7 Ways Running Can Make you Happy

After finishing Calm’s 7 days of Happiness as part of my meditation practice and hearing the Simply Happy episode on the TED Hour Radio Podcast, I couldn’t help but think of how running is an essential source of my happiness. Interestingly enough, the points of discussion in the happiness sessions have direct parallels to running.   Practice these seven techniques and you might just find your running bliss.

1. Gratitude

When we are grateful, we are happy. Said David Steindl-Rast on the Ted Hour, a Benedictine monk who discussed the connection between gratefulness and happiness.  To be grateful is to experience something we hold as valuable and is a gift.

How important is a run to you?

Before my interval workout last Tues night, I witnessed a spectacular San Diego sunset and felt grateful in that moment.  If I skipped the workout, I would have missed that opportunity.

Running is a gift.  I am grateful for my body’s ability to run.  The strength in my muscles propelling me into forward motion.  Feeling my heart beat quickly.  My breath deepens with every stride.  I’m thankful for the power to endure.

2.  Self-Love

Love yourself first.  The moment you show yourself love is when your heart opens to truly love another.

Running is a form of self-love. No matter the purpose of the run, whether it’s for fitness, mental clarity, or social interaction, you are taking time to do something for yourself.  You are freeing yourself from the craziness of life and allowing for the run to take you to a place you appreciate and feel good about yourself.

Ultrarunner Caroline Boller explained in the current issue of RW how the amount of training she’s doing (85-90 mile weeks) is important for her well-being.  She said “If you think of it in those terms, there’s never a reason to feel guilty about the time you’re spending running.”

3. Learn to Let Go

How do you respond when things aren’t going the way it should be? When something happens out of your control, do you brood over it or do you acknowledge it and move on?  Letting go of a situation in the past or present paves a path to happiness.

In terms of running, when the weather doesn’t cooperate on race day, do you throw in the towel and fret because you trained so hard for this race to get big PR goals but now it’s out of reach due to high winds.  Or are you capable of letting it go by reframing your mindset and simply set the goal of taking as many selfies you can without caring about your finish times!?

Let go of set expectations

Let go of past regrets and resentments

Let go and just RUN!


4.  Live in the Now

Matt Killingsworth is a researcher who developed an app to collect data about happiness.  His Ted Talk Want to Be Happier? Stay in the Moment revealed that mind-wandering is a cause of people’s unhappiness.  “People are less happy when they’re mind-wandering no matter what they’re doing”, according to Matt.  In his studies, he discovered that people mind-wander at least 30% of the time.  I’m one of those people!  This is why I set a single goal of daily meditation this year.  To learn how to bring my thoughts back to the present.

So does your mind wander when you run? How can we bring focus back to the run itself?  To me, the solution is a trail run.  I know I have to be fully present and aware of where my feet lands.  On a trail, I tend to have no other thoughts but the run itself.

Another technique I learned was from a Walking Meditation session on my Calm app which can also be used during a run.  The narrator guided me to focus on my breath first – the inhales and exhales.  Then to bring awareness to the way my body moved individually breaking it down to my arms, shoulders, back, hips, legs and feet. And finally shifting attention to the surroundings, particularly sights and sounds.

5.  Be Open to Uncertainty

Change presents uncertainty.  When we’re not sure about a particular situation, we get uncomfortable and anxious.  But what if instead of worrying, we change our perspective about uncertainty and view it more as an adventure?

To me, Trail Running was an uncertainty.  Before, trails seemed ominous with the rocks  and roots as trip hazards. Hidden wild animals ready to strike.  Strangers lurking around the corner.

After living in San Diego for ten years, I avoided the trails near my neighborhood.  How did I overcome my sense of uncertainty?  By taking a risk, I guess.  I wanted to see what I was missing.  Plus the knowledge of running off road helps to prevent injuries (Doing the most I can to stave off any more injuries).  By looking at advantages rather than the disadvantages, I built up the courage to hit the trails and embrace uncertainty.

6.  Prioritize your Health

I view running as the catalyst for other healthy habits to follow.   You start to pay attention to better nutrition.  Eating well translates to improved performance and quicker recovery.  You want to get more hours of sleep so it’s not a drag when you have to get up early to run 20 miles.  You strength-train, foam roll and find other activities to complement your running.

7.  Laugh and Play!

Sometimes we get caught up in our race goals with specific finish times.  Every run we do is zeroed in to achieve our goal that we’re constantly tracking our pace and weekly mileage.  While there is a level of satisfaction in running a PR or finally getting a BQ, it’s fleeting.  Once we achieve those goals, we up the ante by setting loftier ones.  It’s a vicious cycle of the desire to discover how far we can push ourselves.  Running becomes more work and less play.

So how do you play?  To me play is interaction and connection with other people.  When I run with a few friends, it’s a guarantee that we will share a number of laughs.  Two years ago, I ran the Chicago Half Marathon for ‘fun’ with my college friends.  We had a blast that weekend so we are planning another racecation to run RNR Vegas Half.  I am so looking forward to the race in November!


At the RNR Chicago Half Start Line


What is one way running makes you happy?  How often does your mind-wander?  Do you have any ‘uncertainties’ with running?


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