I talk a lot about properly nourishing our body, going to bed on time, making sure we consume plenty of “clean” water, that we manage stress and exercise daily. One aspect of health and wellness that I, and many of my colleagues, don’t focus enough on is, happiness. Often times a new client will have to work on many aspects of their life, and even though good coaching will normally eliminate the possibility of overwhelming a client by creating new habits one step at a time, scheduling time to have fun and do things that create happiness often gets overlooked. Plus, it is usually assumed people know how to actually replenish their happy-o-metre, I know I have been guilty of this assumption with regards to my clients and even myself.
Throughout the past 15 years, I have worked with all types of clients and have seen all levels of client adherence and every once in a while I would see something that would puzzle me. I have had clients in the past who were much alike, but no matter how similar they were, what worked for one wouldn’t work for the other. For those of you who follow my social media posts, this shouldn’t come as a surprise as you know that I stress how individual each of us are and that our uniqueness should be considered with regards to nutrition, strength training and lifestyle recommendations.
I have seen clients who follow everything I suggest to a tee, walk away with sub par results while another person who adheres to the program only 60% of the time, fully transform their entire lifestyle while dropping loads of body fat and gaining lean muscle. For the longest time I would chalk these clients, who didn’t achieve the best results, up to something I did or didn’t do and even though I would try to learn from them so it wouldn’t happen again, it did happen again, and again and again. Until one day I realized that all of these anomalies had something in common; they weren’t happy people.
These people tended to stress over every little detail in their life, much of which fell way out of their control and when it came to their health and wellness program, no matter how few hiccups occurred, they would not achieve the results a person who follows my program 90% of time should achieve. There is no doubt, these folks had the best intentions but they could not accept that they didn’t adhere to the program in its entirety that week and would therefore beat themselves up over it, filling their mind and environment with negativity and poisonous energy sucking thoughts. These people were unable to accept that from time to time a deviation from the plan will inevitably occur as it is damn near impossible for life not to throw you a curve once in a while. I would hear such things that caused stress and anxiety like “I wasn’t able to have organic tomatoes on my salad,” “I ate mashed potatoes on Saturday night instead of yams,” “I caved and had a 1/4 of that 70% dark chocolate bar,” etc. all of which could have been SO MUCH WORSE, but led to disappointment and frustration anyway.
Maybe these people wanted nothing more than to impress me (haha, well maybe), to be that perfect client or prove to themselves that they could flip a switch, overcome all the years of poor habits, and become a program adhering machine. I don’t really know, but thinking back I could see each of their unhappiness come across in their weekly check-in e-mails (on-line programs) and daily conversations (in person). Many times, the worst conversations came around the holidays, birthdays and other special events. As much as I don’t want people to fall off the wagon during these occasions, I still want people to enjoy themselves, let loose a little, cherish the time spent with family and friends and if that calls for a bottle or two of their favourite alcoholic beverage, or a piece of birthday cake, or a late night, catching up with a friend they have not seen for years, then so be it, please live it up. These moments provide more of a recharge to the brain and body than sticking to what your program suggests you should be doing at such and such time of day. Now, let’s be clear for a second, this is not an excuse to let the shit hit the fan and forgo all self control but rather an opportunity to practice the art of “enjoying life.”
Ask yourself, are you happy? Are you doing what it is you want to do? Are you getting what you want out of life? Do you even know what makes you happy? The latter is a challenging question for some, I know it was for me. When my mother was alive she would always tell her closest girlfriend (and probably my dad too) that she feared I wasn’t happy because I didn’t look or act happy. My mother would often ask why I didn’t look happy, and she did so at times that caught me off guard, especially when I thought I was “happy.” For example, when I made my high school and University sports teams, when I graduated from University and when I was finally living on my own. It would be many years later, and unfortunately a few years after my mom had passed away, that it finally occurred to me why she would always ask if I was happy or not.
