Updated: Jul 7, 2022
I was making lunch earlier, and I went over to my pantry on a quest for something to catch my eye when I saw a bag of Ghirardelli chocolate. Digging through it for the dark chocolate salted caramel, I finally pulled one out and eyed it longingly. "I'll have this after lunch." I thought to myself but what I really wanted was to have it right at that moment. Then I thought, "Well, I could always have one now and one after lunch." My smile grew. "After all, I did nail an important interview today, so I deserve it." That last thought stopped me in my tracks. Here's why: I believe that when we justify doing something we enjoy by saying that we deserve it because we did or did not do x, y, or z, we are not valuing our happiness.
As children, we naturally follow what brings us joy and stray away from what doesn't. Our brains are taking in all information available, and that creates the conditions we live by as adults. As children, we are told if we behave ourselves, we will be rewarded with a treat or something that we want. We are told that if we continue being bad, Santa won't bring us presents. I'm sure you can think of dozens of examples that you have experienced over your lifetime. What may seem like a harmless way to discipline children creates adults who think they have to earn their happiness. It creates a woman who justifies going out with her girlfriends on a Friday night by saying that she had a rough week and needs a drink and some gossip rather than saying that being with her best friends makes her happy. Period. End of story. It creates healthy, functioning adults who feel the need to earn everything they do that isn't a necessity - things that make them feel truly good or happy.
I see/hear/do it myself often when it comes to diet. "I can't eat the chocolate cake my daughter made because I didn't reach my 10,000 steps today," or "I worked out hard at the gym today, so I deserve that glass of wine." These are not healthy thoughts, and they do not prioritize your happiness. In an effort to rewire my brain and my habits, I will say x "makes me happy," and that's it; I don't need to explain it to myself or anyone else further. An example of this is: I love cereal. I am just a cereal person. I love the crunch and the perfect amount of milk, and it's my favorite thing to eat first thing in the morning with my tea. A while back, I was trying to eliminate processed foods, which is great, but I found myself really missing my morning cereal, so I just said to myself, "I am a healthy person, and eliminating this one thing that I enjoy eating is not making me any healthier in the grand scheme of things." The next morning I was crunching along when my boyfriend, who knew that I was quitting cereal, said, "I thought you weren't eating cereal anymore?" and I responded, rather vehemently, "It just makes me happy, ok?" He grinned and said, "I think that's great." Now that statement has become something we both say, and neither of us questions it because, after all, what's more important than taking joy in every little thing we can?
If you are yearning for a massage, a new dress, or a night out, think about why you want those things. Is it because they are going to add value to you or your life, i.e., are they things/experiences that genuinely bring you joy, are they things you feel like you deserve because you did something else, or are you covering up the pain with something that should be enjoyable? Once you answer that, your next step becomes clear.
Society, our parents, teachers, friends, TV, advertisements, and even more that I don't care to list have programmed us to believe that we have to earn our enjoyment, our happiness. Our rising rates of depression and other mental health challenges are no surprise when we realize that we have tied happiness to conventional metrics of success rather than to our individual experiences. Happiness isn't something you can chase; it's what you create for yourself. It's celebrating every win AND every lesson. Learn to tune yourself into your own joy and become determined to rewrite how you think about what you deserve because guess what? We don't own a lot in this life that can't be taken away from us, but we do own how we feel about ourselves and everything else. The only requirement to being happy is being alive. It's never too late to change our habits.
You might be reading this and thinking, how is this dangerous? Sure, it's not great, but dangerous? This mentality may not be dangerous to our physical bodies, but it certainly is detrimental to the evolution of our souls and, more collectively, to the future of our society. One of our inalienable rights is the pursuit of happiness, but we capitalized and monetized it and lost sight of how simple and honest pleasure really is. What if people reconditioned themselves to know that they innately deserve to be happy and don't have to do anything to earn it? What would that world look like? I believe it would be a stronger, more accepting, and loving place.
I challenge you to become aware of your dialog and if you notice yourself using a 'this for that' justification, make it your mission to either say, "I am doing this because it truly feeds my soul," no matter how big or small, or "this doesn't serve me, so I am going to choose something else." Even if you make the same choices, how you feel about them is entirely different. I would love to hear how this works for you and if you have thoughts to add!