We all know running can make you happy. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of endorphins kicking in partway through your run, when you feel like nothing can stand in your way.
But did you ever notice it can work the other way around as well? That on days when you wake up feeling amazing, going for a 10-miler somehow seems more effortless than on the days when you leave the house frustrated or annoyed?
It’s not just your imagination: being happier can help you perform better as a runner.
Why happiness matters
Happiness has a whole host of benefits. For example, it has directly been linked to personal and professional success. Shawn Achor, author of The Happy Secret to Better Work, and a record-breaking TED Talk on the subject, explains that while we often assume success makes you happy, it may actually be the other way around. He cites extensive research that shows happiness fuels success. When we are happy, our brains become more energetic, more resilient, more creative, and more productive. One example is a 2005 University of California study which found that “positive affect” (i.e. happiness) seems to be the cause of “numerous successful outcomes”, including the kinds of things we normally assume to be the result of success.
What does this have to do with athletic performance? For one thing, happiness has been shown to make us healthier. An extensive meta-analysis in 2011 provided “clear and compelling evidence” that people who are happy are healthier and live longer than those who are unhappy. In addition, happiness directly improves athletic performance. A 2013 study of 240 athletes (including runners, football players, chess players, tennis players, and others) showed happiness predicted 42 percent of athletic success.
Boost your happiness
“That’s great”, you may think, “but happiness isn’t something I can just manufacture out of thin air.”
True, however, happiness also isn’t something that just happens. Research on identical twins shows that while about 50 percent of how happy we are is genetic – and 10 percent is a result of our circumstances – about 40 percent of our happiness is directly under our control – i.e., the result of actions we take.
What can you do to become happier? It may be easier to give yourself a little boost than you think.
- Get more sleep. Sleep is essential to health and running performance – and also to our mood. Try going to bed a little earlier, or if you’re feeling tired, sneak in a mid-afternoon nap for a big-time happiness hit.
- Meditate. Meditation has proven to be very successful for many people in reducing stress and negative thoughts Start with 5 minutes a day, and you’ll probably notice yourself feeling happier after just a week of regular practice.
- Do something nice. Volunteering lowers stress levels and improves one’s sense of well-being, but even a one-time act of kindness will boost happiness significantly. Try buying a coffee for a coworker, complimenting a stranger, or cross an item off this list of 101 easy acts of kindness.
- Write down what you’re grateful for. Gratitude is linked with better health, well-being, and general life satisfaction. Try sending a quick Thank You note to someone who helped you out, whether recently or a long time ago. Or sit down once per week for 2 minutes to jot down things in your life that you’re grateful for. Or try an app like Happier, which encourages (and reminds) you to share small moments of gratitude every day.
Written by Varia Makagonova.
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