Misguided Struggle for Societal-Defined Perfection

“They do that because society tells them that’s how they achieve success.”

I probably say that more than I care to admit. When it comes to issues of health, career or personal struggles, I often see people following a path set by society. If you make a lot of money, you will be successful. If you become successful, you’ll be able to buy lots of things. If you buy lots of things, you’ll be happy.

The truth is that, while money can buy things, it can’t buy happiness. What is success, really, without happiness?

Success is nothing without happiness. People are succumbing to stress, anger and depression because the things they were told would lead to happiness have only lead to emptiness. I imagine many people around the world don’t even realize those negative emotions have become commonplace in their lives. This is why they overeat, over drink and/or over medicate.

I’m not saying this is the one and only answer. The problems of the world are for more complex than that. I do believe this faulty path we have been told will lead to happiness is partly to blame, though. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was at the root of many issues. We can’t even see that we are depressed or angry because we’ve been told every action we’ve taken is tailored to result in happiness. How could it all have been wrong?

I was thinking about this the other day when my dear blogger friend Kylie mentioned (and later wrote a blog post about) feeling insecure when her love of the indoors was scrutinized. We’re suppose to love the outdoors. We’re supposed to be athletic and run around in the sunshine. Ironically, we’re also supposed to happily sit in an office 40 hours a week in order to earn money, thereby affording our athletic play.

As another person who tends to like indoors more than outdoors, I feel for Kylie. I enjoy looking outside, especially during a rain storm. Weather can create excellent backdrops for reading and writing. Also, bug are gross, but seem to find me alluring. I don’t like them around me. Maybe these are all petty reasons for disliking the outdoors, but it’s just a preference. It’s not like I don’t enjoy the outdoors. I just like being inside a little better.

This photo, “”Reading nook; caffe; vino.” is copyright (c) 2014 Fallonious Monk and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license
This photo, “”Reading nook; caffe; vino.” is copyright (c) 2014 Fallonious Monk and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license

How often are we told what we should want or desire? My boyfriend will sometimes lament that he isn’t good-looking enough for me, a criticism which I completely disagree with. He’s no body builder, but then, I’m no swim suit model and he think I look great. I think he sees the men plastered over magazines and movie covers, thinking that’s how he should look and that’s what I should desire. That’s certainly what society likes to perpetuate.

I know how he feels, because it took me a long time to really like how I look. While I think I have reached that, it’s still a battle. I’m changing every day. Age gradually makes me look a little different. I have to learn to admire and accept every little change that comes my way.

There are a lot of things we use to measure our value which provide no real value at all. Money, fashion, expensive things – what is it all worth if we aren’t happy with our life?

Do we ever stop, literally stop, and just meditate on ourselves? Who are we and what defines us? What does a happy future look like to the person you are? Disregard what society says happiness looks like. We can only discover happiness for ourselves by getting to know our own spirit.

I sometimes joke about how every major decision in my life has been met with disagreement from my father. We’re supposed to make our parents happy, right? They’re the ones who give us the tools to succeed. Yet, they have been fed the same message we have. Do they know who their children really are enough to know what will and won’t bring them happiness.

My father was against my choice in college major. He was against my choice of college. He was against my study abroad experience. These three things, along with a few other major decisions, have put me where I am today. I know he was just looking out for what he thought was best, but I had to take a stand. I had to know myself and what I needed for happiness. My father was not the one living my life. While his opinions were heard, I had to be the ultimate decision maker.

The same might be said for society.  don’t think our culture is trying to trick us. Instead, as a group, we have developed a society which believes money and possessions equal happiness. That’s the end goal: happiness.

We have to think outside of society, sometimes. The things we know we’d enjoy, the things that would bring us happiness, are not always the things society will smile upon. That’s okay. If you ask me, it’s better to be true to yourself, regardless how society reacts, then it is to pretend to be someone you’re not.

What misguided things do you think we’re told bring happiness? Are those that tell us those messages coming from a place of concern or malice? What things bring true happiness to you? Have you ever struggled to come to terms with something odd that makes you happy? How did you come to accept yourself?

