Why 'Love Yourself' And 'Be Happy!' Aren't Helpful.
Updated: May 13, 2020
Love Yourself! Be Happy! You’ve all read these messages on coffee cups, sweaters, wall decals, journal covers, cushions, you name it. Out here in Berlin, I can’t even step onto the train without being told to Keep Calm by a stranger’s tote bag. You might expect the wearers of such slogans to be chill and happy, but in my experience, this isn’t the case. They're invariably annoyed, stressed, or in a humdrum mood at best. Maybe I’m just unlucky. Maybe the gal wearing the Good Vibes Only sweater on the street really is the sparkle of light at every party.
This weird proliferation of sugary sayings got me thinking lately: Is there something deeper going on behind them? And, urgh, why do they annoy me so much? The conclusion I came to was that, whether they come from inspirational messages on social media, YouTube influencers or our co-workers, telling someone to just love themselves, ‘keep calm,’ or ‘be happy’ just isn’t helpful.
Perhaps these jolly aspirations work for some people in that it makes them feel like they’re buying into a cheerful ideal. But I have a sneaking suspicion that many more feel irritated by them because they demand something from the observer that is actually bloody hard to do. How do you love yourself and be happy? How do you manifest those things out of thin air when you feel anxious, depressed, or you’re just trying to survive another overcrowded, smelly train commute?
I believe deep down we all want to be part of the good vibes and spread them around the world. We want to love ourselves, be happy and chill. The Herculean challenge is that we’ve built a society and culture that makes these things incredibly hard to achieve. It’s like wearing a T-shirt that says Have The Perfect Immune System! A lovely thought, but not useful or inspiring. Worse, for people that struggle with mood and/or personality disorders, these well-meaning platitudes are lumped into the same clichéd advice category as telling someone to ‘Cheer up’, with about the same success rate: zero.
I’m not sure why or when these messages became so commonplace. My theory is that they were conceived as a cute Band-Aid—an ideal state of mind that we could display to prove to ourselves and others around us that everything isn’t so bad after all. Life is glittery and lovely and you’re thriving! And yet, this is quite disconnected from the reality of everyday life. Much like the sequined unicorns that have been prancing over our stationery and apparel for what seems like 5,000 years now, being happy and loving oneself in this climate, in this day and age, often feel as mythical, dreamlike and elusive as the unicorn itself.
Please don't get me wrong. I’m not against these sayings, nor the intentions behind them. I’m not a unicorn-hater or a Negative Nancy. I don’t even mind sequins. These messages just perpetuate the idea that working through bad moods and shit situations is straightforward enough for a snappy imperative (Go Girl!) to be the catalyst we need to turn it all around and luxuriate in Nirvana.
So what’s the alternative? How about trying a more considered, gentle approach?
Many of us go through our lives unable to experience true love for ourselves or any kind of reliable happiness. Some of us do get there, but it's become trendy to treat love, peace and happiness like they're requirements on a résumé (achievable with a couple of courses), rather than something we’ve been philosophising, analyzing and praying over for thousands of years.
Learning to love yourself and enjoy deep contentment requires patience, practice, the right support and resources, and a lot more time than media and marketing would have us believe. And that’s not only absolutely OK, it’s real life and it’s beautiful. There’s something far more precious and fulfilling in the process of discovering and healing ourselves in all our messy glory than we realize.
You’re doing OK. And if you’re not doing OK, you’ll be OK again at some point. Maybe you’ll even be great. But it won’t be because of your Be Awesome sweater. It'll be because you’re human and you’ll figure a lot of things out in your own way, in your own time.
In the meantime, I'd feel much more relevant donning a You’ll Get There T-shirt.