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Channel your inner jock to boost your happiness

I hit 5K! I hit 5K! I love goal-setting, and in my training plan to do a 10K in May and a half-marathon in September, I hit my first milestone distance last week: running five kilometres (while being pelted with wet snow and rain, no less).

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Girl running

I hit 5K! I hit 5K! I love goal-setting, and in my training plan to do a 10K in May and a half-marathon in September, I hit my first milestone distance last week: running five kilometres (while being pelted with wet snow and rain, no less).

I haven’t run that distance in at least two years, so it was a bit of a boost to reach my first small goal. As it turns out, that little habit of goal setting is helping my happiness, says Mina Samuels, the New York-based author of the newly published Run Like a Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives. I called Samuels to find out why sports and activities generally give us a little happiness lift.

Q: What’s the connection between women, sports and happiness?

A: I felt that in my own life — and I knew anecdotally — that there was this connection between how good women felt in the athletics they were doing and how good they felt in the rest of their life. And I feel like that connection is extra special for women — because we have so many issues around owning our strength and our body images and those sorts of things. And sports is a place where we really learn to be more connected to our bodies, and feel their strength and power, and feel connected to how great they are.

Sports is this place where women can see, in a measurable, quantifiable way that’s not available in most other aspects of our lives, that we really succeeded at something we thought we couldn’t do. That happens over and over and over again for us in sports, and it opens this window and lets this air into our lives and shows us that all those other places where we think to ourselves that I can’t do that, or I’m not quite good enough, or that’ll never happen — it shows us that we have so much more capacity than we are imagining. And as we find our physical strength, we find the centred strength of our own voices, and that can’t help but make us happier. We’re more in touch with ourselves and happier with what we’re in touch with.

Q: Do we get these benefits from sports alone, or do we get them from general exercise?

A: I think the benefit is most noticeable if you do set yourself some goals. You have something you set out to do that’s a bit of a stretch. If you say something like “I really want to start walking every day,” for example, and you start walking the first week, the first month, and then you start to build up your walking. Sports is a place that can teach us to live with more intentionality and when we live with more intention, we’re happier. The goals also have to be reasonable. You don’t get up off the couch and say “I’m doing a marathon.” You say “I’m going to walk” and once you’ve reached that goal of walking regularly, you set another goal.

Q: How do we get started on moving more and setting goals?

A: If you’re doing it by yourself, it’s most immediately rewarding to do something you already do, just a bit more. Whatever it is you do, push it a bit farther — take 10 minutes longer, for example. However, if you’re more adventuresome and have a friend to do new things with you, trying new things can make you happy, can be intensely exciting to try, and generally you have no expectations.