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17 thoughts on “Misguided Struggle for Societal-Defined Perfection”

  1. I have a vintage ad that hangs in my hallway at home. “You’ll be happier with a Hoover. Get happier today!” There are two women in dresses and high heels smiling brightly as they vacuum. I put it there, featured prominently, to remind myself that media completely misses the mark on everything. It will not define or manipulate me, no matter how hard it tries.

    1. The media does misrepresent a lot, though I think some messages exist outside of media. The idea that having a heteosexual family, middle class job and 2.5 kids is the only way to achieve happiness is still a strong idea in our society. People think you have own a home, you have to own a car and you have to make money, all in order to be happy. While those things can make people happy, they’re hardly the things that make everyone happy. We’re all different. The perfect life for any given person is as unique as their personality.

    1. Well, I’m happy you agree ^_^
      Now if only I could convince my boyfriend he doesn’t need a six pack to be considered good looking.

  2. As far as coming to terms with something odd that makes me happy and how I came to accept myself, let me first say, I’ve always been told that I’m weird. It makes me sad when people try to use that word as a means to insult me because I don’t think weird is a negative thing. Unfortunately for me, the things I say sometimes make people very confused or angry and they feel the need to reprimand me because I have no ‘filter’. For a short time I felt sad about my situation. I love to talk. I love to say what’s on my mind. I don’t always think about the words coming out of my mouth because those words no matter what they may be are mine and I’ll take responsibility for them as soon as I hear what they are. No one ever seemed to share that sentiment with me so for a few years I barely said anything to anyone and instead waged wars in my head. I came to accept who I am when I had the realization that I had never stopped being me at all. So people got upset, that’s great! If you don’t like what I say, tell me why. I truly want to know. Inform me of how I’m wrong and together we can find common ground. Don’t tell me I shouldn’t say things though. It’s the worst experience ever when you have to sit and listen to people tell you things you don’t agree with and then talk down to you when you try to voice your opinion.

    1. I’m certainly weird, too. Weird and nerdy are two great adjectives for TK. I don’t take them as insults either.

      I admit, I can talk a lot and I prefer not to have a filter. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. At least, not in causal settings. You just seek out the people who appreciate you for being you!

  3. I can relate. I’ve done the thing where I compare my body with models and feel insufficient, or majored in something my dad thought I should major in — and later got a graduate degree and what I was interested in. And I ended up with my focus of study largely on these issues. Thanks for bringing it up!

  4. Since you make it a habit to “question everything,” I’ll play devil’s advocate and tell you a funny story. What if, when it comes down to empirical data, money really does buy happiness? Economists at the Brookings Institution did a study that indicates that we have yet to reach a “satiation point” where having any more money ceases to result in an increase in happiness [1].

    Just something to think about.

    [1] http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2013/04/subjective-well-being-income

    1. Depends on how you define happiness. As far as I’m concerned, there’s short term happiness and long term happiness. Getting money almost always makes people happy, at least initially. But, when they lay on their dying bed, will they look at their piles of money and be happy, or will they wish they’d spent more time with friends and family?

      To say money doesn’t buy happiness isn’t to say it buys only sadness. just that money isn’t the be-all-end-all of life.

  5. Reblogged this on 50 Fit Life and commented:
    Interesting read. I thoroughly agree with the sociatal pressure towards perfection. Health, wellness and fitness have become an industry that steers and influences our Western cultures mindset. Just check out the magazine covers while standing in any check-out line. The “perfect” body…or what we are made to believe is the perfect body reflects back to us what we are not. Furthering our negative mindset about our identity as a beautiful human being.

    1. It’s very true. And, while the women on those covers deserve to be happy for the way we are, so do we all. We are all beautiful in our own way, no matter our shape, size or age.

  6. Thank you for addressing this issue. The 21st century has brought a lot of changes, along with a need to “fit in”. And that can be blamed on the media. Now, I always think before making a decision if this is what I want, or what others will want from me, or will be socially acceptable.

    1. I never thought of the need to fit in as as 21 century thing. Certainly people have always felt a certain pressure to fit in to a societal standard. I think the issue is just more prominent now that people are more free to go against the grain.

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