“There are no gains without pains.” -Adlai Stevenson
One of the reasons that people give up on their goals and dreams is because it is hard work to stay with them and the rewards of our commitments are often not immediate. Whether your goal is improving your physical condition, increasing your mental capacity or re-orienting the direction of your life, the work to get there is challenging and often stressful. Once the initial afterglow of the early days of the change wear off, the actual doing and following through on our best intentions doesn’t always make us happy. That is why it is so easy to slip back into old behaviors because they are more rewarding in the short term.
The good news from a recent study reported in the Journal of Happiness Studies- (who knew and how do you subscribe???) is that researchers found that people who engage in activities that increase competency or fitness often experience decreased happiness, lower levels of enjoyment and higher levels of stress while doing so. Yet in spite of the negative effects they reported on an hourly basis during the activities, the participants reported that they felt happier and more satisfied with the same activities when they reflected on them at the end of the day.
The study also showed that it wasn’t the reaching of the goals that made the most difference, just engaging in activities that make you feel more competent, connected to others and more self sufficient makes us happy, even if the actual practice in achieving them stresses us in the moment.
I am always happy when research supports my own experience and beliefs. This year of positivity practice has been stressful in the moments that I was striving for a breakthrough in my thinking. Sometimes it was just the effort in keeping my promises to myself when I wanted to do something else, or nothing at all. But every single day that I followed through on the behaviors that I knew were making a difference, I felt happier and more confident in my ability to direct my life.
This quest has changed everything about how I think and live. I see myself moving closer to my biggest dreams everyday, without the fears and the stop/start that characterized my progress in the past. I still deal with my own negativity, but it isn’t the leader anymore and the work of getting here, feels like what it takes to make life satisfying. This stress of getting to be the best I can be in the days I have, I embrace. Emerson wrote, “We acquire the strength we have overcome.” So true.