How to Be Radically Content in a Dissatisfied World
For the longest time, Jamie Varon had an “I’ll be happy when …” mindset.
I’ll be happy when I’ve lost weight. I’ll be happy when this guy likes me. I’ll be happy when I’ve achieved this thing.
Varon would tell herself—like so many of us do—that once she had these things she dreamt about, she’d finally be content.
The only problem? This mindset was prompting her to miss out on her beautiful—and yes, beautifully imperfect—life that was happening right now. Not only that, but once she actually achieved some of those things she thought would make her happy, she found out that in fact they didn’t lead to more joy.
So, Varon ditched the “I’ll be happy when …” mentality and went on a quest to heal herself. She learned how to appreciate who she was in the present. She worked toward transforming her overthinking, insecurity, and self-loathing into love and respect for herself. She discovered how to build a deeply satisfying life in our increasingly dissatisfied world.
In her new book, Radically Content, Varon writes about how she untangled herself from “hustle culture,” figured out who she was outside of her achievements, and learned how to ignore society’s expectations of her and listen to her heart instead. We sat down with Varon to talk about her healing journey. “My biggest hope is that when people read this book, they don’t feel like they have to do more, be more, become more,” says Varon, “but rather that they’re being gently shown how beautiful their life already is.”
A Conversation with Jamie Varon
In your new book you write about becoming radically content, and how that starts with emotionally opting out of the world. Tell me what you mean by that—and how to do it!
The reason I suggest emotionally opting out is because a lot of us don’t want to live off the grid! We want to be part of the world. But the way the world is structured isn’t really making us happy; it doesn’t prioritize joy. We don’t learn to value ourselves outside of what the world tells us to value. So, the first step in doing this is really taking note of where you’re giving away so much of your power. We all have this ticker tape in our minds, “You should be doing that, not this,” and we follow all of these restrictions and rules that aren’t real!
We’re conforming to these values and these ideals and how the world tells us to view ourselves, and we take that on as how we view ourselves. Everything gets filtered through that. But says who?
Emotionally opting out starts with having self-awareness and interrogating these stories we tell ourselves: Why do I feel that’s not possible for me? Why do I have this expectation of myself? Why am I holding myself hostage to the thought that I’ll be happy if I get X, Y, and Z? Do I even want those things? Could I cultivate that happiness right now?
My goal in writing this book wasn’t to tell people how to live, or to follow certain steps for happiness. I want people to start thinking about their lives as their own to craft and cultivate and create. Not in this hustle, never-stop kind of way. But rather, I want people to ask themselves, What makes me really happy? And why aren’t I prioritizing that? What do I value? And is it my value, or society’s values running on autopilot?
We live in a society where a lot of “shoulds” are placed on us. You call them other people’s roadmaps that we feel we’re supposed to follow. What’s your best advice for those of us who want to write our own maps?
The best way to do this is to start adopting a mentality of being more intentional. What does that mean? It’s about really starting to understand those shoulds. At some point, we need the awareness that when those shoulds are coming up, it’s like a siren. If you take that route, that’s when you’ll feel a certain way. But if you don’t feel that way, it’s not because you’re not wrong—it’s that your map is wrong.
One step you can take if you’re looking for something practical: Approach your own thoughts and life with curiosity instead of judgment. For example, “I should be further along,” turns into, “Why do I believe I should be further along? What did I just scroll and see that prompted me to feel that I’m not far enough along?” Do you see how this opens up a pathway to more compassion and expansiveness?
You talk about the need to root yourself in the present over and over to find contentment exactly where you were, rather than thinking contentment will come when you got some other thing (a job, more money, a lower number on the scale). How’d you learn to get radically present? Any practices that helped?
I don’t mediate. But I do go on daily walks outside, and I recognize and truly notice that I’m in that walk. On those daily walks, I’m in the moment, which is really all about taking note of the moment and simply noticing. OK, so I’m walking. What’s the weather? What are my senses taking in? Oh, I feel a little chilly. Or, It’s warmer than yesterday. These walks put me in the day. I tell myself, Be in the day you’re in. This is the only day you have. It’s great to look in the future and think about experiences coming my way, but all I can ever do is be present and be in my day.
I’m very clear with myself that if I can’t be present now, it doesn’t matter how big my life gets, I won’t get to be present then.
So many of us think, I’ll feel joy when I get there. But let me tell you: If you don’t know how to receive, accept, and cultivate joy on a daily basis when not much is happening, it’s hard to access those emotions when the big stuff happens. It’s not like, you get all of these things and suddenly you can be more present. Actually, it’s often harder because there are more things taking your attention.
Another question I’m always asking myself is, What’s here for me? What can I learn here? What’s coming up, and why? Taking note of my emotions, taking note of the day, and making meaning from the day makes my life feel full. That way, I’m not just waiting for something to feel happy; I’m an active participant in my joy and in my life.
You write in your book about how deeply unkind we are to ourselves. Social media doesn’t help this. What’s your best advice for those of us who want to rise above the comparisons, and to start feeling more compassion for ourselves?
First, recognize you have the power of choice on social media. You have the power to curate your feed. If you’re going on social media thinking, Ugh, this sucks, but I’ll log on anyway, I believe that gets fed back to you. When I go on social media and say, I want to be inspired and connect with this community, that’s what you get.
We’re not victims to these platforms. We’re not being used by them. We’re technically giving away our info, but we don’t need to feel used. We can use social media for our benefit. If you want to use it to uplift and inspire you, don’t follow others who tell you you’re not good enough. Be vigilant about your feed.
Here’s an example of using social media in a positive way: Follow women who look like you, who have your body type, and who are living their lives out loud and have interesting things to say. That can completely alter how you view yourself. Following people offering up totally different points of view—ones that go against the status quo—can change how we show up for ourselves and see ourselves. Where the negative stuff can convince us of things and make us compare, it’s important to remember the opposite effect is available, too.
Self-love helps us become more radically content in our lives. How can we do a better job at loving ourselves, flaws and all?
There’s a chapter in the book about self-trust. I combine self-trust with self-love because we have to trust someone before we love them. The people we love have to earn our trust. Yet for ourselves, we don’t think of it that way—but it’s the exact same thing.
It’s too big a gap to go from self-loathing to affirmations-in-the-mirror self-love. To me, the bridge between that canyon is self-trust.
Self-trust is the intent and the action of showing up for yourself. It can’t just be words. If someone always tells you they’ll do something and they don’t, it’ll erode your trust in them. Think of the relationship you have with yourself similarly: If you’re constantly breaking your own promises, not honoring your own true desires, or not listening to your emotions that are trying to get your attention, it’ll erode your trust in you. Then, you’ll try to love yourself and you’ll realize, But I don’t even trust myself!
Start showing up for yourself in really small ways. Maybe it’s a journaling habit for five minutes every day. Just do that for a month. Not that followed by yoga and meditation and all the other healthy things. You can’t stick to five hours of self-care! But five minutes—that’s doable, right? That’s how to show up for yourself in small ways.
I used to neglect myself and never keep my own promises. By simply journaling every day, I started to recognize that I was regarding myself in a positive light. I said I was going to do it, I did it, and it made me say: I can trust myself. I can rely on myself. And I have a lot more capacity to love a person I can trust.