Why Gillette demonstrates body positivity is still not the norm

Gillette recently released their new ad which featured a larger woman in a swimsuit - it was instantly trolled on Instagram. The plus-size model was Anna O’Brien and the caption “Go out there and slay”. The comments – positively vitriolic. Gillette Venus tweeted, “We love Anna because she lives out loud and loves her skin no matter how the ‘rules’ say she should display it.”

Instagram trolls didn’t think that was the case. The prognosis on Instagram? Women like Anna shouldn’t be out flaunting their flesh, and they most definitely shouldn’t be happy and proud while doing so. The underlying message? Women like Anna should be ashamed.

It’s startling when an ad like this demonstrates an underlying but prolific, vicious and distressing sentiment. Despite all the public narrative about body positivity, when trolls (or really, other people just like you or I) have the opportunity to display their “real” opinion (from the anonymity of their keyboard) they do so.

Gillette drew attention to an invisible undercurrent – the “rules” around how women should behave. Thinly veiled and often systemic these rules lie just below the surface, obscured by a well-versed narrative on how things are changed, on how far we’ve progressed …

But scratch the surface and there it is – the old mentality, the one that might be obscured but is ever present, inscribed in our minds, running through our veins.

Reversed – on the weekend I was captivated by the DNCE Cake by the Ocean video-clip (long story about how it landed in my inbox as something to be viewed). You know the tune - cute, fun, something to dance. The clip features a monstrously large cake set on a beach.  It’s safe to describe it as every heterosexual man’s fantasy - numerous, extremely hot women, in their skimpy bathers flinging cake. The object of their attention, a largish, unattractive man, wearing speedos.

Whah?

Not scintillating viewing from my perspective, but clearly for some. Men, probably. But, could it be women also?  

It was only mid-way through that I realized the women were swiping their phones on Bumble (the dating app). Was this product placement? Yes – clearly. It then became clear to me that the entire clip had subliminal bumble messaging, the brand colours interwoven overtly throughout, and … wait for it, even the tiny speedos the largish man was wearing emblazoned with their colours.

Clearly a collaboration, or a sponsorship, or a placement.

The initial whah? Degenerated into full confusion – why would they choose to sponsor something which so clearly didn’t align with their ethos?

If you don’t know Bumble’s background – here’s the low down. Its founder is American Entrepreneur Whitney Wolfe Herd, she’s also the CEO, and co-founder of Tinder. Credited as one of the key architects, designers, and even Christener’s of Tinder, she was contacted by the founder of Badoo in 2014 about creating another platform – hence the genesis of Bumble. Wolfe Herd is certainly one badass lady, she was named Business Insider’s 30 Most Important Women Under 30 in Tech in 2014, she’s been featured on the covers of Forbes and Wired UK, and in April 2018 she was named in the TIME 100 list. An amazing set of accomplishments, to sit alongside this equally amazing dating app which focuses on women first.

 

 

My marketing mind would tell me the clip, and the brand placement meant Bumble needed more dudes to join the app, but something in the pit of my stomach told me something else. Was this also a recruitment to a particular type of femininity? To a particular ideology … what the “hot” woman should look and act like.

Polar opposites to the Gillette ad.

How do we break the cycle? How do we change the narrative?

We often here, “You can’t be, what you can’t see.” There’s a lot of truth in that. The dominant narrative, which comes to define us, and embody us … is SEEN. We need to change this. We need to applaud Gillette for the beauty of Anna’s image, and frown on Cake by the Ocean. Until we’re all represented, until we’re able to disrupt, disturb and cast off what is perceived as the norm of female beauty, we’re trapped by its discourse.

While we’ve come a distance when it comes to feminism and equal rights, the capacity to express ourselves in ways and forms which might contravene dominant gender norms is still questioned. The fact remains, there are still video clips out there with hot girls in bikinis throwing cake at fat, white guys in speedos on the beach – sponsored by a dating app that supposedly puts ladies first. The subtle recruitment of a particular type of “woman” continues, interwoven into our times, expressed through media and culture, and worse still on the physical form.

Embodied.

Anna, I’m with you. Gillette, I’m with you.

Let’s represent.

 

 

 

Are our food habits indicators of how we conduct our relationships?

Earlier on in the week I asked a friend of mine if she thought relationships should have expiry dates. You know like food. Perhaps instead of entering into a “unto death do we part” arrangement, we should dive into a “unto a decade transpires” sort of thing, or maybe “unto a full rotation around the sun” bind. The couple gets to choose the length a binding partnership should last for based on their sense of the relationship - is it a “Bella and Edward” sort of combo? Or a “Charlie Sheen and Denise Richards” love fast and crash faster link? Once they’ve reached a time arrangement they can go fourth and commit, marry, or whatever floats your boat. Some might wonder, why marry at all? I guess in an age where everyone is defining their relationships in new ways it’s a completely valid resolution. It also means you might get to spend a decade with one fellow, and the next with another etc etc. The days of the “old ball and chain” would be erased.