For me, I am the type of person that has a hard time being happy at something I have accomplished , no matter how rewarding the achievement was, as I always focused on what was next. This may not sound like a bad trait to have but like I said it finally dawned on me that I don’t actually take any time to enjoy these monumental periods that have occurred in my life and even to a point where I am sure I have taken them for granted. Just as I am not letting you off the hook for using special occasions as an excuse to say “screw it” and eat everything and anything in sight, I will be the first to admit that my diet was very poor from high school to a few years post University, until I started my journey into bodybuilding (this is not to say my bodybuilding diet was healthy either, haha).
Before my time spent on stage in Speedos, I was most likely deficient in the serotonin producing nutrients, responsible for regulating mood, such as the essential amino acid tryptophan, B vitamins, vitamin C and zinc (this one especially) as well as omega 3 essential fatty acids that are necessary for optimal neurotransmitter reception. These nutrients were not abundantly found in Kraft Dinner, white pasta and Black Russians.
Below is a list of things (in no particular order) that have worked for me and my happiness as well as for many of my clients around the world. If I have missed anything please add your suggestion in the comments section as it may be useful to others.
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THE SWEET 16
1. The Artist’s Way – 30 minutes of writing, great for mind dumping as a way to let go of the negativity that fills our brains.
2. Write down what you are grateful for– If 30 minutes of writing from #1 scares you, then try this 5 minute tool
3. Be the change you want to see in the world.
4. Schedule time each week for your self to do something out of the norm– Go bowling.
5. Consume brain optimization nutrients– B vitamins from leafy greens, whole grains, legumes, lentils and beans. Vitamin C from bell peppers, broccoli and citrus fruit and zinc from pumpkin seeds, oysters and raw dark chocolate (70% or higher). Omega 3 essential fatty acids are also necessary and can be found in cold water fish like salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines as well as flax seed, walnuts, hemp seed and chia seeds.
6. Help other’s– We get so caught up in our lives and what is going on in our own environment we quickly forget there are other people much worse off in this world. However, that being said there are also many others who aren’t as well off by standards of living but are much happier than most.
7. “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh Smiling has been shown to release serotonin (1-5, *I don’t have access to these studies so I don’t know how valid they are)
8. Meditate – Has been shown to increase happiness, decrease depression, anxiety and stress. (6)
9. SLEEP– We can’t be happy when your body isn’t rested.
10. Get outside, fresh air and sunshine– Both will help manage Seasonal Affective Disorder.
11. Surround yourself with happy people
12. Adopt a pet (only if you can take care of him/her for the long haul)
13. Respond, don’t react– We all need to take a step back and think about how to respond to a situation instead of just letting our emotions get the best of us and react without acquiring all the facts.
14. Find meaning in your life
15. Exercise– I can’t believe it took me until #15 to mention exercise. My strength and conditioning brain must be on a mini vacation. Exercise boosts endorphins not to mention all the benefits with decreasing body fat and building lean muscle.
16. Set goals– I know I tend to feel better when I have a goal I am working towards.
1. Primitive emotional contagion. Hatfield, Elaine; Cacioppo, John T.; Rapson, Richard L. Clark, Margaret S. (Ed), (1992). Emotion and social behavior. Review of personality and social psychology, Vol. 14., (pp. 151-177). Thousand Oaks, CA, US: Sage Publications, Inc, xi, 311 pp.
2. Abel E. and Kruger M. (2010) Smile Intensity in Photographs Predicts Longevity, Psychological Science, 21, 542–544.
3. Seaward BL. Managing Stress: Principles and Strategies for Health and Well-Being. Sudbury, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett; 2009:258
4. R.D. (2000). Neural correlates of conscious emotional experience. In R.D. Lane & L. Nadel (Eds.), Cognitive neuroscience of emotion (pp. 345–370). New York: Oxford University Press.
5. Karren KJ, et al. Mind/Body Health: The Effect of Attitudes, Emotions and Relationships. New York, N.Y.: Benjamin Cummings, 2010:461.
6. Davidson RJ, et al. Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosom Med 2003 Jul-Aug;65(4):564-70
Nathane Jackson is a veteran health and wellness authority, specializing in holistic living. He has a decade worth of knowledge as a personal trainer and strength & conditioning coach and is dedicated to improving all aspects of health starting at the cellular level by combining holistic nutrition, functional exercise, and restorative practices to help his clients strengthen their mind, body and spirit.