A secret to happiness: Life is a marathon, not a sprint
Updated: Apr 2
Most of us want to be happy, but true happiness remains elusive. What’s the big secret? I don’t think there’s a single secret. There are many things that can add to our happiness. I don’t mean making millions of dollars, having the latest model cell phone or having the cutest prom date.
Those can bring temporary happiness, but they miss on true happiness. Sometimes they actually can make us unhappy.
Have you heard the title quote before?
Live is a marathon, not a sprint. ~Unknown
I think it holds some of the best ideas about true happiness. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Let’s break down what that means. I’ll start with a bit about what goes into running a marathon. Then I’ll give several examples of how we’re sprinting along and how this can lead to burnout. I’ll end with tips on how to turn this into a marathon. Pace yourself. You’ve got a long life ahead!
Running a marathon isn’t easy.
People must train for long periods of time. It takes dedication and consistency.
There is a big time commitment – and it’s not all running. It’s coming up with the time to run regularly. And eating enough healthy calories to sustain your body.
Not to mention preparing yourself mentally.
Only after months of hard training can you actually run the marathon.
Sometimes injuries delay things unexpectedly.
Excitement builds as the date approaches.
During the marathon, you might feel on top of things as you run past others, but then there will be some who pass you. There are moments a runner may feel like there’s no way to go on because you have nothing left to give. It takes grit and resilience to keep going.
After finishing, you might even spend time wondering what you could have done differently to shave off time.
And you need to take time to rest so your body can recover.
Then maybe you start the cycle all over again.
Society of here and now.
We’ve become a society that has access to everything right here. Right now. While it seems like this is a good thing on the surface, this can lead to impatience, anxiety, and entitlement. All of these lead directly to unhappiness.
It’s not uncommon to hear how busy people are. They complain, yet they often seem to be bragging of all the things they have to do. Being busy isn’t something to brag about.
It is seen as a negative thing when we take time to relax. We’ve become a society that doesn’t value balance, despite everyone talking about finding work-life balance.
Being constantly busy and expecting everything when we want it has become our general expectation. We don’t learn resilience when we’re able to get what we want when we want it. Resilience is when someone is able to pick up and move on when something doesn’t go their way. If we never learn resilience, we’ll be unhappy in life.
The good news is you can learn resilience at any age!
Instant access to friends and family
When I was growing up, we had no cell phones. (I’m a dinosaur, I know.)
I didn’t even get voice mail or caller ID until my mid to late teens. If a friend called and no one was home, we didn’t even know they called. Sometimes that caused frustrations because we had to keep calling to find someone to answer if it was important, but it also was a lot more freeing in many ways than being constantly attached to a cell phone.
We looked forward to talking at school and activities. There were fewer distractions when we were with people because it was rare that someone had to take a call. It took planning to arrange to meet friends, but that itself helped us learn an important skill!
In today’s world if want to tell a friend something, I text them. This is impersonal and doesn’t build communication.
Sadly, we often impatiently wait for an answer. Some people even start to worry when the text remains unanswered for a few minutes.
~ Did I do something to make them upset?
~ Are they having fun with someone else and ignoring me?
The facts can be very different.
Maybe the text is delayed. Their ringer could be off. If they’re driving they shouldn’t answer.
Maybe they’re practicing self regulation and it’s not a time they are using their phone – they’re doing something else. The phone can be in another room – or taken away by parents.
So many things can interfere with a quick response, yet we often get upset when the reply isn’t instantaneous.
Isolation of online
There are so many things to do online. Some of these are required for school or work.
Sometimes we simply want to relax and check up on things or watch a video.
For many people, following social media sites is a way to catch up on what’s going on. This can be fine in the short term, but the more time you spend on these sites, the more likely you’ll be depressed. It shouldn’t consume hours of your day.
That keeps you away from actually living life and self care.
Set limits for yourself. You will find that you have more time to do other things that bring more joy. Less time online also means less time to get upset with what others post.
If we are in need of things, we can order online and Amazon will deliver it tomorrow. There are even food delivery services that will deliver from any restaurant in the area, so we can order online and never leave the house.
While this seems convenient, there’s something to the action of going shopping or out to eat. Planning a day and time to be able to shop (or eat out). Actually looking through the store and possibly running into someone you know or having a simple conversation with the store clerk are becoming lost skills. We are isolating ourselves by taking the convenient road.
Fear of the great outdoors
In years past kids would play outside until it got dark outside. They’d walk to school and back unsupervised. A great memory is shared in The Summer of No TV.
Today parents are afraid that kids will get hurt or abducted, so they won’t allow them to roam alone.
Parents of today tend to schedule kids in sports, music lessons, dance classes, scouts, and more.
They structure a child’s time so much that kids of today don’t learn how to fill their time with fun things to do. They don’t learn to work through problems and differences with friends on their own. The fear of injury and abduction overshadows the real dangers of kids not learning how to become independent and resilient.
