Daniel Gilbert, PhD, a Harvard psychologist, says that Americans do a tremendous amount of "miswanting." We keep wanting things that will never make us happy. For example, practically everyone wants to be rich and thin. Yet, he points out, studies show that having enough money for the basic necessities of life--food, clothing, and shelter, which cost maybe $40,000 a year--is all we really need for happiness. The effect of the next $10 million is negligible.
This tells us that although we fervently believe that something we can touch, like piles of cash or cellulite-free thighs, is going to light up our hearts, the truth is that we usually don't know what will make us happy. Worse, we don't know that we don't know, so we ardently pursue the wrong things.
How can you turn things around? How can you get to the bottom of it and find true happiness? For starters, you must make peace with what makes you unhappy. How about your body? How about the sense of trying to do too much but getting nothing accomplished? How about your stressful relationship with your mother? Here, you'll find advice to help you make peace with all of the above.
Many women have a completely unrealistic picture of what they are supposed to look like: a composite image based on 5-foot-9-inch models (with 5-foot-7-inch legs), movie stars sashaying down the red carpet, criticism from others that they've absorbed and now turned on themselves, and an unrelenting blast of insane information from our culture. Think of the Extreme Makeover TV show. Its message: Happiness depends on what you look like, and with enough cuts of the knife, you, too, can be happy.
"It's time to challenge long-held beliefs about what will make us happy," says Geneen Roth, author of six books on emotional eating and a memoir, The Craggy Hole in My Heart and the Cat Who Fixed It. "This means questioning the harsh litany of self-criticism--about our thighs, arms, facial features--that plays in our heads all day long."
To stop such negative chatter, try the following two-step process:
1. Next time you have the chance (at a grocery store, a mall, a health club), take a good look at a real woman's body. Pick someone who passed through puberty more than 10 minutes ago. Notice the wrinkles, lumps, and bumps. "This is what living looks like. This is what loving and losing and hoping and caring do to bodies," says Roth. "The goal of life is not to get through to the end and wind up looking like you just began. The goal is to allow yourself to have your life--and in doing so, to discover that you are the prize, the celebration, the only place where happiness can ever be found."
2. Once you've looked at real women's bodies for a while, find a full-length mirror, and look at yourself naked for at least 3 minutes. Do this once a week for 6 weeks. (That's how long it will take to transform your attitude.) Look at all the sags, stretch marks, and wrinkles, and tell yourself, "This is what living looks like. This is what loving looks like."