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The Happiness Connection  

Ditch distorted body view

What do you see when you look in a mirror? Do you appreciate the face that stares back at you, or do you find fault with it?

How about when you look at your body? Do you immediately notice all the things you believe are less than perfect, or do you rejoice in what you see?

If you think these questions don’t apply to you, because you’ve removed all the mirrors in your home, or you refuse to look in them, you may be wrong.

If you’ve chosen to ignore your looks, what’s your motivation? Do you really not care what you look like, or are you afraid of the feelings that arise when you see your reflection?

I’ve struggled for most of my life with my body image. From the time I became aware that there was an ideal body type, I knew mine was substandard.

Sadly, for me, teenage Twiggy was the epitome of the female form when I was very young. My skeleton will never look like that. That’s not to say I was overweight. But I was tall and slender with curves, not skinny and flat chested.

I inherited my dad’s large bone structure. It means I have a larger head, hands, and feet than the average woman. In my day, saying someone was big boned, was a polite way of saying you were fat.

Even today when I look at pictures of myself beside other women, I distort what I see. It’s hard for me to believe that I’m not the size of a barn.

I’m far from unique in my body shaming experience. Both men and women frequently struggle to see their beauty rather than their faults.

Recently, I came across a photo from my late 20s. I’m in a bikini, on a beach in Greece. I look amazing.

That isn’t, however, what I thought all those years ago. I didn’t want anyone to take my picture because I knew it would look awful. But who listens to me? I’m glad they didn’t.

It’s sad to look at that youthful image and know that I didn’t appreciate my shape. In fact, I actively disliked it.

I still struggle to accept my body. My default behaviour is to find flaws rather than to love myself without judgment.

Aging brings its own version of this madness. The media has encouraged us to believe that beauty is reserved for those who manage to continue to look young.

In an effort to help me with my struggles, the universe recently blessed me with an opportunity to see my beliefs mirrored in someone else.

I spent some time with a gorgeous young woman who’s struggling to see her natural beauty. She’s doing everything she can to alter her facial appearance.

Like me, she sees a distorted image of herself, every time she looks in the mirror.

How can anyone believe they have to look like an airbrushed model to be beautiful? The idea seems crazy, and yet it’s a common affliction.

Knowing something isn’t the same as believing it in your soul.

If you know that you shouldn’t judge yourself, but you still do, here are some ways to work towards a more peaceful and harmonious relationship with your physical self.

  1. Abandon conventional ideas. Define beauty in ways that aren’t physical. Your attitude and energy have a lot to do with your attractiveness. Practice letting your inner self shine through. That’s where your true beauty lies.
  2. Practice looking for beauty in real life. Stop looking in magazines and on social media for what you think is attractive. When you pass a person, or meet up with them, consciously look for beautiful traits. It might be sparkling eyes, a ready smile, or lively energy.
  3. Let your quirks and idiosyncrasies out into the open. Your authentic self is meant to be seen. You may find that you’ve hidden it so well, even you aren’t sure who you are.
  4. Ditch the makeup and dress for yourself. If this seems scary, start slowly. Aim for a more natural look or start walking your dog before you put on your face. If someone isn’t attracted to you, they aren’t your person.
  5. Focus more on health than appearance. It’s true when they say beauty starts on the inside. The glow that comes with a sense of wellbeing, is better than any anti-aging cream you can buy. Mirrors and photographs rarely capture that. It isn’t your features that make you attractive, but the energy you carry.
  6. Reject the feature-altering filters on your camera apps. This is like air brushing a photograph and re-enforces the idea that you should look differently than you do.
  7. Practice happiness. If you’re happy on the inside, it will seep through to the outside.

It may be difficult to change how society defines beauty, but you and I can shift how we do.

I think Coco Chanel said it best.

“Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.”





'Bad' feelings are OK, too

Enough is enough! I’ve been a good sport. I’ve remained optimistic through a broken ankle, COVID, more COVID, still more COVID, and a heat wave. Now we have smoky air to contend with.

When I heard myself utter the statement, “Roll on September,” I knew I was reaching my breaking point.

I love the summer. It’s been my favourite season, forever. I think maybe my subconscious mind figures fall is the new summer – or should that be the old summer?

I’m not so much frustrated as I am bored. This isn’t something I have a lot of experience with. How do you stop life from seeming humdrum and mundane?

I started thinking about how I dealt with my kids when they used to complain of boredom. Maybe I could glean some advice for myself.

“Mom, I’m bored.”

“That’s silly. You’ve got so many things you could do. What’s your sister doing?”

“She’s reading.”

“Why don’t you read?”

“I don’t feel like it.”

From there I’d begin to give other suggestions. I thought the best thing I could do to help my offspring was to assist them to solve their problem. In this case that meant resolving their boredom challenge.

I tried this technique on myself. I was as uninspired by each and every suggestion I gave myself, as my children had been all those years ago.

As I sat pondering my situation, my mind started to wander.

