Hi, I’m Sahar Aker, and I’ve been choosing beauty every day since November 21, 2013. This is the picture that started it all, my quest to find happiness.
Ever thought to yourself, once I lose weight or get that amazing job/house/boyfriend….. then I’ll be happy? What if I told you that’s not how it works. That the secret to finding that elusive happiness is actually to stop chasing it. Because it’s right in front of you.
I know. I didn’t believe it either. I kept thinking, “If only I could XYZ… then I’ll be happy.” But it took a steep fall into the darkness of depression to finally get it.
About my clinical depression
Clinical depression runs deep in my family. I have struggled with it most of my life, but this time was different. This time, I didn’t see it coming. It had been building for years and I didn’t even know I was slipping down a dangerous downward spiral.
I woke up one morning and found myself curled up at the bottom of a deep dark hole where I could barely breathe, wondering what happened. Wondering how I got here. And not really caring if I ever saw light again. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but so many things had happened over the years that pushed me here. Little by little, until I hit the bottom.
All of a sudden someone who thrived in the spotlight for years as a TV health reporter and model wanted to hide from the world. I couldn’t stand to look at myself in the mirror. I felt hideous and hated myself. I thought this would never stop. That I would never feel good. That the only way to stop hurting was to sleep so deeply that I wouldn’t wake up. I had fleeting thoughts of suicide.
I finally found the strength to get help. It was a long tough climb for me out of that dark hole. I kept slipping back down. After months of raw excruciating work in therapy, I was feeling better, but still very vulnerable.
Then came November 2013. I was living in Ohio at the time, and winter was the hardest time of the year for me. Once the days get darker, the temperatures drop, and the snow falls, I struggle to keep going. My therapist suggested I try to focus on something of beauty every day to help me get through the next few months. He told me how positive psychology researchers have found people who notice and appreciate beauty are more likely to find joy and meaning in everyday life. I was skeptical, but decided to give it a try. Anything to ease the brunt of a brutal Ohio winter.
I’m a very visual person, so I decided I would document the beauty I saw each day with a picture. I posted my images on Instagram using the hashtag #IChooseBeauty to keep them all in one place. After only a week, I noticed a difference – I started feeling hopeful. A few more days went by, and I was hooked. So much so that I didn’t quit when winter was over. I kept going. And haven’t stopped since. August 17, 2016 marked a huge milestone for me – my 1,000th day in a row (almost three years).
Taking a picture every day has really helped me to shift my focus from the dreary times. And just notice all the little things every day – whether it’s a flower, a phone call from a good friend, a good hot cup of tea. I was noticing beauty everywhere that I had overlooked before. Some days I can’t believe all the beauty around me and have a hard time deciding which one to feature for the day.
The amazing thing that has come out of this project, besides my healing, is that it has inspired so many people who are struggling in life. Dozens have joined the movement, posting their own #IChooseBeauty images and sharing how this process helps them, too
But I’m not going to lie. I still have depressive episodes, and will probably have more of them – it’s in my genes. There are still tough days when I can barely get out of bed and can’t stand the thought of looking for beauty, but I make myself do it anyway. I’m honestly afraid if I don’t, I’ll slip back into that dark hole.
#IChooseBeauty has become my life preserver, and my daily images keep me afloat. It’s proof that happiness really is right in front of us, all around us. We just have to choose to see it. Will you join me?