I've Got 6 Solid Reasons To Put Being 'Healthy' Over Being '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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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (firstname.lastname@example.org) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Janelle Monáe's Reveals The Real Reason Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Tuxedos
Singer and actress Janelle Monáe exemplifies how change can be a powerful catalyst for growth and transformation.
Monáe, who rose to fame in 2010 following the release of her debut album, The ArchAndroid, captivated fans' hearts with her powerful vocals, catchy tunes, and style. Around that time period, when various female artists were known to wear provocative ensembles on stage, the "Tightrope" songstress set herself apart by wearing her signature black and white suits and continued to do so for almost a decade.
In the later years of her career, after the release of her studio albums The Electric Lady in 2013 and 2018's Dirty Computer, many began to notice the shift in Monáe's artistry and fashion, which some widely praised.
Although the now 37-year-old rarely addressed the reason behind the transformation over the years, that would all change when Monáe sat down with radio personality Angie Martinez on her IRL podcast earlier this month.
During the interview, Monáe --who was promoting her latest album, "The Age of Pleasure"-- opened up about her mental health struggles, how she would cope, and why she chose to live in freedom.
Janelle On Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Suits All the Time
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
In the May discussion, the "I Like That" vocalist revealed she suffers from anxiety, which she claimed would occur around "winter to spring."
Monáe added that when she has her bouts with anxiety, she tends to turn to food as a coping mechanism. Further in the interview, the "Lipstick Lover" singer disclosed that her emotional eating habits caused a weight fluctuation and that she could no longer fit into the suits she once wore earlier in her career.
Monáe explained that even though she tried to diet and exercise to return to her smaller figure, she ultimately stopped and made peace with herself with the help of therapy because she acknowledged that she isn't the same person she was nearly a decade ago and shouldn't try to be even if it was a highly "celebrated" version.
"I'm petite, but it can get thick... When I couldn't fit them suits anymore, and I was like, 'Oh my God, what is going on?' I would be dieting, running, or exercising, trying to fit into [it]. I'm just like, 'No. No, we're here. This is where we are.' We [are] not about to be utilizing life trying to be an old version of ourselves. No matter how celebrated that version of me was. I'm here. I'm here," she said.
Janelle On Freedom
As the topic shifted to freedom and what that meant to Monáe, the "Primetime" vocalist shared that in this new era of her life, she enjoys it because she can boldly express herself however she wants and honor who she is as a person right now.
Monáe also revealed that she had found ways to become a better artist and the best version of herself because of her freedom.
"What is the new version of freedom? What does that feel like? That's usually when I feel the most free is when artistically, I can honor exactly who I am right now," she stated. "I feel most free as a human when I can honor exactly who I am right now."
Monáe's fourth studio album, The Age of Pleasure, is set to be released on June 9.
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