Why do I and many other people view boredom as a problem? I never told my mom I was bored. I knew she’d have no sympathy for me. It was like it was wrong to feel that way, and if I did, I shouldn’t admit to it.

This brought an aha moment. By seeing boredom as a problem that needs to be solved, I’m suggesting that my feelings, and those of my kids, are something we shouldn’t have.

As I thought about this more, I realized that I do this about other negative emotions, too. I suspect I’m not alone.

What do you say to a child that tells you they don’t want to go to school?

  • You have to go because it’s the law.
  • I have to get to work, and you can’t stay here on your own.
  • Don’t be silly. You’ll enjoy yourself when you get there.

Responses like this are dismissing their feelings, rather than honouring them. If this is the message you receive as a child, a natural conclusion is likely to be, “These emotions aren’t good, so I won’t admit I have them.”

Perhaps this is why I started burying any emotion that I judged as unworthy.

This isn’t a healthy way to live. All emotions serve a purpose, even the less desirable ones. Among other things, they provide information about the way you perceive your surroundings and give you insight into yourself.

Do we take the same dismissive approach when other adults share their feelings? Yes, we do. Actually, I can’t speak for you, but I’m pretty sure I do.

“I’m worried that they aren’t going to renew my contract.”

“What do you mean? I’m sure that isn’t true. You’re brilliant at your job.”

Stop and think about the last time a friend, family member, or colleague shared their negative emotions. How did you respond?

So, if you aren’t supposed to persuade another person that the way they’re feeling is an illusion or a problem, what should you do?

The key ingredient in your response should be non-judgmental acceptance.

That doesn’t mean you have to agree with how they feel. You may believe they’re blowing a situation out of proportion, but your thoughts aren’t important. It isn’t your journey.

They need to know that you hear what they’re saying and that it’s OK for them to feel that way. Be a place where they feel safe from judgment.

That doesn’t mean I recommend sinking into hours of crying over something that might never happen, or bathing in a pool of negativity.

You can remind them that no emotion lasts forever, and things are likely to feel better after a good night’s sleep. These are both scientifically proven truths, and always provide me with a small glimmer of hope when my heart is heavy.

By dismissing or trying to get rid of emotions like boredom, it’s easy to think there’s something wrong with the way you feel. That hidden message may be the start of a lifetime of suppressing less optimistic moods and pretending they don’t exist.

It’s hard to live a fully vibrant life if you’re afraid of showing your feelings.

Being bored is an emotion, not a problem that needs to be solved. As I type that, I recognize that it may be a sign that it’s time to change things up a bit. I’ll continue to keep my mind open to that possibility.

Perhaps I’ll meet up with a friend, do my grocery shopping, or try working on my book. But if I continue to feel uninspired, I’m going to try accepting my mood. I know it’s serving me in some way, even if I don’t have any idea how.

As I begin to allow myself to accept my boredom without judgment, I can already feel a sense of peace begin to descend. That in itself is making me feel better.



When it's too hard to watch

I enjoy watching a wide variety of sports, as long as I have a vested interest in who wins. I guess you could say I’m a fan rather than a sports enthusiast.

I think I’ve watched more games in the past few weeks than I have in many months.

Firstly, I watched the Montreal Canadiens reach their first Stanley Cup final since 1993. Let me correct that sentence. I tried to watch the Montreal Canadiens. I found it too excruciatingly painful to give it my full attention.

That wasn’t because I didn’t think they could win, but because it was too emotional. I’ve been a Habs fan since I was 12, and 1993 was a long time ago. It’s time for Stanley to come home.

At least, that’s the story I told myself to explain why I did some craft work during each period and only kept an eye on the television.

The series didn’t end with the result I’d prayed for. But I was secretly relieved that I didn’t have to torment myself with any more games. Phew!

My theory held up until I tried to watch Denis Shapovalov play Novak Djokovic in the semifinal of Wimbledon. I say tried, because I was no more comfortable watching tennis than I was hockey.

I used to be able to view games with my heart in my mouth and enjoy every minute of it. What’s happened to me?

I guess you could say I’ve been on a journey.

I used to cry when athletes were awarded their Olympic gold medals. A commercial designed to tug at the heartstrings, brought tears quickly and easily. Every time I sat down to watch the movie Terms of Endearment, I took off my makeup and made sure there was a full box of tissues at the ready.

It’s hard to say exactly what caused me to bundle my emotions away and pretend they didn’t exist. I suspect it was part of my struggle to deal with depression when I was in my 30s. I vaguely remember viewing my easily hurt feelings and sensitive, passionate nature as a weakness.

If I didn’t feel so deeply, maybe I wouldn’t hurt so much.

I created what I call the ostrich strategy.

Imagine burying your head in the sand and thinking because you can’t see anything, nothing outside yourself exists. It’s a very effective tactic if you want to avoid bothersome sensations that make you suffer.

I became extremely adept at it. I could hide from unwanted emotions before I was even aware they existed.

That approach served me well for many years.

