I’m seated at the incline bench at the apartment gym with a sleeveless shirt on and a pair of dumbells in my hands. As I curl the 15lb weights, squeezing tightly on each rep with a slight turn at the top, I look intensely not at my form, but at my arms in the mirror. I can see the lateral and anterior deltoid muscles separate and my insides grin with joy as I keep curling and keep squeezing. The pain of my set is masked by the pleasure of seeing my body change in ways I couldn’t imagine. Needless to say, I felt like I was “makin’ some gains.”
Had you spoken to me a few years ago and shown me this clip of myself I would have never believed I could succumb to — what I would have called at the time — such “douchebaggery.” To me, going to the gym and lifting weights was just about the corniest, most vain and useless activity known to all bro-kind. Devoid of any semblance to the kind of body a true 22 year old should have, I was content with my flabby yet still magically mediocre physique. I guess you could say I was chubby-skinny. But amidst the hamsteak of a midsection that capsized my body, I held a rather reputable bank account for a part-time student working at the mall.
Clocking in at around $40,000 a year, I was in an economic state of happiness for my age. My girlfriend and I ate out every day, shelling out at least $40 a night on dinner, not including tip and the other expenses for the day. We ate at Michelin starred restaurants every special occasion and had accumulated a check list of nearly every good restaurant within the vicinity. In other words, I paid good money to achieve that hamsteak of a midsection.
But alas, those days are over. Without a job, I can no longer retain that lifestyle of buying cameras every week and delicious meals each night. On the flip side, I can fit into my old pair of jeans without straining thanks to my slimmer physique and much, much slimmer, if not anorexic wallet. In some ways I do feel happier with my life and in others not so much. For one, I feel great about my health, both mentally and physically, and I have a greater appreciation for the little things in life. Things like cool weather on a hot summer day or a fresh pack of polaroid film. These are the things that preoccupy my happiness nowadays and I’m content with it.
Unfortunately, contrary to Seal and Croft’s 1972 hit, summer breeze can only make you feel so fine and then the reality of unemployment hits and you could give a fuck about the jasmine. Given all my free time, I’ve had a moment or three hundred to think and I came up with a puzzling question: why is it that my happiness seems equivalent to the days when I was making more money? Are my bicep curls and decline bench presses actually giving me more happiness or is there something else going on? What is it about being FIT that makes life better, or at the very least, more tolerable in this economy?
You see, I’ve noticed a rise in popularity with the term FIT. Now, don’t get it twisted: FIT is not about losing weight and it’s not about getting big muscles like Ahhhnold’. FIT, according to what I’ve been hearing from around the social networking block, is about overall strength and crafting “the best YOU, YOU can possibly become.” It’s all this “a better YOU” bullcrap that sounds like something you should do more and talk less about. In laymans terms, a FIT person is more interested in becoming slim and strong as opposed to bulky or model-thin.
Within the past several years, I’ve noticed a HUUUGE wave of people talking about getting FIT, becoming FIT and living the FIT life. So what’s the deal? Here’s my take: During a booming economy you have busy people doing busy work in their busy jobs. After they get off work and have a few hours to spare, they might head to the gym and bust a few calories on the treadmill while taking in a few fist fights on Maury Povich on the big screen. In a steady economy, health and physical fitness is calibrated through simple exercises, gym memberships and the ability to order the healthy food options at the local takeout restaurant.
But as the economy crushes deeper and deeper and we start to see ourselves and our neighbors lose our jobs, we are also faced with the challenge of prioritizing our priorities. We have no work so we need to find it. We spend our time applying for job after job and eventually we hit certain road blocks. We can’t get this job because we don’t have this experience. We can’t qualify for this position because we haven’t experienced that experience. It’s depressing. So, what do you do?
With the advent of the FIT movement, we can now get shredded and sexy by doing cheap exercises with little to no equipment, using our own body weight, or by purchasing *cough*torrent*cough* the latest Shaun T DVD. It seems like FIT is not only the cool and trendy option, but also the cheapest. Then if you combine that with the I’m-too-poor-to-buy-food-but-that’s-okay-since-i’m-on-a-calorie-restrictive-diet diet, you will see even MORE gains!
As corny and motivational-speaker-esque as it might sound, going to the gym truly is one of the last institutions we can rely on for results. No longer can we trust the weight of our professional and academic accomplishments to pummel our way through victory. Instead, we can only hope that if we lift more, slim down more and get stronger, we can bicep curl our way into a new position. I can become a better me and together, we can become a better us. Jobs will come pouring in and health, wealth and prosperity will come crashing down on us like the economy once did 5 years ago.
There is no escaping the realities of the job market. It is the dreaded last rep on the bench press — the one that you look up at and say to yourself, “shit, I ain’t even gonna try.” As our deltoids separate and the fat between our thighs sucks into itself, all that is left is our confidence. We build it up in the hopes that when an interviewer breaks it down, we can endure, still hungry enough to take on one more rep and one more set.
I guess the real lesson is that, in the end, whether you’re looking for happiness in the form of separated lateral and anterior deltoids or on a plate of steak frites from Bouchon, it all comes from within yourself. We fermented this discontent from within ourselves and it is up to us to extinguish its flame with our own contentment. So if you find that happiness in your slim belly or on a plate of juicy pork belly, be sure to recognize it, enjoy it and let it waft through your soul like that sweet, sweet summer breeze.