From the moment we turn on our TVs or radios in the morning, until the time we shut them off at bedtime—we are inundated with messages of what we “need” to make us happy.
Billboards advertise all the latest and greatest material possessions to improve our self-worth. Everywhere we turn, the message seems to say that happiness is for sale. So, it’s really no surprise that we relate our happiness or self-worth to objects.
I have bought into these claims as much as the guy next to me. We desire that instant gratification to gain confidence—to be better or to appear more successful. I came to this realization as I sat with a black garbage bag in hand, ready to purge my closet recently.
Hi. My name is Debbi, and I am a recovering shoe addict. (This is said in humor, but only because it’s sadly true).
Now you’re probably wondering what my love of shoes has to do with how I feel about myself. Well, it never dawned on me until I really thought about it, as I was sitting in my closet on the floor in the middle of a pile of my shoes.
It doesn’t matter what size I am, or how I’m feeling about myself—shoes always fit. Shoes are beautiful. When they fit right, they feel magnificent on my feet. My feet always stay a size 9. My feet don’t get fat. It doesn’t matter how heavy or unattractive I feel, shoes don’t judge. I put the shoes on and I suddenly feel amazing!
I am sure we have all been there. We feel less than, and we turn to an object to fill that emptiness. It’s not called “retail therapy” without cause. I can literally feel my anxiety about my weight disappear as I wander through a shoe store, waiting for just the right pair to speak to me. We are so busy looking outside of ourselves for that fix that we forget to look inside, at the cause and effect that this way of consoling ourselves has on us.
As I sat in the middle of the growing number of shoes that no longer held that feeling of worthiness to me, I hesitated just a minute longer—just looking at these shoes that had spoken to me in the store. That begged me to take them home because they made me feel beautiful or sexy or better about myself. I glanced over the pile one last time—and I felt nothing. I felt no assimilation to those shoes and how I felt about myself. I didn’t feel less sexy or gorgeous or pretty because I was getting rid of them. So, I opened the black garbage bag and in they went.
We need less physical things in our lives. Less stuff in our houses and garages. We need to fill our hearts with more gratitude for the intangible possessions that are all around us.
That sounds really good, but how do we do that? How do we stop ourselves listening to the barrage of media messages telling us that we will be so much happier if we buy this or obtain that?
We need to mentally shut it off those messages. We need to look deeper inside ourselves to find the truth. There are so many hidden dangers in validating ourselves from the outside with things. What happens when the object no longer serves its purpose? Will we feel less worthy and look to something else to fill that void? The growing numbers that we see in regards to self-debt say yes. More and more, we—as a society—are willing to bury ourselves in astronomical amounts of debt to buy that happiness. Once that object of validation is gone, we begin to feel lost once again. And the cycle starts all over.
Achieving internal self-validation is not an easy process. First we must be ruthlessly honest with ourselves. Think about the object that fills you with contentment, then ask yourself why it does this for you? What do you get from that object?
For me, shoes erased the image I had in my head of my weight. I always start dressing from the bottom up. I choose my shoes for the day then build my outfit from there. I have actually built an entire shopping day around the shoes I’d purchased. (I always buy the shoes first!) I have shoes that I only wear in summer—strappy little numbers with pointy toes. I have shoes or boots I only wear in winter. Not for warmth at all! But for how they make me feel. I seriously have a lot of shoes that give me the warm fuzzies! By taking the time to look at what the shoes did for me, I can work backwards from that to find the real source of discontent.
This process is not easy—not at all. It is actually heart-breaking, but needed in order to move forward in finding a solution to the real problem—how we view ourselves, or how we compare ourselves to others. I don’t need those shoes to know that I am a beautiful person. I don’t need to slip them on my feet to feel of value. We need to stop judging ourselves by what society tells us we need for peace of mind and listen to our own ideas on how to achieve contentment.
This process of self-validation is never ending. We will stumble back into our old habits when we feel less than. By taking a moment to self-check though, we can look internally and remind ourselves that things are not going to speak to our self-worth. I am not suggesting that we become narcissistic in our attitude about ourselves, but rather, we quietly take a moment to accept who we are.
As we work to appreciate what we are—rather than what we have—I see positive movements in the right direction for society as a whole.
Author: Debbi Serafinchon
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina