my needs

My Hierarchy of Needs Revisited: The Short List of Happiness

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I was having a discussion with one of my childhood buddies. He’s an MD and we’ve been talking about doing a triathlon in a few months. His question was, “I’m a bit concerned about your fitness.”

I took the input and thought about my current love affair OR love/hate relationship with my body and its current weight. I’m not in a bad place. I’m happy. I’m healthy. And I’m playing a lot of tennis. Sure, I may be eating a bit too much queso and guac, but overall, I’m feeling good about my body. I’d like it about 15 pounds lighter, it’d be easier on the tennis court to beat men half my age, but I’m content, at the moment.

And I’m ambitious. I don’t want to settle for being overweight. But my love handles have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Twice in my life I can recall not having a bit of a hurt on my body image. (That sucks.) The first time was when I was a swimmer in high school. The second time was coming out of a bad relationship with a fitness fanatic. I remember looking in the mirror one day after getting out of the shower and saying, “Who the hell is that.” No love handles.

Oh well, the love handles are back. And I’m happy. I’m not happy about it, but I’m happy in my skin at this very moment. Let’s pull apart a bit of my own map of what’s important in my life.

The Short List of Happiness

Physical Health
Meaningful Work
Energy (rested and balanced)
Mental Health
Spiritual Connection

There are a few that I can do without a lot of focus. But there are a couple of them that are going to require some modification and discipline. Let’s check it out.

As I pull apart the physical fitness, I have to dig a little deeper.

physical fitness

The key to my body weight is a bit more nuanced than “eat less exercise more.” For me, eating has got to become a conscious connection. I have to pay attention to what I eat. This is more than my current routine of not buying ice cream, not drinking alcohol, and not asking for dessert. I have to go beyond these little adjustments if I want to trim 15 off my tennis warrior this summer.

I have to pay attention to breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Go out MUCH LESS. Eat fewer portions, even of my own cooking. Keep a lid on the extras. And really eliminate the snacks that fall outside of the healthy variety. If I don’t buy tortilla chips and ice cream I can’t eat them. A few of my weaknesses. Cheese. Chips. Bread. Butter on that bread. And ice cream.

A few of my healthy alternatives: apples, almonds, and making a meal rather than going for another snack at 5:30 pm as my energy is heading down.

Mindful Management of My Energy

I have found, for me, that energy is much more of a focus for me. When I’m DOWN I want to eat something that will bring me up. When I’m UP I want something heavy that will chill me out a bit. What I know, is that my micro corrections throughout the day are more effective than any big shift. Less snacking on the fatty stuff and more conscious pauses when I really want a sweet or salty snack. Perhaps a small handful of almonds would suffice for the salt? And a single Werthers candy for the sweet?

For me, it’s all about being mindful of my energy, my food intake, and making sure I’m getting out and playing tennis and walking whenever I can.

As I got into the discussion with my physician friend we agreed that fitness was much more important than weight. I found an article in the NY Times that made my point. “I agree, 100%,” he said.

My happiness and mental clarity are much more important to me right now than how well my khakis fit when we head back into the office tomorrow. I’d like to be thinner. And it turns out, that’s been a mantra of my childhood and adulthood. It’s easy now to look back on photos and videos of me in my 20s and I didn’t feel all that happy with my body. Why? Some odd and socially constructed ideas about what is beautiful.

I even remember thinking, after my first divorce, “If I could just drop about 10 pounds I’d really find someone.” It is a lie. It’s a lie a lot of us tell ourselves. Here’s the truth to contradict that old tape of ours:

I am loveable just as I am.

As I move forward into April and May of 2022, there are still a lot of parts of my life in flux. I’m putting out a lot of extracurricular energy. And I’m committed to eating better and keeping up my exercise.

Mindful Management of My Intake

It really is all about what I put in my mouth. If I shop a bit better. If I cook a little more. If I work a bit harder to skip dessert and late-night snacks, I will see my goal come back into view. I don’t really care so much about returning to the love-handle-less weight, as much as I want to feel more comfortable in my body. I know I sleep better. I know I exercise more. I know I can do this with a gentleness that supports the rest of my needs. I want to be happy about my weight, right now. And I can enlighten myself a little bit by reminding myself: it’s all about progress and process.

Truth: I did not get overweight in a week. I will not be able to get fit in a week. It’s about progress and tenacity. I will keep going for apples over pancakes. And I will continue to refine and learn from my body’s response to the changes I introduce. Let’s see if there is anything to this alkaline water trend. How will my body respond when I switch from bubbly water to flat water with a higher ph?

This entire life is a journey. We are learning at all points along the path, IF we remain conscious of what is important, and what makes us tick UP into happiness or DOWN into regret and depression. I’m trending steadily in my life right now, and for that, I am grateful. I am so happy to be in a relationship, to feel loved. I am so happy to be healthy and employed. I have a way to go before I sleep, but I’m going to enjoy the sunrise as much as the sunset. That’s all there is. Live in happiness as you can.

Process the stuff that hurts. And, for me, stop eating to heal those hurts. Just get them out in other ways. Writing about them can help, indeed.

What I’ve Missed in the Past

There is one level to my map that I’ve intentionally left off. I remember hearing two men talking a few years ago about their current state of affairs. Here’s what they said.

Physical Health
Mental Health
Spiritual Health
Financial Health

It’s the last one, I’m doing okay with, at the moment. And it’s truly one of the gateways to the rest of my happiness. If I am broke I have to take whatever job is offered to me. When I’m strong and have preserved my nest egg or contained unnecessary expenses, then I’m less tethered to this job or that job. I do have to keep a sharp eye on my financial health as well. It’s just less spiritual. But very important.

When financial stress enters our lives all hell can break loose. It can wreck relationships. It can create hopelessness and homelessness. Keeping my eye on my financial health is also part of my journey. Today, I’m a bit low-key about it, but things are going well.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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