Happiness Factors into Fitness
Your health and longevity—not to mention your quality of life—are linked to HAPPINESS. As fitness professionals we focus on physical health thru exercise and nutrition. But as wellness professionals, we have a broader responsibility to share with you how your attitude, management of stress and your core values truly impact your health. In fact, research has shown that high levels of stress and general unhappiness pose as great a risk to your health as does obesity (a multifaceted health problem with genetic and lifestyle causes). It's CRAZY! Think: if you are fit as a fiddle but unhappy just maybe you are in the same boat as those that do next to nothing to care for their bodies.
The proof is in the literature. The pursuit of happiness is not just a frivolous, waste of valuable time (a perspective that I believe our fast-paced society supports in many ways--or at least I find myself sometimes feeling gulity taking precious time to simply do what feels good).
Back to the literature: Psychology, health and medical researchers have worked hard to define and quantify ‘happiness’ in order to better grasp what contributes to a healthy happiness. Many studies support the notion that ‘health and longevity are unequivocally related to our mood states’. (If you would like a listing of studies and specific outcomes, please send a response to this blog requesting them and I am happy to provide more information).
Often we the following strategies in the fitness industry to decrease negative emotion and place an emphasis on mind and spiritual health:
- Stress reduction strategies
But, that’s not enough. Happiness is MORE than the absence of negativity and stress. It is a general sense of well-being and contentment. It is NOT a goal but a process that requires a positive attitude about self and life with a sense of meaning. Here are some Happiness-Enhancing Strategies:
- Count Your Blessings. Express gratitude regularly through journaling or verbally to make your mind happy. I love making thank you cards with my girls, sending thank you cards for even small gifts and text messages after spending a nice time with friends. This is the perfect season to actively practice gratitude. Write one thing each day and read them all on Thanksgiving (the girls and are I doing that!)
- Cultivate Optimism. Think and write about positive outcomes and scenarios for yourself. When working with my clients, I call this a ‘Wellness Vision’. It's a piece I ask them to write decribing how they see themselves, how they look and how they feel as they reach their goals. It puts such a positive spin on making healthy changes.
- Avoid over-thinking and social comparison. We are all on our own paths (isn't that the truth!?) and so your comparison should be of your own history and progress. Dwelling on what you perceive as ‘better’ is unhealthy. Instead focus on how you can be better at being YOU.
- Practice acts of kindness spontaneously or in planned ways to friends and family and even to strangers. A sense of volunteerism develops as you see yourself as connected to others in a positive way. When we bake we always bring plates to neighbors and I try to help my other mom friends when they need a little break. It’s something that I can do easily with my kids. Think of something that works for YOU.
- Develop nurturing relationships. I love to spend time with people who I want to emulate and who inspire me to demonstrate my own best characteristics.
- Engage. Increase the amount of time you spend doing things that you can ‘lose yourself in’. For me, it is yoga, writing and baking. Ahhh….where does the time go?
- Use your strengths and talents. Do what feels natural and good to you. Use and develop your own unique strengths.
- Commit to your goals. Pursue your personal and professional goals in a realistic way. Choose a couple of things that you have aspirations to accomplish and take steps forward.
- Develop coping skills. Being HAPPY does not mean that we don’t ever suffer or struggle. But, we can practice special activities that help us to deal with the challenges in life. My daily devotions and getting outdoors in nature help me to put things into perspective.
- Forgive. Let go of toxic negative emotions towards others. The only one suffering when you hold a nasty grudge is YOU.
- Practice religion and spirituality. Real research supports the importance of connecting to our spiritual side. But for me, it is the personal proof that I have of how much happier I am when I am practicing my own personal spiritual beliefs.
- Take care of your body through exercise, meditating, eating well and getting enough rest. Need I say more?!
Bottom line: Your goal is not to create just a healthier you, but a happier you. Whether your focus lies in improving health through better eating and exercise habits or in developing life strategies to improve quality of life perhaps it is important to broaden your personal wellness goals. Be healthy; Be happy.