Running is a psychological and emotional journey.
From the first step to race day, and every run in-between, running makes you a happier and healthier person.
If you’re anything like me, every run delivers a different kind of euphoria.
There’s the kind that lifts you out of a hole. Or hit with a runner’s high that lasts all day. Others that clear mental block. Or leave you inspired. Boost your self-confidence. Even feeling lucky to be alive.
Or course, running challenges you too. But what you sacrifice in comfort, you get back in a deeper form of happiness.
In this article we’ll explore running as medicine and a way to enrich your everyday life. Ultimately, helping you to understand why running makes you happy.
12 Reasons Why Running Makes You Happy
#1: Running is Cathartic – Let It All Out
Speed isn’t everything.
Running can also be a form of movement meditation, focusing on the rhythm of your stride and your breathing, heartbeat, and other inner sensations, rather than your split times.
By forming a deeper connection with your body and the present moment, you nurture mindfulness.
Any heaviness you are carrying drifts away. Life’s dramas become less important.
Even on the days when I have to force myself to run, I immediately feel better the moment I set off.
For me, running helps me to wash away the workday. It reduces stress and anxiety by putting things into perspective and stopping any negative thoughts from sticking around longer than they ought to.
On that front, running has been shown to have positive effects on the brain, strengthening the neurons and connections in key areas responsible for cognitive function and emotional regulation. A study conducted at the University of Montreal found that running can stimulate the production of new neurons in the brain, a process known as neurogenesis. This improvement in neural connections can lead to better mood control and overall emotional well-being, overriding strong internal predispositions or external lures.
#2: Sense of Achievement – Running Progress
Almost everybody has latent running talent.
Commit to a regular running schedule and you’ll take tremendous satisfaction in discovering it.
I know so many multi-marathon runners who started off via the ‘Couch to 5k’ app. They pushed through being out of breath and turning beetroot red to continously step out of their comfort zone and take their running to the next level.
You’ll learn a lot about yourself running:
- Going faster and further than you thought possible
- The ecstasy of crossing the race finish line (read: Peak End Rule)
- The discipline of deliberate practice and strategy
- How to be accountable on the good days and bad
- Tracking your progress and becoming the best version of yourself
- Overcoming injuries and adversity
- Mastering new terrains and perfecting your running form
Related reading: How Much is Hiring a Running Coach?
#3: Building Friendships – The Social Side of Running
There’s something really special about the running community.
Joining a running group or rocking up to your local parkrun can be a great way to make running more fun and social. There are many benefits to running with others, including added motivation, accountability, and the opportunity to meet like-minded souls.
As I’ve got older and more into my running, I’ve realised I also have more in common with other runners than some of my oldest friends. God only knows how many friends I’ve bored to death with my running stories!
Plus, it’s good to bounce questions off of others in the running club – be it about a recurring running problem, running form, or to assess your fitness levels.
There are many different types of running groups and communities out there, so it’s important to find one that fits your needs and preferences. Some groups are focused on training for races, while others are more social and casual. Some groups meet early in the morning, while others meet in the evenings or on weekends. With the mental health benefits of running now widely accepted, most towns and cities will also have running groups who run together to combat loneliness or open up.
Find a running group near you on the RunTogether website.
If you’re still unsure about the benefits of a running partner, try the Strava app. The self-proclaimed “social network for athletes” is wonderfully gamified, with lots of in-built kudos from fellow runners. I personally find the process of cheering people on and being cheered yourself to be a great motivator.
Related reading: Why I Love Parkrun – the UK’s Favourite Running Ritual
#4: Pure Escapism – Running Adventures
I love the sense of freedom a running gifts you.
It’s a feeling akin to clocking off at 5pm on a Friday. Sleeping under the stars. Riding a bike. Swimming in open water. Or the joy of a breakfast buffet.
There’s something so childlike and carefree about setting off on a run without a fixed route in mind.
