Is superficiality good for you?

Story highlights

  • Writer Therese Borchard tried hard to work on self-examination but found progress slow
  • She saw that others found happiness in surface concerns and wondered if that was the way to go
  • In studies, plastic surgery patients gained confidence; and better looking people got perks

Carl Jung believed it's the demons we don't face that make us sick -- that to run away from our issues only means we'll revisit them later on. I drank this Kool-Aid 42 years ago and have spent a considerable chunk of my life with psychologists and cognitive-behavioral sheets, analyzing my many issues in an effort to become more beautiful on the inside.

But maybe I have it wrong. Would being superficial (read: focused on outer beauty) actually solve my mental woes?

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The Rumor: Being superficial will make you happier

When I consider all the time and money I've spent on self-examination -- greeting one demon at a time -- I wonder: Would I have been better off going shopping? That's what my sister does, and it works for her. She's stable and stylish. I'm panicked and frumpy. Perhaps superficial is the way to go.

The Verdict: Superficial people really do seem to be happier

If there's one reason superficial people seem happier, it's because they're often running the show. Need proof? According to Psychology Today, beautiful people are more successful than homely folks; they're "hired sooner, get promotions more quickly... and get all kinds of extra benefits and perks on the job."

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University of Texas, Austin economics professor Daniel Hamermesh told the Wall Street Journal that good-looking folks earn three or four percent more than those who aren't as eye-catching. "In every [occupation] I have looked at, being better looking helps you," he said. The Economist even notes that good-looking people have an easier time getting a loan, even though plain-looking folks are more likely to make payments.

Fair? Probably not. But I understand the benefits of a little superficiality. I don't like to admit this, but every time I get my hair highlighted, I feel better about myself and notice a boost in my mood. Sitting in that cushy chair looking like an alien (i.e., with a bunch of tin foil in my hair) is definitely an exercise in shallowness. And yet at this point in my life, it just might be a better use of a hundred bucks and three hours than the Jungian couch.

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And since no discussion of superficiality would be complete without a nod to plastic surgery, allow me to address that issue. Will bigger boobs can make you happier and serve as very expensive antidepressants? Yes, as long as they don't pop or something.

But don't just take my word for it: Researchers from Ruhr Universität and the University of Basel measured the psychological effects of plastic surgery on nearly 550 patients. Compared to the group who decided not to have plastic surgery, the people with "enhanced" body features reportedly felt less anxious and had increased self-esteem. On the whole, they felt more attractive, which contributed to a boost in mood. Negative outcomes were only seen in those who had unrealistic expectations -- a this-surgery-is-going-to-totally-transform-me attitude -- going in.

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Full disclosure: I'm not really comfortable promoting boob jobs as a way to quiet inner demons. (Maybe Jung would go for it -- who knows?) But I have come to believe that my sister's probably better off spending her time and dough on finding a perfect pair of hoop earrings than on identifying and examining her top-10 distorted thoughts.

I'm thinking that Oscar Wilde may have been on to something when he wrote, "Beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins." To be happy, maybe we should ignore the Jungs of the world and concentrate on the more visible things... like blonde highlights.

This article was originally published on upwave.com.

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