The Mental Fitness of Pursuing Happiness

Photo by Cass Gunderson

“I’m on the pursuit of happiness…” You can take a lot of life lessons from Kid Cudi, but you’ve probably also heard a lot about happiness if you’ve ever read any self-help content. It’s a saturated market, but Americans are only getting unhappier. The 2017 World Happiness Report shows that the U.S. continues to drop in rank (make America happy again?) and it’s argued that people look for happiness in the wrong ways.

Again, nothing new. Happiness is not something you instantly improve overnight. With a beloved fitness analogy, lifting one dumbbell won’t magically make you strong — strength training is something you have to constantly work towards. Like physical strength, you have to flex your mental muscles frequently to keep your mind clear, focused, and happy. Bottom line: you can never have too many reminders on your pursuit of happiness.

Tiffany Louise spoke with aSweatLife Ambassadors in September, reminding us how we can flex our other muscles to be our happiest selves. While this group is arguably the most proactive in the city, we all could use some work and we may or may not thrive from personal development. After a killer workout at the Nike Studio on Michigan Avenue, we talked happiness and mental fitness.

By definition, happiness is “a state of wellbeing and contentness or a pleasurable experience.”

Of course, only you control your happiness.

We all know this, but we require reminders and reinforcement. Positive conditioning is how we change our behaviors to match our intended outcomes. As serious goal diggers, we know how to change our habits little by little to reach our goals, using positive reinforcement and operant conditioning along the way.

Happiness comes from where you put your energy.

Society encourages tunnel vision from the start regarding money. Money may not be the source of happiness, but it enables happiness. Money can buy you shelter, food, clothes, experiences, and an education. Money buys all of your essentials, but we’re often mistaken that money is happiness.

If we take control of our happiness, deciding where we want to put our energy, we can realign our values for our own return on investment.

First, you have to love yourself. It’s becoming cliche to say that, but you can never have too many reminders. Consider how you show love to others and how you show up for them. Whether it’s checking in with your mom about how she’s feeling, or a monthly girls’ night with your best friends. Do you always remember your dad’s favorite pastry when you visit him? You should be able to show up for yourself and be in tune with your needs and feelings. If you’re self-aware, you make better decisions and are able to play into your strengths.

Aside from loving yourself, you also need to focus on how you love others. Aside from money, most happiness comes from relationships. There was a Harvard study that lasted over 75 years, researching happiness levels in people of all backgrounds, and it shows that people with stronger friendships had fewer illness, lived longer, and were happier despite incomes. We are hardwired to connect, and we thrive on relationships.

Whether introverted or extroverted, antisocial or outgoing, we still need communities to be happy. Aside from love languages, we have to consider what we have to do versus what we want to do. Even if you’re altruistic, you shouldn’t sacrifice yourself for others. Consider what nourishes you and feeds you, enabling you to love others. If you’re introverted like me, think about when you need restoration versus isolation.

Other than relationships with yourself and with others, gratitude is one of the main sources of happiness. As Tiffany put it, gratitude is “fucking magical.” If you want to change your life, be grateful. Research errrrr’where shows that we have control over how we choose to perceive our environment. Beyond paying our bills, happiness doesn’t increase with money. Just like in economics, happiness has diminishing returns.

Thinking gratitude is different than feeling gratitude. I became more consciously grateful when I began using the Five Minute Journal (I recommend the app!). All this journal requires is 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes at night, and it definitely can make you happier. In the morning, you’ll list 3 things you’re grateful for. Almost every day, I am grateful for particular family members or friends, or all of them in general. They are the best parts of my life.

Other than relationships, be grateful for every opportunity. When one door opens, another opens. Work your gratitude and introspection “muscles” by constantly being thankful.

You can’t expect to be happy all day every day, but you can be happy every day, especially if you’re grateful, love yourself, and love others. How do you strive to be happy every day?

Thank you, Tiffany and aSweatLife, for another awesome workshop. I’m always surprised how much a cynic like myself can be positive with the help of an awesome, supportive community like aSweatLife!

++ Mary K

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