How Running Makes Us Happy, But Happiness Makes Us Better Runners

You subscribe to a magazine. At first, you read it diligently from cover to cover, can’t wait for the next issue to come out. And then… something comes up and you promise yourself that you’ll read it on your lunch break or while taking a bath. A few months go by and you sadly look at the pile of unread magazines unsure of where even to begin. Has this ever happened to you? Well, that’s the #StoryOfMyLife…

magazine pileSource

This is exactly what happened to me during later stages of pregnancy: My beloved Runners World issues were sitting on a bookshelf collecting dust, feeling all forgotten. That is until a couple of days ago, when I decided to look through them in hopes of finding some invaluable advice for half-marathon training.

Speaking of which, this is what Week 5 of my training looks like:

Monday – 4 miles + arms
Tuesday – rest day
Wednesday – 4 miles + total body
Thursday – 30-40 minutes of cross training: arms, abs & cardio
Friday – 4 miles + HIIT & booty
Saturday – 30- 40 minutes of cross training: arms + yoga
Sunday – rest

*Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4*

IMG_1390 edit.jpg

As I was looking through the May 2015 issue, I came across the following article: Happy Hour, Approach a run with a positive outlook to improve your performance and your health by Diane Stopyra. It caught my attention right away because I am fascinated by how our brains/minds work. So when I read that ‘Exercise doesn’t just improve happiness, happiness can improve exercise performance,’ as Alfred Bove says, M.D., Ph.D., professor emeritus of medicine at Temple University and a 26-time marathoner, I was sold.

You see, many times we run/exercise to release the stress of a bad day, when we need a little pick-me-up. Endorphines can easily lift our mode and get rid off insecurities. But from what it looks like, ‘We tend to think of being joyful as a personality trait, but it’s actually a skill you can acquire,’ according to a sociologist Christine Carter, Ph.D.


There are quite a few benefits to be a Happy Runner:

  1. Suffers few injuries: Since ‘happiness reverses the body’s muscle-tensing stress response’, we are less prone to injuries;
  2. Performs better: When distractions created by negative emotions are removed, we are more focused on our performance.
  3. Feels less pain:  ‘Happier people have more of the neurotransmitter dopamine coursing through their brains’, which makes it easier to tolerate discomfort, according to Jim Afremow, Ph.D.;
  4. Is healthier: It’s actually very interesting because ‘Ongoing negative emotions can provoke cellular activity that leads to illness, including cancer. Feeling joy, researchers say, reverses this process.’

If you think this got my undivided attention, YOU BET!

I came across a great presentation by social psychologist Amy Cuddy at TED Talk on how your body language shapes who you are.

If you have time, definitely watch it. But if you don’t, what she shows in her presentation is how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success. She was curious whether ‘we can fake it till we make it’ and found some evidence that our non-verbals govern not only how others see us, but also how we see and feel about ourselves. So, for example, we smile when we feel happy, but also, when we’re forced to smile by holding a pen in our teeth like this, it makes us feel happy.

Tiny tweaks can indeed lead to big changes. According to Jim Afremow, Ph.D., ‘Our expressions aren’t just an indication of how we’re feeling; they help dictate those feelings. In other words, if you look happy, you’ll run happy.’

So what can we do to our face to feel happier?

  • Smile;
  • Relax your forehead, so your brows aren’t furrowed;
  • Lift your chin for an instant confidence boost.

I choose to be happySource

Runners World provides even more suggestions on how to set yourself up for a good run:

  1. Eat well, make sure that you are not low on nutrients that feed your brain like magnesium, omega-3, fatty acids, vitamin B12, iron, and vitamin D.
  2. Sleep at least 6-8 hours.
  3. Belly-breathe: Try doing yoga to learn how to breathe properly.
  4. Listen to music to distract yourself from pain and fatigue. *Read this post to see pros and cons of running with and without music.*
  5. Mantra Up: I actually like to ponder on a quote as I run, but mantras are great, especially when doing yoga!
  6. Be social and buddy up for your run!
  7. Buy a good time: sign up for a fun race or even treat yourself to a massage!
  8. Explore nature!

You make your life happySource

Do you ever fake it till you make it? What are your tricks to get yourself in a better place before your workout?

Missed some of my most recent posts that created great discussions among my fellow bloggers? Here is your chance to catch up:

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Filed under Motivation, Running, The Happiness Project

37 responses to “How Running Makes Us Happy, But Happiness Makes Us Better Runners

  1. I do struggle with daily work life and working out balance. The way I trick myself is reminding myself that it’s just an hour or ninety minutes out of my day for me. I will be a better soon-to-be-wife, co worker and person when I have my own personal time to myself 😀

  2. I love the part about mantras! They really do make a difference while running & racing!

  3. I’m learning to breathe properly and have been thinking about starting yoga. I think I should definitely give it a go and stop thinking about it.

  4. great reminder to choose our own happiness and apply it to every aspect of our lives, including our running. being happier and positive definitely contributes to overall health and well-being. great post.

  5. I really am trying to be more mindful about taking the time to stretch, foam roll, recover properly after a run. I do get massages frequently, but I could definitely benefit from more sleep.

    • Proper sleep definitely requires some planning. It may sound shocking, but I started sleeping so much better with my daughter’s arrival. Now that we have a set schedule in place, it’s a priority to follow through 🙂

  6. Great post. It’s amazing what a positive attitude and happiness can bring to the table in all aspects of life. Happiness and running are a powerful combo.

  7. I always talk about the mind-body-heart connection with my clients and whenever I’m giving advice. If you are feeling stressed, you body absolutely will respond and demonstrate that. I don’t run “better” when I’m angry; I run my best when I am happy!

  8. yes sometimes faking happiness can lead to happiness. I run best when I feel confident and happy

  9. Whenever I don’t feel like running, I remind myself that I was sidelined for a year a while back, and would’ve given anything to run during that time! I switch my “I don’t feel like running” to “I am so lucky to be able to run today” and it usually gets me out the door!

  10. This is so great! I know that when I am already in a good mood, my runs always go well. Even the weather can make or break a run for me! There is so much power in the mind-body connection!

  11. Amy

    I love this post! The title captured it all for me. My last race this past weekend just didn’t start off in that happy place, and, well, while it wasn’t my best race it certainly wasn’t my worst. I’m wondering how it would have been different if I would of have started off with a different mindset.

  12. Its so easy to talk ourselves out of going for a planned run, especially if we’re stressed out and tired. When this happens to me, I try to rest for a few extra minutes, which often helps me to find the motivation I need to get myself out the door.

  13. Great post, it can be too easy to get into a negative mood when things get crazy at work and in life. Reminding myself to smile and assume a more positive position is huge and positive mantras can go a long way during a challenging race or long run!

  14. Yeahhh for happy running!! you are so right, our attitude makes a massive impact on our running! I love the fake it til you make it idea of smiling even when it’s rough, something seems to click in the brain and remember that I GET to do this!

  15. Running definitely put me in a better mood. Sometimes I don’t always feel like running, but after I am done, I am always happy that I went. Everytime I read about running, it does make me want to run. Especially reading great articles in Runner’s World.

  16. Great tips! I definitely notice that when I’m stressed on a long run, it starts to show in my posture. I start to carry tension in my shoulders, and sometimes I don’t notice for miles. Then I get home and have a terrible backache! I need to start thinking about this BEFORE I go on a run.

  17. Pingback: One Run At A Time, Or How To Avoid Toxic Thoughts | candies & crunches

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