"How do I figure out what I need to fix?"
"How can I improve my grades?"
"Why am I always overwhelmed by everything?"
Take a few scrolls through the r/selfimprovement subreddit and you'll see questions like these. The self-improvement movement has taken the nation by storm, with no shortage of books, videos, motivational speakers, and self-proclaimed experts ready to offer advice on how to live "your best life." It consists of offering advice on matters like happiness, stress, and agency, while telling you how to take back your life and make it what you want it to be. There's just one problem: you already know how to do "you."
Our modern lives are characterized by a rapid pace and frenetic sense of energy that, when spent, leaves us drained and unsure of what to do next. In the world of social media and manicured appearances, it is easy to feel like we are in a constant competition to impress. The facade of social media creates a fake sense of how we want others to see us. As a result, we are seeing the best that other people have to offer, all the time. But what is the real story?
Research suggests that mental health is suffering as a result of social media use. According to a study published online in Computers in Human Behavior on December 10, 2016, the risk of depression and anxiety rose with people who reported the most social media consumption. Additionally, social isolation is on the rise, and with it a cause of the mental health decline.
It is natural that many would look for ways to feel better about themselves in such a time. But it's gone too far.
These days it seems as if happiness and satisfaction have become imperative feelings that, if one is not experiencing, means something is seriously wrong. No longer are they ideals to strive for, but rather sensations that must be realized to have a meaningful and effective life.
This has stigmatized negative feelings; anything that feels painful or intolerable is disregarded as useless, when, actually, opening up to your struggles can help you become a better person. Burying our feelings only exacerbates the problem and creates a positive feedback loop where we turn to self-help material and then get only more distressed from what we perceive to be unattainable ideals. The unrealistic expectation of true happiness drives us to seek quick solutions to our problems, when in reality what we are searching for is much deeper. Our problems will never be solved by DIY manuals or online courses on meditation. What will only help is introspection and a fulfillment of the values we already hold. And that means being true to yourself, not some arbitrary standard.
The shallowness of the self-improvement movement is highlighted in its purported solutions; personally, I don't believe that anything that can seriously increase quality of life will be found online for $15 a month. No pricetag can be put on happiness. And this goes for free things too. Making antioxidant smoothies, creating routines to organize your tasks, and taking YouTube lessons on piano playing may be interesting hobbies to consider, but they are not the ways to make your life meaningful. This only works if you gain true enjoyment from it; hopping around to a bunch of different activities in an attempt to find some purpose will only leave you more confused. And of course, if those things truly make you happy, then, by all means, they can work. But they aren't the true solution, and who knows if in a year you'll leave those activities behind in search of other temporary fixes. The problem doesn't end with materialism; the solution starts with fulfilling yourself.
Of course, I'm not advocating to pursue risky behaviors because you enjoy them. In that case, it is important to seek serious medical help. I'm talking about finding your true self that leads you to a healthy lifestyle.
It's important to consider your values when trying to help yourself. Whatever you follow, pursue more of that. It's not about doing a 180 in your life. It's about forcing yourself to ponder the past, focus on your negative feelings, and reconcile them with what you know makes you happy. I would never really say that you are in need of improvement, because this makes you view yourself in a negative light. Rather, you are in need of fulfillment, because only you know what makes you happy. And if you don't, don't shelter yourself from struggle, because it can be in our darkest times when we see the light.
I urge everyone to not be constantly searching for improvement. Don't constantly assess how your life is compared to your peers. Try not to think about your life as being "a mess." And don't tear down your sense of self if you feel as if you are not achieving things. Because the thing is, you are. You are finding your way, and if that way is not as straightforward as your friend's, that only means that you will have more learning experiences to help you achieve what you want. Try not to focus on what everyone else thinks is important. Whatever you are will come naturally. Focus on fulfilling yourself instead of improving yourself, because only then will relevant change occur.