Feeling secure in your skin is crucial to happiness—but it turns out, that’s even more true for men than for women. Researchers from Chapman University in California found that body image satisfaction ranked as the second strongest predictor of overall life satisfaction for guys (it ranked third for the fairer sex).
This is great news if you love the way you look. But the study also found only a quarter of men felt very satisfied with their body, and only half felt even somewhat satisfied.
Why is boosting your body image so important? Well, for starters, whether you’re a beanpole, a big guy, or a shredded MMA fighter, being happy with the way you look translates to confidence that affects every interaction you have, from the boardroom to the bedroom. Plus, the study found that satisfied folks were also happier with their sex life, friends, romantic partners, family, and financial situations. What’s more, feeling low about your looks can actually affect your health, increasing inflammation and your risk of heart disease—regardless of your actual weight, according to a 2014 study in Psychology & Health.
The secret to being more satisfied with how you look has nothing to do with actually changing the way you look. Check out these seven tricks to boost your body image—and happiness.
1. Set a realistic ideal
“First off, we have to come to grips with the concept of genetics determining our destiny,” says psychotherapist Andrew Walen, president of the National Association for Males with Eating Disorders (NAMED) and founder of The Body Image Therapy Center in Maryland and Washington, DC. Whether you’re still mourning that full head of hair you once had, waiting for that promised growth spurt, or hoping to bulk up or slim down, there are boundaries your DNA simply won’t let you go beyond.
It’s not about setting lower expectations—it’s about accepting what’s realistic. Husky Chris Pratt of Parks and Rec always had the potential to become swole Chris Pratt of Guardians of the Galaxy, but he’s never going to be compact and cut like Zac Efron (the latter of whom is proof you don’t need to be six-foot-something to be a sex icon). And Bruce Willis and Michael Jordan are both proof you can be both bald and badass.
Embrace your natural, healthy shape and work toward its full potential—channeling confidence at every step of the way. (Remember, Leo rocked a belly so well he sparked a whole trend of #dadbods.)
2. Realize you’re your own worst critic
Remember: You always look better than you think you do. “Studies have found that men perceive themselves to be less attractive than women perceive them to be,” says Timothy Baghurst, Ph.D., an associate professor of physical education at Oklahoma State University who studies male body image. “We have a tendency to be our own worst critic.”
But be sure you’re surrounding yourself with encouraging people. While women are more likely to feel criticism from the media, guys feel it behind closed doors: 62 percent of men report being body shamed by their partner, compared to just 32 percent of women, a survey reports.
3. Upgrade your inspiration
“Research states the more frequently we see idealized body images and for a greater duration, the more likely we are to feel bad about ourselves,” Walen says. Start following fellas you feel inspired by instead of envious of and consider spending less time on social media if you find it has a negative impact on your body image.
4. Start sweating
Hitting the gym can boost your body image—regardless of whether or not you actually gain strength or speed, according to research out the University of Florida. If you’re already waking up for an a.m. session but are still bumming on your body, start tracking your workouts, Baghurst suggests. Keeping a tab on improvements allows you to see progress, even if it doesn’t “look” like anything is changing, he adds.
Also consider taking up yoga. Folks who regularly practiced yoga were more satisfied with their bodies than people who weight trained, according to a 2014 study in Perceptual and Motor Skills. What’s more, security was the same among newbies as it was for seasoned yogis. The researchers point out people who feel comfortable in their skin may be drawn to the zen activity, but they also say a regular yoga practice probably further increases that satisfaction.
5. Ditch the cons, focus on the pros
“Having a positive body image doesn’t mean you love how you look. It means you respect yourself and what your body can do for you,” says Walen. Most men focus on how their body looks—but what about what it can do? It can taste the nuances of wine, smell the salt of the ocean, help create life itself—even without a full head of hair or an extra few inches of height. “When you start to see your body as your home and not your billboard, you’re likely to find greater peace with yourself,” he adds.
6. Sit up straight
Your posture can affect both what others think about you as well as what you think about yourself, says a study from Ohio State University. Simply sitting up straight is enough to set off a chain reaction of neurochemicals that convinces our brain that we are in fact good enough for something like a dream job. Stand tall with your shoulders back and you’ll instantly feel more assertive and more confident, adds confidence coach Steve Errey.
7. Eat better
Make smarter food choices—and not in the name of weight loss, says Baghurst. Countless studies show that what we eat affects our mood with all positive emotions being connected to whole, fresh food. Plus, skipping meals and snacking more are directly linked to people who are dissatisfied with their weight, according to a study in the Journal of Obesity. What’s more, among people with the exact same BMI, those who were more content with their body were more likely to eat a healthier diet than those who felt low about their looks.