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The Young and the Restless: Physicality as the Road to Happiness

As a culture, the population is getting older and fatter. It’s a huge topic, but the part I want to talk about here is the message the media broadcasts on a daily basis about the part physical attractiveness and youth have in achieving happiness.

This message of discontent is crafted across the age spectrum, from the types of clothing hawked to preteens (to look youthful instead of childish) to vitamin supplements advertised for seniors (to look youthful instead of old).

Happiness, you’re told, is found in being youthful in appearance (no matter what end of the spectrum you’re on) and physically attractive. Fat is not attractive. Age is not attractive. Therefore, if you are aging and fat, you can’t be happy. Again, the country is getting older and fatter, so people should be desperate to find out how to regain their youth and lose weight.

In truth, the culture is desperate.

People are desperate to somehow regain their youth, to “turn back the effects of aging” as the commercials say and to lose weight. Think about the vast majority of content in popular magazines, the kind you see at the checkout counter at the grocery store. What do the majority of the headlines trumpet? Looking younger and losing weight.

This is what the media does best – concentrate on the superficial. Highlight those the culture has decreed as the most physically perfect. Showcase the genetic lottery winners whose physical characteristics win the perfection jackpot and then pressure everyone else to look the same. Of course, the media will explain to you exactly how to do that – what pill to take, what machine to buy, what cream to use, what food to eat or not eat, what style of clothing to wear, what makeup to use, what hair dye to use…the list is endless.

If the only way to be happy is to be young and thin, why is it I see so many young and thin people at The Center who are anything but happy?

I can tell you unequivocally that being young and thin doesn’t buy you happiness no matter what the media says. The reason is that no matter what age you are, it isn’t quite right, and, if it is right, it won’t be that way for long. (You’ve heard about everyone’s fifteen mintues of fame. The time for physical perfection in this culture is about half that.) It is actually possible to be too thin, and even those whose bodies have been starved into bone-popping skeletal thinness can still be consumed with any number of perceived physical imperfections.

The same culture that promotes the instant gratification of fast food and the feel-good emptiness of packaged food also punishes excess weight and the inevitable signs of age. This, to me, is the cruelty of the culture, designed to send a person into an endless loop of desire and despair.

SOURCE: Chapter 1, “Detours On the Road to Happiness,” in Happy for the Rest of Your Life by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center for Counseling and Health Resources, Inc.

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