Are you happy? That’s a difficult question to answer. You might feel happy right now, but perhaps later in the day you may feel less happy. Do you need to be happy every moment of every day? That would be difficult to achieve given the realities of life. Joyful celebrations and milestones, achievement of goals, daily interactions, disappointments in ourselves and others, illnesses and injuries, losses of loved ones and many other events big and small contribute to the wide range of human emotions that we experience.
One sure way to improve happiness, however, is with regular exercise. When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins, which are designed to combat stress. Have you ever noticed that even on days when you feel low in energy and not in the best mood, after you work out you’re in a better mood? As little as 20 minutes of exercise can provide a feeling of happiness, which some people describe as euphoric.
Sometimes we define our happiness by comparing ourselves to others. We may feel inadequate and unhappy with ourselves. I urge my clients to stop comparing themselves to others. It’s one thing to admire people who have ripped muscles and the ideal body weights that they’ve worked hard for; but you need to learn to appreciate your own body and work towards realistic goals. Dreaming about some standard that may be difficult or impossible for you to achieve leads to unhappiness.
I often remind clients who reminisce about the time when they were slimmer, stronger or more agile that they aren’t 20 or 30 years old anymore. We can stay fit at every age, but most of us have to accommodate for reality. Be proud of what you see when you look in the mirror, especially if you’re trying your best to be healthy and fit. Success isn’t necessarily defined by your weight or your waistline or by how many pounds you can lift. Be happy with your own performance and how far you’ve come, especially if you’ve overcome physical or psychological hurdles to accomplish your fitness goals.
In his book Happiness Is a Serious Problem, Dennis Prager describes The Missing Tile Syndrome. Imagine you’re sitting in a room and you look up at the ceiling. It’s tiled. You notice that one tile is missing and you can’t focus your attention on anything but that one missing tile. Prager uses the tiled ceiling as a metaphor for life. While a tiled ceiling can easily have its missing tile replaced, life is not that simple. No life is perfect. If you focus your attention on the elements that are missing from your life, you will never be satisfied. If you suffer from the Missing Tile Syndrome, you notice only people who look better than you, or seem more accomplished than you, and that is a recipe for unhappiness.
Prager states that once you identify what your missing tile is, you need to decide if getting that tile is central to your happiness. Either you have to get it, forget it or replace it. Either make a realistic plan to get what you want, then follow that plan, or stop thinking about what’s missing and focus on what you have. If what’s missing is something you can neither fix nor forget, then you need to replace it with something else. For example, if you’re of a certain age or size and no longer have the physical abilities you used to have, find an activity that is more suitable to your current abilities but still challenges you. When you turn negatives into positives, you feel happier.
There may be times when you experience setbacks and are unable to accomplish a goal. Do you have the ability to return to your happiness set point even after a negative experience? There are many variables involved, but one place to start may be learning to accept and appreciate who you are and the truly meaningful things in your life, such as positive relationships, positive self-perception and a positive outlook. Resilient people bounce back from difficult situations, refocus their efforts and find happiness.
We can naturally contribute to our own happiness with regular physical activity, as well as by reminding ourselves to appreciate our own capabilities, doing the best we can under the circumstances and enjoying the moment. Happiness is a state of mind. If you want to maintain that state of mind like a well-tuned engine, you’ve got to put in the effort.