The 10 happiness practices that will make you more body positive
I recently came across Action for Happiness, a charity that helps people take action for a happier and more caring world. According to the charity, there are 10 keys (or practices) to happier living.
Not only are these practices a great way to keep you on track for a happier life, they are also relevant to living a body positive life.
Here’s my take on how you can apply the 10 happiness practices to create greater body positivity in your life:
Giving to others is not only good for your health and happiness, it can also help to improve your body image. According to Dr Aric Sigman in his book The Body Wars, when you focus your attention on others, rather than on your body concerns, it can help to protect against body dissatisfaction.
Try this: The next time you find yourself feeling down about your body or looks, think about how you can redirect your attention by helping someone. What act of kindness can you commit to? The Action for Happiness web-site has lots of great ideas.
Action for Happiness believes that relationships are the most important key to happiness. People with strong relationships are happier, healthier and live longer. In terms of body image, there is some evidence to suggest that the social support within a family can help protect against body dissatisfaction.
Try this: Make it a priority to spend time with the people that are most important to you, especially those who show you unconditional love and support. Re-evaluate any relationships where you don’t feel accepted or supported. For example, are there friends or relatives who pass unwanted comments on your appearance, or are constantly talking about weight? Consider distancing yourself from any relationship that leaves you feeling dissatisfied with your looks.
There is no doubt that exercise is good for physical health, but it also has a positive impact on mental health, including body image.
In a study looking at the impact of exercise on body image, Dr Thomas F Cash found that regular participation in aerobic exercise helped to improve body image; and according to research by the University of South Florida in 1994, substantial improvements in fitness and weight loss were not required for there to be an improvement in body image. The good news is that even light or moderate exercise will help you to experience better body image.
Try this: Find ways to move your body that feel good for you. For exercise to be sustainable, it has to be enjoyable. For some ideas on how to move your body, read Move your body to improve body image
Stopping to notice what you already have in life, and being grateful for it helps boost health and happiness. Studies have shown that people who keep a gratitude journal score higher on life satisfaction compared with those who don’t.
When it comes to body image, a prelimary study by the University of Maastricht, Holland suggested that appreciating the function of the body over its form can help improve appearance satisfaction.
Try this: Keep a gratitude journal – end each day with 5- 10 things that you are grateful for in your life. Be sure to include some items about your body.
When I practise gratitude for my body, I focus on what it has done for me physically, whether that’s a run, a walk to the shops or even being appreciative for what my internal organs have been up to, such as digesting my food or keeping my blood pumping around my body.
#5 Trying out (new things)
Trying out and learning new things keeps you curious, engaged, and provides a sense of accomplishment, according to Action for Happiness.
When you’re focussed on learning new concepts and ideas, it’s harder to focus on negative thoughts about your appearance. Learning can help you discover a new, hobby, skill or life purpose, all of which shine a light on what makes you special and unique. Realising that there is more to you than appearance helps boost body image and self-esteem.
Try this: Think about a hobby or skill that you’ve always wanted to try or learn and devote some time to it each week. When you’re engaging in that hobby or skill, allow yourself to fully immerse in it, mindfully noticing everything about your experience.
When you have goals to look forward to, it helps you feel positive about your future.
Many of the women I work with have been putting off their dreams because of lack of body confidence. They say that they’ll apply for the promotion, search for a new job, or pursue a new relationship once they’ve lost weight, toned up, whatever.
The problem with this approach is that you’re putting life on hold when you could be living it now. You don’t need to feel good about your body before you can pursue your dreams. The shape of your body doesn’t determine your success. Using your body as an excuse for not pursuing your goals will only erode your happiness.
Setting goals that are meaningful to you and working towards them will make you happier than having the ‘perfect’ body ever can. When you have a definite purpose for your life, you realise that your size or shape is not the be all and end all. When you are living a life that is fulfilling, you’ll stop focussing on your looks.
Try this: Ask yourself if you’re putting off going for certain goals because of your body or appearance. If so, ask yourself if you could work on those goals now? What’s the worst that could happen? Write down 3 manageable actions that will move your closer to your dreams and start them now.
Being resilient helps you bounce back from difficult times. When you have coping mechanisms to deal with difficulties, you experience better health and happiness.
Body image researchers have investigated ways in which women can protect against body dissatisfaction, known as ‘Body Image Resilience’. The Universities of Arizona and Louisiana have identified the following resilience factors:
- Family support (see #2 Relating);
- Having an understanding of the pressures of society in relation to appearance;
- Actively rejecting the airbrushed, ‘perfect’ body ideal.
Try this: When faced with upsetting emotions about your body, try one of these resilience strategies: talk to a family member about your feelings, tell yourself that society places a lot of pressure on women to look a certain way and it’s natural to experience this pressure from time to time, or make a decision to view every image in the media with scepticism – assume each one is airbrushed and unattainable.
Positive emotions feel good when you experience them, but they also help you to perform better, increase resilience and physical health.
This happiness practice is about focussing on the good aspects of every situation, not just the bad.
It’s easy to get stuck in a negative spiral of emotion when it comes to your body. The biggest barrier that you face to feeling comfortable in your own skin is your own negative inner voice. Being able to reframe your negative thinking is vital if you are to create more positive and balanced thoughts about your body.
Try this: Become aware of the negative thoughts you have about your body and write them down over the next week. Then, for each thought ask yourself:
- What is the evidence for this thought? Is it really true? Just because you thought it, doesn’t make it true!
- What other perspectives are there to counter the thought e.g. what would your best friend say?
- What is a kinder, more balanced and encouraging way to think about my body? e.g. you may not look like a supermodel, but then nobody does! You have a body that works just fine and that your partner appreciates.
Being comfortable with who you are, warts and all promotes a happier life. Acceptance requires an understanding of what makes you special and unique and an ability to love and approve of yourself despite those aspects you’re less keen on.
Body acceptance is no different. Acceptance of your body is the foundation for better body image. When you accept your body you do so unconditionally, with no exceptions. You stop saying, “I’ll like my body when I lose weight/tone up/whatever”. Accepting your body as it is doesn’t mean you are complacent about its health. Acceptance means that you love and respect your body enough to take care of it.
Try this: Say to yourself, “I love and accept my body as it is right now.” Repeat this over and over to yourself in front of the mirror each and every day. Remember, body acceptance is the key to better body image. If you only add one of these practices into your life, make it this one!
Living life with meaning is about being part of something bigger. What that something is will vary from person to person.
Being part of something outside your own life brings feelings of connectedness, fulfilment and contentment. When you focus on the bigger picture of life, there is less time for your own worries. When you lend your support to a cause or a community, body dissatisfaction will take on less significance.
Nearly 10 years ago, after a break-up that left me feeling bereft and low in confidence and self-esteem, I volunteered on a lion breeding project in Africa. Being up close to nature and knowing I was contributing something of value, I noticed my worries and concerns drifting away. Returning home I had a whole new perspective on my life.
Try this: Think about what has the most meaning in life to you. Perhaps it is playing an active part in your family, or helping a cause or community you believe in. Find out how you can get involved and decide how best to contribute.