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JANET : Letter From My Heart

In an ESSENCE exclusive, Janet Jackson pens a revealing message to black women about her search to find, enjoy and sustain true happiness.

My dear Essence sistas,
We’ve been together a long, long time, and I’m so very grateful for our deep connection. We’ve grown up together. You’ve seen me face my challenges, and I’ve seen you face yours. As a precious sisterhood, we’ve been there for each other. I thank you for your loyalty. You must also know I couldn’t still be going strong without your undying support.
When it comes to happiness, I’m no expert. I have only my life experiences as a guide. I’ve known great happiness and great sadness. But I guess the question is, what do I really know about happiness? In order to answer this question honestly, let me review my life to see what I’ve learned over the years.

In my childhood:
I was happy when my brothers came home from performing on the road. I was happy when my mother lavished me with love. But I wasn’t happy with the way I looked. For most of my life, that lack of happiness has followed me. I wish someone had said, “You look fine. You look healthy. Being a little chubby is the least important thing in the world. Enjoy your childhood. Enjoy running and laughing and playing. Stop looking in the mirror and comparing yourself to others. When you compare yourself to others, you always wind up with the short end of the stick.”
In my teens:
Happiness came when people asked me to perform. It felt good to be chosen by a director or a producer. But I was happiest when I was pleasing others and not myself. An older and wiser Janet might have said, “True happiness is knowing you’re doing the best you can. True happiness comes when you realized you’ll never be perfect. Beware of perfectionism. Perfectionism is a prescription for misery.”
In my twenties:
When I found my voice as an artist, I was definitely happy. I had hit records. And I developed a group of fans who would stick with me over the years. Those fans – and their beautiful loyalty – mean everything. Still, feelings of unworthiness haunted me. I had not rooted out the damage done by perfectionism. I was still comparing myself to others. If someone had said, “Compare means despair,” I might have listened. If someone had said “Be happy in the now,” that might have made all the difference in the world.
In my thirties:
I was happy with my growth as an artist. I was happy to write and sing about life experiences, like sensual pleasure, and nonmaterial matters, like faith, with less self-consciousness. I’ve always tried to deepen my faith. I was happy that while I might not have found a spiritual solution to my problems, I was on a spiritual path. I read somewhere it’s not about the destination, but the journey. Deep down I may have known that true happiness is not in the accomplishment but in the learning process leading to accomplishment. Yet I still had not embraced this idea. It was an abstract concept, not an emotional reality. These were difficult years, when I struggled with depression. The struggle was intense. I could analyze the source of my depression forever. Low self-esteem might be rooted in childhood feelings of inferiority. It could relate to failing to meet impossibly high standards. And of course there are always the societal issues of racism and sexism. Put it all together and depression is a tenacious and scary condition. Thankfully, I found my way through it.
In my forties:
Like millions of women in the world, I still heard voices inside my head berating me, voices questioning my value. Happiness was elusive. A reunion with old friends might make me happy. A call from a colleague might make me happy. But because sometimes I saw my failed relationships as my fault, I easily fell into despair. These were times when I did, in fact, have wise counsel. “Happiness doesn’t depend on the success of your relationship with others,” said one friend. “It depends on your relationship with yourself – and with God. God’s love is always present. Our job isn’t to question it. Our job isn’t to ask ourselves whether we’re worthy of God’s love, because we are. Our job is to simply and fully embrace God’s love.”
Today, at 52:
Happiness has much to do with my work. Hard work – focused work, positive work – makes me happy. I’m blessed to be surrounded by a troupe of musicians and young dancers – a few from the J Tribe were photographed with me for this story – who inspire me with their creative energy. I’m inspired by the commitment of young people on justice causes. A new age is upon us, when high school students are speaking up on vital social issues with boldness and courage. And I’m honored to be part of a legacy of African-American women who have unapologetically focused on an artistic expression of their pain and joy. We are living at a time in history when women all over the world are refusing to be controlled, manipulated, exploited or abused. Heart and soul, I stand with these women. We have found our strength, and we will not relent.
Happiness is also realizing that, as African-American women, our proud heritage is one of moral courage and brilliance. We have guided, protected and nurtured our children. We have been the backbone of our families. We have endured, and we have prevailed. We are indomitable
Most important, I have found happiness in my relationship with myself and God. That happiness is grounded in the moment. Today happiness means being present. Feeling the love of those surrounding me. Feeling the love of those rooting for me. Feeling the ocean breeze as I walk along the beach. Smelling the fragrance of the flowers growing in my spiritual garden. Appreciating the awesome blaze of the setting sun. Reflecting on the wisdom of a book I’m reading. Relishing the new songs I’m writing. Treasuring the new friends I’m making. Seeking out such moments, and when I find them, letting them linger. Acknowledging their glory. Expressing gratitude that every day offers opportunities – even if they last only a few seconds – for beauty to enter and enrich my consciousness.
Now the height of happiness is holding my baby son in my arms and hearing him coo, or when I look into his smiling eyes and watch him respond to my tenderness. When I kiss him. When I sing him softly to sleep. During those sacred times, happiness is everywhere. Happiness is in gratitude to God. Happiness is saying, “Thank you, God, for my life, my energy and my capacity to grow in love.”
Your sista, Janet Jackson.

