I’ve always been a bit obsessed with French women. I read the book French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano when it first came out back in 2004 and I’m still drawn to books and articles around the French woman’s more relaxed, comfortable-in-her-own skin way of living. It seems that most American women are more uptight in our mindsets and in our daily lifestyles when it comes to food, exercise and overall enjoyment and pleasure.
Have you heard the phrase joie de vivre? It’s a French phrase that translates to exuberant enjoyment of life. It basically means to fully enjoy everything life has to offer. Food, friends, laughter, chocolate, bread, wine…literally everything is to be enjoyed (in moderation, of course).
As someone who has been rigid around her daily food choices and who hasn’t always really allowed herself to fully enjoy what life has to offer (or at times to enjoy it too much), I’ve spent some time lately thinking about how I can live with more joie de vivre. How can I just enjoy life more with less rules and rigidity when it comes to food and healthy living? I believe it comes down to letting go of the concept of perfection, which it seems that so many American women are obsessed with.
So why are we so obsessed with the idea of perfection? Could it have anything to do with the pervasive diet culture in the U.S.? I think it does. We are surrounded by messges of “stop eating this, you can’t eat that, be afraid of this food, you must work out like this six days a week,” etc etc. It’s exhausting and to be honest, I believe it’s not only brainwashing us all, but it’s creating another layer of stress that’s doing us more harm than good by keeping our cortisol (stress hormone) levels high. And high cortisol usually leads to weight gain around the mid-section, so it’s actually all very counterproductive. Plus, it steals our joy and lessons our joie de vivre.
With all that said, here are 5 ways I’m shifting away from perfection and towards enjoyment, or joie de vivre:
1. Less stressing over the small things. Sometimes I find myself stressing out over the silliest things. Things like, “Will I have enough time to run by Target for the few things I need, get gas, pick up the dog from the groomer, and be on-time to pick the girls up from school?” It sounds so silly to actually write that! Who cares if I don’t get to pick up the items from Target today! And there is plenty of time to do the other things. If not, they’ll wait until tomorrow and I’ll be happier for just letting it go rather than run myself crazy trying to get it all done. When I catch myself getting stressed over the small stuff, I’ll lovingly remind myself to lighten up and I’ll take a few deep breaths, because Target will always be there tomorrow.
2. Letting go of rigidity and rules around eating and “healthy living”. In the past, I used to actually fret about things like if I’d be able to get a plain oatmeal with berries at the restaurant, or a non-dairy creamer for my coffee, or if I would have time to get in a structured workout, or if I’d had enough grams of fiber or protein for the day. I would actually stress myself out about bringing along all of my own food. Le sigh. As I mentioned before, this rigid mindset brings so much unneccessary stress into our lives and keeps our cortisol (stress hormone) levels high which is quite the opposite of wellness. We literally stress ourselves out and potentially threaten our health over being the healthiest person we know! If that doesn’t sound insane, I don’t know what does. If I can’t get a non-dairy creamer or if I miss a workout, I’m actually doing my body more harm by stressing about the situation, than I would to just let it go. None of it is worth having high cortisol over. (Remember, cortisol is a fat storage hormone.)
3. Letting my hair down, being more playful + laughing more. This is a followup for #1 and #2 above. Reminding myself to laugh more and be more playful helps me stress less over the small, insignificant things. Why take life (or myself) so seriously? I’d rather have fun and be more playful than stress about things like whether or not I’ve eaten perfectly or if I’ve exercised every day of the week. Laughter reduces cortisol levels and triggers the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Plus, don’t you think a person who is light-hearted, smiling and laughing so much more pleasant to be around than someone who is fretting over her macro count for the day? Yes, I think I’ll have more laughter please!
4. Finding more pleasure and joy in the little things. A bite or two of a great dark chocolate, the scent of a favorite candle burning in my home, chatting with my husband about our day before dinner, watching a funny movie with my girls. All of these things seem so trivial, but I’m finding that when I look for the joy and pleasure in these little everyday moments, I don’t feel the need for everything else to be so “perfect”. Joy and pleasure are feelings that we create, they don’t just happen for us. When we look for more joy and pleasure, we find them more.
5. Learning to be more comfortable and at ease in my own body. This one has been a bit tricky for me and I will say I believe this has a lot to do with childhood beliefs and programming, especially as a woman growing up in the South. As a mom of two and a woman who is approacing 40, I’m often quite inhibited around what I wear and worry whether or not people will deem it “appropriate” for my age. But what I’ve discovered is that this has to do more with my own level of self-acceptance and self-love. It’s really me judging myself. But with some shifts in my mindset, I’m becoming more comfortable with myself and in my own skin. I’m learning that the key to changing this mindset is to get more in tune with what my body is feeling, to get into my body more and out of my head which is what I love most about my yoga practice. It helps me to do that. Also, I’m slowly but surely learning not to care what other people think, and the way I’m doing that is through self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is an ongoing practice, it’s something I find that I have to work on every single day. I’ve developed a practice of honoring my body’s needs and listening to what it’s asking for. I’m also learning to honor and embrace my feminity and to wear clothing that I feel my best in, not what I believe other people think is or isn’t acceptable for an almost 40 mom of two. The key is stopping with the self-judgments.
At the end of the day, what makes us happy and whole has nothing to do with what society wants us to be or what it deems “perfect”. Perfection doesn’t exist, but happiness, pleasure and joie de vivre most certainly do. I’ll have more of those, please.
I’d love to hear your thoughts around the idea of perfection and whether a perfectionistic mindset can steal our joy. Feel free to share in the comments below or reach out to me on social media.
Love, Elizabeth x