5 years ago, paddling furiously on the last lap of my torturous swimming routine, fighting back the hunger pangs and the blackness that was starting to creep into my vision, I questioned why and what I was suffering for - and realized I had absolutely no answer. Before that moment I had always justified my pain by promising myself that the outcome, a perfect body, would be worth it - but at that moment I realized that even that was not enough. I was hungry, exhausted and miserable, and I knew I had had enough. At the same time, I had absolutely no clue how to reverse my steps - how would I begin eating again? How could I escape this suffocating mindset? How would I be able to find “normal” again, when I had all but forgotten what that meant?
Admittedly, the path to my present self has not been simple. Pursuing happiness is a choice that I actively made, but this is not to say that persistence in making this choice has been obstacle-free. Of course all of us want to be happy, all of the time. But we so often tell ourselves that we can postpone happiness for a little while, if it means that we can be happy later on. We are willing to put ourselves in periods of suffering, for the anticipated increases in happiness that we might later be rewarded with.
This is not to say that we don't sometimes have to make sacrifices, for ourselves and others. There are inevitably cases where we must sit in discomfort for future benefit. But there are also conditions that we must set. Firstly, the goal we are pursuing must be clearly defined. If your goal is as abstract as mine was ("thin enough"), you will find yourself in perpetual discomfort, forever anticipating future happiness that never arrives. Setting a concrete goal is the only way that you can objectively evaluate the costs and benefits of putting yourself in temporary discomfort. Secondly, the level of discomfort should not have long-term mental or physical implications. No future reward is worth compromising your mental or physical health to the point that it scars you in the long run, or leaves you with problematic habits or thought patterns that will continue to hurt you in the future.
Choosing happiness is not easy, nor is it always fun. Letting go of harmful habits is harder than you think, because we have spent so much time believing that they are beneficial to our long-term goals, and because we have become so emotionally invested in those goals, no matter how misinformed they were. Even though I knew that blindly pursuing a thin body did not serve me and engaging myself in disordered behaviors made me and my body absolutely miserable, it still took a marked, conscious effort to retract myself from slipping into these belief systems again. Choosing happiness is about making your subjective state of happiness your end goal - being less concerned about the "shoulds" and focusing on the "haves". In other words, asking yourself what truly makes you happy, rather than trying to conform to what others expect and want, and in doing so, reflecting that social approval into feelings of happiness. Only you truly know what makes your heart sing. Trust that gut feeling.
So it all boils down to this. What makes me happy? What has choosing happiness meant for me? I know that I am truly happy when someone or something fills me up with so much joy that I feel like a tea kettle ready to boil over, where the excited butterflies in my stomach rise all the way up to my throat. That feeling happens whenever I am given the opportunity to share my story with others who are willing to listen, when I start a new project or campaign for Body Banter, when I am actively working towards my mission of making a difference in others' lives with my experiences and my passions. The feeling happens when I land in Hong Kong after a semester away, and when I land in Durham after a holiday. Both times, I am filled with anticipation to strengthen existing bonds with loved ones, and to build new ones.
Happiness is yours to define - no one's approval in the present or in the future can ever measure up to setting your own standards for happiness.
I challenge you to choose happiness :)
Hello world! I'm Steph, and I am an aspiring clinical psychologist, avid advocate for eating disorder awareness, and bubbly human being :)