What did my friend think? Well, she thought it was a pretty silly idea - and that you should commit for always or not at all. She then went onto add that she herself was a little lax on expiry dates anyway. If the odd yogurt was a few days expired, or even a few weeks, she might hazard to give it a sniff and the smallest of tastes … expiry dates were after all, just “indicators” she said.

This made me wonder - are our food habits a sign of how we conduct our relationships?

We all have wide and varied food habits - there are the grazers (that keep snacking all day), the strict diet types (that ingest boiled chicken and broccoli for seemingly the longest of times), the vegans (yikes … don’t get me started!), the carnivores (I once sat near a guy at work that went through roast chickens like there was a cruise ship buffet behind our pod), the bingers (we’ve all been there before) and even, the juice cleansers (who subsist on a series of green juiced thangs and the odd stick of hubba bubba).

Our food ingestion is habit, and primal at the same time. Is our attitude towards relationships kind of the same?

In some sort of wild turn of events I also spent the weekend reading “A Networked Self” by Zizi Papacharissi (the perks of a PhD on dating apps), and happened upon a chapter from Ezter Hargittai and Yu-Li Patrick Hsieh titled, “From dabblers to omnivores: A typology of social network site usage.” The piece broke down internet usage (and behaviours towards social networking sites) into a series of typologies - you could be either the dabbler, the sampler, the devotee or the omnivore (another nod to my food analogy!). Synchronicity! It’s a complex theory - but I’ll break it down for you.

You know the Facebook devotee type, that’s always on Facebook (addicted, the first person to comment on everything, you wonder if they’re ever NOT on Facebook), or the sampler, that sort of shifts between Snapchat and Instagram and Facebook, flitting between networks with the lightest of touches, butterfly like in their insouciance? Reflections of social network site typologies.

Indeed, the theory was corroborated by my friends dating app habits. Some of them were on them all the time, swiping, swiping, swiping, swiping while watching MAFS or even in work meetings, others quickly deleted the tool when they didn’t find a suitable match in 48 hours (you know the type that is a rigorous on their diet, but if they don’t see an impact within two days, starts fisting carbs like the world might end).

Yes, there was evidence to suggest that food habits and relationship habits (extended to the use of dating apps) were somehow interlinked.

So which are you?

  • Boiled chicken and greens (great figure, but as boring as bat shit);

  • Green juice cleanse (desperate, hoping to drop some kilos fast, in a bad mood, always, ready to crack);

  • A grazer (sampling, sampling, sampling all the time); or

  • Midnight pizza binge post pinot binge (lots of fun, but temperamental and slightly bloated - prone to morning regrets).

Relationship and food type - intimately linked methinks. Keep your eye on it this week.

Where do dating apps sit in the social media landscape?

When I first started investigating dating apps, and in particular Bumble and Tinder, I quickly situated them in the social media landscape. In my mind dating apps replicated the instigation and facilitation of social and intimate connections (relationships) in an online space. Traditionally, you might have met a hook-up or a significant other at a bar or club, at work, or even in the bookstore (insert communal locations) and dating apps mirror and enhance this capacity to connect in the online world. You joined this “network” of people by developing a profile (a descriptor of self and identity) in 140 words, added some images, and were linked to people based on the app algorithms and criteria. To me dating apps met every requirement of a “social network.” However, as I’ve progressed in my readings this definition and how it relates to dating apps has become increasingly more nebulous.

There are a few definitions which need to be considered in relation to social networking platforms. The first from danah boyd speaks to “networked publics”. She writes, “Networked publics are publics that are restructured by networked technologies. As such, they are simultaneously (1) the space constructed through networked technologies and (2)the imagined collective that emerges as a result of the intersection of people, technology and practise.” (A networked self, Papacharissi, 2011, Routledge) Networked publics are spaces that allow people to connect socially, culturally and for civic purposes online. Networked publics develop their own culture, for example, Facebook and Instagram, which might be examined through multiple lenses. An overarching culture dictated by the structure of the app and what it allows us to do / how it facilitates our interaction and for what outcomes - as well as the impact of the person’s real world network, values, and beliefs which come to be mirrored in the space of the “networked public”. Within the confines of this definition, dating apps are indeed networked publics. Simultaneously, a space is created on the dating app, and an imagined collective of people emerge i.e. the people on Bumble or Tinder - seeking a relationship or hook-up. A dating app culture is developed, led by the app itself, and intersected by the way people use the app and their own personal schemas.

