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Accidental life lessons on the fly. Running into how to be happy…

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How to be happy…

or anything else you want.

How to be happy… and whatever else you want to be. A lot of people won’t like this, but it’s true. Not fate, not anything else. You decide. Period. Full stop.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

By David Stone

Assorted Ideas, Large & Small

How To Be Happy — My 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?

I did, but then something happened. I learned that happy is up for grabs.

So, why not grab it?

How to be happy
Happy is what you make it.

I wasn’t looking for it. Actually, I wasn’t looking for a way for long distance running relief.

If you asked me, I’d have told you 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 accumulated while circling a 3.7 mile loop along the East River in New York City.

In my prime — really no 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.

Happiness On Purpose

Running all these miles, it felt better to be thin and athletic again.

But what about happy?

Is it just a question? I was already as happy as anyone I knew.

As much as I loved running, though, sometimes it was hard. Drudgery. Even boring during one endless half=marathon in Queens.

Mindful of the punishing summer heat, New York City Road Runners planned most races from September through May.

My runs came early in the morning, insuring time to shower, shave and struggle onto the subway on time. My job waited, and I hit the promenade around Roosevelt Island, usually around 5:30.

Along with the normal physical and emotional ups and downs everyone has, I pushed myself out through all sorts of weather and fatigue. Minor aches and pains left behind.

Plenty of days, 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 why the lesson in happiness caught me.

Everyone in training tries a few things, maybe everything, including some not so legal, to cushion 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 held an iPod on my 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.

I also found that jazz worked but classical music 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 will probably 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.


Running to be happy
Running happy.

And it’s the only runners story I know that led to the unexpected answer for the big question: How to be happy?

We all think about happiness, but we mistakenly think it’s a challenge. Like jogging into Hell Gate in January with a north wind hurling snow in your face.

I found the secret published and widely available in a small article in Runners’ World magazine.

It was simple little thing. A 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.

As the wind bit my face, I grinned. I admit to waiting until no one else was nearby. I wanted to be happy, not scary.

It worked

And fast.

Amazing. I felt the stress ooze out of my limbs, and my pace smoothed and quickened.

What an easy trick to learn! 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?

I’d learned, purely by accident, that I could make myself happy, on purpose, when no good reason existed, just my intention.

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, 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 it everything else.

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