Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness. It’s not that my life is bad, but I’ve found that it’s time to re-evaluate. I think this need to rethink comes as a result of having spent several years caregiving for my mother (who died from Alzheimer’s disease and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease in 2007) as well as reaching one of those milestone birthdays. So how do you go about assessing happiness?
It turns out that Gretchen Rubin spent a year focusing on this subject, and wrote about it in a recently published book entitled, “The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun.” She assigned a topic for each month and focused her efforts on incorporating specific actions into her life. Her monthly focuses ranged from lightening up to making time for friends.
But guess what was first on her “to do” list for that year? “Boost Energy.” "In a virtuous circle, research shows, being happy energizes you, and at the same time, having more energy makes it easier for you to engage in activities -- like socializing and exercise -- that boost happiness," Rubin wrote. "Studies also show that when you feel energetic, your self-esteem rises. Feeling tired, on the other hand, makes everything seem arduous."
Two of her suggestions for the first month of her Happiness Project seem pertinent to this site – “Exercise Better” and “Act More Energetic.” (Rubin also focused on three other areas: going to sleep earlier, tossing, restoring and organizing; and tackling a nagging task.)
So let’s start with her suggestion of “Exercise Better.” Rubin wrote, “There’s a staggering amount of evidence to show that exercise is good for you. Among other benefits, people who exercise are healthier, think more clearly, sleep better, and have delayed onset of dementia.” She notes that regular exercise actually boosts energy levels.
In Rubin’s case, she describes how as a child, she was influenced to start running by her father. When she asked to redecorate her room, he “traded” her that opportunity by asking her to go for a 20-minute run four times a week. “My father’s approach might well have backfired,” she wrote. “By giving me an extrinsic motivation, my father risked sapping my inclination to exercise on my own. As it happened, in my case, he provided an extrinsic motivation that unleashed my intrinsic motivation.”
During her month-long exploration of “Boost Energy,” Rubin decided to add lifting weights to her exercise regime. A friend encouraged her to contact a trainer who had developed a 20-minute workout using weights. Rubin tried that workout, immediately liked it, and ended up convincing her husband and mother-in-law to start the same program.
Rubin also wanted to add walking to her mix as a way to promote happiness. “The repetitive activity of walking, studies show, triggers the body’s relaxation response and so helps reduce stress; at the same time, even a quick ten-minute walk provides an immediate energy boost and improves mood – in fact, exercise is an effective way to snap out of a funk,” she wrote, adding that the research recommends taking 10,000 steps a day to maintain good health and to keep from gaining weight.
In focusing on her motto of “Act More Energetic”, Rubin wrote, “Advice from every quarter, ancient and contemporary, backs up the observation that to change our feelings, we should change our actions. Although a ‘fake it till you feel it’ strategy sounded hokey, I found it extremely effective.” She would speed up her walk, or put more zest in what she was doing, she instantly would feel happier. I share this because I think many people are like me – we say that we don’t feel like going to the gym, but by acting more energetic both in our intent as well as during our actual workout, we end up feeling much better.
I’ve tried much of Rubin’s advice. I’ve found that walking the dogs early in the morning is a good start to the day and increases my energy level (most days). And when I’m feeling a little blah, if I focus on changing my frame of reference and acting more energetic in a variety of ways (like putting a spring in my step while walking), I almost always instantly feel better (and happier).
The only thing that I would add to Rubin’s suggestions is eating a good and balanced diet. I’ve noticed that I feel much more energetic when I eat food that is good for me. For instance, I’ve been eating more of a Mediterranean diet recently that focuses on fresh produce, whole grains, and lean protein. And just biting into a fresh peach or savoring a tomato that we picked up at the farmer’s market provides such a wave of happiness.
Exercise, great (healthful) food and acting energetic are three ways to boost your happiness level. Rubin has many more suggestions in her book, but these three steps alone can make a world of difference.
Published On: July 21, 2010