It's Never Too Late: Happiness Now!
O.K. So sometime in December I was minding my own business and I get this email that I missed because I was very busy minding my own business but actually the email was directly related to my business and so I guess, since I missed it, that means I wasn't minding my own business as well as I thought. (Inhale, exhale, I'm breathing. I'm breathing.)
The email contained a request from BlogHer's community manager asking that I write a post in the first week of the new year on the topic of what is keeping me from being happy right now or what kept me from being happy in the past. Really. What the hell is wrong with her?, I thought. Doesn't she know that if you ask the average American woman what's kept her from being happy she will answer with the obvious, "I am fat!"
The woman may also throw in, if she's me, other obstacles to unshakable joy such as "I have a depression disorder, a thyroid condition, am in debt, survived an ugly divorce; my mother died this past fall; my picky, picky dad lives with me; doctors say I need a kidney; I have a teenager in the house; live in New Orleans and so must know contraflow; I watch local news; I contemplate CNN reports; listen to NPR; am a "progressive" who reads The Huffington Post too much; have a brain; don't understand Twitter ... no, really ... I don't get it; I am black and a woman; and, oh yeah, didn't I tell you? -- I'm fat!"
I'm larger than a UK size 14, but perhaps should be consoled that if I indulge a state of unhappiness, then I'm normal, which was confirmed to me when I found out about this Special K Study via Dave Barry's blog:
THE KEY TO A WOMAN'S HAPPINESS
This study clearly was not conducted among women shopping for bathing suits.(Dave Barry)
Very funny, Dave. Very funny. And when was the last time you wore a bikini?
He referenced this Times of India article about the Special K Study, a study also discussed at Jezebel, where readers determined such a study is suspect if conducted by a weight-loss cereal company. They also debated whether a UK size 14 was the same as a US size 14 and determined a UK Size 14 is more than likely a US size 12, 10, or 8. Leave it to us women to talk ourselves out of being happy at a larger size.
The study that caused such deep debate and navel gazing, however, did not say it's possible to be happy and truly fat. Noooooo. It declares the "most miserable" wear dress sizes above size 18, with one anomaly, the desirable size 6 woman who hates herself. The Special K people can work with that.
A spokeswoman for Special K added: "It's great that curvier women are happier, but we know that many women still find it hard maintaining their ideal shape.
"That's why we've launched a free online tool called Shapemate that has all the help and support women need to achieve their slimming goals." (The UK Telegraph)
As I read the responses at Jezebel, one person's comment helped me put this whole dress-size-to-happiness ratio in perspective. MorningGloria said the following:
I'm happiest when I'm a children's size 3. Back when I was in a child size 3, when I was 3, I didn't have a care in the world. What I wouldn't give to shrink back down to that size and regain the carefree happiness of my pre-literate days. (MorningGloria at Jezebel)
Oh, to the grand ole days of my own illiteracy!
Sorry. I didn't mean to keep you so long and not answer the BlogHer community manager's question: What’s keeping you from being happy right now? Or what’s kept you from being happy in the past?
The answer is not my state of fatness. No, I refuse to fall into the young woman's trap of I'd be happy if only I weighed less. Besides, what I've wanted more than simple thinness for the last three years is to be kick-a** physically fit for my age. I want control of my own body, which is not the same as wanting to be a size 4.
Nevertheless, I confess that I do have psychic distress related to my weight, which is why I was soooooo angry at Oprah when she put her weight back under the public microscope. You may have heard that the most powerful woman in Hollywood is busy this month presenting her Better Life Series, and if you tuned into Oprah Monday you heard her elaborate on her shame about "falling off the wagon" with weight essay in January's O Magazine.
I didn't have to watch Monday's show to know what Oprah would say. I'm fluent in Oprahspeak because, well, as you can see, I could be Oprah. At the beginning of this post, surely you read the list of crises I've faced. I'm a hefty, intelligent, introspective African-American woman who is willing to spill her guts in a public forum, Oprah without the billions. Sigh.
Here's my proof that I'm Oprah-synched. When I wrote in December my honest feelings at her falling off the wagon announcement of shame, I predicted, sort of, what she'd say in her Monday show:
Oprah would probably say taking care of yourself is the best sign of self-love and letting your weight go up, up, and awaaaaay, is not one of the signs of being all right with you. We know that Oprah's heavy with self-enlightenment advice. (Oprah has a Cow)
If you read the post, you'll see that I was in full tantrum mode because in general, I admire Ms. Winfrey, even though I don't get to watch her as often as I once did. I think her "how did I let this happen again" promotion of her magazine and show hit a nerve and not my fat one. It's fine for her to pull the sheet off her shame and failures, but how dare she pull the sheet off mine!
