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I've Got 6 Solid Reasons To Put Being 'Healthy' Over Being 'Happy'

Healthy > Happy


This is something that I've been wanting to write about for a while now. There are a few reasons why too. One is that I grew up hearing that happiness is an emotion — and a fleeting one at that; that's why the focus should actually be more on being in a state of joy. Secondly, I can't tell you how many times I have looked a husband or wife in the eye as they told me they were leaving their marriage — not because of infidelity or abuse; it was simply because "I'm not happy anymore" (more on that in a bit). And three, I also can't tell you how many times a day will go by without me hearing or reading some variation of "do whatever makes you happy". LAWD.

Am I anti-happiness? That would be borderline ridiculous. What I will say, though, is because this is a topic that isn't addressed nearly enough (at least, in my opinion), I do think that happiness has become an idol for a lot of people — one that is causing a lot of folks to lose sight of what should be more important: being healthy. Holistically so.

So, let's knock it out. I've got six reasons why this obsession with being happy all of the time should be redirected into getting and staying healthy. Even if that means not always being happy in order to get there. And while that might sound like a concession at first, trust me, this kind of life approach is a great flex. Here's why.

1. A Ton of Toxic Ish Can Make You “Happy”


Shellie Reneè Warren? If there is one thing that she — who is I — is all about is a good orgasm. And y'all, when I was out here throwing my legs back, something that made me extremely happy was sex. Not just sex with any man but a fine, chocolate and super tall Black one who had a real freaky side. And y'all, while we were in the newness of the situationship or while we were having sex, I was extremely happy. Oh, but when the positive sign on a pregnancy test, when I had to go to the doctor to treat chlamydia, when I found out that some of them were lying to me for weeks or months on end — do I need to go on? — none of that made me very happy at all. And the unhappiness? It typically lasted longer than the happiness did.

That said, a definition of happiness is pleasure. You know, when my father was drunk or high, he used to say that made him happy. He's gone now. Intentional overdosing from substance abuse did it.

Point is, do you know how much toxic BS out here can make you temporarily happy and yet not be good for you at all? So many spouses that I've worked with have cheated on their partner with someone who, according to them, "makes them happy". Yet what they are really saying is the person brought them pleasure. Noted. Still, at what cost? Making decisions solely based on what tickles your fancy at any given time isn't a sign of maturity — it's actually quite the opposite. While pleasure is cool, it shouldn't be a main motivator in why you do — or don't do — what you do. Mostly because, like an orgasm or a high, it's very momentary.

This brings me to my next point.

2. Happiness Is Temporary and Circumstantial


If you're currently in a serious relationship and are contemplating marriage (check out "Please Be Clear On These 7 Things Before Getting Engaged"), I'm gonna just put it right on out there and say that if your main reason for doing so is because your man "makes you happy", you should definitely pump the brakes.

For one thing, it's too much pressure on anyone to expect them to make you happy. You need to figure out how to do that for yourself because humans (including the love of your life) are fallible which means they are going to disappoint you from time to time which means that there will be times when you are totally unhappy with them. Next, happiness is fickle AF. It's totally based on circumstances and since circumstances are constantly subject to change, that means relying on them to make you happy all of the time is futile.

Again, this is a very valid reason for why so many marriages don't last. Folks don't take all of what I just said into account, so the moment that they aren't delighted in someone, ecstatic over the relationship or in a state of bliss about their commitment, they take that as their cue to bounce and find someone else who will get them back to their "happy place". Problem is, eventually the next person will disappoint them too. Now what?

Is it wonderful when you can feel happy about your life? Sure. Know what's better? When you can understand that like all things in this world, happiness has peak moments and also times when it's not nearly as present. That way, you won't find yourself making poor choices, all because you're chasing the happiness feeling rather than doing what's actually best, long-term, for you. And speaking of that…next point.

3. “Happy” Can Be Rooted in Selfishness and Irresponsibility


Most of y'all know that I am a marriage life coach which is why marriage examples are what I provide a lot. For this particular point — whew. There is a former client of mine who cheated on her husband (among a lot of other things), her husband wanted to make things work anyway, she filed for divorce and then a few months later, she came to me about wanting to reconcile with him. We did over a year of counseling, they got married again and then, after a few years, she filed again (this chick). Her reason? She wasn't "happy" anymore. And as if that wasn't draining enough, a few weeks after the divorce, she came to her ex-husband talking about wanting to get married for the third time. Hmph. I'm pretty sure you can just about guess what her ex had to say about that.

