The diet culture of self-improvement (a mild rant)
"Self-care". Illustrations by Paru Ramesh
Just like there are false beliefs out there about what you need to do to get fit (the ones I always heard were eating 1200 calories a day of chicken breast and broccoli, don’t eat any carbs, don’t eat after dinner, and exercise more than you actually want to), there are similar ideas about our mental and emotional health.
We’re supposed to have an attitude of gratitude, meditate every day, forge deep connections with our loved ones, and reach out for help when we need it.
So what happens if I meditate every morning, keep a gratitude journal, have close friends, and have a good relationship with my parents, and I’m still not happy?
Does that mean I’m broken? Maybe it means that what you actually need is a book club, a puppy, to do more art projects, to yell out loud insanely in the car, and take up qi gong. We’re not all the same.
Similarly to how if I did eat 1200 calories a day of mostly chicken breast and broccoli I would lose weight, if you did look for reasons to be grateful, meditated every day, and did your best to forge deep connections with people that you care about, it would probably help, but do you even feel drawn to those practices?
Personally, I really don’t like meditating. I never have. The closest I get to meditating is slow yoga. I have to move my body to feel my joy. I did practice gratitude for years and while it did help shift some things in me, at this point right now with how complex the world stresses are, it just feels really trite. My point is that mindset and inner work are just like diet and exercise- you have to figure out what works for you and is sustainable in your life and environment.
What works for you might not work for someone else. In fact, it probably won’t.
I don’t know if you’ve ever met what I call a bliss bunny. It’s someone who does all the things they’re supposed to do to be super duper happy and they talk to you about it all the time and they’re just so happy all the time that you’re like oh my God you can’t be for real and a lot of times they’re not. They’re actually using mindset and happiness practices as a way to avoid whatever deep pain is lurking inside them. I think I saw it called toxic positivity the other day (I shake my head at all the jargon to keep up with, I might be getting old).
Just like we sometimes buy into the idea that once we reach a certain physical size then everything will be great, we also are sold the idea that once we have met certain criteria in our outer lives like having the right job, having a relationship, and maybe having kids, then we should be happy.
The truth is that there’s a lot more to it. There’s your relationship with yourself, the type of thoughts you have, the responses that you have on autopilot to life stresses, and the coping mechanisms that got installed in your childhood that you haven’t taken out into the light and looked out to see if they really suit your life now, to name a few.
All these internal mechanisms have a huge impact on the quality of your life, and dressing up the external won't have any lasting impact.
If you find yourself unsatisfied with life, please take a look at how you treat yourself, and what you love to do that you could add back into your days. Rant over. Sending love.