Imagine the situation –
Jackie had been extremely heavy her entire life. She tried one diet after another, but nothing seemed to work for long. She faced ridicule, social consequences and health problems because of her excess weight. All she dreamed about was reaching and maintaining a normal size, a size that didn’t hold her back from the life she wanted to have. And so when she was eventually approved for gastric bypass surgery after years of trying, she was elated. Finally, she thought, I will be free of this burden!
But as recent research demonstrates, it’s not quite that easy. Yes, patients that undergo gastric bypass lose the weight and often keep it off. Yet as their physical health improves, their mental health may decline, leading to an increased risk of suicide following the procedure.
At first glance, this makes no sense. The societal consequences of obesity are well documented and it seems logical that the patient receives more positive attention after surgery. An increase in self-confidence would be expected as a lifelong goal was reached and it’s easy to imagine an increase in overall well-being as limitations due to weight are lifted.
So why is it that after finally getting what they want, gastric bypass patients are more likely to take their lives?
It’s because of what happens after we get what we want.
The human brain has evolved to make sense of complex situations. One of the ways this is accomplished is by distilling complicated matters into a short list of easily understood bullet points. This trait usually serves us well as we learn algorithms and shortcuts that help us with everything from mathematical processes to the best route to take to work.
But when it comes to happiness, this attribute fails us. We all too easily blame our unease or our despondency on one single thing – our job, our marriage, our finances and yes, our weight. All of the negative feelings are assigned to that one scapegoat, along with a focus of eliminating or altering that designated fall guy from our lives.
And as long as that blamed thing remains unchanged, we have hope. Hope that once that thing changes, it will create a vacuum where happiness will pour in.
But when we get what we want? When we secure the dream job, lose the hapless spouse, improve our bottom line or finally get that firm bottom and the expected happiness doesn’t materialize?
We can begin to lose hope.
Because that single distilled bullet point, that one thing that we had been so focused on, didn’t lead to the expected changes. It’s a letdown. Sometimes a devastating one.
Of course the reality is that it was never really about that one thing anyway. You can be miserable in a good job or happy in a miserable one. A struggling marriage can certainly impact your well-being, but it is never the only factor on your overall outlook. Financial security can help to cushion life, but as we all have heard, it can’t buy happiness. And as for the weight, I have heard so many now-thin people say, “I’m still a fat girl/boy in here,” as they sadly pat their hearts.
All of this doesn’t mean that achieving your desired life is impossible.
It just means that it doesn’t end – or begin – with getting what we want.
To prevent that letdown after getting what you want (presented in an ironic short list of bulleted points 🙂 ),
- Be realistic about the impact that one thing has on your overall well-being. Don’t over-assign blame.
- Be careful not to shirk responsibility. Happiness is an inside job. No outward change will be sufficient.
- Plan for the reduction in focus/momentum after obtaining your desire. Have something at the ready for your attention.
- Accept that achieving your optimal satisfaction is an ongoing process with a multitude of moving targets. Keep practicing.
- Don’t put too much importance on getting what you want. After all…