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Does running make you happy? Have you ever wondered why? Let me try and explain why running helps you to be(come) happy.
Does running make you happy? Have you ever wondered why? 

To answer these questions, we first need to know what happiness is... 

“Once I have that new house, a loving partner or another job, I’m sure I will be happy.” We all have had moments that we thought external influences could make us happier. These things that exist outside ourselves, and lie outside of our control, might make us feel a bit better in the moment, but are not involved when it comes to true happiness. True happiness only comes from within, whether you look at it from a scientific perspective or more philosophical. When you do not feel happy at the moment, I hope you can find comfort knowing that happiness is within your reach. 

What is happiness 

Physiologically, happiness is created in our brain by a combination of hormones. This combination of hormones is also known as DOSE, dopamine, oxytocin, serotonine, endorphins.

Dopamine is what we normally think of as the happiness drug. However, dopamine is actually involved more with anticipation than the actual “happiness” feeling.

Stimulated by: looking forward to something; excitement

Oxytocin is the neuro chemical that has allowed us to become social creatures. It makes us feel empathy which helps us feel close and bonded to others when it’s released.

Stimulated by: connection

If you’re in a good mood, you’ve got serotonin to thank. And if you’re in a bad mood, you’ve got serotonin to blame. Eighty percent of serotonin exists in the gut, and is governed by your state of hunger (yes, this is why you’re hangry).

Stimulated by: food

Endorphins are responsible for masking pain or discomfort, which explains their association with the “fight or flight” response. Endorphins allow to push farther and harder.

Stimulated by: exercise (running, (home)workouts, walking)

Experiences that release the DOSE neuro chemicals make us happy.

Happiness according to Eastern philosophy

According to Eastern Philosophy, happiness can also be referred to as ‘flow’ i.e., the mental state in which we are fully and positively engrossed in some pleasurable activity (e.g. meditation, reading) such that our sense of self disappears. This is similar to the idea of enlightenment in many Eastern philosophies.

Ayurveda (literally translated as 'knowledge of life'), an ancient Indian philosophy, is based on the belief that wellness depends on the harmony between body, mind and soul. Taking care of yourself, your health and wellbeing, is found important to live a happy and good life. 

Taoism (Tao means 'path'), a Chinese philosophy, is a way to teach a person to flow with life and learn acceptance of their nature. The path of understanding Taoism is simply accepting oneself. When we go with the flow of life we will find harmony and happiness.  

Wu wei, a concept related to Taoism, meaning  'effortless action' or 'go with the flow', describes exactly how I feel when experiencing what I call the 'runner's high'.  

A condition for happiness

The only way to experience anything In life is to be there. Not just physically, but mentally as well; your body and mind both have to be present in the moment. Being connected to yourself, your emotions and your surroundings.

You might have experienced that you take a sip of your coffee, only to find out that you had already finished it. This means you physically have drunk your coffee, but mentally not experienced, or enjoyed it. Which is a shame, and frankly a waste of your precious time and a waste of good coffee.

Running makes you happy

Signing up for a (virtual) race, or a workout coming up, creates anticipation, which stimulates dopamine. While running, your body will automatically produce endorphins. Run together with someone, or share your run on Runkeeper or Strave to help boost your oxytocin levels. Indulge yourself with a nice treat after your run, helping you to recover faster, not go hungry and increase serotonin. This way you are able to experience the full happy hormone cocktail your body has to offer.

What I also find is that running helps me switch off. It gets me into a state of ‘flow’ so to speak. I put my phone away, my thoughts start to slow down, or disappear, and I lose the sense of self, finding myself simply enjoying my run and experiencing my surroundings, creating the condition to experience happiness.

Banana bread and home workouts 

The same goes for banana bread and home workouts. They make you happy. No wonder these two activities got so popular all of a sudden and were all over Instagram these past months. With both of these activities, there is anticipation involved. 

In case of the banana bread, you have to wait for the bread to bake and only find out if your hard work has paid off, after waiting for the oven to cook your bread and the bread has cooled off enough to be able to eat it without burning your mouth. Then you can finally taste the fruit, or bread, of your labour. As you have probably worked hard on making it, and waited a while to be able to eat it, and assuming you like the taste, you are probably stilling your hunger by now, which boosts your endorphin levels.

Baking is another task that required focus and attention, helping you be in the moment without distraction, getting into that flow where body and mind work together in the moment and you truly experience the present. The same goes for those popular home workouts. They always require a certain amount of focus, to follow the instructions, do the exercise right, or just because you are too exhausted to think of anything else than what you are doing at the time.

Whatever makes you happy

Everybody is different and we enjoy different things, but whatever you do, do it with attention, without distraction, if you wish to truly experience it and make yourself happy.

Some other great activities to get to a state of flow (be in the moment) and stimulate your happy-hormones are:

In the end it is about enjoying the little things in life. All these little moments together add up to a happy and fulfilled life.

Keep running!
Sources: 

Technology advice - activate-chemicals

Greater good - happiness

Scirp journal - Well-Being East and West

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Manon Schutter

digital learning designer, presenter, commercial model van Amstelveen

Club: AV Startbaan

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