However boyd and Ellison (2007) also define the “social networking site” - a platform which has a number of features that allow individuals to “(1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system” (A networked self, Papacharissi, page 43, 2011, Routledge). Dating apps fit criteria 1 (the profile within the bounded system), 2 (to some degree, they allow you to articulate a group of people you have a connection with, however not necessarily by aggregating a list - rather, it’s criteria 3 which is problematic. Dating apps don’t allow us to traverse the list of other peoples’ connections. However, users usually do check the “matches” connections by consulting a broader digital ecosystem i.e. they might check the legitimacy of the matches claims by examining their other social media presences (facebook, instagram etc). Even, within these expanded parameters, dating apps do not meet the social networking sites definition.

Finally, we also need to examine the affordances that boyd articulates emerge from networked publics, these include:

  • Persistence (online expressions are automatically recorded and archived)

  • Replicability (content made of bits can be duplicated)

  • Scalability (The potential visibility of content in networked publics is great)

  • Searchability (content in networked publics can be accessed through search).

These affordabilities make the definition of dating apps as a networked public problematic. They meet criteria 1-3 (in varied way) but not criteria 4. Online expressions on dating apps are archived, they can be replicable (however, this means the user would need to take an image or record an interaction in some way i.e. duplicate), scalability (can occur if this captured capital is shared), however searchability is indeed an issue. Content can not be accessed through search, unless duplicated and misused.

To me these definitions are based on functionality of networked publics and social networks rather than intention. While dating apps might not necessarily meet the requirements of these definitions, the intention of the person is to make an online connection, create an intimacy (whether a hook-up or a relationship).

While these definitions are relevant from a functionality perspective, it seems remiss to not create a new definition based on intent - i.e. “an online community where individuals form connections and intimacies, whether new or pre-existing, that can be continued in the real-world.”

Does a participatory culture exist on the internet?

As part of my PhD I’ve been reading about online participatory cultures. Slightly off piste when it comes to dating apps (my main topic), but I’ve been interested in whether or not dating apps are social networks and whether people do participate in a culture when they interact on them. Some of the key pieces of literature around participatory culture are written by Henry Jenkins, Mizuko Ito and danah Boyd - and their book, Participatory Culture in Networked Era (2016) is an easy to read introduction and exploration of the key topics. Written as a discussion between the three of them, it functions as a text and a representation of participation.

Jenkins first referred to “participatory culture” in 1992 in relation to his research on fandom in particular the, “blurring between forms and of cultural production and forms of social exchange; fans understood fandom to be an informal ‘community’ defined around notions of equality, reciprocity, sociality and diversity.” (page 2) Since then the explosion of a digital age has seen the growth of participatory cultures online, and Jenkins initial utopian version of a participatory culture has morphed and changed. Online communities engage in forms of cultural production and social exchange but the equality, reciprocity, sociality and diversity that we first imagined would come hand-in-hand with the internet has not eventuated - instead social inequities have been “baked in” to platforms and networks.

Jenkins, Ito and boyd demonstrate the tension between the notion of social networks and communities formed on the internet and the inherent duality with the individualism of being able to select that network. We choose to follow and see content - the individual is at the centre of the network, and as a result reinforces or replicates existing social structure, exposing themselves to virtually the same network as in real-word. The intent here of cultural production and participation is also of interest - does the individual create content to participate in the group in a form reciprocal exchange, or simply for self-promotion? The narcistic values created as a result of social media have long since been explored - however are somewhat mono-dimensional, and at extreme odds with the initial intent of the internet in linking people and communities, reinforcing sociality and diversity.

Jenkins raises the issue around the privatisation of infrastructure, content and relationships, indicating “Each layer represents a significant set of struggles between the historic practices associated with various forms of participatory culture and corporatiziation” (page 149). The privatisation of relationships is particularly relevant to dating apps. Jenkins refers to the privatisation of relationships particularly in relation to social networking platforms (Facebook in this case) where the user brings themselves and their relationships, as well as content, but later finds it difficult to export the data relating to these social interactions elsewhere. Similar to this, the user brings themselves and content to a dating apps - interactions then occur on the dating app with subjects of interest (social interactions) and cultural content is created (messaging / discourse) - but the platform retains this cultural content. When it comes to dating apps the cultural content becomes almost a means to an end - the instigation and navigation of a relationship - nonetheless the ownership of the content shifts from the individuals to the platform.

Participatory culture is examined through the lens of “digital natives” (young people who have always had access to the internet) and “digital immigrants” (older people who have had to adapt to the internet). Jenkins, Ito and boyd all identify these terms as unsatisfactory and limiting in terms of describing these participatory groups. Both terms are indeed loaded - as boyd notes, "I’m fascinated by the ways in which adults use this language to imply that being ‘native’ is a more illustrious position. As Genevieve Bell has noted, the natives never win. They have historically gotten enslaved, killed or ‘harmonized’ by powerful ‘immigrants’ (a.k.a colonisers) (page 48). An interesting point to note, but perhaps what needs to be examined here is the use of the words native and immigrant in a 2019 context, and how they too have morphed and change. It would be difficult to ascribe the word immigrant with the same connotations. The debate in relation to “natives” and “immigrants” however is incredibly relevant to the normative practises that are ascribed to each group and the moral fear associated with youth participatory culture online. In my case, I’m interested to see the way “natives” and “immigrants” participate on dating apps, and whether the characteristic associated with each of the groups - natives (oversharing), immigrants (conservative-use and inept) is actually accurate from an online relationship perspective. I would also be interested in re-christening the controversial terms.