This over-structured lifestyle leads to teens who don’t know how to find things to do other than screen time or scheduled activities. Kids don’t learn to use boredom as a door to discovery. They don’t discover their own interests and talents. It can lead to feelings of inadequacy and sadness.
Our society is growing adults who have no idea how to organize their own time and succeed in life.
If you’re a teen reading this, talk to your parents about how you can gain independence and be accountable for yourself. If you’re a parent, think about ways you can let go and let your kids figure things out themselves.
Want to know the secret to happiness?
Make it a marathon
You can’t get away from many of the busy activities in life.
The key is to use balance. Balance can lead to the secret to happiness.
Spend time with others
Find ways to be with friends and family on a regular basis in real life.
Go beyond your regular practice and game time and schedule unstructured time. When we are in class or at practice, we have rules to follow and things to do. Unstructured time is when we’re able to be creative with our time, find new interests, and learn more about one another.
Make time for yourself.
Yes, I know I just said to be with other people, and that is still important. When we’re alone too much, we start to feel self doubts. Anxiety grows. Depression can set in.
What I mean by making time for yourself is that we all need to practice self cares.
Get sufficient sleep.
This one also goes along with self care.
Many teens don’t get the sleep they need.
Sleep is more important than many realize. Without it we don’t focus well, we’re more likely to be injured, we get irritable, illness is more common, and more. If you have trouble sleeping, check out these tips.
Here’s another self care necessity. I know you hear this all the time, but it’s important.
It’s easy to spend most of the day sitting. Failure to get daily exercise can lead to lifelong problems.
Find something you enjoy doing, such as a sport or dance. If it’s nice outside, invite a friend to take a walk or bike ride. Walk a dog. Play frisbee. Have fun! This directly and indirectly can increase your lifetime happiness.
Expand your horizon
We tend to get stuck in our daily routines, which can get boring and doesn’t allow us to find our true passions.
Explore other cultures.
Learn about other people and cultures through books, movies, music and cultural events. Visit a museum or historical site.
Talk to people outside your social circle. I know that can be intimidating for some and difficult if you’re in a small town, but it can be very rewarding to learn about other people and their culture.
If you don’t have time to read, or just don’t like reading, try an audiobook. You can listen while exercising or doing chores around the house.
Take up a new hobby
When we’re young our parents sign us up for things to do or buy our toys and games.
As we get older, we need to explore other interests to help find ourselves. There are many things out there that you might not even know about. Think about what characters in books and movies have done. Does any of that interest you?
You can try new things at school by taking an elective that you know nothing about.
Take an art class or learn to rock climb. If you think you can’t dance, sign up for lessons. If competitive sports aren’t your thing, check out a non-competitive league or an individual sport.
Join a new club at school.
Give to others
Community service is becoming required for many teens, but it should be something we do with a giving heart.
Doing things for others is one of the biggest secrets to happiness.
Don’t simply sign up for a service project because you need the hours. Find something that suits your personality and interests.
If you love the great outdoors, find ways to help others outside.
Love animals? Check out the animal shelters.
If you’re good in a subject and see a friend struggling, offer to tutor. (Be careful how you propose this… you don’t want to offend them or come off as a know – it- all.)
Is your neighbor aging? Offer to help with yard work or house work without charging. Leave a pot of flowers on their porch just because.
Do you love kids? See if you can volunteer at a summer camp or respite care.
If you’re interested in healthcare, look at hospitals and other healthcare settings to see if they offer volunteer opportunities.
We often associate spirituality with religion, but they are not the same. We can learn about our own spirituality through meditation and prayer. Spirituality involves a deeper understanding of yourself and the world around you. It is about loving yourself, others, and our planet.
Spirituality also involves mindfulness, philosophy, and more. Learn from books and other people to develop a deeper understanding of love and life. Attend a conference or retreat. Continue this learning life long.
Certainly religion is important to many people, and exploring your faith can be very rewarding towards overall happiness. Teen years are a common time to question, so it’s a great time to reflect, read, and learn. Learn about your own religion and others. This isn’t to change your belief, but it often reinforces it. If you do find that another religion is appealing to you, find people from that faith to talk to so you can continue learning.
Enrich your spiritual life by taking time each day for reflection. Keep a gratitude journal. Help others.
Check out your senses
Sights, sounds, touch, and taste are all important senses, but smell is especially helpful in our emotions and memory.
Certain smells can bring me back to my grandmother’s kitchen. Smells have a way of solidifying memories and then bringing them back. Some, like my grandmother’s kitchen are very positive, happy memories. Others can bring negative emotion. We can use this powerful sense to help us bring happy feelings or a sense of calm and peace.
Certain smells tend to lead to happiness. Citrus smells, such as lemon and orange, and peppermint can serve to pick up your mood. This doesn’t make you find happiness for life, but it can be a pick me up when needed.
Learn to be aware of all 5 senses. This is part of mindfulness and helps us in our awareness. There are many ways to learn mindfulness. Take some time and try some out.