We runners are generally a happy bunch. A 20-year study of long-term marathon runners found they experienced less depression, anger, tension, confusion and fatigue compared with the general population. Other research has found that regular exercisers are less anxious, more positive and more resilient in the face of stress. There’s no doubting the many mental health benefits we already gain from lacing up, but could applying the latest scientific findings on happiness make our smiles even wider, both in and out of our trainers?
Action for Happiness, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to building a happier society, has conducted extensive research into what makes people flourish. ‘When we think of happiness, we tend to think about short-term pleasure, like the runner’s high,’ says Vanessa King, the lead psychologist for Action for Happiness. ‘But the concept of eudaimonia relates more to pursuing fulfillment and satisfaction than euphoric joy. We need both for a happy life.’
Last year, Action for Happiness published a list of 10 evidence-based keys to happier living, and running can help you find them all. ‘The 10 keys are a synthesis of the research on what makes us happy – highlighting areas where we can take action or make choices that have been shown to increase happiness,’ says King, author of Ten Keys to Happier Living and also a runner. ‘I see it as a menu, not a prescription, as we all need different things and at different times.’