The main point of interest for me in relation to participatory culture is the notion of systemic inequity. When the internet and communities first came to being there was a sense that this was a place for everyone to participate, share their views and be welcomed. There was the vision for a social fluidity which might not have been possible in a real life context. However, some twenty to thirty years later the barriers to participatory culture from a social, political and cultural stratification perspective still exist. As boyd writes “the rhetoric surrounding social media often highlights that technology is an equal opportunity platform; ‘everyone’ supposedly has the ability to have their voice heard. I think that this is seriously deceptive. I would argue that true participation requires many qualities: agency, the ability to understand a social situation well enough to engage constructively, the skills to contribute effectively, connections with others to help build an audiences and emotional resilience to handle negatives feedback, and enough social status to speak without consequences. (page 22)”

This is such an important point - we often focus on the “digital divide” and access to technology, but there are so many other elements that constitute that digital divide, many of which mirror participation in a real-world environment. The capacity to create cultural content often relies on the confidence to have a voice, a value which is often instilled in the privileged. It also relies on the notion that the user has access to networks where their cultural content will be “heard” - again a barrier given the individualisation of social networks. This makes me wonder if there is indeed a way to create a more equitable participatory culture, or if as flawed human beings  we are simply mimicking existing structures which are culturally and socially understood as the norm?

Open to your views.

Gumperz, code-switching and dating apps

I am embarking on a new area of study relating to dating apps and how they impact the way relationships are formed and navigated. Dating apps have been around for a while now, some of us might remember their genesis back with RSVP a decade or so back - when the majority of us had a sense of trepidation about going online and meeting people. Back then, there were a whole heap of questions which impeded our online dating journey like, what does this say about me? Does this mean I’m the type of person that can’t meet someone face-to-face, in ordinary life? Does that mean I’m a relationship loser? These days with over 1/3 of Australians self-reporting their use of dating apps, things have shifted dramatically - to the point where people only know how to meet online and no longer have the skills to meet in an “ordinary-face-to-face” environment.

But dating apps are constructed online environments. That means our relationships are being mediated through these structures and defined by them. Does that mean that relationships developed over Bumble, are different to those created via Tinder? And what impact does the creator of that app have on the eventual structure of the relationship? All questions I’m looking to answer!

Earlier on in the week I was considering the impact of discourse on dating apps and relationships. Sociolinguist Gumperz tells us that when speaking people engage in an elaborate interchange of “code-switching” i.e. speakers change the form of language they use based on the social situation, as they’re aware of the correlations that go along with it. Put simply, this means, people will talk differently depending on the situation. They also shift their dialogue based on the cues they interpret from the other person. So the words, tonality, and structure of their sentences will shift based on the context. Imagine how you speak to your boss, and then how you would speak to your local publican. Kind of different. In the first instance we might strive to be more concise, refined, knowledgeable, together … and in the second we might aim to be relaxed, fun, jovial, our Aussie twang might even start settling in.

It got me thinking about how people interact on dating apps - meaning, the language they use. Does it shift and change based on the interpretation of the other person? Or based on the intent?

In relation to the interpretation of the person - we obviously have to make a quick summation of them based on their photos and profile content. We then categorise them. Box them into a particular social group. For example, do we imagine them to be smart and social, fun and silly or a little dumb but attractive - and do we then tailor our language accordingly? Furthermore - what about the intent? Surely, the language we use in the interaction is based on whether we perceive this as a hook-up, a dalliance, or a potential relationship?

Foucault would tell us that the subject, in this case the person, is produced by the discourse - that discourse creates subject positioning. Does this mean that our initial judgment and interpretation of the person based on their profile (and our intent) and the discourse we use in those exchanges, shape the person in the relationship?

Change! New blogs apply to my study on dating applications!

Hey lovely followers,

Today is an ironic time for me to author this post.

It’s International Happiness Day!

As you would know, this is my previous topic of study - happiness.

Whilst I remain completely committed to happiness, and our ongoing journey to that ephemeral emotion, I am moving onto a new topic of study.

Dating applications.

Tinder, Bumble, Happn, Grindr … you name it.

I’ve kicked off my PhD at Western Sydney and I am embarking on a fresh and exciting topic. Dating apps.

How are they impacting on how relationships are imagined and lived?

Is LOVE different as a result?

Watch this space … I’ll be blogging my journey, as I study, conceptualise and relate.

… and contact me if you have a dating app story you want to tell!

Much metta,

LP

New year, new me (or should it be new year, same me?)

