On New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are a weird example of social contagion because the refreshing of the calendar is an odd catalyst for self-improvement. If anyone’s serious about self-improvement, why wait until such an arbitrary starting point? You shoulda got started yesterday.

Despite that cynicism, I’m all-in on alternative types of resolutions—ones grounded in greater self-acceptance. Maybe people should resolve the following types of things:

  • To accept that I will not eat as healthily as I probably should.
  • To be okay with the fact that I will not exercise as much as I probably should.
  • To not beat myself up for not saving as much money as I probably should.

The Slate staff has taken this one step further by advising that you mark the New Year by embracing vices instead of resolutions—whether sleeping in on weekends, driving when you can walk, or having a cigarette.

Count me in on Slate’s contrarian, probably tongue-in-check thinking, as another viable alternative to most people’s constant striving for some sort of idealized perfection.

Wouldn’t our mental health be better if this year we dedicated ourselves to trying to accept our limits, our insecurities, our imperfections?

I’ll lead the way with this overarching resolution—I resolve to expect less from myself this year. “Friends” will wonder how that’s possible, but they no doubt mean well.

If you think I’ve finally totally lost it, knock yourself out trying this.

Postscript: Via email, a PressingPause loyalist replied thusly:

“I agree the goal of embracing ones imperfections is one of the most valuable, but how does having a goal in general mean someone is striving for idealized perfection?  Also, I like having society wide markers like holidays. I think it makes us feel more like a community.  And some people may stress over breaking their resolutions, but not everyone.  I just think it’s just the idea of new beginnings. Like baptism or new growth in Spring.”

 

 

Deconstructing Wellness

The Dream is a super interesting podcast that shreds MLMs, multi-level marketing schemes. Now the same podcasters are back with a second season.

“In Season 2 we look at a world just as shady and mysterious as MLMs, but one whose promises are at times even more bombastic and unfathomable: WELLNESS. What is it? Who sells it? And will it bring you eternal happiness and help; and, perhaps, eternal life?”

Dig this:

“According to the Global Wellness Institute, the global health and wellness industry is now worth $4.2 trillion. The industry has been growing with 12.8% between 2015 and 2017 and represents 5.3% of global economic output.”

Perfect topic for these socially conscious investigative podcasters.

Episode one is mostly about essential oils. Episode two is about how their Los Angeles neighborhood has been transformed by the wellness industry. It’s funny. Give it a go.

I was engaged in my own wellness routine while listening. A brisk 10k run, followed by pushups and other core exercises, followed by vacuuming. How can one not be happy with good cardiovascular health, a healthy back, and clean carpets?

The Diet Industry Is A Virus

A poignant takedown of the “wellness industry” by novelist Jessica Knoll who leads with this admission:

“I called this poisonous relationship between a body I was indoctrinated to hate and food I had been taught to fear ‘wellness.'”

Half way in, a story:

“I had paid a lot of money to see a dietitian once before, in New York. When I told her that I loved food, that I’d always had a big appetite, she had nodded sympathetically, as if I had a tough road ahead of me. ‘The thing is,’ she said with a grimace, ‘you’re a small person and you don’t need a lot of food.’

The new dietitian had a different take. ‘What a gift,’ she said, appreciatively, ‘to love food. It’s one of the greatest pleasures in life. Can you think of your appetite as a gift?’ It took me a moment to wrap my head around such a radical suggestion. Then I began to cry.”

Further in, the three paragraph knock out:

“The diet industry is a virus, and viruses are smart. It has survived all these decades by adapting, but it’s as dangerous as ever. In 2019, dieting presents itself as wellness and clean eating, duping modern feminists to participate under the guise of health. Wellness influencers attract sponsorships and hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram by tying before and after selfies to inspiring narratives. Go from sluggish to vibrant, insecure to confident, foggy-brained to cleareyed. But when you have to deprive, punish and isolate yourself to look “good,” it is impossible to feel good. I was my sickest and loneliest when I appeared my healthiest.

If these wellness influencers really cared about health, they might tell you that yo-yo dieting in women may increase their risk for heart disease, according to a recent preliminary study presented to the American Heart Association. They might also promote behaviors that increase community and connection, like going out to a meal with a friend or joining a book club. These activities are sustainable and have been scientifically linked to improved health,yet are often at odds with the solitary, draining work of trying to micromanage every bite of food that goes into your mouth.

The wellness industry is the diet industry, and the diet industry is a function of the patriarchal beauty standard under which women either punish themselves to become smaller or are punished for failing to comply, and the stress of this hurts our health too. I am a thin white woman, and the shame and derision I have experienced for failing to be even thinner is nothing compared with what women in less compliant bodies bear. Wellness is a largely white, privileged enterprise catering to largely white, privileged, already thin and able-bodied women, promoting exercise only they have the time to do and Tuscan kale only they have the resources to buy.”

