Happiness

happiness quote

Happiness is hard. I don’t want it to be, but it is. Growing up I took my happiness for granted, sauntering through each day unencumbered by anxiety, self-consciousness, and doubt, never guessing that once I finally became an adult I’d often struggle to feel content, joyous, and serene. The adult world is full of debt and responsibility, comparison and fear, confusion, judgment, tough decisions, and failure. The adult world can transform happiness into a rare commodity, and many of us struggle to capture it.

Happiness is even harder when you hate your body. You may have amazing friends, a loving partner, incredible family members, a rewarding job, a fulfilling spiritual life, and enriching hobbies but if you loathe your physical form it’s possible you’ll always feel a bit hollow. You may feel that you should be happy, but unable to access the emotion because you’re constantly brought up short by your self-consciousness and discomfort.

In my experience, the path to happiness often begins with self-love and body acceptance. If you want to feel fulfilled and rewarded but can’t love the skin you’re in, you’re setting yourself to a well-nigh impossible task. Learning to be kind to yourself, to respect your body’s needs and natural shape, to be thankful for everything your body does, to celebrate the physical alongside the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual inevitably leads to increased confidence, gratitude, and contentment. Loving your body can be absolutely key to unlocking personal happiness.

Now, HOW you learn to love your body is the real question. And, as you undoubtedly know by now, I believe that body knowledge gained through explorations of personal style can foster self-love and self-respect. Style has a very real impact on body image, and I am convinced that dressing well expresses self-respect and self-understanding. This was my path: I hated my body, resented it, longed to change it and fought to suppress it until I discovered that I could, instead, celebrate it by dressing in fun, flattering, and form-fitting clothes. I learned to love my body by learning to dress it well. And I write here in hopes that some of you can do the same.

BUT I feel compelled to point out that I don’t believe that style is the only way to unlock self-love, or that self-love is the only path to happiness. And I feel further compelled to explain that what I really want for you – all of you – is simple happiness. That’s it, nothing more. I don’t want you to be trend hounds, I don’t want you to be style mavens, I don’t want you to feel pressured to look paparazzi-worthy every day of your lives, I don’t want you to be expert shoppers or figure-flattery experts. Not unless you want those things for yourselves. But I do want you to love yourselves and feel joy. I truly do. I learned to love myself and feel joy by diving headfirst into the world of fashion, so that’s what I write about here. But it’s a big, diverse, complex world full of people and experiences and thought-processes and activities that may make you WORLDS happier than focusing on your style ever could. And I honestly love that.

Happiness is the point. Style is just a way.

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  • I’ve been thinking about happiness–oddly, because of an Eleanor Roosevelt book I just finished. She says we achieve happiness first of all by being honest with ourselves. She wrote that in 1960–did women have major body-image issues in the pre-supermodel era? So many women today aren’t honest with themselves about their bodies–they insist that their bodies are ugly and unacceptable because they don’t live up to some “standard.”

    According to ER, happiness also comes from doing your best in your life and work and loving others. And being useful.

    I think Already Pretty intersects these topics very well! Thanks for what you do here!

  • Happiness and joy are actually very different. Happiness comes and goes with circumstances. Joy and confidence (self love if you like) are deep…steadfast…and cannot be shaken. I may not be a happy camper every day, but my joy is always deep down inside and nothing can take it away.

    • Sal

      Interesting! I think of joy as an essential component of happiness, and of joy as quite fleeting.

  • It’s interesting that style can be the way to this for you. For me, I spent much of my childhood being told that I was bad at physical activities, dodging angrily pegged balls, being picked last, etc. And then my 20s was spent in the unenjoyable slog of distance running untll my body rebelled. Fashion never really helped fix my poor relationship with my body, either when I was a kid and I got my hands on a rare, much-wanted indulgence item, or when I grew up and was spending my own money. The thing that helped me was to find activities that my body is good at, and send an inner “f you” to those inner middle school voices telling me I was clumsy and unskilled. Weight loss came as a result of finding that, and of course that mattered, but I think finding activities that I could be good and graceful at mattered just as much. So, that’s another way.

  • Kate K

    *slow clap* Sal, how did you get to be so wise? Seriously, two sentences and you’ve explained it all. Bravo!

  • That was beautifully put.

  • Anna

    Wonderful post; thanks! You describe your path through this particular thorny thicket most attractively and eloquently while affirming that countless others are equally valid. I deeply admire your generosity of spirit.

  • Michelle

    I’m having a real hard time with my body image at the moment, to the point where I hate myself. This has been going on for a good six months now. I don’t get it. I have put on 10lb in the last year. 10 small pounds. I have the most wonderful loving husband, we are in want of nothing. We have rich spiritual lives and true friends and family who love us. I have always been told I’m pretty. Yet my weight – this one thing – is all I can focus on. I feel so depressed about it. You hit the nail on the head Sal.

