In Search of Joy

052by Jodi Galin, Ph.D.

Sarah, who used to really love world travel, stopped traveling due to judgmental complaints about her body size that she received from airplane seat neighbors. Alex stopped joining his friends on social outings due to his fears and preoccupation with what he was or was not going to eat. Gerry, despite her loneliness, could not open herself to the idea of dating until she felt her body was “thin enough.”

If only (fill in the blank), I would be happier. Fill in your own blank: I had a boyfriend/girlfriend, I had a new job, I lost weight/gained weight/had bigger boobs…, I had more friends, I knew what my passions were. . . How can we thrive in our lives without waiting to fully engage until we have lost weight, decreased our preoccupation with body size, or ended self-loathing? While I certainly do not have all the answers, here are some ideas to try.

Get out of your house. Not much socializing and risk taking happens in your living room. Put yourself into social situations in order to meet new people and make deeper social connections. Waiting until you like your body more or are fully comfortable with your eating, you will keep yourself from experiencing joy and connection. Often actions need to precede emotions. A cycle of shame can look like this: body loathing leading to hiding yourself at home, leading to loneliness and more loathing, confirming for you that you are not worthwhile. If you can take action first, for example attend a get-together of old college friends, you are likely to have fun, feel better about yourself, and treat yourself better with food. Hence, you will create a positive cycle leading to more joy and self-acceptance.

Share yourself. Connections, friendships, and romantic relationships grow with one person taking a risk by sharing or self-disclosing. Relationships often are built on a backbone of a breadth of self-disclosures. This is how people get to know each other initially. Ultimately deeper, personal disclosures help create more intimacy. Timing, safety, and feelings of exposure all need to be considered when taking the risk of deep sharing. Martin Seligman, Ph.D., in his book, Flourish, theorizes that relationship connections are one of the five elements that contribute to our well-being.

Be present in your daily life. This is such a complex concept and has become part of our current cultural mantra. Be mindful. While most of us adults in western cultures could spend a lifetime trying to achieve this, I am proposing to merely join the process. While I applaud everyone for trying mindfulness techniques, I am suggesting something far simpler. Engage in your daily tasks – work, studying, volunteer activities, responsibilities, family, hobbies, interests. . . To the best of your ability, make choices about how you want to spend your time. Preoccupations with food, weight, and body can be a distraction from full engagement in life around you. This preoccupation keeps you safe from all outcomes associated with taking the risks of engagement, especially emotional. However, it also dampens joy.

Take a risk. Try something new. This recommendation is a broad brushstroke of an idea. I am suggesting everything from a leap of faith to lifelong unrealized dreams to unplanned ideas. Despite your fears, feed yourself in a healthy manner and/or exercise in moderation, listen to your body cues. Make your dreams come true: return to school to change your career direction, demonstrate to your boss that you are ready for a promotion, write blog even if you have difficulty putting the words on the page, use your skills to create something new for yourself or your home or to sell, get on an airplane for your very first time, or go on a safari. Perhaps try something on a smaller scale and more in the moment: go on an outing that you have never been on before such as to a new city, museum, sporting event, social networking club, dance class, adult education class. . . These types of achievements are the building blocks of contentment and joy and tend to make less room for preoccupation with food, weight, and body.

Don’t wait to live.

Seligman, M. E. (2011). Flourish. NY, NY: Free Press.