In the first week of a new year it’s normal to spend some time soul-searching. We tend to evaluate the previous year in detail. Some of us might decide we came up trumps and others might conclude it was all an abysmal waste of time, energy and spirit. A third group might decide it was a mixed bag. We search for lessons in the cacophony of the previous year - learnings we can wear as talisman. We might have failed but at least we learnt something. Others might celebrate the wins. Social media tempts us further with “your year in review” and other applications. We’re told to summarise, find a common narrative, a thread - as human beings and storytellers it’s only natural for us to look at the big picture and try to make sense of it all. Otherwise it’s just one more rotation around the sun, purposeless and meaningless. To battle the void we have to narrate.

From there we feel the compulsion to make new year’s resolutions. A list of sorts that we can aim for in this new year (2019 on this occurrence). According to Peter Economy (The Leadership Guy) the top 10 new year’s resolutions include:

  1. Diet or eat healthier

  2. Exercise more

  3. Lose weight

  4. Save more and spend less

  5. Learn a new skill or hobby

  6. Quit smoking

  7. Read more

  8. Find another job

  9. Drink less alcohol

  10. Spend more time with family and friends.

I would be lying to you if I said that some of those goals hadn’t been on my list before!

Many of us start off with good intentions, but by January the wheels have already come off the cart and we’re back to square one - back to the person we were in 2018, same old sloth with no skills and a boring job. So, why do we make them? Why do we aim for the perfectible self when we’re imperfect in every way - and why can’t we embrace the person we are? New year, same me (only more acceptance that self might trip up a few times). We do live in a world where striving for perfection is a constant agenda item. Whether it’s that bikini body, or a curated mind, or the ideal work situation. Yes, all of these industries are fuelled by a modern consumer society, but they go way back. Aristotle was considering what the components were of the “good life” thousands of years ago. If we only get seventy-five rotations around the sun (give or take a few years) then shouldn't we aim to be spending them in the best way possible?

So, are we concluding it’s okay to strive for that person (the one we so hope to be)?

Yes - I think it is. As long as we go into it with an open heart, and the notion that we might trip up along the way.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”

Very true - we’re active participants in our lives. Around us chaos swirls - we’re not responsible for that person dropping coffee on our white shirt this morning, that sickness which took you out of the game for weeks (maybe more), or the behaviours of family and friends. We can only control the elements within our remit … and sometimes those things are the hardest to control. They take discipline, lifestyle changes and mental rigor. They take practise. They take failure. They take resilience … and those things are tough.

When we’re making our resolutions - we need to remind ourselves that we’re in control of making them happen, and that might be hard. We have to commit to discipline as well as the other things on our list. Jane Collingwood from PsychCentral tells us these are the ways to keep a firm grasp on their resolutions:

  1. Keep your resolutions simple

  2. Choose carefully

  3. Be realistic

  4. Create bite-sized portions (chunk down your resolutions into achievable goals)

  5. Plan a time-frame

  6. Make notes

  7. Treat yourself (not all the time but sometimes)

  8. Receive support

  9. Don’t give up

  10. Put yourself in charge.

Also, remind yourself that the 1 January is not the only time that you can make a resolution and keep it. You can do so in March, June or even December. Whenever you like in fact! While the 1 January serves as a promising milestone, we’re always in charge of the changes we want to make in our lives.

Visualising things often keep them present and in the forefront of our minds. You might like to physically create a list and tack it up on the fridge or near your computer at work. Document how you’re going, on a daily basis if necessary, to keep the momentum and set up some check points.

… and always remember, if you fall off the wagon you can always get back on.

LP xo

Can we expect perfection?

These days everything is photo-shopped, edited, styled, and developed. All of the realistic, human elements of a photo, phrase or thought are often ironed out. We live in a hyper-stylised world where we are taught from a young age that we can expect perfection. Hugh Mackay refers to this as the “utopia-complex”, William Storr in Selfie, ascribes it to a culture of abundant narcissism. Whatever you want to call it, or whichever theorist strikes your fancy, there is certainly a culture of the perfectible self. A combination of socio-cultural paradigms, advertising and media, have indoctrinated in us the notion that we can be perfect. In addition we can expect perfect careers, perfect partners, perfect bodies, and even, perfect children.

We’re expecting that photo-shop will automatically apply to our lives.

Today, many of us desire jobs which are vocations, imbued with values, meaning and a greater connection to all things. We expect relationships filled with fire and passion - we don’t just want any run-of-the-mill romance, rather we’re looking for someone to “complete” us, Jerry Maguire style. Our bodies are the virtual personification of this perfectible self. Garner an amazing body and surely an amazing life will follow!

