“When do we ever just get to be happy with our bodies and not spend months/years on end in the diet cycle that really gets you nowhere?”
This question came to me in an email from a client recently. And I know she's not the only one to have felt this way. Far from it actually. I don’t even think I could count the number of times someone has expressed some version of “I will be happy when _____.”
Since I work primarily in weight loss coaching, I often hear about how people will be happy when they get down to a certain weight, or size, or toned-ness of a particular body part. And I always wonder:
Why not be happy now?
It’s not just weight loss that we do this with. In today’s society, we are constantly looking twelve steps ahead... waiting for something to change or waiting for some milestone to happen before we think we'll be truly happy.
We assume that we’ll be happier once XYZ happens, or we achieve ABC. But why not be happy now?
It’s fine to look forward to things and find joy in the things to come, but not at the expense of current happiness. You don’t need to wait to be happy.
Always thinking about the next best thing is stressful. We focus so far ahead, on the next promotion, the next awesome gadget we can get, the next lower weight on the scale, or the next life milestone, that we don’t realize how much it’s stressing us. We put more energy than we realize into trying to make those things happen, or happen sooner.
When people are trying to lose weight, they often focus on the negative, on the parts of their bodies they don’t like and want to change. They talk about how they’ll be happy once their legs are less jiggly or their favorite pants fit again. And focusing on the negative often results in us trying TOO hard to lose the weight. We diet and restrict to the point that it sucks. Then we “fall off the wagon” because it was too tough, and feel terrible about ourselves for not being able to do it. That diet cycle is stressful!
And again, it’s not just dieting. Focusing on how tough parenting toddlers can be often leaves us feeling so incredibly overwhelmed. I’m guilty of this too. My son is a really great kid, but there are days that are definitely more challenging than others. I sometimes find myself wishing to be past the boundary-testing toddler phase so that certain things will be easier.
And then I regret thinking that way, because I know he’s only this small for a little while, and I’m letting this precious time slip away because I’m stressed or annoyed over things that are really just the little things. (Plus we all know that there will be parenting challenges at every stage, the challenges are just different ones!)
Choosing to be happy now means less stress because we start to shift our focus from the negative to the positive. We start to see things in a more positive light and it makes the everyday stuff a bit less stressful because we’re not focused on the future. That brings me to reason #2 to be happy now:
When we’re less stressed, and focusing on the positive instead of the negative, we’re better able to enjoy the current moments. We stop being quite so quick-tempered when our kids do typical kid things. (Yes, I’m still working on this myself!) We’re able to take a mental step back and reframe things that are challenging into things we can appreciate.
Being less stressed about things means we’re able to be more at peace. It’s like a little cloud of negativity gets blown away so that the sun can come through. We forget how nice the sunshine is when everything looks dull and cloudy, but when those clouds part, the rays of sunshine are so enjoyable! Allowing happiness in now enables us to actually be more mindful and appreciative of the present moment.
Speaking of “appreciative”, choosing to be happy now has a funny way of helping us to feel grateful for what we already have. Taking the focus off of the future, and putting it onto positivity and happiness for the current moment, means we get to see how good we actually have it.
In fact, this was something I wrote in response to my client’s question. I told her that I had been in a similar place as her, where I wasn’t actually overweight but was super focused on how I wasn’t “perfect” and therefore felt like I “needed” to lose weight. I was stressing over 5 little pounds. And then somewhere along the way I realized that there were people out there who had it far worse off than I did (and I’m not talking about weight).
While I was stressing over those few pounds, there were others who were facing actually tough things. People were suffering massive financial hardships, or fighting to survive horrific accidents. Other people maybe had just lost someone they loved, or were battling cancer, or had lost a limb, or had a heart attack or stroke, or had to re-learn how to walk, etc.
Seeing how GOOD I had it made it seem silly to be so focused on those few silly pounds. I became more focused on being grateful for all the awesomeness in my life already. I stopped stressing, and was able to let those sunshine-y rays of peace come on in.
From this place of current happiness, less stress, and gratitude comes the possibility of self kindness and self compassion. Did you know that when you’re happy, you actually treat yourself better? Choosing to be happy now means accepting your body and your life just as they are. No one’s life or body is perfect. There’s no such thing! And when we choose to be happy with the current state of those things, we end up taking better care of them.
When it comes to our bodies, we treat them with care and kindness rather than negativity and shame. We eat well because that wonderful person inside deserves to be cared for that way, not because we’re trying to beat ourselves over the head with salads in the name of weight loss. We show ourselves the same grace and kindness that we’d show someone else that we love and care for. And that is incredibly refreshing.
When it comes to our lives as a whole, choosing to be happy now tends to be something that feels so nice, we won’t allow in things that try to change that. We allow ourselves to say “no” to things that don’t contribute to more happiness. We take care to cultivate the seed of happiness that we planted so that it can grow. In a way, that happiness becomes a shield to keep out future negativity that tries to come in.
When we’re less stressed, more at peace, feeling grateful for how good we have it, and being kind to ourselves, the next logical progression of that is spreading kindness to others. Happiness is contagious, after all! And once we realize how good we have it, we can start to recognize that not everyone is as lucky as we are.
Even if you can’t fix someone else’s struggle, you can at the very least show them some kindness. Even something as simple as a smile to a passing stranger can help to make their day just a little bit brighter. And if you’re choosing to be happy NOW, then smiling comes easy! You never know the struggles someone is hiding under the surface. Kindness can go a long way in giving someone a little bit of happiness when they’re going through difficult times.
Perhaps you’ve read this and thought “Yeah that’s nice and all, but how the heck do I just ‘be happy’?” That’s a great question! It’s one of those easier-said-than-done things, right?
While we can’t conjure happiness out of thin air with a magic wand, we CAN remind ourselves to choose it whenever possible. It’s all in how we look at situations, and the lens through which we view them. When something mucks up our day, we can choose to dwell on it, or choose to move on and not let it get to us. There are a bazillion things that happen over the course of the day when we can choose how we react, and keeping a mindset of “choosing happiness” when these situations present themselves helps us practice this. Every time we practice, it gets easier, just like any other skill.
So go forth today and practice choosing happiness. Right now in this very moment, if something negative has been dwelling on you, choose to let it go and seek happiness instead. You’ll stress less, notice more peace, and foster gratitude and kindness both in yourself and in others. It’s a no-lose proposition… You either remain the same, or you feel happier. And that sounds like a win to me!