When I was 20, I didn’t recognize it at the time, but I was determined to find my worth and my happiness in sex and/or alcohol and/or food. Preferably all at once.
And then, to bring my world, which felt so out of control, into more balance, I would also exercise like crazy, and work like crazy, hoping the end result of the yo-yo would be “Even Steven”. That I’d end up somewhere between the fleeting highs and soul crushing lows. Something that felt like Contentment.
When I was 30, with more disposable income, I was hell bent on finding my worth and my happiness in sex and/or alcohol AND expensive clothes AND a marriage that looked great on paper. With a slightly healthier relationship to exercise but a LESS healthy relationship to work, balance alluded me, and my life looked more like “the upside down” world in Stranger Things. I lived in a McMansion that reflected the condition of my marriage. Impressive on the outside, crumbling on the inside. I kept sprinting. B/c to pause and look at the hot mess of my life felt like a shame so powerful that it might burn me alive. So, I kept striving… if only I could get that glamorous job, or get that new car, or be 5 pounds thinner, then I’d finally be happy.
Most of what I’ve mentioned above (except the sham marriage) is a pleasure. Food, wine, Sex. Nice shoes. Pleasures.
And pleasures, I support. Whole-heartedly. However, pleasures do not, and cannot, last. By their very nature, they are not meant to last. Because we don’t derive meaning from them. No matter how pleasurable, they are not gratifying.
While I was searching for happiness in my younger years, I was merely temporarily filling up an emptiness. I couldn’t know then that what I needed wasn’t the notion of happiness, but wholeness. I had a need to be myself. A need to be seen. A need to be valued.
Full disclosure: I was also looking to love and be loved. And deathly afraid of finding it. But that is a blog for another time.
I used to say, “if I’m out after 2am, I am absolutely getting into trouble”.
It was a boast and a cry for help.
While filling up an emptiness that refused to be filled, a larger problem – or perhaps an inverse problem – was created. I wasn’t just grasping at allusive happiness, with nothing to show for it. That would have been bad enough. Nah, with these particular methods of coping, I would also heap a heavy dose of depression, anxiety, fear, and self-loathing on top of it all. After you share Taco Bell at 3am with a man you’ve just slept with, who is not your boyfriend… try looking in the mirror at yourself! And still like what you see in the reflection!? Good luck! Let me know how that works out for you!! Guess what else – the restaurants got nicer in my 30s, but the behavior didn’t.
Looking back, my only successful “happiness” strategies were physical exercise like soccer & marathons, plus parts of my career. Exercise has both temporary benefits (euphoria chemicals! Yippie!) and long-lasting results on my health & wellness. And at various points in my career, I had the privilege of doing meaningful work that mattered to me.
Also, I’d be remiss if I skipped over this important result; I also believe every experience in my 20’s and 30’s led to greater learnings, greater sense of self, and great understanding of what DOESN’T make me happy. It was all getting me ready for more nuance, more depth, more capacity, more self-awareness, more empathy. Maybe getting me even closer to MORE happiness.
Now, I see women in their 40s (myself included) finding actual answers to the happiness (and wholeness) question. For example, they take up meditation or yoga. They explore new career paths.
This isn’t because we’re smarter or more disciplined or more of ANYTHING than you millennials and younger (although we do have more experience, so I contend, more wisdom!) … we’ve just tried IT ALL and seen that none of it fucking works.
Because those stabs and grasps at the happiness “gold ring”… they were all from the outside in. External validation. External reward.
And for Authentic Happiness – it has to be inside out. Happiness is an inside job.
So, we then, get a little introspective, and wonder — what does wholeness that look like?
Meditation and Yoga help b/c they reconnect mind and spirit. Our minds are incredible tools, but when left to their own devices, they can get us exactly where we think we “should” be, but truly don’t belong. Common examples go like this and are usually someone else’s expectation how your life should look: “I should be married at this point.” “I should have a baby at this point.” “I should work harder at a friendship.” “I should stay late at the office.” “I should have sex more often with my husband.” “I should not eat that chocolate.”
Our minds, instead, need to be guided by what our hearts need. And meditation allows for you to get quiet enough to actually hear what the wise voice inside of you has to say. What do I need? What do I desire? What are my values? What are my strengths? What are my areas for growth? What isn’t serving me? What do I need to let go of (hint: any sentence that includes with “should”)? Once you get clear on these answers, you can begin living from the inside out, and taking actions that are aligned with your individual purpose.
Hiring a coach can help with this transitional part of your journey.
And because this is real life, not a game, you don’t get to collect $200 as you pass go.
Working with a coach doesn’t mean you get to skip the hard parts, the mistakes, or the uncertainty (she’ll help you skip the debilitating shame part, though!).
A good coach helps you remove obstacles so you can better see the guideposts and signs on your path, more easily.
A coach may even get you to happiness more quickly, and efficiently, encouraging you to take a new and different road.
And if nothing else, a coach empowers you to shift your perspective and as a result, enjoy the entire ride (and the view!) more. No matter what the circumstances are.
That includes helping the client see themselves more clearly. Reflect what has been in their blind spot. For example, the reasons they are worthy of love and happiness, and why they are capable of going out and getting it for themselves.
PS: If your goal is to get skinny, don’t waste your money on a coach. Here’s my free and unsolicited advice: respect and honor your body (it’s a temple!) by exercising it mindfully and putting high quality fuel (not crap packaged food!) into it to thrive.
And in conjunction with these lifestyle changes, put focus on your more gratifying goals like having a baby or finding meaningful work, and I guarantee you’ll find more peace with how you look, because you’ll be shining from the inside out. AND the original goal will either become less important or the results will fall into place without any effort.
You can take on so much that you are paralyzed with crippling anxiety, not be capable of eating food, and lose tons of weight as a result. I’m just kidding. Don’t try this. It is a miserable fucking way to be in the world. Trust me. For more joy, I say eat cake instead!