Our desire for the perfectible self, reduces us to the “arrival fallacy”. The notion that if only x, y and z conditions would be in place we could experience happiness. As Lyubomirsky writes in The Myths of Happiness, “Nearly all of us buy into what I call the myths of happiness - beliefs that certain adult achievements (marriage, kids, jobs, wealth) will make us forever happy and that certain failures or advertises (health problems, not having a partner, having little money) will make us forever unhappy. This reductive understanding of happiness is culturally reinforced and continues to endure, despite overwhelming evidence that our well-being does not operate according to such black and white principles.”

The arrival fallacy.

I’m saluting the concept as a standalone paragraph because it deserves to be singled out.

Often, I hear people talking about the perfect conditions. They can’t quite describe what’s wrong about this current job, partner, or situation, but they know there is better out there and they should be searching for it.

Curious. We find ourselves unable to enjoy our current situations, because we’re quite sure it’s not the epitome of what it could be. As a result we stop trying to enhance it, rather we decide to throw the baby with the bathwater, and start over.

Often when I’m speaking to groups I tell them, “You’ll never be better than you are at this very moment.” Some people might wonder, why I would encourage you to aspire to stop trying. I’m not. You can be certain of very few things - two of them are death and taxes, on top of those two certainties you can add, the future and past. Both are imagined quantities. Neither of them exist in reality. So truly, “You’ll never be better than you are at this very moment.”

The perfected self is similarly a fallacy, and it may be holding you back. It may be keeping you in a pattern of unhappiness. We need to remember that all we’re promised is the present moment - and whether we’re broke, broken-up or job less, we have to accept these circumstances, and indeed that happiness can be found in this very place, at this very time.

Research demonstrates that cultural and societal markers for happiness - don’t make us happy at all.

This is the moment to seize your joy, don’t be a victim of a societal paradigm, grab your happiness with both hands, and forget about the cellulite on your thighs, the job you’re not quite sure about, or the partner who forgets to buy you flowers.

You will never be more perfect than at this very moment.

Enjoy it.

Happiness in the face of criticism

I've been tossing up whether or not to write this piece for a while now. When I prevaricate for to long I just decide to do the thing I've been considering because clearly it's had a lasting impact on me. If it's influencing me, it's also impacting others - that's the thing about the human condition, we're all irredeemably similar. The main themes and mysteries that make a dent on my life - will have the same on others. Hence the impact of Shakespeare. A man who had collapsed the human condition into a series of emotions and milestones, like love, jealousy, anger, happiness, ambition, war, success and loss. 

We're utter mysteries for the most part, until we're viewed as an aggregate, which is when the real magic happens. When we realise we're more alike then we ever previously perceived ... 

But I digress. The human emotion which I was charged with and wanted to dilate into words ... anger. 

Who has never felt the roar of this red-hot emotion racing through their veins before? 

Why was I angry? And let me preface this by stating that I'm know for my zen condition - what those around me refer to as "Lisa Portolan Zen" (it has it's own brand ;)). Well, it was a review, of my new book. Not by a peer, but by a relative unknown, who took it upon himself to take to pieces every single element, every single page, of my book. Not to mention my identity. 

Said person, declared me to be "not the average person", a millennial who's liberal use of f*ck was an indication of my being affected by the social condition of my times and my generation. That my theories weren't thought through, that my prose was unremarkable, even that the person who edited my book (of which there were several) was an utter dilettante (clearly, all of them!). 

I read the review  on a Saturday morning. It was 6am. The time I consider my own - before my three-year old wakes up and demands attention. Because I work hard - to be a full time mum, a full time worker, and a full time creative. 

Let me be "unoriginal" as he would declare me, and say that I was "sick to the stomach" when I read the review. 

He questioned my intelligence, the fact that I was an "academic" or that I could write - and it burnt me. Hard. It made me question my very self. 

Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love, Committed, Big Magic and a raft of other brilliant stuff) tells us that if we put it out in the world, we need to accept what comes. You know what, she's right, writers, bloggers, artists at large - we get to give our opinion, because we're brave enough to take the risk. That's the difference between us and the rest, right? We're happy to give it a whirl, come what may. But when, what may, comes, we fall into despondency, wrath, anger ... 

And that's where I was, anger. 

Mostly because I know that said man was a white, over-privileged baby boomer. That he had never experienced hardship or judgment - because he had never put out anything to be judged (other than criticism). As a woman, millennial, and first generation Australian - I haven't had those privileges. 

... and thanks for noting that I'm not the "every day person". After all - my parents did get off the boat here as migrants in the 1960s with nothing more than a suitcase to recommend them!

There's the anger. The fire!!

But I need to step down. The key to happiness ... is acceptance. 

Accepting what is. 

Will I change this man's view? No. Does he care that he's had this impact on me? No (in fact he would probably be pleased). Does he care? No. 

When such things happen - I feel the rage. Yes, like everyone who has a reason to think, believe and be. Do I feel the injustice of it? Of course. But we need to process, and consider. 

Accept the things you can't change, influence the one's you can. 

The only thing I can change is my perception of the situation, and the emotion that relates to it. 

