Happiness vs. Joy… oh, and also your stubborn fat

img_1114I’m still trying to figure out what to call myself. I hate the word personal trainer, because it just has bad baggage. And truthfully, when I met a friend who would become my trainer, I had no idea what one did. All the ones I’d seen were standing over a client, counting reps and looking bored. I had no idea that a good trainer could not only bring about such a huge change (and if you’re new to the story, mine did… I’ve lost 100lbs through nutrition and exercise…and I’ve kept it off!), but that they could actually heal bodies.

At least in my head, I’ve started calling myself a transformationist. But that kind of sounds like an illusionist or a contortionist or something… weird. What I’m really interested in as I work with clients, is not just their weight loss–though things often start there. I’m interested in their transformation. When I look at large pictures of large me, I realize that there’s so much about that person that doesn’t exist anymore: the limiting beliefs and the dumb stories I told myself about what I could and couldn’t do or be, the mousy “just let me sit in a corner and not be noticed” attitude, the person who was controlled by food. I’m starting to realize that my body changed– but the rest of me transformed. When I hear about people on the biggest loser having gained all their weight back, I hurt for them…badly. But I also understand the why: they changed their bodies, but not their motivations, habits, and triggers.

When I think about my own transformation and what I’ve seen in my clients, I’m starting to pick up on patterns. The ones who really rock it out focus on joy, not on happiness. And this word, joy, is an idea that I’m starting to realize is reallyreallyreally important.

What’s the difference between happiness and joy? I wasn’t doing a great job putting it in concrete words so I asked The Google. This I love:

Though I think I’d go further. Happiness is a momentary snapshot, and Joy is a mindset that lasts even when you aren’t particularly happy.

design-2But sometimes we pursue happiness in our decisions, particularly as they relate to our health, fitness, and well-being. And maybe it’s these choices that are keeping us in pants sizes we never believed we’d wear.

  • We choose food that feels like it should make us happy. My go-to fat girl food was Oreos, but I wouldn’t have turned my nose up at a bowl of ice cream. If I was stressed or sad, that’s where I’d turn. And maaaaaaybe for the first 7 seconds of the first bite hitting my mouth, I was happy. But after that I was numb, and no different than a baby with a pacifier. These days when I think about food, I realize that I get joy from watching my body and mind transform, and from the company that shares my meal. By reframing my thoughts this way, I make consistently better choices. And by making this reframing a habit, I don’t beat myself up when I do something that’s less than stellar. By choosing to focus on joy not happiness, I don’t start the food guilt cycle.
  • We choose to sit rather than to move. At the end of a long day, nothing seems lovelier than to sit on the couch with a loved one, or fur baby. This feels like it should make us happy. But the truth is that the body is designed to move. A lot. And it’s not happy at all when it doesn’t. In fact, sitting makes us feel depressed instead of rested, which in turn leads to more sittiting, more frumping, and more wallowing. But choosing to focus on joy reminds us how much better we actually feel when we get up and do things, and move our bodies through the paths of motion they were made to use.
  • Or, if we do move, we choose the momentary happiness of staying in our comfort zones. We feel happier when we just get to the gym, and socialize with our friends, and spend a lot of time finding the perfect song. We feel happier that we just showed up. And while this isn’t inherently wrong, it’s not exactly the path of joy either. Joy comes from realizing how strong and capable you actually are, from doing new things that you couldn’t, from overcoming obstacles, and from hitting goals that you set for yourself. I think my proudest moment, maybe ever, was the day I did a real hands forward, dead hang chin up for the first time in my life. I was 33. Realizing that that was part of my transformation created, and still gives me, a lot of joy. But you won’t ever have the opportunity to prove to yourself what you are capable of doing if you never push yourself and never set goals that seem ridiculous.
  • We chose pills over health. Here’s a little honesty: we’re a pill loving society. There’s a pill for every ill. These pills make us happier (maybe), because (for the most part) they are treating our symptoms. But they aren’t really making us well. And nobody feels truly joyful at having to pay a lot of money each month or spend an hour putting your pharmacy into your daily pill sorter. Imagine though, how truly joyful and healthy you’d feel if you got off your blood pressure or cholesterol or diabetes medication. What if by changing your diet and lifestyle, you were pain-free and not through the powers of modern medicine?

Happiness isn’t a bad thing, but maybe it’s not the only thing. But what would happen to your health, your well-being, and even the fat that seems very happily camped on your body if you started focusing on joy instead?

Watch out, wild thing! You’re about to become a transformationist yourself! (And a healthy one at that!)

Leave a Reply