Recently I was at the gym alongside a lovely muscular woman (she must’ve been younger than me!) listening to her ipod and watching TV. Between the five TVs playing news, reality and cooking shows, I was struggling to focus on my personal development theory book-of-the-day. We exchanged hellos and got back to the task at hand- sweating off unwanted calories.

Abruptly I felt a tap on my shoulder. My small muscular friend pointed to the TV and asked why these two rather largish women were hosting a cooking demonstration. She wondered what they could possibly know about being healthy. I looked up at the screen, amused by the inquiry, and suggested that maybe those women really LIKE to eat (as opposed to thinking food is only consumed for its nutrient value). I also wanted to say (and thought better of it) that “IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT BEING SKINNY” and returned to trudging off my calories and reading.

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I’ll admit- I suffered through a few years of eating disorders in my teens and early 20s. I still kindly berate myself when the scale goes past my self-imposed boundary. But, I have learned to both love food and love myself, no matter what I look like or the extra pounds I carry.

I often hear myself wondering- what is the point of personal development, self-help or fitness seminars, psychotherapy, cross fit, lifting weights, coaching, yoga, meditation, blah blah blah- if we don’t come out of it feeling happier? More loved? Self-accepting?

And, to be honest with ourselves, what is the point personal development, if the only result is to love ourselves even more, without having a greater appreciation of the world around us?

More compassion for others? More able to be better parents and productive workers? And to be even more frank, a greater sense of responsibility for the planet and its people?

Everywhere you look there is someone hawking personal development or self-help books, courses, seminars or retreats. It’s tempting to think that if ONLY we could become a more perfect individual, then we’d have more success, well-behaved children, more loving relationships or … (fill in the blank). I watch the parade of people in our culture marching through their lives on the quest to get thin, fit, beautiful, calm, centered, smarter, more productive, more emotionally intelligent, climb higher, run farther, find more success, live longer, look younger. But what does any of that have to do with being happy?

Humanity has become alarmingly more, not less, egocentric and self-centered in the last several decades. Thus, we watch the proliferation of self-help, fitness, wellness, health and personal development offerings and burgeoning career fields of people ready and willing to sell those goods and services.

Socrates’ and Plato’s maxim to “know thyself” is often misused to substantiate the time spent in introspection and self-perfection. But how does naval gazing and muscle toning for the purpose of improving ourselves address the most significant reasons to become a better human being? One of the meanings of the ancient maxim generated by the Athenian philosophers implied that by understanding ‘thyself,’ one would have a greater understanding of the nature of being a human, and therefore be better able to understand others as a result.

Happiness isn’t bred through the constraining habits of your ego, which seek to protect you, guard you against insult or criticism, and create self-reinforcing notions of yourself.

Happiness comes when you allow new insights to occur because you let down your barriers- both to your true self and to the rest of humanity.

We become a part of the wholeness of the world, accepting your true self underneath the defensive cloaks, and become more deeply connected to the world around you.

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The most useful reason to “know thyself” is to expand your worldview. It’s not about you- it’s about us, all of us.

Knowing yourself better creates compassion and love for yourself through an awareness of your defense mechanisms and other ways you shut down your authentic self. But it also opens the doorway to understanding and loving others, and results in a deep empathy for humanity in general, deeper connections and relationships, greater work and life productivity, survival of the planet, and ultimately, your happiness.

Happiness depends on being authentically connected to yourself, and to others.

Recently I had a client whose physical disability left him externally disfigured but more importantly, emotionally debilitated. He felt people judged his limitations before they even met him, so he imagined few opportunities for himself. After we helped him remove his cloaks to see his natural talents and abilities, and how he had disregarded himself, the offers started flowing in.

But his life didn’t change just because he had hidden himself- it was because he related to the world as he saw to himself- with judgment, criticism, self-loathing and disconnectedness. When he connected to his true self, his inner magnificence, the world reflected the same.

Yes. You do need to recognize and expand your inner awesomeness. But not just to parade it to the world for your full advantage. Just as we know the wind in the Alps affects the butterfly in the Andes, your gifts can affect the world in far-flung ways. It’s hard to imagine a better reason to work on yourself, than to learn to be happy by offering the world your true self.

Life change happens

Maybe it is time to tackle self-help, but let’s do it for the world, so you gifts aren’t cloaked and left untapped. Leave me comments here about what keeps your talents hidden, and I’ll give you 30 minutes of my time to help you figure out how to find your authentic self and make the world a better place.

It’s a two-fer, and it’s the real deal. Leave me a comment below. Then let’s set-up a time to talk.

Holly Woods, Ph.D. uses Integral Coaching and Somatic Experiencing to help adults who are weighed down by stress or trauma, and who want to be free of the overwhelm so they can find a life full of joy and purpose. Sign up on the Right or Click Here to receive a Free Report and to receive my weekly newsletter. Please forward to a friend if you liked this post!