I choose not to be angry. I choose not to feel anything in particular about the comment at all. I accept that there will be other comments - some maybe positive, others negative. 

Happiness is .... work

Happiness should be effortless, right? 

It should be something we can simply tap into and experience. It should  descend on us - a shimmer of rainbow coloured glitter and maybe a few unicorns as well. It should be easily accessible - or so we think

Like many things in life though - happiness requires work. 

I was reminded of that across the weekend. Having just published my book, Happy As, and been on a fabulous book tour across Australia, I was finishing up in Canberra - a place where I had spent the better part of a decade. The nation's capital, and the location of my abode and work for the latter part of my twenties, I knew it's wide streets well, but also many of the smiling faces in the sold out room I spoke to at Muse Books and Wine that evening.

It was an amazing experience to return to my old stomping ground a victor. Not only had I followed my dreams, but I had achieved an outcome. I had published a book on a topic I was deeply passionate about. I was buzzing. 

The glitter and unicorns descended. 

... but the next morning as I drove back to Sydney, another emotion gathered around me, and it was more linked to the anxious variety than the gleeful one experienced virtually hours ago. I was tired, slightly hung over, and back to my daily grind. 

Recovering from a high is almost as difficult as the ascent. 

In the days that followed I found myself to be ... glum. 

The thing is, happiness isn't easy. Often we're battered about by a tide of emotions, highs can be followed by lows, lows by plateaus, and plateaus by more plateaus. Many theorists would indicate that happiness is to some degree a choice, and if not a choice, its something we need to work towards and on - always. 

Doesn't sound appealing now? 

Well, I disagree - there's power in the notion that you can impact on your own emotions, and you're not held captive by them. 

Some of my key steps when I'm feeling glum include: 

- Get up (because I'm usually sitting when the blues arrive), head outside, get some oxygen, vitamin D and if possible some exercise.

- Talk to someone. I'm a people person - I feed off interactions, so chatting with people always helps.

- Have a laugh. Studies show a smile can drive the production of endorphins - so have a little laugh.

- Be cognisant. 

They're my steps but everyone has different ones. We're different beasts, and while we all need to work on happiness and the steps we take to that place of contentment might differ. 

Tell me some of yours!

I'm looking for your happiness story!

This week has seen a hiatus from my book tour. In between Queensland and the ACT I'm back to reality. Back to work and Sydney. Obviously, the #happyas book tour has produced amazing highs, from speaking at the Gold Coast Early Risers, to ABC Radio National Big Ideas at Avid Readers in Brisbane and national television including the Today Show and The Drum. Extensive highs are always followed by lulls. Luckily, my lulls are constituted by my ordinary life. My tiny world, in a peach coloured terrace in Sydney, with my daughter, my regular job and my books. Of course, I'm always surrounded by my books. This week I read, The Meaning of Life, by the Dalai Lama (forward by Richard Gere). Insightful, moving, dynamic - how can one not be moved by a book which contains words from our modern day Lama and Gere?? So my return to reality was not so hard. 

But I handpicked my reality. After spending the majority of my life living a life which was ill-suited to my values, identity and disposition, I decided to change it up. I resigned from my high-paying job in Canberra and headed back to Sydney. 

Sydney held an intrinsic place in my heart. It lined the fabric of the back-pocket of my jeans. 

It was my heart. 

The pastel coloured terraces, the colourful and authentic people - that was my home, those were my people. I belonged here. Amongst them. 

To be happy again I had to find my way back. I had to go against every societal convention. Yes, in Canberra, I had the right job, I knew the right people, I drove the right car. Who would give all that up?

Me. 

Because in-between the highs of my book tour was Sydney. The place which stole my heart. My home. Lost in the tiny streets, amongst the vintage of Glebe markets and a vino with old friend, i knew I had followed my happiness trail. 

Have you?

I want to hear your views and thoughts, and I'd love to publish them right here on my website. 

Tell me your happiness story - your journey to being a #happinesshero

Whether it's happened, you're in the progress, or you dream of it happening - I welcome your thoughts. 

Email me at: yourhappinessstory@gmail.com

Thank YOU

The happiness ingredients – Connection is vital

With the release of my new book, Happy As, I’ve been out and about meeting new people and talking about happiness. Since June 1 (the release date for my book) it’s been a whirlwind of television, radio, book signings and events. It’s been a great way to reach a broader audience and to talk about critical topics, like happiness - shaking out myths, ironing out misconceptions, and simply connecting with people, and providing both them and me with a platform to share our ideas.

Most recently I travelled up to the Gold Coast and Brisbane, where I talked about the topic at the fantastic Gold Coast Women in Business (Early Riser) breakfast, and later at Avid Readers (Brisbane) with the cerebral Antony Funnell for ABC Radio National, Big Ideas.

