NOTE: This post was originally published on my previous blog, Body Image Rehab.
What contributes to your level of happiness more strongly, your weight or your love life? A recent article posted on the Daily Mail website revealed some surprising findings from a 24-year study on the topic of happiness. This post outlines key points from the article, as well as my insights related to slimness, relationships, and contentment.
The Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin conducted a study of the ups and downs of the lives of thousands of Germans from 1984 through 2008. One of the findings of this study was that a woman’s weight has a greater effect on her happiness than her love life. Being obese is associated with a higher degree of emotional suffering and dissatisfaction than being single, and having a thin body leads to more life satisfaction than being in a committed romantic relationship.
Stigma Surrounding Obesity & Marital Status
The experts who conducted the study attribute this finding in large part to the great stigma surrounding being overweight in modern society. I don’t have to tell you that we live in a society that is obsessed with beauty, youth, and thinness. Women who are overweight or obese may be unfairly perceived by others as being lazy, unintelligent, or apathetic. In contrast, the stigma surrounding being single has mostly disappeared and most unmarried women no longer feel shame in relation to their marital status.
While the Planck study was conducted in Germany, its findings related to slimness and happiness also applied to readers of the Daily Mail (a British-based publication). A poll on the site asked readers, “What would make you happier, being slim or finding Mr. Right?” A full 57% voted in favor of slimness, while only 43% selected finding a romantic partner as the more important factor in determining their happiness. I am not aware of a similar poll on a U.S.-based website, but my guess is that the results would be comparable.
I wasn’t sure how to answer the poll on the Daily Mail website, so I abstained. I have a lot of thoughts on the topics of weight, relationships, and happiness, and have been trying to make sense of my musings after reading the article about the Planck study. Over the course of my life, I have experienced a great deal of unhappiness and distress related to both weight and relationship issues. I feel very fortunate to have been married for over nine years to my personal “Mr. Right,” and I am now happy and fulfilled in that area of my life. While I continue to struggle with my body image and my weight has fluctuated over the years, I have made a great deal of recent progress in that area.
Much of my previous unhappiness in the areas of weight and relationships was due to the degree of importance I placed on these matters. I relied on being thin or having a romantic partner as measures of my worthiness as a human being. I don’t believe that we should rely on external forces to shape our satisfaction in life. The “if only…” train of thought is perilous and generally leads to a never-ending parade of new things we “need” in order to be happy.
I believe that the triumph is in learning to be happy with what we have in the present moment. Of course, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive to improve our life circumstances. I feel it is healthy to have goals and aspirations and to do all we can to reach them, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of our current state of contentment.
Weight and Mood
I feel that it is normal and healthy to want to look our best. Slimness is a good goal at face value, especially when it is paired with the objective of achieving optimum health. However, when one aspires to reach a level of thinness that is unrealistic for her natural body shape, such striving veers into the territory of dysfunction.
I know from personal experience that thinness in and of itself does not – and cannot – make a person happy. In my post, “Weight and Mood,” I wrote about the effect that weight fluctuations can have on my moods. While I know I’m not alone in allowing a three-digit number to affect my spirits, I know I shouldn’t be placing so much stock on such a small facet of my life. There is so much more to me, and to all women, than a mere number on the scale!
The Search for Mr. Right
The desire to have a committed relationship with a romantic partner is also a worthy pursuit. However, we all know it isn’t easy to find a person you love and who loves you back – and with whom you are compatible. Some people get lucky and meet the love of their life at an early age, but most people have to kiss a lot of frogs before they meet their proverbial prince. While you are searching for Mr. (or Mrs.) Right, it’s important that you enjoy your life journey and pursue other valuable goals and aspirations.
Happiness is a Multifaceted Pursuit!
While it’s true that both slimness and romantic relationships can contribute to our happiness, neither element is sufficient in terms of being truly content and satisfied in life. We are all multifaceted human beings and, as such, should base our happiness upon a wide variety of life aspects. Taking care of our bodies and nurturing positive relationships are both important factors in having a balanced and fulfilling life and should definitely be included on our list of life objectives. But we would be well-served not to place too much emphasis on any one area of life for our happiness. After all, attractiveness fades and relationships can be unpredictable, but inner peace and self-love endure!
I would love to read your thoughts on this issue:
- What is more important to you in determining your happiness, your weight and shape or your love life?
- What other factors are involved in your level of life satisfaction?
- Have these factors shifted at all with age?
Inquiring minds (well, mine at least…) want to know!