It wasn’t until recently, when a box of letters from my dim and distant past surfaced, that I was reminded that I haven’t always been that way. I’d forgotten how deeply I used to experience life.

I could watch nail-biting games, because I was used to feeling things strongly. It was part of my existence rather than something to be avoided.

With this realization came a torrent of emotions that I thought I’d banished. Of course, hiding something doesn’t mean it’s gone. Those unwanted feelings were just waiting until the time was right, to reappear.

I’ve been working my way through a lot of stuff, lately. It hasn’t been fun, but I wanted to rediscover that passionate side of myself that I haven’t seen in a very long time.

If watching hockey and tennis is anything to go on, I guess it’s working.

These sporting events are giving me an opportunity to get used to strong sensations again. I intend to watch England in the European Cup final on Sunday. Their drought has been even longer than that of the Habs.

I’m going to try to watch without doing anything else, at least for part of it. Baby steps, grasshopper.

If you want to live a truly happy and fulfilling life, you need to be willing to accept all your feelings, even the ones that hurt or that you view as shameful or a sign or weakness.

You don’t have to hold on to them, but rather than pretending they aren’t there, recognize them, accept them, and then release them.

Do this by:

  1. Identifying the emotion by name (sadness, regret, resentment, etc.)
  2. Accepting it with love, knowing for better or worse, it’s part of your journey
  3. Releasing your feelings with forgiveness towards yourself, circumstances, and anyone or anything else that was involved

In my experience, the last step is often the hardest one to accomplish. It involves letting go of the stories you’ve created to explain or justify what happened.

It’s time to stop viewing emotions as a weakness and instead to acknowledge them as an important part of living a full life. It may not be an easy thing to do, but as is frequently the case, the best way is often the more challenging one.





Success is being happy

I’ve recently discovered an amazing sense of freedom. It’s come with the conscious decision to stop needing to be successful.

This is a radically different approach for me.

I’m very goal driven. I tend to be motivated by the desire to achieve specific outcomes.

Of course, when I don’t accomplish these objectives, I’m faced with the belief that I’ve failed. I might use different words, but that’s really what it boils down to.

Let me give you an example. When I put my first published book on Amazon, I set the goal of having it become a top seller in one category. If I could do that, I could say I was a No. 1 best-selling author.

That didn’t happen. I failed.

That perspective meant I didn’t celebrate the fact that people from all over the world have purchased my book. I appreciate family and friends buying it, but when total strangers do, it’s not just a “pity buy.”

Maybe I didn’t achieve my goal, but isn’t helping even just one person live a happier life, success?

I’ve since discovered that getting to No. 1 in an Amazon category, doesn’t really mean anything. It’s a numbers game that pretty much anyone can win if they have the right strategy or person to guide their campaign.

This understanding helped me realize I needed to change my thinking around success. Even more importantly, I needed to get my heart and soul to buy into something different.

I’ve been opting for goals I thought I could attain, rather than ones I felt a desire to strive for. That’s the strategy of someone whose level of self-belief is low.

I think I’ve been worried about disappointing myself or others. Just when I thought I’d silenced the people pleaser in me, I realize she’s still here and making her presence known.

I’m tired of that approach. I want to dream big without worrying that if I veer off course, or fall short of my desire, that I’ve failed. Maybe what I thought I wanted, wasn’t what I want at all.

I started by trying to redefine success. That didn’t seem to achieve what I wanted, so I’ve chosen instead to take a more radical approach.

I’m no longer writing with the aim of being a best-selling author or working so I can have a million dollars in my bank account. I’m doing it because I have something to say, I love to share knowledge, and it gives me an amazing feeling of fulfillment.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d still love to be on the New York best-sellers list, or wealthy enough to have all the experiences I desire, but that isn’t my focus. It’s the decoration on the icing.

I’m allowing myself to devote time and energy to projects that I feel drawn to and that make me happy. I’m setting a goal to complete the things I’ve chosen, but I’m not linking my desires to any specific outcome or measurable success.

I’ve started writing a novel. I’ve got a big dream of it being an authentic best-seller, but if it isn’t, I won’t consider myself a failure. The achievement of completing it is success in its own right.

Perhaps the real problem is that I’ve been focusing on small, inconsequential goals, rather than the biggest one of all. What’s the most important thing for me to achieve in my life?

I encourage you to ask yourself the same question.

My goal in this life is to be happy. If traditional success comes along with that, I’ll take it. If it doesn’t, I still plan to be happy.

In the words of Tony Robbins, “Success without happiness, is failure.”

If this resonates with you, or you’d like to be a little bit happier, here are some of my favorite evidence-based ways to boost your sense of wellbeing.

  • Listen to and follow your intuition/hunches/gut.
  • Smile.
  • Stay connected through friendships, or conversations with strangers.
  • Commit random acts of kindness.
  • Take time to be creative in whatever way you enjoy most.
  • Find things to be grateful for every day.
  • Get outside regularly to enjoy your environment and to move your body.


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About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com



The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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