During the 10 years I have been coaching and 18 years riding, I have learnt many things. One of the most important things I have learnt is that a happy cyclist is a performing cyclist. So, no matter how well a rider is training, or what equipment they use, their happiness can have a massive affect on their performance. Because of this, I thought it was time to learn more about happiness by enrolling in the Science of Happiness course at The University of Auckland, presented by Dr Mary Grogan (www.changeit.co.nz). My key questions were how happiness affects our performance, how cycling can affect our happiness, and affects us as people.
Happiness research is young in psychology. The psychology of illness was predominant and it wasn't until psychologists like Martin Seligman started asking questions like; "if we are wanting people to not be ill, but be happy, then what comprises a happy person?" Psychologists found that 50% of our happiness is genetic, 10% is circumstance (eg. Material wealth, house you live in etc), and 40% intentional activity (behavioural). Some people just tend to have a happy disposition, so of their 50% genetics they have a good level. These people are optimistic, see the glass half full, and will be more resilient to set backs such as those encountered when training for a tough sport like cycling! Some people see the glass half empty, or are more pessimistic, which can make cycling a very unpleasant experience because it presents many physical and emotional challenges.
Ten per cent is ticked off by your circumstance, and 40% is intentional activity which is where cycling comes in. Buying those flash carbon wheels may help 10% of your happiness, but most importantly setting precise goals, with something to look forward to will have the biggest effect on your happiness. Psychologists also point out "having rituals requires defining very precise behaviours and performing them at very specific time – motivated by deeply held values (Loehr & Schwartz, 2004). And this is where having a regular, defined, structured training programme, and goal that you value can greatly improve your happiness, which in turn improves your cycling, and your health.
Another key element to happiness is maintaining social interactions. Cycling is a fabulous social sport where you can meet new people through clubs, at events and in training bunches. Having regular flow experiences is also a key ingredient to happiness. Flow is described as a state of intense absorption where there is a balance between skill and challenge. Every time you ride your bike, you have an opportunity to experience flow.
Savouring lives joys is another key ingredient to improving happiness – celebrate your achievements including every kilometre you ride, and don't be a negative kiwi! Just getting off your butt, and doing it is more than most New Zealander's. The simple act of that, enjoying the view, the sunsets, the sunrises, the sheep, the cows, and the social interactions – all the small things in life that we exposed to every time we turn the pedals.
Oddly enough acting happy has been shown to improve happiness. It was previously believed that our facial expressions were the result of our internal feelings, but Paul Ekman's research showed it also works the other way. If we mimic a smile, even if we feel unhappy, this mimicking will in turn improve our mood.
Physical exercise is a potent stimulant for happiness. Research shows that exercise is as effective as anti-depressant medication in combating depression. By 2020 the World Health Organisation predicts depression will be the second highest cause of death or disability in the world. With statistics like that cycling and other forms of physical exercise are winners, no matter what your goals, your level or your progression. So, celebrate every kilometre you ride - and be sure to have a smile on your face.
Amy Taylor is an Auckland based Exercise Physiologist and Cycling Coach. The founder of Kinetic Edge Cycling Coaching, she is Cycling New Zealand's Personal Coach and Overall Coach of the Year and author of the "Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge Guide." Amy coaches beginner through to elite cyclists, including several World Champions, and can be contacted on 09 368 7819 or firstname.lastname@example.org