How Movement Can Be the Magic Potion of Happiness
Happiness is tricky. You can have everything you need — a roof over your head, food on your plate, a job you enjoy, and people you love who love you back — and still not feel happy. Which is frustrating.
The truth is, once you have all the basics down, the rest is a matter of balance.
Over the past few years, I’ve found that a balanced lifestyle allows for a clear mind. And having a clear mind boosts my level of well-being, joy, positivity, and therefore happiness. So of course, there is the fact of paying minimum attention to one’s diet, not drinking too much, not smoking, and all those kinds of things. But there is another major element, which we rarely think about.
It all boils down to getting into your body (and out of your head) frequently enough.
I used to be a different person
Nothing is ever 0 or 100. White or black. All or nothing. Most things are a grey in-between. Except for one thing. One thing I see through a dualistic view.
We’re either in our heads or in our bodies. No in-between. It’s one or the other.
[Time machine]. Me, not more than a year ago. Give me anything to frustrate or annoy me. Anything that could be a problem, no matter how small. Anything that would make me think too hard. Give it to me, like you would give a dog a bone to chew on. Then watch me turn in circles, for hours, raising my inner tension level, getting redder and redder, and finally exploding at the next person who crossed my path.
I couldn’t deal with everyday, normal, routine things. It was affecting many things: my relationships, my work, my well-being, my happiness. I was an expert at creating tension in my mind and body, getting frustrated, overreacting, getting angry…
But all that is behind me. In the meantime, I have discovered the safety valve.
It’s perfectly normal to encounter things in your day that annoy or frustrate you. This is called life. What is important is how you deal with them. Think of Epictetus’ famous phrase…
“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”
Whenever I feel like I’m in my head too much, I get up, walk out, close the door behind me and use the ladder to get down into my body. That’s my happy trick.
It’s about bringing movement back into your body
When your thoughts or emotions are running on a loop up there, it’s not good. That means it’s time to do something about it. Thinking further would only increase the problem. You need to get all that tension out. I recognize now exactly when I need to get out of my head, whenever it’s because I have a problem, my work capacity is exhausted, or I’ve just been sitting for too long.
Getting into your body can be many things. It all comes down to one word: movement. Take a walk, dance like no one is watching, stretch, swim, bike, play tennis, cook…. Whatever. My favorite safety valves are running and walking. Sometimes I also stretch or do qigong, or go surfing. But everything works. Even going to the grocery store, I guess.
When I had my fill of movement, my mind is always clearer. It’s like the clouds have passed and I can see clearly again. Better thinking, better focus, better decisions. Problems suddenly seem much smaller. I feel at peace, calm, able to be myself again. I got rid of all negative energies. Getting into my body cleanses my mind thoroughly.
I can’t do without it anymore. I move at least once a day. If I don’t, I feel restless, and I also miss that peace of mind and clarity of thought.
There’s a scientific reason for this
No wonder the ancient Greeks believed that there was a direct correlation between our physical and mental well-being.
“A sound mind in a sound body, is a short, but full description of a happy state in this world: he that has these two, has little more to wish for.” — John Locke
When you go around in circles in your head, you create knots. When you start moving, and putting your attention into your movements, you get rid of all those knots because you’re fully focusing on your body and sensations.
“Moving your body not only improves cardiovascular health, it improves cerebrovascular health. A wide range of recent studies have found that exercise improves brain function, structure, and connectivity.
Physical activity has also been proven to be an effective treatment for depression, anxiety, insomnia, ADHD and a wide range of other psychological maladies. Exercise is medicine. In many cases, aerobic activity, strength training, yoga and mindfulness can be more effective than pharmaceutical treatments.” — Psychology Today
The bottom line
We’re not meant to sit inside for hours on end and staring at screens. We need movement. We need fresh air. We need to be in touch with our bodies. Because if you look inside, you’ll find that you’re in your head more than anywhere else. You are focusing, you are looking, you are thinking.
But you are not only a brain. You are also a body. Having this dualistic view, and making sure that you are up there as much as down there in a given day, sounds silly but it has made me a different person. It feels good when you sit down after a good movement session or a long walk. It’s where my creativity is nurtured, my attention span is renewed, tension is released, all of which makes me a more balanced human being.
Get moving. As often as possible. And feel the difference.