Twice, this woman blew up her family (they've got kids). Yet because she's so addicted to "feeling happy", she didn't care. In fact, she's so self-consumed, immature and irresponsible that she allows her emotions to sway her like a kite on a windy day — whatever she thinks will make her happy at any given time, that's what she wants to do, regardless of how her choices will affect other people.

Self-aware and emotionally mature people know that sometimes, you've gotta do things that don't make you happy. How do I know? I mean, does going to work every day always make you happy? Does paying bills always make you happy? Does doing things for others when you'd rather focus on yourself always make you happy? No. That doesn't change the fact that they are still the right and responsible things to do. That doesn't change the fact that you know that you need to overlook your current feelings about what needs to be done, so that you can feel more content in the long run.

Oftentimes, happiness is so euphoric that it doesn't care about using foresight. That's why it's far more beneficial, in the long run, to allow healthy rather than happy to be your guide.

And this brings us to my next point.

4. “Healthy” Can Help You to Make Wiser Decisions


A part of the reason why I'm so passionate about this topic is because, I know that the moment when I started saying to myself, "Forget what makes me happy. What will make and then keep me healthy?", the quality of my life, overall, drastically began to improve. That's because, rather than looking for the people, places, things and ideas that solely brought me pleasure, I sought out what would help me to achieve being what healthy, by definition, does.

To be healthy is to be sound. To be healthy is to be mentally strong. To be healthy is to be energetic, stable and powerful. To be healthy is to have a full life.

Now just think about it. If all you're looking for is what can bring you pleasure (one definition of that is "frivolous entertainment", by the way), can you see how that could result in you ultimately making all sorts of impulsive and/or reckless decisions? On the other hand, when you're out to do what makes your mind, body and spirit healthy, can you see how that can totally shift your energy and focus? By doing what makes you healthy, that can bring you so much more than temporary happiness; it can cultivate lasting joy. Next point.

5. “Healthy” Typically Lasts Longer


Interestingly enough, one definition of happiness is contentment. To me, I think this is the spiritual approach to the word because you've got to be in a pretty good space, spiritually, to even understand what it means to be content and how to embrace it as a total life goal. To be content is to be "satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else" — and geeze, how many people do you know who live like this?

For the record, being content isn't about being stagnant (check out "6 Questions To Ask Yourself To See If You're Stagnant (Or Not)"). Being content isn't about settling either. However, it does mean that you are not out here, refusing to take accountability for the choices and commitments that you've made — whether personally or professionally — just because you "feel" like it.

Contentment is about being "adult enough" to understand that always looking for immediate gratification or the next thing to tickle your fancy isn't the wisest way to move. Contentment reminds us all to think ahead and factor in as many outcomes as possible when it comes to the decisions that we make; it reminds us that it's not solely about what will make us feel good now but what will be the smartest thing to do that will last for the duration.

And when you approach things from this angle, you've got a far greater chance of your marriage, your relationships, your money, your health…I could go on and on, being in a solid and stable state for years to come. One more point.

6. There’s Growth in Being Happy About Getting Healthy


While in an interview not too long ago, someone asked me what I thought a sign of true internal evolution is. My reply was, "When you can learn to want what you need, you have truly evolved." Something about children is they couldn't care less about wanting their needs. In fact, it's almost like they see their needs as their nemesis. Teenagers are quite similar because they think they are so "grown" that they know what is best for them and oftentimes, whatever that is, it still falls into the "want" category.

However, when you've really become an adult — and by that, I mean more mature not just older — you really do start to take note of what is the right thing for your overall health and well-being. And, whatever THAT is, it is what you start getting "happy" about…because you know that it will be as good for you as it has the potential to be good to you (check out "Question: Is The Man In Your Life Good 'TO' You? Good 'FOR' You? Or...Both?").

I already know. This was a "big girl panties" kind of piece. Yet I can guarantee that if you start shifting your focus from happy to healthy, you really will make smarter choices which can help you to become full of lasting joy in the long run. Maybe not immediately but definitely eventually — and that's a good thing. For you. Literally.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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