Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Day 362: FINAL BIG TRUTH: Hotness ≠ Happiness, but Happiness = Hotness

BIG Truth #5: 
Hotness ≠ Happiness, but Happiness = Hotness.
Here it is, my final "BIG Truth."  This may actually be my favorite.  In the last 12 months I've not only given up mirrors, but I've also given myself a bit of a "make-under," by dramatically reducing the amount of makeup I wear, going completely makeup-free on Mondays, not styling my hair (well, I guess pony-tails are technically a style), abandoning self-tanner and teeth-whiteners, and dressing predominantly for comfort rather than trendiness.  In other words, I've intentionally sacrificed a bit of (stereotypical) hotness.  This was scary, but totally worth testing.  I wanted to find out the extent to which these beauty practices actually improved my life.  After all, an my academic work, I've read research paper after research paper claiming that beauty offers all sorts of concrete social benefits for women, including higher incomemore successful (i.e, wealthy) husbands, and - the big one - greater overall happiness.   Yet I still had my doubts.  Sure, I we all know instinctively that beauty has it's perks, but I couldn't help but wonder whether chasing beauty was a worthwhile use of time and energy.  

How about ... NOT!
Well, the answer was plain (pun intended!): when I stopped chasing hotness, I became a little less stereotypically "hot" (so I'm told), but a whole lot happier.  Getting 15 extra minutes of sleep every morning, focusing on work I enjoy, and spending my extra energy cultivating relationships in which I can "just be myself" has been enormously happifying!  In the meantime, I haven't reduced my earnings potential, threatened my marriage, or foregone my core sense-of-self.  (FYI, if you're wondering how this could possibly be true, considering the results of all those studies... check out my nerdy mathematical explanation at the end of this post!).

Want to know the best part?  Michael thinks I'm hotter now than I was before!  Apparently happiness begets confidence, and confidence is really hot.  I accused him of being blinded by love, but he insists that this "confidence is hot" thing is something most modern men would agree with (as a generalization, not about me in particular).  What do you think?  Does confidence trump looks in your relationships??

PS: Here's the mathy stuff I did to better understand why being less hot didn't ruin my life.  I'm basing this rationale on a research study, in which participants were asked about their levels of happiness, and their looks were rated by interviewers face-to-face or from photos.  Participants in the top 15% of people in terms of looks were a bit over 10% happier than those in the bottom 10% in terms of looks.  (Note, this study did not examine whether becoming more or less beautiful or would effect any individual person's happiness, so my comments below are extrapolations of the data.)

Now, a 10% boost in happiness might seem pretty meaningful, but I disagree.  This statistic tells us only that the most stunningly beautiful people in the world are only about 10% happier than the most strikingly unattractive.  Now, I've never been stunningly beautiful nor strikingly unattractive.  Like 75% of people, I'm somewhere in the middle (in the "cute" category, I like to think).  So, even if it were possible for me to obsess my way from "cute" to being in the "top 15%," I still couldn't expect happiness gains anywhere near 10%.  And let's be frank: it's really difficult to improve our looks dramatically (by this, I mean improving our looks to clearly jump from one category to the next). 

Thus: given that: (1) even dramatic improvements in appearance would (hypothetically) cause only minimal improvements in happiness, and that  (2) truly dramatic improvements in looks are almost impossible anyway....  we are left with the conclusion that striving to be hotter won't make us much happier at all. 

***Of course, it is possible that striving for beauty can bring happiness in and of itself (indeed, I admit to getting a happy rush whenever I have impeccably manicured nails!), but there is certainly a point of diminishing returns, and this is something best left for individuals to decide for themselves. 


  1. I Love your math...really the only kind of math i like and well I think this is a wonderful big truth. I always feel better when I am comfortable and I am most comfy in a simple sun dress, hair in a pony and a little face cream, chapstick and flip flops. I feel better and I always get compliment on how I look those if only I could remember that feeling (when someone tells you how happy you look) on days when I feel less wonderful or less pretty. My hubby says I am most sexy when i am being confident so I guess I need to start listening and go with it.

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