Make it a four paragraph technical knockout:

“We cannot push to eradicate the harassment, abuse and oppression of women while continuing to serve a system that demands we hurt ourselves to be more attractive and less threatening to men.”

Knoll’s essay is an excellent rebuttal of wellness bullshit, but she errors in suggesting men are free of body image issues and dieting abnormalities. It’s just than men who endure versions of similar struggles are not nearly as willing to talk about what Knoll powerfully lays bare. That taboo is far too strong.

Wednesday Assorted Links

1. I wouldn’t normally be drawn to an essay titled The Gift of Menopause, but the Times’s preamble drew me in. So glad. Brilliant. Exquisitely written.

2. The Difference Between Being Broke and Being Poor.

3. The Fight for Iowa’s White Working-Class Soul. Is that DJ Byrnes’s future?

4. The Highest Court in the Land. For Richie. Who would dominate.

5A. The specious claims of the “wellness industrial complex” continued. Worshipping the False Idols of Wellness. 5B. Wellness Brands Like Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP Wage War on Science.

6. Flat Cokes, Relay Running, and 500 Pages of Notes: A Professor Prepares to Break a Guinness World Record for Longest Lesson. I will not be attending.

Journalism Lives

Two lengthy, extremely well written profiles worth your time if you’re the least bit interested in (1) North Korea and/or (2) marketing.

1. The Untold Story of Otto Warmbier, American Hostage. Unfunny throughout.

2. How Goop’s Haters Made Gwyneth Paltrow’s Company Worth $250 Million. Very funny in places.

I Was Wrong

No, not about how to properly load the dishwasher, I’m very right about that.

I was wrong about the merits of Positive Psychology, a newish subfield of psychology dedicated to the study of happiness or “subjective well-being”. When I read the literature, I believed it was based upon solid social science. Ruth Whippman taught me otherwise.

As referenced in Michael Schien’s subtly titled Forbes piece, “Positive Psychology is Garbage”, Barbara Ehrenreich does the same in her book Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America.

Writing in Forbes, Schien explains Seligman’s success, the pseudo-intellectual founder of the movement:

“When describing his concepts, Seligman uses big words about statistics, mathematical equations, and empirical data. For most of us, this serves as the equivalent of a doctor’s white coat—it seems authoritative, so we don’t question it.”

Guilty as charged. Later, he adds:

“It’s a lesson you would do well to follow. When trying to get people to pay you for your ideas, present them in terms that have the whiff of science whenever possible. Equations. Data. Statistical analysis. Remember, it’s not that the science itself actually matters, it’s the appearance of science that counts.”

I’m left believing happiness is partly the result of being born to happy parents. Other things that tip the balance from despair to joy include a good night’s sleep, a few close friends, healthy food, sunshine, art, physical activity, and socially redeeming work.

But without equations, data, and statistical analysis, I don’t expect anyone to pay my list any attention.

Blessed Light

Living in the Upper Lefthand Corner of the United States requires a tradeoff that is difficult at times. You must endure dampness and darkness for eight months of the year in exchange for four months of supernatural light and unparalleled beauty. Right now we’re in the sweet spot of the four months meaning there’s no other place on the planet I’d rather be.

During this morning’s run in Priest Point Park I was intermittently blanketed by the sun’s brilliant radiance as I moved steadily through the forest. Shirtless and sweaty at 7a,  I was profoundly appreciative of July. More so than I ever would be if it wasn’t for the damp and dark runs during the eight contrasting months. The contrast is key.

Mid-day, on Mount Rainier with family, the sun ricocheted off the snow surrounding Snow Lake.

Tonight, transfixed by the fading sun on the western horizon, I will sit on the deck eating popcorn and drinking a recovery beer with family. Sunset is at 9:08p.m., but it won’t get dark until 9:45-10p.m. Must store as much Vitamin D as possible.

As a visitor you probably wouldn’t get it, you’d probably say, “Yeah sure, the weather, the trees, the water, they’re all nice, but really, no need to get all worked up about it.” To which I’d say, “I’m selling it short. I can’t do justice to the blessed light that gives me an unspeakable joy and sustains me through the dark.” At which point you’d just slowly back away not knowing what to make of me. Which I would understand and not hold against you. At all.

Addendum: For those keeping score at home, the “find the spelling errors in the initial draft” scorecard currently reads, Cal Lutheran 1, St. Olaf 1, Carleton 0.