My Jeans Don’t Fit Anymore

Today, as I packed my bag for a weekend break, I noticed that I’ve been wearing the same two pairs of jeans for quite a while. Wear a pair and wash the other. Switch over. Repeat. I had told myself it was because they were the comfiest jeans, the nicest fit, the easiest worn, but today I knew I had to face up to the reality: they were the only two pairs that still fit.

Since I’ve started studying full-time, the amount of exercise I’ve been doing has plummeted drastically. Add to that the temptation to snack whilst ploughing through Law books, and the result is obvious. I’ve put on more than a few pounds. I knew it already and I’ve made something of an effort, on-and-off, to do something about it. I’m by no means overweight, but I’m certainly not as fit or as healthy as I once was.

I took my other pairs of long-unworn jeans from my wardrobe and started trying them on. “If I just hold my breath…” I said as I wriggled around, trying to fasten the top button and failing miserably. At this point, my usual reaction would be to get disappointed and angry at myself for letting things get this way. I would put myself down. Then I would resolve to get really fit and stop eating junk food, and I’d rebuke myself if I dared even look at a packet of crisps. But this harsh approach didn’t work. Within a week or two I had fallen by the wayside and was back salivating at the sight of the McDonald’s Drive-Thru menu.

I took a different approach today. I didn’t get angry at myself. I knew it wasn’t how I wanted to be, but I also knew that it was the reality. I said to myself, “This is how things are. But it isn’t how things have to be.” I was gentle on myself, whilst not shying away from the fact that I do have to make changes.

I’ve found myself thinking about how my weight gain sort of crept up on me. But it didn’t really. I kept turning a blind-eye to it. “Sure, it’s not that bad. I’ll just eat better tomorrow,” I said, munching my way through a box of Pringles and eyeing up the Crunchie bar next to me. Then I would go through the cycle of anger, resolve and failure again.

One of the most famous weight-loss programmes has coined the term ‘syns’ for high-calorie, less filling food, the sort which made up a large part of my own diet for the past few months. I thought about the play on the word ‘sin’. And I realised how similar the way we treat our bodies and our souls can be. How many times do we let sin creep up on us because we turn a blind-eye or make excuses for our behaviour? How many times do we say, “Just this once,” or “It’s not that bad. At least I’m not as bad as so-and-so”?

Like our body, the wellbeing of our soul depends on what we let enter it. If a diet of fatty, nutrient-deficient food leads to an unhealthy body, what does the equivalent do to our souls? The more we neglect what is good for our soul, and the nutrients our soul needs, the easier it is for sin to take a hold. The less time we spend in prayer, reading Scriptures, partaking of the Sacraments, carrying out good works (exercise for the soul!), the more time there is for unhealthy things like gossip or scandal. Each time something like this enters us, it may seem small, insignificant. But one day, the damage it has done will become apparent.

And that’s where Confession comes in. God invites us to Confession by saying to us, “This is how things are. But it isn’t how things have to be.” God loves me as I am, no matter what. Whether I weight 120lbs or 300lbs. Whether I am in a state of grace or steeped in sin. As St Paul so powerfully wrote: “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39). Yes, God loves me as I am and nothing can take that from me. But just as I love my body too much to leave it as it is (in its current, unhealthy state), God loves me too much to leave me as I am when I let sin take root. God is waiting for each of us, urging us to repent, to turn away from the harm we have caused ourselves and others. He waits, not to scold us or put us down, but to lift us up. To help us repel what damages our soul and rejoice in what does it good.

St Teresa of Avila once wrote, “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the earth, yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.” Love your body and your soul, for they are the gifts God has given you. May your soul be filled with compassion for yourself and for others, and through the nourishment of of your soul, may your body be given to God for the purpose of carrying out His will on earth.

Choose Happiness?

“Happiness cannot be pursued, it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

~ Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

It is difficult to miss Coca-Cola’s new advertising campaign, encouraging us all to ‘Choose Happiness’. The company invites us to take photos of us doing things that make us happy and upload them with the hashtag #choosehappiness. They’ve set up 300 ‘happiness meters’ across London in an aim to somehow make people in London happier (public transport that actually works would probably be more effective in turning London’s frowns upside down). It seems as though every other advert on my television invites me to ‘choose happiness’ as I watch dozens of beautiful young things with perfect teeth holding bottles of Coke to remind me just how happy I could be if I bought a bottle myself.

They’ve even done a Happiness Research Study (ensuring to note at the very beginning that they cannot guarantee “that the information in the report is correct, accurate, complete or non-misleading…”). Parts of the study are admirable. Young people, for example, are apparently less interested in seeking happiness through material goods than previous generations. They are more interested in going out and experiencing life. Instant thumbs up from me. The report encourages us not to make our happiness dependent on those outside of ourself because if we do, we’ll spend our life constantly chasing it, never actually obtaining it.

So what’s my issue with the campaign? Firstly, it is that happiness is still being treated as an end-product, something we should have, something we can choose to have. The survey claims that 96% of teens have tried doing things in the past year just to feel happy. And it seems like Coca-Cola want this figure to be 100%. But if we look at this figure and put it alongside figures of teenage depression rates, teenage alcohol and drug consumption, what are we telling ourselves? Only that we have a nation of unhappy teenagers who are desperately seeking happiness by any means. That, surely, is a recipe for disaster.

My second issue is that it perpetuates the notion that MY happiness is the most important thing in life. The parents of previous generations wanted their children to contribute to society, to do good. Now all we hear is, “As long as you’re happy. Do more things that make you happy”. Nothing is mentioned of the consequences of that. The questions ‘how will my happiness affect others? Is my desire for happiness a selfish one? Will it hurt others in the process? Will I let my friend down because lying in bed, eating pizza will make me happier than helping them wash his car, even though I promised I would help?’ are seldom asked.

The campaign uses buzzwords like ‘instant fun’ and ‘living in the moment,’ and when the idea of goodness does get a mention, it is only to tell us that ‘doing good feels good’. Don’t do good things because they are good. Don’t do good things if they cause you any difficulties. Do good when it makes you feel good. Give to charity and revel in how good it makes you feel. Volunteer in an animal shelter and then take to social media to tell everyone how great it feels. Take a photo of you helping your elderly neighbour cross the road (don’t forget to include your bottle of Coke in the picture!), upload it to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and wait for the notifications to roll in, telling you what a good person you are.

I would urge you then, not to choose happiness, but to choose goodness for the sake of goodness. Choose wisely. Choose things that are worthwhile. Choose a positive outlook on life, because that is what will make the real difference. I will leave you with a beautiful little animation which to me illustrates the perils of trying to ‘choose happiness,’ and shows that by doing something worthwhile for others a little bit of happiness will often come your way as an unintended side effect.