“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure, nor this thing or that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing” – William Butler Yeats
With each year that passes, I find that I have become increasingly passionate about growing. And over the past few months, I have become quite serious and focused a considerable amount of time devoted to this endeavor – reading some of the best and most influential research and writing about habits, growth, and happiness. Inspired by one of my role models and absolute favorite writers, Gretchen Rubin, I have started my very own “Happiness Project” which seeks to improve my life, and consequently the lives of those around me, by reflecting and asking difficult, probing questions to help to understand myself better, setting specific resolutions each month in a particular area of my life and building consistent habits which support my aims in each of those aspects. Throughout her work in The Happiness Project, Rubin outlines her “Splendid Truths of Happiness,” the first being: “to be happy, you need to consider feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.”
One of the key pillars of my own life is exercise, or more specifically – barre. When I read about the science that demonstrates a need for people to feel a sense of learning, betterment, advancement, or progress in order to feel happy, I was immediately drawn to thoughts of why I have become so.incredibly.obsessed with barre. I have now taken or taught at least one barre class nearly every day for the past 3.5 years and one of the best things about it is – it never gets easier, but I continue to get better. My technique, strength, flexibility, and balance have improved dramatically over time, but I still find a challenge in each class. I know that I can always pick those heels up one inch higher, drop my seat one inch lower, or push into that shake a little harder. There is something so deeply satisfying about gritting your teeth and “just knowing that you can’t possibly make it one more second,” but then… somehow you do. Those shaking muscles really are changing muscles and the change that results is incredibly motivating to continue.
This applies not only to barre, of course, but to life. The biggest things that keep us from reaching our goals and dreams are our limits and the resistance that we meet when push nearer to them. Sadly, many people are held back by fear, doubt, mental or physical blocks which can lead them to give up as they approach discomfort, uncertainty, an obstacle or a setback. By pushing yourself beyond the limits of what you think you can do, challenging yourself to take the progressively harder option or work consistently to hold out that one minute/rep/mile/project longer, you will experience growth and that elusive “high” that comes with a sense of accomplishment. As Pure Barre likes to remind its students, your mind truly will give up before your body does – it is when we dig deeper and hold out through that last 10 seconds that we experience breakthroughs not only physically, but mentally. My personal experience would suggest that instead of giving up when the proverbial “going gets tough,” to resolve to push yourself further than you have before, hold out just a little longer, and sprint towards the finish line. Your sense of self-efficacy and accomplishment will soar and provide the extra reinforcement for the next time around. You really can surprise yourself daily with what you are capable of.