The Secret to Health and Happiness
One of the most important lessons I learned from elite sports is that being healthy is both very complex and deceptively simple.
Complex because being healthy is so much more than just exercising as often as possible, watching what you eat, and getting enough rest and water. It certainly involves a bit of all that, but you can do all this (all the ‘right’ things) and still be profoundly unhealthy. I would argue that you’re not truly healthy until you feel good and think happy.
Being healthy is also deceptively simple. When you’re happy, leading a balanced life, full of reasons for active enjoyment, being healthy is so much easier. Then, all of a sudden, doing what’s good for you is no longer a struggle and exercise is not your enemy, but an opportunity!
You stop fighting yourself every moment to do the so-called right things, and start making choices and life decisions that make ‘healthy’ a more natural outcome of what you do, the people you keep in your life, and the activities you pursue.
Modern life is not necessarily conducive to happiness. It’s quite conceivable to just work, sleep, eat, and repeat, from now until our last day. It’s even considered an admirable quality in some circles to be busy all the time, completely rational and efficient with our time, putting every precious moment to good use. There is also intense pressure to keep up in all aspects of life, and what “needs to be kept up with” keeps changing!
Hard work and dedication are admirable qualities. I’m the first to grant that sacrifice can be worth it – that sacrifice full of meaning and purpose can be deeply rewarding. It can set you on a course that changes your life and those around you for the better.
But it’s important to keep things in perspective. What matters to you can change, even after all the blood, sweat and tears. When it’s all said and done, you can find yourself a bit lost on the other side of the mountain.
When I left swimming I was exhausted in so many ways. I made a deal with myself that, this time, I would put my energy into the plethora of activities, people and projects that make me happy, instead of concentrating everything into one very specific skill. In effect, I was going to choose my way to happiness.
I know it might sound a bit silly, or maybe even a bit obvious. It also happens to be much easier on paper than it is in practice because, at first, it’s more about what you turn away from, than what you’re turning towards.
It takes a great deal of courage and resolve to walk away from things that define us: whether it’s a job, an unrewarding friendship, a bad habit, a negative way of thinking, or being hopscotch world champion.
But to use a sporting reference (sorry!), happiness is much like a muscle. You can build it slowly, slowly, over time, one decision at a time; until you’re happy muscles are strong, resilient and have a long memory. Happy muscle memory, it’s totally a thing.
I think a lot of what makes us unhappy is doing things we don’t want to do. Understanding why you don’t want to do something can be the first step.
Sometimes it’s because we’re scared. Exercising our resolve and courage might be worth it in that case. It’s strange how quickly things can fall back into place, a better place, when we make tough decisions in the search for balance.
Sometimes choosing happiness is hard because, well, it’s hard! And that’s fine. I learned from competitive sport that you can only do your best, and it doesn’t help much to compare yourself to others. They may appear to be completely cool headed and awesomely in control of everything, but we all have things we struggle with, even if we’re more or less skilled at keeping a lid on it.
Take your time: enjoy the process and it will all eventually click into place.
Changing negative thought processes is especially tricky. It’s a daily choice and then, some day, one day, when you’re not expecting it, bam! A new way of walking through life can come to a head.
Other times choosing happiness is hard because we don’t feel worthy or capable. We may not feel like we are in control. We may have people relying on us. We may not feel safe and free enough to make the decisions that would make us happy.
This is the clincher; the one we really have to examine and think carefully about.
There is a great deal we can’t change just like that (*clicks fingers*) but there are a great deal of seemingly tiny choices we make each day that add up to a big deal. It’s stuff on the margins. It is, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.
What’s my secret to health and happiness? I try to see life as an endless series of exciting opportunities to maximise my happiness and that of those around me.
Health is what happens, what flows naturally from those choices, when I’m inspired by the life I’m leading.