The other day I discovered a Wall Street Journalstory that distilled findings from academic studies of human happiness into seven lessons. The list related to money and careers, but I wondered how runners could use it to become the best they can be. Here are the lessons and explanations configured for both the casual and the competitive runner.
1. What matters is what we focus on.
This lesson originally had to do with keeping up with the Joneses. Those content with their wages and lifestyle were happier than those who constantly compared themselves to wealthier friends and neighbors. In running, we tend to feel better when we’re able to hold our own and/or keep up with the pack. By contrast, we feel worse when we fall behind, believing we’ve done something wrong. Maybe we just picked the wrong group or goal for our current abilities. It may be time to admit you aren’t as fast (anymore) at the moment. To stay “up,” surround yourself with people of similar pace.
2. We’d rather not go it alone.
This item focused on the obvious value of friends and family; so does this lesson for runners. Many of us prefer to run alone for a variety of reasons. But it might not hurt to occasionally run with a partner or group to experience the joy of training together. Some deep, lasting friendships—not to mention a few romances—have resulted from such moving companionships. Similarly, do not forget the support from your family members, especially those that provide you the time to run. Let them know how much you appreciate it, and not just when the race season is over.
3. We like to feel secure.
This, of course, originally related to financial and job security but for runners, it helps to know we still have some life in those legs. Invest in good nutrition that includes lots of whole foods, not processed, and plenty of water daily. Consider a multivitamin if your diet is lacking some basic nutrients, and steer clear of fad diets. Similarly, devote resources to cross-training weekly to keep limbs limber and muscles strong. Active recovery can mean anything from going for a 30-minute walk to yoga to kayaking on a quiet lake. It need not be based on how quickly you break a sweat.
4. We enjoy making progress.
This one iss easy, whether your goal is to run a company or run a marathon. When we aspire to break a personal record—be it to run a sub-40 10k or complete a 50k—we feel good when we see our bodies responding well to the faster pace and/or increased mileage during training.
5. We adapt to improvements.
This has to do with material gains and the “hedonic treadmill” we often find ourselves on when searching for happiness through acquisition. The more improvements we make in our lives, the more we want. Often, those desires are affixed to bigger pricetags. But, as the article states, “It seems we get more lasting happiness from experiences than goods.” Same with running. Dropping $130 for the latest trail shoes cannot compare to the first time you use them, now can it?
6. We also adapt to setbacks.
Everyone gets injured at some point. Well, maybe not the ultra runner Dean Karnazes. But the rest of us are going to overuse or under-treat some ailing body part and it will rebel, leaving us temporarily sidelined. An interesting aspect of happiness studies is that people adapt more quickly to a major setback, such as a death, than to minor ones, such as a snoring spouse. One reason, the author theorizes, that we are slow to adapt to lesser impediments is because we continue to hold out hope people will change. With life’s major setbacks, we don’t have those same expectations.
In the running world, a broken bone or torn tendon instantly takes you out of the game, forcing you to reevaluate your immediate limitations and future plans. But common ailments like ITBS and shin splints reoccur in many of us because we often don’t adapt a new way of training (different shoes, road surface, mileage, etc.); instead, we hope things will just be different once the injury heals.
7. We enjoy behaving virtuously.
One reason people enjoy putting others ahead of themselves and contributing to someone else’s success is because it feels good. If you haven’t already, consider volunteering at a local race or triathlon or providing support for the local school track or cross country team. There are numerous ways you can help, you need only ask, and the new vantage point might even benefit your own racing.
Conversely, most of us don’t feel good if we constantly cut corners. I’m not just talking about dishonest people who pull a fast one to get ahead. I’m talking about those who can’t even level with themselves and continually give a halfhearted effort, then complain they aren’t improving. If we aren’t honest with ourselves, we won’t push hard enough or pull back when warned. Don’t cheat yourself, or others.
Everyone interprets these lessons differently, based on their own life experiences. These are just some things that immediately came to mind when I first encountered this list. The real lesson here is to delight in what you already have and keep your dreams alive—and in check.