How to be happy… or whatever else you want. It’s a wide open secret a lot of people won’t like, but it’s true. Not fate, not anything else. It’s you. You decide. Period. Full stop.
By David Stone
Assorted Ideas, Large & Small
How To Be Happy, The Surprising Lesson
Did you grow up thinking happiness was something you either had or didn’t? You were lucky or unlucky? Like being short or tall, you either had it or you didn’t?
Did that belief follow you into adulthood?
It followed me like it was on a leash, but then something happened. I learned that happy is up for grabs.
So, why not grab it?
I wasn’t looking for any kind of secret.
I wasn’t looking for anything. Until I stumbled on the secret in a magazine. A magazine about something else.
For fifteen years, I trained as a long distance runner. Except for two years out of town, my miles piled while circling a 3.7 mile loop along the East River in New York City in every season.
In my prime — really not much of a prime, but still mine — I did double laps four or five times a week, preparing for competitive runs, usually through Central Park. I trained first thing in the morning, getting the work out of the way before, well, work, the kind you get paid for.
Happiness On Purpose
Running all these miles, it felt great feeling thin and athletic again in midlife.
But what about happy?
Is it just a question or something more complicated?
I was already as happy as anyone I knew, happily married, decently paid in a fulfilling job, excited by New York.
As much as I loved running, though, sometimes it was hard. Drudgery. Even boring during one endless half-marathon in Queens. 13 miles? It felt more like 130.
My runs came early in the morning, leaving time for a shower, shave and onto the subway on time.
My job,, the one that paid the bills,waited, and I hit the promenade around Roosevelt Island, usually around 5:30.
Along with the physical and emotional ups and downs everyone gets, I managed all sorts of weather as well as fatigue. Dead legs, minor aches and pains got pushed aside.
Plenty of mornings, I ran north toward Hell Gate with stiff winds throwing sleet in my face. One single digit morning, I got back home with sweat icicles clinging to the ends of my hair.
That’s how the lesson in happiness caught me.
Everyone in training tries a few things, some not so legal, cushioning the challenges. I stuck with the legal strategies.
Any early tactic was buying a cassette player. Music distracted.
Later, I upgraded to a radio, then a handheld CD player, and after Apple blessed the world with iPods, I bought my first of several.
I even got a thingamajig that braced my iPod against my upper arm.
What Is Happiness? The Lesson
All these worked pretty well.
Listening to the Grateful Dead, even on a bad day, improved my time. It helped, the constant awareness of my thighs straining melting in Jerry’s guitar riffs.
Jazz worked, too, but classical left me feeling like I was running in mud. Which, of course, I sometimes was.
There were experiments with apparel, shoe styles and what to drink and/or eat during, before and after a run.
Experienced runners recognize these kinds of efforts and have stories of their own.
But one thing made the most difference…
But the one thing I did that made the most difference, not just in my training, but in my life, was the most simple.
And it’s the only runners story I know that led to an unexpected answer to the big question: How to be happy?
We all think about happiness, at least I believe we do, but we mistakenly think it’s a challenge.
But I found the secret published and widely available in a small article in Runners’ World magazine. It wasn’t a challenge.
It was simple.
A reported study showed that simply smiling during a run relieved tension and made the experience easier and more enjoyable. Simple.
I tried it the next time I was straining through a dark, cold morning.
I admit waiting until no one else was nearby. I wanted to be happy, not scary.
As the wind bit my face, I grinned.
Amazing. I felt the stress ooze out of my limbs, and my pace smoothed and quickened.
What an easy trick! Smiling must have sent endorphins or something else spilling through my bloodstream.
But wait a minute… a trick?
Hadn’t I just learned something so profound it almost got by me?
Hardly a trick. I learned, purely by accident,. I could make myself happy, on purpose, when no good reason existed, just my intention.
This was sort of like taking a pitchfork to the fates and flipping them into the manure. Sure, fate might decide where you win the lottery or not or whether the next driver texts a little too long, but it wasn’t in charge of happy.
I always believed, along with somewhere in the vicinity of 100% of the rest of us, that I smiled because I felt happy. Now, I knew the opposite was also true.
Soon, I ventured into my lab, what we call “the real world” and tried some practical experiments.
I found that, with commitment, I could make myself happy at any time, regardless of circumstances. It was simply a choice.
A corollary for another time, I found that I didn’t always want to be happy.
How to be happy…
But, my learning went further. I could also make myself unhappy, enraptured, upset, annoyed and self-righteous at the flip of that virtual switch.
Just make the expression. Feeling followed.
I was in charge of my life and well-being like never before.
It kicked me off autopilot, showing me that I was my own architect. I always had been.
No yoga needed or meditation or any other practice or training. I just needed to decide to feel good or whatever it was I wanted to feel.
So, it was up to me to determine what and why. Lots of opportunity, lots of responsibility.
But oh, so energizing.
Make no mistake, though. Taking conscious control of how you feel has implications for everyone around you and, since everything is connected, for many others. It can lead to better health and better relationships, eliminate habitual behaviors and moods.
Pretty neat lesson to learn from a casual runner’s tip.
Maybe you can make good use of it as you jog along your own personal trails.
Remember, happiness is a choice. And so is most everything else.
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