  • Marsha Calhoun

    Happiness is a many-leveled thing, isn’t it? This post is so very welcome and helpful for those of us whose perspective sometimes gets wonky. I would add that self-love, and love of one’s body, is also strongly associated with one’s ability/inclination to love others; I mention this because (thanks to you in great part), I have noticed incremental changes in my attitude towards others as I work on improving my attitude towards myself. These changes manifested this morning as a response to a photograph of a woman in the newspaper – some time ago, I would have seen her as being too heavy, having sort of a lumpy figure and odd eyes, but today I found myself lingering longer and, after my initial response, wanting to find something to appreciate rather than dismiss. And I did – which surprised me. I wasn’t consciously
    trying to be a better, less judgmental person, but it seems that this is what I am inadvertently becoming. And that might be a milestone on the road to happiness.

  • Anonymous

    I read your first paragraph there and almost burst into tears (but I’m at my desk at work, so luckily I stopped myself). I’ll be 25 next month, have been happily married to the near-perfect husband for 2 years now, have a great family, and so much to love about my life, but this past year (especially the past few months) have been a battle with my mind to be content, be happy, and not be stressed about the little things in life. Shopping for me is an outlet sometimes, because I am of the type that loves pretty things, but it seems to always be a temporary pick up. I don’t think I’ve ever had body image or weight worries, although I do feel down sometimes about nothing in my closet looking just right. My biggest problem may be being to aware of what others think of me, and being afraid that anyone will think negatively of me or misunderstand me. It is so tough! I often daydream about being a kid again and being free from these silly worries. So anyways, enough about me, it just felt so good to read something about happiness, and how it’s not always just there for people. I am still learning how to achieve it. Thank you for the great post.

  • Angela

    Happiness is something I have been struggling to find lately too, I don’t know why. Well I do know, I am unhappy in one of my relationships with a family member, and it is difficult to see the bright side. However, my body isn’t perfect and I am over that. These blogs help, it’s nice to see others with all different body types dressing their best self. And some days, getting dressed pretty does perk me up…one day at a time, 🙂

  • Em

    I think happiness is when your heart feels like smiling and doing a cartwheel even when you know that you suck at cartwheels. Or, happiness is when you feel like you can do everything and you don’t need to do anything.

  • Eleanorjane

    I’ve read some excellent articles about happiness that say the way to find it is to not seek it specifically but to seek other stuff like doing good for others and doing activities that we’re good at. Here’s one list of ideas… http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/completelist/0,29569,1631176,00.html

  • So eloquently articulated Sal, and I think you will touch a chord with many women reading this (I know of quite a few friends I want to send this onto). On a related note, although the topic is not identical, The Citizen Rosebud posted a blog about happiness recently too. I think both of your topics compliment each other really well.

  • Monica

    I think you can be happy and still not like your body. That’s the boat I’m in now. I’m choosing not to accept it, and to do something about it. Like you said, there are many different roads and this is the one I’m choosing. I applaud and admire the women who can be accepting of themselves and use other tools, such as fashion or exercise, but for me, I need and want to lose weight. I’m four weeks into my journey and while I was happy before, I find that I am getting happier each day.

  • Loved reading this post. I do not necessarily have body issues (I do wish I was a little more toned) but I do have that fear of not having everything therefore I’m not allowed to be happy… I was laid off last year and have been feeling like a failure at life because I STILL have not found a full time job. Thanks for this, It made me realized you can be happy with what you have.

  • I used to think happiness was just a thing you were blessed with or you weren’t. When I was at the depths of my depression I also felt somehow superior to happy people, thinking they were shallow or lacked my realistic perspective.

    I’ve since learned that happiness is ongoing and it’s a decision you make. You can take any given situation and let the negativity wash over you, or you can make an effort to find the silver lining, to appreciate the little things.

    Loving my body and myself was also a conscious decision. It was becoming detrimental to me to keep beating myself up about absoutely everything. It was such a foreign concept to me that some people actually like themselves.

    I get my down days and sometimes I let myself indulge in self-pity for a while. But then I get back on that self loving horse (heehee) and try to love myself even more.

  • Hey Sal – you’re welcome for the shout-out! I loved this post (and your blog, really) so much, I wanted to share it with my readers!

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  • This was an amazing read. thank you so much. it’s not often that we give ourselves permission to love ourselves unconditionally. thank you

  • Em

    it would be nice if we all looked like our personality. then people wouldn’t falsely judge by looks………

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