On Happiness

Ladies, this post is for you.  And maybe a few of you men, too.

I see you on social media.  I love viewing your posts.  The good and the bad.  Some of you appear to be living perfect, happy lives.  Some of you are struggling and baring your souls to those of us who love you.  Still others are silently suffering, afraid to post anything that would be seen as depressing or a cry for help.

I've been in your shoes.  You want the world to see you and to know you.  You want to be seen as a happy, successful human.  It's natural to seek validation from others.  Lately, I've been feeling like we're going about this in all the wrong ways.

I know what it's like to obsess and over-analyze my life.  I've compared myself to others and it always leads to a negative conclusion about who I am.  And really, none of it is true.  I started believing I was less than, or inferior, based on perfection blasted all over Facebook.  False perfection.

I've spent half of my almost 41 years stressing about my looks, my weight and more.  I remember trying seven different diet fads in a single year because I thought the latest craze was going to finally help me reach my goals.  I yo-yo dieted.  I struggled with an endocrine disorder and hormone imbalance.  I cried at night because I didn't look like the faces on the magazine covers.  I endured more failure than success because my self-image was imperceptibly skewed.

Six months before I turned 40 I had a midlife crises. I felt like I hadn't accomplished anything I wanted to, or thought I should, before the "my life is over, I'm old now" deadline.  I cried all the time over ridiculous things.  I felt strangled by all of the expectations of marriage, motherhood and career.  I wanted to run away, leave everything behind and start over.

Looking back now I see how normal it is to reevaluate our lives at certain phases.  But in the midst of it all I thought I was going insane.

My dad gave me great advice when things were really tough.

"Life begins at forty," he said. "You have all the knowledge and wisdom of your first thirty-nine years, you don't give a damn about what anyone else thinks, and you know where you want to go in the second half of your life."

I didn't believe him at first, but gradually things were getting better.  I started to appreciate everyone in my life who supported me and I talked myself down from the ledge.

Several months ago I decided that I just wanted to be happy.  I was done stressing about my looks.  To hell with body image issues.  Societal expectations about what I should look like and how much I should weigh could take a hike.  I want no part of that ball of crazy.

As I began focusing on being happy, I started noticing that everyone had the same idea.  It seems that happiness has become the new wellness obsession.  Every social media post I viewed showed women posting perfect pictures of their happy lives.  These women, many of them friends, were living life to the fullest.  They were cooking the meals, having the date nights, reading to the kids, doing nights out with their best friends, working the jobs.  They appeared to be crushing this Life thing.

But were they really happy?  Or was it a facade?  As perfect as these posts were, what was really happening in their lives that they weren't sharing on social media?

It is my belief that feminism has a lot to do with our expectations.  I was raised in the era of third wave feminism.  As a teenager in the 1990s I was sold on the idea that women could be everything and have it all.  The women before me fed me this notion that I could effortlessly have a family, a powerful career, and yes, a hot body, too.

I've got news for you, in case you don't already know:  that whole idea is bullshit.

Yes, I said it.

I realized years ago that you CAN have it all, just NOT all at once.

Social media is a liar. We're fed this narrative that everyone else is succeeding at life, everyone but us.  I see it all over Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat. It's a trap. It will make you miserable if you continue to believe it.

I'm guilty of it, too.  I've been there.  I've completely torn myself apart because I didn't achieve what I thought I should have by a certain age.  I don't have a fancy house or fast cars and I'm not a size two. But here's the thing: none of that ever really mattered to me.  I thought it should because I believed that it mattered to everyone else.

So many of us are under the impression that happiness looks and feels a certain way. When our experiences don't match that, we think we're doing something wrong or that we need to keep up with people who appear to be happier than us.  Not everyone can be happy all of the time. Bad stuff happens.  It's normal to feel sad, irritated, and restless when it does. And maybe we confuse happiness with excitement.  We want to be wild and free and unrestrained from expectations.  I know I've been there.

At the end of the day, happiness is more of an underlying sense of well-being. Most of us are actually doing fine.  We are doing what we need to do to survive.  Sometimes that's all we can do.

Find your happy.  Live it.  To hell with everything else.

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