Health is an umbrella that encompasses many aspects of your life. There are obvious benefits of making healthy choices that you can see, however there are many more that you cannot. You’ve probably heard the correlation between exercising and feeling great. Maybe you have heard the term “runner’s high?” If you haven’t experienced it yet, skeptics beware. It is a real thing.
Are you happy? I mean how do you know if you are? Would you measure it from a scale of 1 to 10? If so, what would a 1 look like? What about a 10? Since happiness is not so black and white, it can be challenging to determine.
Merriam Webster’s defines happiness as “a state of well-being and contentment : JOY.” What actually makes someone “feel” happy can be caused from a number of things. Having a bad day? Exercise is a fundamental way to turn your day around.
When you stress your body and push it to the limits (can we say hill repeats? EMOTMs?), neurochemicals called endorphins are produced in the brain’s hypothalamus and pituitary gland. Sport and exercise psychologist J. Kip Matthews, Ph.D, states that endorphins are considered natural pain relievers because they have structures similar to drugs and activate receptors in the brain that help minimize discomfort. They can also help bring about feelings of euphoria and general well-being.
Regular and predictable exercise has such overwhelming influence on our joy that in some instances it can be used as a tool for improving our mental health. Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage cites a study of patients who treated their depression with a strict exercise regimen, prescription drugs, or a combination of both. The initial data from this study showed that all three groups acknowledged almost immediate and similar improvements in their levels of happiness. Six months later, the three groups were asked by Jeff Hayden to assess their rate of relapse. The results: medication alone, 38 percent had slipped back into depression. The combination group, a 31 percent relapse rate. The exercise group had an astonishing relapse rate of only 9 percent.
It is human to have ebbs and flows of happiness. When I find myself not feeling as energetic and positive as I want to be, I create a plan to cultivate more happiness in my life (this also may include Sharpies and colorful Post-its). I start by paying close attention to what is going on around me. I analyze behaviors I am displaying, my reactions, and the environments I am in. I decide what parts I have the ability to change and I try to mimic those conditions that elicit feelings of happiness for me.
We have all heard that happiness is a choice. I know for some it may not be as easy as saying, “I am going to be happy today” (although I have found success with self-talk), but creating a plan is a good place to start.
Happiness is a direction, not a place. It is a state of being that is personal and subjective, therefore there is no one-size-fits-all solution to creating it. Here are some non-exercise behaviors that can help happiness become part of your everyday.
“Happiness is a habit – cultivate it.”– Elbert Hubbard
Wake up and decide to be happy. You can do this by a daily app (I love “happify” – download it immediately), reading funny memes or sticking Post-it notes with inspirational sayings wherever you will see them. Studies suggest that conscious intention (e.g. thoughts and feelings) influences unconscious activity. By setting your intentions for the day, it can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“Whoever is happy, will make others happy.” – Anne Frank
Spread happiness. Do not underestimate the power of a smile. It is easy, free and contagious.
“If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.”– Albert Einstein
Have a growth mindset about being happy. It is possible to increase your level of happiness by focusing on it. People look at life as “a glass is half full” or a “glass is half empty.” I challenge you to train your mind to be happy that you have a glass at all. The person who says they can and the person who says they can’t are both right.
“Happiness never decreases by being shared.” – Dalai Lama
Be kind to strangers, and more importantly the people you see every single day. Pay it forward; grab the toll for the car behind you, or the coffee of the person next in line. Hold the door, make eye contact, use your manners and practice your patience.
“Success is not the key to happiness, happiness is the key to success.”– Albert Schwietzer
Follow your own advice. I know it sounds silly, but try it. Imagine your family member, co-worker or bestie told you about an issue they were having, think about what you would suggest they do and try that first. Sometimes we get so caught up in helping others that we forget to take care of ourselves.
Remember, happiness isn’t a goal, it’s a byproduct.
(Crystal Reynolds is an owner of 43 Degrees North Athletic Club and can frequently be found laughing out loud reading hilarious memes.)