I was reading an article in our state capital’s newspaper yesterday. Apparently the London School of Economics led some research, which found that our basic levels of contentment are very much determined by a ‘happiness gene’ (aka 5_HTT) in the brain. What the London School of Economics is doing thinking about happiness rather than working out how to avert another global financial crisis, is pretty much beyond me, but I read the article with some interest. Indeed, happiness and contentment seems all the rage. My own government agency hosted a visit recently from a Bhutanese government delegation which left some glossy publications on their ‘gross national happiness‘ measures. Yes, really.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking the concepts of happiness and contentment. Indeed, I have previously written elsewhere (here and here) about how we strive to attain either one or the other. But I cannot help but wonder about the scientific validity of such research or use of performance measures. Apparently the London School of Economics research involved teenagers and asked them questions like: “How satisfied are you with your life as a whole?” Teenagers, WTF? I mean, what do they know? Give them a few years to battle with the workforce, relationships and mortgages and then ask them about their lives!
Okay, so perhaps I am projecting a bit there. But I couldn’t help but be reminded of my life and happiness journey. I am conscious that I am very much a ‘glass half full’ girl. And, if you’ve read any of my previous posts, it won’t come as a surprise when I confess that, I’m not happy. Nope. I know I should, but I find it damned hard to count my blessings. Indeed my previous pledge in this blog (back in December 2010) that I would be blissfully Pollyanna-like in my posts didn’t even last a few days.
When I was young I was told (in close succession which is why I remember the comments) what a happy child I was. I overheard the mother of a friend of my brother’s telling my own mother what a vivacious child I was. I think I had to ask my mother later what it meant, so it stuck in my mind. And a great aunt, who we saw only a few times a year commented on my personality and ‘happiness’. “Don’t ever lose that,” she told me. Although these stayed with me, it wasn’t until years later that I really thought about how I’d been perceived by others, and perhaps how I actually WAS. By that time I was in the throes of my battle with anorexia nervosa. I’d become a hermit and I was miserable. I was waiting until I got to my ideal weight and life would be perfect. In my saner moments I knew that I was pretty thin and doctors and others were telling me I needed to gain weight, but I was so mentally fucked up that I was just overcome with angst. Did I ever really ‘get better’? Perhaps physically. I know I thought I’d be happy when I reached my ‘goal’ weight, but even when thin I wasn’t happy. I was suspicious of boys who I’d known for years who suddenly liked me. Some of my school friends were seemingly envious and sought hints from me as to how I’d lost such a lot of weight so quickly. Of course in those days (mid 1980s), anorexia was still pretty new and the era of the Size 0 was a few decades off.
So, this is my story.
At 3 – 4 years old I was a happy kid. Always smiling and laughing. My best friend lived next door, I idolised my older brother and was contented riding my bike and playing with my toys. Life was good.
By my early to mid teens I was bigger than many of my friends. Although I played basketball and netball regularly and was fit and healthy, I felt fat. Although I was mostly happy I was often filled with self-doubt and lacked confidence. I wanted to be ‘special’ but felt I wasn’t. I was constantly on diets from ‘liquid’ diets where I drank liquids for a day, to some version of the Israeli Army diet, where I ate apples for a day or two, and then usually gave up. At my heaviest I was about 64-67kgs. (I am 178cm tall.)
Eventually something clicked and I dieted. And I did it well. I got down to 45 – 47kg, but then spent most of my final year of high school between 51-53kg. That year and the one or two which followed were ruled by what I ate and how much I exercised. I look at photos from that time now and can see I was too thin. And, although I am always smiling. My eyes look empty. Dead. I perhaps I was; dead inside.
But time moved on. I got into my late teens and 20s and I started eating and, for a while, yo-yoed about as I tried to gain some control over my behaviour. I lost and gained 20ish kilograms a number of times. I often felt fat and unattractive and it motivated me to try to do something about it.
Until finally I no longer had any control over my eating behaviour. I am (unfortunately) perhaps about 10-15kg bigger now, but I can’t bring myself to get a current photograph taken. I am almost smiling here, but that was before I saw any of the photographs… and I had consumed a bit of champagne!
So, this is the history of me, my happiness and what I have become. And this is why I need to do Michelle Bridges 12 week Body Transformation Challenge.
May 23, 2023
I felt pretty sad reading this post… I wonder why we expect to be ‘happy’ all the time. I aim for feeling content, combined with moments of joy/ happiness (and of course, moments of sadness). Of course, I don’t have the answers for how we can all achieve that but for me it’s about my physical health (I long ago gave up trying to attain an ‘ideal weight’ and instead measure by other parameters such as how my clothes feel, how I feel on long walks, how I sleep, and what my annual blood tests reveal); social health (making an effort to see/ speak to friends and get out to events); and doing the things that allow me to lose track of time (reading, jigsaws, blogging, swimming). I came to these measures after working in palliative care – this is the stuff people talk about at the end of life. I don’t want regrets or to waste time on stuff that messes with my ‘happiness’.
May 24, 2023
Hi Kate and unfortunately this was a really old post that I accidentally reposted. (I’d tried to tidy up stuff on my site and deleted some posts and when I re-added them they posted them on the original date but sent emails).
But yes… contentment is surely a better goal than happiness which can be fleeting.