Back during Oakland Half/Marathon weekend, Jana gave me the actual book to borrow, and even though a lot of it was familiar from reading her blog, I really enjoyed it - she goes into more detail than on her blog, and includes lots of interesting stories and anecdotes from her daily life.
One day I was reading the chapter on her May resolution, which was to "be serious about play." In a nutshell, she worked on making time for leisure activities & cultivating "frivolous" interests. There's one section where she breaks "fun" into three types: challenging fun, accommodating fun, and relaxing fun.
"Challenging fun is the most rewarding but also the most demanding. It can create frustration, anxiety, and hard work. It often requires errands. It takes time and energy. In the end, however, it pays off with the most satisfying fun.
Usually less challenging, but still requiring a fair bit of effort, is accommodating fun. A family trip to the playground is accommodating fun. Yes, it's fun, but I'm really there because my children want to go...It strengthens relationships, it builds memories, it's fun--but it takes a lot of effort, organization, coordination with other people, and, well, accommodation.
Relaxing fun is easy. I don't have to hone skills or take action. There's very little coordination with other people or preparation involved. Watching TV--the largest consumer of the world's time after sleeping and work--is relaxing fun." (p. 134-135)
I say all that to preface a great confession.
Friends, I do not enjoy the act of running.
I don't. It's not fun. I do not find it enjoyable. Most of the time, it's a chore I pretty much have to force myself to do. Nine times out of ten, I would SOOOO prefer to sit on the couch and read or watch X-Files reruns or--gasp--get some extra work done.
And really, can you blame me? It's physically uncomfortable. You have to breathe hard. You sweat. Your various little aches & pains get going. It's hot sometimes. Or cold. Or it's raining. Or you have afternoon brain coma. This is why I find it funny when someone is like, "Oh, I wish I was a runner, but I just REALLY HATE running." Well no shit, Sherlock! I want to tell them. Of course you hate running. Most of us do. It kind of sucks.
Of course, I understand that some people really do enjoy the actual act of running. I think I'm friends with a lot of them! And I'm super jealous of those folks. I mean, yes, very occasionally I do enjoy it, if I'm feeling really good and the weather's nice, or if I haven't been able to run for a few days, for example. But most of the time, I can only dream of mustering the same enthusiasm for my runs as I do for a lazy afternoon Dr. Who.
You can probably see why, for a long time, I struggled to explain to people why I run, what it is I enjoy about the sport of running, given the fact that I find the physical act of running so deeply unpleasant. And I think Gretchen kind of nailed it. Running is "challenging fun" -- it takes energy, and planning, and sacrifice, but what I get out of it is the great pleasure of accomplishment and progress. I LOVE to race, to see concrete proof of my improvement. I love being able to say, Here's a thing I did that I worked really hard for, and even if I never do it again, I'll always have that accomplishment. In some twisted way, I kind of think that the fact that I do work so hard and endure so much unpleasantness makes the accomplishments, PRs or running a new distance or what have you, all the more satisfying.
There are other things I enjoy about the sport of running as well:
- I like the idea of being a runner because I associate runners with lots of qualities I value: strength, toughness, stamina, health, discipline, etc. I'm very proud of being a runner and I like the idea that knowing I'm a runner makes people associate those qualities with me (at least in my mind).
- I like what I've learned & continue to learn from running (patience, staying calm under pressure, mental toughness, appreciation for how amazing your body is in all its imperfections, etc.).
- I like way I feel physically after a run (looser muscles, the feeling of having worked hard, lower stress levels).
- I like the way I feel mentally after a run (refreshed, accomplished, hard-working & disciplined).
- I like the way I feel long-term because of the fact that I run regularly (relaxed, healthy, fit, strong).
- I even find little pockets of pleasure sometimes during a run (the smell of freshly cut grass or the air after a rainstorm, a cool breeze, nice weather, interesting people watching).
But let us not for a second confuse any of this with enjoyment of the physical act of running. Absolute best case, I don't mind it & see the temporary discomfort as a small price to pay for all the benefits above.
Which brings me to a couple of other of Rubin's points about happiness.
First, happiness doesn't always make you feel happy. Running is absolutely critical to my happiness, both short- and long-term, but that doesn't mean I'm necessarily happy while I'm doing it.
And second, in order to be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right. Running might not always make me feel "good" in the moment, but it does make me feel "right" in the larger scheme of things. I might not like actually doing it, but I like that I do it, and during times when I haven't been able to run, I just haven't felt "right."
So I'm sort of wondering -- is it just me? Does everyone else out there actually enjoy the physical act of running? Or do you just put up with it because the other types of happiness / good feelings you get out of the sport of running or the fact that you run?