It's also been an interesting time period from a socio-cultural perspective with the recent deaths of celebrity handbag designer, Kate Spade, and extraordinary foodie, writer and presenter, Anthony Bourdain. Media has reported that both committed suicide. An enormous tragedy – but one that has made us consider the human condition closely (and rarely do we pause to do so). Both Kate and Anthony had the world at their feet, they were brilliant and successful, adored by the masses - our modern-day notions of what happiness should look like. Yet, both were deeply unhappy.

Happiness is a peculiar sentiment. We’ve come to link happiness with milestones and possessions. Whether it be a beautiful home, the right job, spouse and family. It might also come alongside with a designer handbag, the latest technology and of course the socially-sanctioned perfect look. Our perceived notion of success – soaring monetary heights and a job which not only means something to us but gains us the adoration of others – has become conjoined with our common day understanding of happiness.

When we see examples like Bourdain and Spade – we can’t help think, but they had it all. Of course, then there’s an inevitable mental question mark. They had it all, and yet still they weren’t happy. More than that they were walking dark laneways, darker than the depths of Dante’s inferno, so dark in fact that there was no other option. Closing the door on all of this was the only viable way forward.

On the Gold Coast and Brisbane Spade was often referenced, news about Bourdain only broke when I was back in Sydney. Nonetheless the sentiment was the same – we tried to make sense of why.

The answer is, there is no why. The human condition is deeply nuanced. To provide one solution or a single answer is marketable, definitely! It comes neatly in the one package, tight wrapped, and brightly coloured. If only things were so simple! The human condition is messy. We are messy and complex. We’re always searching – for meaning, for connection, for happiness. All of us. Sometimes we feel like we have a handle on it all – including the sentiment – and then it slips from our grasp so quickly, and we’re back to the very beginning. Mendicants, students, looking for answers.

What I learnt on the Gold Coast and Brisbane – was the power of the human connection. I travelled with my sister. Together as a pair we headed to the Gold Coast Early Risers, Women in Business breakfast where women within the community came together to talk about business, careers, local charities and how they could assist, and much more. They were like-minded people on a similar journey, sharing their worlds once a month – and I was struck by the power of it. Their fearless organiser, Karen Phillips, was brave and charismatic, a born story-teller, a woman who connected people, ideas and emotions.

In Brisbane, I presented my book at Avid Readers, with Antony Funnell on the Big Ideas, ABC Radio National programme. A group of forty or so interested people shared a glass of wine and their thoughts on happiness – creating a sense of community and connectedness.

As human beings – we’re highly tribal. We need to belong somewhere. Whether it be in the workplace, at a women’s breakfast, at a local bookstore, in the gym, amongst a family, or a medieval dance troop! These meetings, and coming together of the minds, are so important. In a world that has lost a broader sense of community, we need to create those pacts, those relationships, and include those who we might sense feel out of the group at the time.

Happiness is a slippery sucker, impossible to define and almost impossible to experience. But connectedness, yes, now that’s something that’s important – a vital ingredient.

 

 

 

 

Happy As ...

I’ve been preoccupied by the concept of happiness for some time. Since I was a kid in fact. As an introspective teen I often wondered what this was all about – our 75 times (give or take) around the sun. What did it all mean? What was the purpose? The intent? And what was the best way to spend those years? 

At some point I concluded happiness was perhaps the best pursuit. 

You see, I caught myself in a “happy” moment at some point in my teens on a family holiday in Italy – and I was instantly addicted. Sitting alone in a hotel room, surrounded by the cacophony of sounds that constructed that place (horns, sirens, vespas, loud Italian voices drifting in through the open window), I knew myself to be happy.

Sometimes we catch ourselves in those moments. It’s almost like an out of body experience, where we glimpse ourselves from above – the same as always, only this time, happy. 

I then spent the better part of my twenties searching for happiness – mostly in Italy (because of course, that’s where happiness resided), but then in yoga, meditation and finally books. I pursued relentlessly. But as soon as I had a handle on the emotion, it would slip out of my grasp. 

Eventually I embarked on the formal study of happiness, which manifested as a PhD – the study of happiness and the advertising industry. Surely uncovering the secrets to that emotion meant that I would eventually experience the sentiment on a minute-by-minute, day-by-day basis?

I fell into the happiness rabbit hole much like Alice, and the other punters before me. Along the way I discovered a whole heap of concepts which sat alongside that queen of all emotions – like the relationship between happiness and self, and the notion that consumer culture had become welded to our identity. 

In my archaeological journey to the root of happiness I also unearthed something else. Happiness is not only close to my heart, but it’s sewn under all our skins. Embedded. 

We’re all in the pursuit of it. Enthralled. Enraptured. Addicted. 

Similarly, we feel its vacuum when it’s gone. 

So, how can we be happy?

My book, Happy As, was released on the 1 July explores this very topic.

In this blog I’ll explore some of the key happiness concepts – the secrets to the emotion, what it comprises of and how we get there. 

Stay tuned!