Courtney and I recently began (again) the goal to become healthier. Normally that means losing weight for us, but I think I’ve finally hit a key understanding for me: Happiness is an essential measure and component of my health and physical satisfaction.
Let me explain….
We’ve all heard the reports that some obscenely high percentage of dieters don’t succeed and that among those who do, most fall back onto old habits, right? Normally that is followed up with the idea that dieting doesn’t work and that lifestyle changes are needed. And I’m not arguing against that nor would I ever. I agree with the concept of lifestyle changes over dieting. But I also think that we far too often forget to add happiness to the equation.
Surely being healthy is a key part of happiness, and I’m not arguing otherwise. But when we incorporate lifestyle changes as a measure of health, I have to wonder if lifestyle changes equal happiness. Take me for example: I’m a relatively healthy 31-year-old male who exercises regularly; eats well enough; and, like most office workers in America, is hauling a bit more around the middle than I probably should. To be frank, I could lose 15 easily and be better for it. Over the last few years, I have made regular and consistent efforts to lose that weight because, like I said, I’d be better for it and, mostly, because the world seems to think I’ll be happier for it. But who is the world to determine my happiness?
I’ve noticed over those same years of trying to lose weight that I have never succeeded. Oh sure, I’ll lose some or even most of it, but I always return back to the starting weight, a weight I have maintained without effort for almost four years now. And of course, this is the part of the process where everyone tells me “lifestyle change, not diet.”
So let me get this straight… To become physically happy, I have to lose 15 pounds because the world said so. To reach this happiness, I must exercise more than I like to, replace foods I love with foods I don’t love, and stop eating certain “bad” foods? Sorry, but I don’t buy that. Sorry, but I don’t think that makes me happy. And yes, that is exactly what I have read and understood from almost every single source on health, eating, and dieting.
[NOTE: Such a scenario has NOTHING to do with health, but happiness. It’s entirely personal as well, so put down your torches and pitchforks. I never expected even a slight majority to agree with me.]
I think, as with financial matters, that this is a matter of contentment and personal satisfaction. I did state my opinion that health was a key part of happiness, and I’ll add to that that health, in at least some senses, can and probably should be personal. For me, it is based on my satisfaction with my physical abilities and appearance. It is also based on my ability to enjoy and really relish those foods and activities that I love. Where some might feel guilty about having dessert, I refuse to, and I refuse to do so partly based on my happiness with my abilities and appearance but also because, like I said earlier, I recognize that my body is comfortable where it is at and because I maintain this weight and physicality giving what I choose to give and being what I choose to be.
In short, I’m satisfied, and that makes me happy.
And that isn’t saying that I couldn’t be happier if I lost those 15 pounds but rather that my satisfaction with my life, my weight, and my health is not based on an arbitrary number and lifestyle that are set by another. This also isn’t saying that I won’t eventually choose to make those changes that will lead to losing those 15 pounds. But if I do, I guarantee you that the choice to do so will be the result of an effort to be happier and more satisfied with who I am and not a shift to a lifestyle that I find incompatible with the sole purpose of losing weight.
Our lifestyle choices should be a result of our desires and not the other way around.
[NOTE: I feel the need to clarify that there are some people and conditions that fall outside this general belief. For example, an anorexic is an obvious case where desires that form lifestyle choices is less than beneficial. The same could be said for binge eating, bulimia, obesity, and a host of other conditions and decisions that do not personally apply to me and the situation I am describing. This type of life assumes at least the ability to make reasonable decisions regarding our health and happiness.]
So all that being said, am I going to continue to try to lose those 15 pounds? Sure, but only in as much as it is an indirect benefit of seeking the personal change in my life that I currently find attractive. My guess is that the changes I am making right now are such that, over time, will find those recurring 15 pounds gone for good, but that isn’t the objective of my goal, my happiness, or my life.
It is a symptom.
And those pounds will stay gone because my lifestyle has indeed changed based on personal desires and goals.
As I said to Courtney earlier today after she complained that she missed hiking and other activities and wanted to lose weight so that she could do them again: Go do them. Such activities are not a result (symptom) of losing weight, but weight loss is, and especially in her case, one of the potential results of adding back in activities and efforts that make her happy.
Seek happiness, not weight loss. Seek contentment, not lifestyle changes. Find both and you’ll either find that you achieve the others or that they never really mattered to you in the first place.
Either way, you’ll be happy.