The shame has not as much to do with weight gain, however, as some people may think. As we mature spiritually and psychologically, we can deal with a world that thinks fat is ugly. Nevertheless, unhealthy weight gain can signal that we're missing the inner happiness boat, unless of course, we're one of the few who enjoy looking 10 years older than we are or being out of breath after walking up a flight of stairs. The shame some of us feel, once we've moved past external beauty issues, is in not living up to our full potential as a healthy human.
Whether we like the word or not, "shame" can be a useful emotion. A little shame, discomfort with our own immature behavior, may go a long way to waking us up, pushing us to do it better and reach for our "best life," our bliss. Yet, bliss eludes us when we wallow in shame, waste time on the pity pot. Why does wallowing stop bliss? Why do we wait and wallow?
On one hand, I think I haven't reached bliss or a sustainable level of happiness, because constant bliss is unattainable and unrealistic. I prefer to seek contentment, I tell myself, not full-blown joy.
On the other hand, I believe, as said in one of my other posts on happiness, bliss is attainable because "happiness is within." Trite but true.
I waxed wise again on January 3 and wrote in comments at someone else's blog, Black Women Blow the Trumpet (a blog worth following), that we must seek balance in our lives. I referenced Greek philosophy and said "all things in moderation." Imagine how wise I felt when Oprah said on her Monday, January 5, show that when she's overeating what she's really craving is balance. She's lost balance by overworking and removing her own care from her to-do lists, she said.
Balance. I'm so smart, right?
So, I get the self-love stuff that Oprah and many others are preaching, and it's been preached for as long as I remember. I hear my inner guru telling me all the time that self-love is the key to happiness. I hear it especially after my teenage son has done something that sends up my blood pressure. (Inhale, exhale. I'm breathing. I'm breathing. A teenager will make you believe bliss is a myth.)
Yes, I sound like a sage to myself at times, writing about spiritual matters and the importance of balance, self-love, doing the right thing. But if I'm so smart and if happiness is within me, then why don't I bump into cycles of joy more often?
Wait. My inner guru is speaking now. "Nordette, there's your answer."
I sit, scratching my head. "Huh?"
"Look at what you do!" says the guru, "Much of nothing, if you ask me. Yes, you read. You talk. You instruct. Like so many Americans, you're in love with advice from the gods of self-improvement and possibly even cocky enough to think you don't need them because within you is wisdom. From where do you think this wisdom of yours springs, your huge behind?"
"Shut up!" I say.
I follow good advice, even my own, sometimes. I practice loving myself: eating healthy foods, putting not my wants but my needs first, not clinging to bitterness and unforgiveness. I believe that I deserve to be happy and am capable of attaining and sustaining joy.
The silence here is unkind.
No, I don't. I don't believe I'm capable of happiness, that I can be enough for me. Why is that?
I'm still looking outside for happiness, not as much as I once did, but a little still, and I continue to struggle with self-discipline. Better self-discipline, which must come from the inside, should be my 2009 goal, but that's easier said than done. I'm still part baby in my soul. Babies look externally for structure and comfort. I'm not a baby in all things, but, yeah, part of me is still in diapers.
I've grappled with my self-discipline deficit since I was a teen. Prior to my teen years, I didn't know I was so flawed, however, which is why I think MorningGloria's response to dress size and happiness is amusing.
I'd like to blame my parents here, not enough saying "no" or something, but that's a cop out. Instead, I'll tell you my darkest secret: I am afraid, scared witless that I don't have it in me to be more self-disciplined. I suspect this is my deepest character flaw, a lack of self-discipline coupled with fear. There's this boogeyman in my head who whispers, "You're lazy. Laziness is a sin. Sinners should suffer. No cure for your own nature."
And yet I recall moments in my life when I've been very self-disciplined. I even had a shrink tell me once, "You're not lazy. You're too ambitious to be lazy." And he was quite the sober fellow.
My time for psychoanalysis on this one is up, however. I'm in middle-age and know that I'm not fighting a boogeyman, but a boogeywoman. Me. The me that thinks it's too late to change.
Ugh. I tried to avoid it, but I'll have to quote Oprah here, who quoted someone else I believe when she said Monday that "the saddest words in the English language are 'it's too late.'"
Since around 2006, I think, I've been living with "it's too late" in my ear. It's too late to take control of my body, too late to go to grad school, too late to establish better self-discipline. There's the real shame, giving up on yourself and what you can achieve, becoming paralyzed by the fear that you won't reach your goal.
So, I should learn to ignore myself when she speaks like an idiot. I should live as a mature woman, not as a child hiding under her bed waiting for someone to save me or as a baby waiting for something external to comfort me. I've got to not dwell on past failures and go after what's good for me today. As usual, what I write for others is a message to me, like my poem for the new year, "You Never Know What's Coming For Ya." Some of what's meant here is encapsulated there.
BTW, what's keeping you from happiness?
I'm speaking to me and to you. Whatever you want or need, it's time to stop talking. Go Nike on 2009. Just do it. Happiness now!