Americans like hitting the gym. Whether we’re hitting up their local neighborhood Gold’s, a local CrossFit box, or a dingy old boxing gym, we’re always finding new ways to put ourselves through grueling, sweat-soaking, exhaustion-inducing misery. And here’s the funny thing: We actually enjoy it.
Why? Simple: As the old saying goes, when you look good, you feel good. We get satisfaction from it.
That’s according to a national study published in the journal Body Image, in which researchers surveyed over 12,000 American adults about facets of their lives linked to overall satisfaction—things like personality, beliefs about romantic relationships, self-esteem, watching TV, and personal characteristics related to weight and appearance.
By and large, American guys focused on the same priorities: Satisfaction with their financial situation, mostly, followed by their physical appearance. That seems about right: For a lot of guys, if we’re not at work, we’re at the gym. And if we’re not at the gym, we’re, ahem, doing other stuff. (Working, usually.)
Ladies, of course, are a different story—but only slightly. For American women in the study, the top predictor of contentment in life was happiness with a romantic partner, followed by satisfaction with finances, and body image.
So, yeah, Americans care about making money and looking damn fine in a bathing suit. Nothing surprising there. But it is surprising exactly how much they care, and how much those core desires affect the rest of their emotional outlook.
Men and women who are satisfied with their appearance said they had higher self-esteem and felt more satisfied with their lives, friends, romantic partners, family, and financial situation. They also rated higher for “openness, conscientious, extraversion.” Oh, and typically felt they had a steamy sex life. (Can’t forget that.)
On the other hand, men and women who were dissatisfied with their weight said they were also less satisfied with their sex lives and had lower overall self-esteem, the study found. “Body dissatisfaction and anxious attachment styles can lead to an out of control spiral and fuel each other,” study author David Frederick, Ph.D., said in a press release. “People who are less confident in their appearance become more fearful that their partner will leave, which further fuels their worries about their appearance.” Dissatisfied people also have higher levels of neuroticism and spend more hours watching television, the study found.
It’s also surprising how many Americans dissatisfied. “Few men (24%) and women (20%) felt very or extremely satisfied with their weight, and only half felt somewhat to extremely satisfied,” Frederick said. Body mass index (BMI), while an imperfect measure of body composition, was also highly correlated with dissatisfaction.
If all this sounds familiar, then there’s at least one simple solution: Get thee to the gym! Consider this the motivation you need, or check out one of these stories: