Before I broke my back sixteen years ago, I was at the peak of my running career, in the best shape of my life. Physically, I felt unstoppable. When I suddenly found myself bedridden, not knowing if I would ever even walk on my own again, I woke up. I woke up to the truth that what we are on the outside does not define us as human beings. I realized that for years, I had been relying on my physical achievements for a sense of fulfillment. With my Olympic dreams compromised, I decided that there must be some other way to find happiness—not from the outside, but from the inside. That was when I began thinking about inner beauty.
What is inner beauty? Most of us have used the expression in some way or another, but do we ever stop to define it? To me, inner beauty involves all the purest virtues, with patience, kindness, and love being at the top of the list. Inner beauty requires that we treat ourselves with love and respect so we can then turn that love and respect inside-out and share it with others.
Now more than ever, I believe we need to emphasize the concept of inner beauty. We live in a visual culture where we are constantly bombarded with images and videos, many with messages that tell us—either implicitly or explicitly—that we aren’t good enough. Advertisements urge us to buy a new pair of jeans, wear a different color of lipstick, drive a more expensive car, and even get a better phone service so we will be more attractive and more likable. These ads attempt to sell us the notion of some future, exterior form of happiness. Simply put, our culture does not make us feel good about ourselves the way we are right now.
More evidence of this problem exists on social media sites. Young people post selfies daily, not necessarily because they want to or because they feel good about themselves, but because everyone else is doing it and they want to keep up. Young girls, especially, feel pressured to be “camera ready” at any given moment. But I worry that all these selfies, along with the advertisements, are taking a tragic toll on our self-esteem.
If we shift our focus to our inner qualities, then all these images lose their power. That’s because when we feel beautiful on the inside, our self-esteem soars. How can we cultivate inner beauty? Here is a list of habits we can all practice:
- Be kind and compassionate. Being kind is something everyone can do. Kindness is beautiful, and it is also contagious.
- Stay true to your values. Inner beauty involves self-respect. Plus, having respect for ourselves encourages us to respect others.
- Be helpful. When we focus on kindness and respect, we are more likely to help other people. This can be as simple as opening a door for a stranger.
- Give to your community. It is easy to give in small ways, such as participating in a neighborhood cleanup, or volunteering at a local school or hospital. Generosity is beautiful.
- Follow your passions and creative outlets. When we do what we love, it shows.
- Appreciate simplicity. Nature is one of life’s simple pleasures, and nature reminds us that everyone possesses natural beauty.
- Practice gratitude. People who regularly practice gratitude tend to see the glass as “half full,” and optimism is beautiful.
- Believe in yourself. When we believe in ourselves, we develop inner strength; like inner beauty, inner strength makes us glow.
In a society that places such a high value on physical beauty, it’s time to have more conversations about inner beauty. Happiness is not about how we look in a photograph or what we accomplish with our physical strength. What matters most is how we treat ourselves and how we treat other people. If we do those things with love and gratitude, we can all shine from the inside out.