You get to choose your adventure – through fields, barefoot on the beach, park hopping, exploring new trails, or urban jogging in the city centre. The possibilities are endless.
On a personal note, one of the main benefits of jogging everyday has been falling back in love with my adopted home town after it had become a bit stale after 10 years of living here.
💌 Learn Runner Psychology… in 5 Mins a Month
#5: Finishing on a Runner’s High
There’s good scientific reason why running is so addictive.
When you run, your body releases endorphins and other neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin.
These feel-good chemicals flood your brain and body, creating the famous runner’s high that leaves you feeling energized and happy.
Endorphins act as natural painkillers, reducing discomfort and allowing you to push through physical barriers over many miles. Dopamine, on the other hand, plays an important role in the mesolimbic dopaminergic pathway, which is associated with the brain’s reward system, giving us a feeling of intense pleasure when activated.
As you run more frequently, your brain associates this physiological response with the activity, increasing your desire for more physical activity.
#6: A Constant Source of Inspiration
I work in a creative job, so ideas are my currency.
I now know that fresh thinking is far more likely to come to me on a run than sat at my desk.
If I’m stuck on a problem and feeling uninspired, a run is such simple cure.
It’s only when we relieve ourselves from high-pressure situations and allow our minds to wander, such as running at lunch time, can we do our best thinking.
Here’s why: our subconscious mind has been searching for that killer idea or solution all along, but it’s only able to enter your conscious mind when there’s sufficient space. A relaxed state of mind and permission to be distracted allows your brain to find connections it would otherwise struggle to.
Another trick I swear by is to soak up inspiration by running in the city centre where there’s a lot of visual stimulation or to exercise to my favourite podcasts. Sometimes you just need to borrow other’s good ideas.
#7: Being At One With Nature
Unplug from modern life by treating yourself to a ‘forest bath’.
This mindful time spent under the canopy of trees helps you to switch off, connect with your surroundings and focus on what really matters.
I love trail running because it’s a visceral experience. Mud. Rain. Mist. Scents. Flowers. Temperature. Colour. Sunlight. Shadows. Wildlife. Running in nature awakens the senses and makes you feel more alive.
#8: Get Fit By Doing Good
There’s a growing community of people who are getting fit while doing good.
I joined the movement about 5 years ago and try to “plog” – combining jogging with collecting litter – wherever I go.
It’s a soul-nourishing activity that literally anybody can do to unlock new levels of happiness on their runs.
Running outdoors has given me so much, it’s my way of giving something back. Truth be told, it makes me feel good too, knowing I’m doing my bit to preserve the environment for future generations.
#9: Running As an Act of Self Love
It’s all too easy to be a martyr to our work or responsibilities.
Finding time for myself repays itself many times over. Not just in the way I feel but how present I am with others.
The mental health benefits of running can be felt in as little as a 30 minute jog around the block and last long after you’ve finished.
#10: Adopt a Stoic Outlook
The central tenant of Stoicism is that body and mind are one. A healthy mind equals a healthy body—it’s strong, resilient, uncluttered, agile, and functional. A masterclass in managing emotion.
A useful toolkit for life and sport, Stoic athletes attach themselves to their intent and actions, rather than the outcome, which is ultimately out of their control. In the example of running a race, they’ll always be somebody faster than you, but running to your full potential is what matters most.
It’s also about preparing in the present for any eventuality in the future. Focusing only what you can control, ignoring what you can’t. The Greek Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, said it best in his famous aphorism, “We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.”
How does this make you a happier? Running has definitely taught me how to maintain my cool under pressure. Not to overthink or overreact to situations and keep applying effort to my own game instead.
It’ll come as no surprise that running has become an integral part of my identity, bringing about positive changes in just about every area of my life. I’m definitely a happier person when maintaining a regular exercise schedule and embracing everything that weather throws at running through the different seasons in the UK.
Let me know why running makes you happy in the comments below…