Janet Jackson (@janetjackson) is a singer and actress whose career spans nearly 50 years. She’s a five-time Grammy Award-winning artist and recently received the Billboard Icon Award. On July 8, Jackson performs at Essence Fest in New Orleans.

20 Responses

  1. Bill Gilbert

    There Is A Saying That Youth Is Wasted On The Young. I Guess We All Must Experience The Bumps & Bruises Of Life Before We Surrender. Only THIS Surrender Gives Us Power. It Gives Us Clarity. It Teaches Us To Let Go & Let GOD. IT Truly Is About The Journey Rather Than The Destination. It Took Me 35 Years To Start To Embrace These Principles And I Fall Short Daily. But It Is Really About Being The Best We Can Be Each Day For There Is Only One Who Is Perfect. That One Is GOD. If We Embrace The Journey The Destination Will Take Care Of Itself. I’m 58 Now And More Is Revealed To Me Daily. I Believe That GOD Has Taken Me This Far, So Far, By Embracing These Principles And He Will Continue To Guide Me & Reveal Gems To Me. He’s Taking Me This Far; Why Would I Not Continue This Path. Thanks Janet For Exposing More Souls To These True Spiritual Principles. GOD Bless. PEACE.

  2. Raymond Jones

    I say proudly I’m not your “sista”. I say joyously, I’m your brotha,one who read your words,one who think that you are awesome.
    You have grown, grown into a powerful woman not because what you have but because you have come to know who you can be
    Now you have become Free!

  3. Carolyn Johnson

    Reading this I felt like I reading my life .I am also 52 been married twice ,and everything that that I being through I always felt that it was my fault I have very low self esteem, I go to work back home I have gained so much weight that I feel ashame to go out I have know friends but I love the article and love you too I can’t wait till your new music come out.

  4. Trevis

    This was simply beautiful and tear jerking…wonderful words from a wonderful person. May god continue to bless you with much light on your continued journey.

  5. stacey fini

    I think this was beautifully and perfectly said.,as a 49 year old women I also been through my struggles and still am. God forbid if your a size 8 it means your fat. To all us curvy ladies YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL

    1. Eileen Banks

      Thank for sharing. This was beautiful. I am turning 64 at midnight. I set her and said is there still more for me to do. I am retired. My sons are adults. I live to write published my first book and there is still more to do. You give me great inspiration. God has a plan for both of us. And all is good. Bless you! And you will enjoy raising your son. I really had fun raising mines. Live you Homie. I am from Gary . I live in Minnesota. Thanks f llli r yhe invite.❤❤

  6. Jean Weems

    To you my friend Janet (Sabrina), I will never forget the impact you made on my life when we connected 23 years ago. Thank you for the memories and moments we spent together. I appreciate your honesty. O’boy when I heard that laugh near me I knew it was you and I’m in for a fun late night. I love u always and forever. A true fan of Mrs. Jackson. God bless and enjoy the true happiness of love. The pleasure was all mine. Love JW

  7. Janet will always and forever be an inspiration to me. Since I was 7 years old, I looked up to her and knowing that she is still here for people like me, makes me love and appreciate her even more.

  8. India R.

    This was beautiful! When she talked about some of her issues with her body I can relate to that. And as a 13 year old you might imagine how big of a inspiration Ms. Jackson is. I may not have been alive since the beginning, but trust I knows my Jan history. #Janfam ❤️

  9. Patti Barnett

    Enjoyed every word. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Just the right words to inflict consciousness of the reader. As a true fan I love the person you have become…Flaws and All. Continue to be blessed and much Happiness. Thank you for being YOU.

  10. Sheila

    Hi! Janet Jackson just to let you know we’ve looked up to you for support! I know life has it’s challenges! But we all must go on! Life doesn’t stand still that’s for sure! Just know you’ve always are loved by us fan family that you have. Yes, always be in the moment, l’ve had to learn that too for I still am learn as I get older and wiser at 57 yrs young! Keep doing your best! That’s what we all can do! Love you, Janet I wish I could visit you for the Essence Festival this year! Oh well life must go on! Kisses! 💋

  11. Kathleen Darnell

    Janet I grew up with you thank you for acknowledging the soulsisters because sometimes we’re not heard keep going because you look amazing inside and outside.

  12. Phyllis Vieira

    Dear Janet, I have loved, respected, supported your efforts, followed your life (as much as you chose to share) and will never forget meeting you when we were both 8 years of age. This retrospective letter is beautiful. I wish you and your son the light of God to continue your journey along with his love, peace and blessing. I pray I get to meet you again on tour this summer…. I have pictures from our childhood meeting along with what your mother said was “your first autograph” on a tattered piece of paper. Love you sis 4life.

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