Why Losing Weight Won't Make You as Happy as You Think

As a therapist, I’ve learned two universal rules: 1) living according to other people’s standards will make you miserable, and 2) trying to find lasting happiness by making only external changes doesn’t work. If you’ve been preoccupied with losing weight, you might want to consider whether your motivation comes from either a desire to live up to external standards or a belief that changing your outside will make you feel better on the inside. If it does, it might be time to try a different path to happiness.

It's a general life rule that living according to other people's expectations sucks. Whether it’s what you should study, where you should work, who you should marry, or what gender you should sleep with, trying to live up to other people’s standards leads to anxiety, depression, and exhaustion. 

The same is true for weight loss and body image. Hollywood, the “wellness” industry, and those really weird ads on streaming sites are all too happy to tell you how you should look. But trying to look the way the media tells you to look will make you about as happy as trying really hard to be a lawyer because your dad thinks you should. Or trying to force yourself to be attracted to the opposite sex because some dude in a robe told you anything else was sinful.

At some point it makes us a lot happier to tell such people to mind their own business and focus our precious time and energy on living according to our own values.

As for external changes leading to internal shifts, the message we consistently get is that being thin will make us confident and happy. It’s pretty natural to want to be confident and happy, so if being thin got you there, it would make sense to invest a lot of time and energy in being thin.

Fortunately, this logic is ass backwards. Trying to become confident and happy by altering your physical appearance - through weight loss or any other means - is like cleaning the attic when the basement is a mess. There’s nothing wrong with cleaning the attic, but doing so will never magically translate into a cleaner basement.

I’ve worked with miserable bodybuilders who could tell you that being thin is a really shitty fix for low self-esteem. A much better way to boost your confidence is to alter long-standing beliefs about yourself and the world. Like the poet Shane Koyczan said, “We’ve been stuck inside a mentality that suggests changing yourself is limited only to your dimensions, as if our bodies are customizable but our attitudes or beliefs are not.” 

So how does one make such a shift? Well, therapy helps. So does self-care, clarifying and living in accordance with your own values, being around people who love you for who you are, sticking up for yourself, and going on epic journeys of self-discovery. There are a ton of ways to boost your levels of happiness and confidence, but making cosmetic changes and trying to be who other people think you should be just aren’t on the list.