moment. Rather than a continuous focus on some vague happiness in the future, become mindful of the happiness that is occurring now.

© 2020 Oak City Psychology

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