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Running Happy

How a podcast changed my perspective on happiness.

Navigating through your 20s can be a fickle thing. The metronome is constantly swaying from “oh man I've got this” to “will I ever really be good enough?” For me, over the past few years the metronome has been hitting the latter part of the spectrum and bouncing, albeit a boomerang to the beat of "Eye of the Tiger."

I luckily don’t suffer from any surveyed mental health issues, but am hit hard with a bit of self-doubt sprinkled with a bit of imposter syndrome. To combat these two issues, I set myself goals that push me just outside of me comfort zone.

To put into context how far out of my comfort zone I like to push myself; on a scale of sitting on a 10-year-old, perfectly moulded couch, to walking on hot larva, I’d say I’ve got myself off the couch, but I’m probably now sitting on a plastic chair from IKEA. It’s not particularly comfortable, it’s not somewhere I’d like to stay forever, but it’s bearable and it’s much more comfortable than most people have the privileged of.

So to get to this level of discomfort, I do things like get my Masters straight after my undergraduate, or I move from one first world city to another, and now I have decided to run a marathon. It’s something that so many people have done before. On average, over 500,000 people in the US alone run a marathon each year. So it’s by no means a unique test of physical and mental endurance, but it’s enough to make me think that I’m different, that I’m on the “oh man I’ve got this” side of the metronome. Especially as my relationship with exercise has existed within the dichotomy of #fitspo and guilty, indulgent-ridden couch potato (there’s a reason that couch is perfectly moulded).

So on my run the other day, as I’m pounding the pavement next to the Yarra River in Melbourne, I’m joined by Elizabeth Day’s and her How To Fail podcast (I wish Elizabeth Day was really there). As I’m putting one foot in front of the other, the metronome starts to sway. She had a special guest on the show by the name of Mo Gawdat. Gawdat is a widely fascinating man. He was the formal chief business officer of Google X. For those who don’t know what Google X is, it’s basically Batman’s lair where they are responsible for ideas such as self-driving cars. With his vast professional success, he certainly seemed like a man to have the metronome tipped to the "I’ve got this"—although it wasn’t. His world was hit by a traumatic event that would leave most crippled by sadness, but for Gawdat was a turning point. He used the sadness and desperation he felt from the loss of his son and harnessed it into solving the esoteric question: How can one individual be happy? He determined that the formula for happiness was: Happiness ≥ The Reality of an Event – Your Expectations.

He talks of taking ownership of your life and of your own happiness, as you are the only one who can change it. Your brain is just a biological function, and the idea that the voice in your head speaking to you is you is a myth. We don’t associate ourselves with any other biological organs other than our brain. Your brains main function is to turn concepts into words, not to determine who you are or your level of happiness. And that's why he calls his brain Becky. Because he is not a reflection of his brain, nor his brain a reflection of him.

As I’m listening to something so simple yet so philosophical, it all clicked for me. Instead of doing things in the hope of swaying my metronome I needed to take control of Becky. I needed to hold Becky accountable. Becky isn’t in control of my happiness. Becky was telling me that I needed get out of my comfort zone in order to be happy. Becky was telling me that I’ll only be happy when I’m out of my comfort zone, that I'll be happy when I finish my Masters, when I move countries, or when I finish my marathon. But that’s not the case. “I am in complete control of my happiness,” and as that thought crossed my mind, I started to enjoy my run. With each step I felt more confidant and self-assured. Sure, running passed the finish line of a marathon will open a floodgate of emotions (mainly relief that I won't have to keep washing my hair everyday), but happiness won’t be one of them.

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Running Happy
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