The 8 emotions of Exercise Part 8: Joy
If you’ve been following this emotions series, well done on coming to the end of it. Hopefully, you’ve been understanding your emotions a little better with regards to not just your exercise routine, but also other areas of your life.
If this is your first time reading about this series I’d recommend you check out the other parts where I cover how Anger, Sorrow, Fear, Disgust, Trust, Anticipation, and Surprise affect your exercise journey.
While joy is a pleasant emotion, like many of the others discussed, it is complicated. We’ll explore different types of joy and how they relate to exercise. We’ll also explore some pitfalls you can avoid when it comes to this emotion.
Enjoying Exercise in the Present Moment
Most people don’t associate joy with exercise at all. You don’t have to go far to find someone who views exercise more as a punishment than something that brings joy. “How can difficulty and pain be fun?”, they might say.
Pain can be pleasant
The truth about pain is that it can be enjoyable if experienced in the right quantity. For example, you might enjoy spicy food because of the subtle burn you feel when eating it. Food that’s too spicy may be unbearable though because it’s more painful than what you’re used to.
The same goes for difficulty. I love video games, but I get so frustrated if a game is too difficult. I can get bored with a game that’s too easy though.
Video games with just the right difficulty level and curries with just the right amount of burn can provide so much pleasure. The same can be said for exercise. You just need to find an exercise modality and intensity level that suits you. For tips on how to do that, check out
What the Science Says
According to the famed psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a state of ecstasy, known as the Flow State can be achieved while being highly focused on the present moment while performing a task, provided that the task is highly challenging (but not too challenging), and the person performing the task views him/herself as competent enough to meet the challenge. In other words, you’ll likely have a recipe for an amazingly joy-filled training experience if
· Your workout is tough enough to stretch you,
· You feel you’re able to complete the workout,
· You’re fully focused on the present moment while training.
The Flow State can be very difficult for even the most elite athletes to reach regularly though, and for many, it can be tough to enjoy exercise despite being fit and knowing all the exercise psychology literature. If this is you, there still is a way for you to experience joy from your workout.
I first heard about this type of joy on episode 402 of the Jordan Harbinger Podcast. The guest on this episode, Cheryl Strayed explains the joy she felt having accomplished the grueling and dangerous Pacific Crest Trail in 1995. Although the 4270 km hike was most challenging and unpleasant, she explains her experience as retrospective fun because of the joy she felt having accomplished the feat.
This could be a great metaphor for regular exercise. While a trip to the gym is nowhere near as challenging or dangerous as the Pacific Crest Trail, for many, it's not a pleasant experience to go through the pain of a tough leg workout or a punishing spinning class. It feels good afterward though, right?
Strong Body, Strong Spirit
Doing difficult things sets us up to do more difficult things. Discipline can be defined as being able to persevere despite the pain and/or boredom. Some of the most successful people you know are as successful as they are in part because they’re good at doing the tough work regardless of how painful and boring it gets. What better place is there to practice pushing through boredom and pain than the gym?
Winning is Fun and You’re a Winner
Next time you complete a tough exercise set or class, remember to congratulate yourself and feel proud of what you’ve done. You deserve to feel like a winner when completing any exercise goal. Now take that joy and confidence, and know that with enough discipline, you can feel that joy again when accomplishing goals in the office, on the sports field, or in the classroom.
Don’t Force it
Remember that joy, like all other emotions, should not be forced. Embrace the feeling of joy when you feel it. Forcing any emotion can be unhealthy for you and the people around you psychologically. It's dishonest in a way.
Like I mentioned in 4 Ways to Fall in Love with Exercise, “Don’t expect exercise to make you happy but expect it to make you feel fulfilled instead. Remember that a life well-lived is not easy or always fun, but one in which we are faced with daily pain, but are well trained and equipped to overcome it regularly, and go from strength to strength in the process. If you can do this, your fitness journey will be one of genuine reward and deep fulfillment. Here’s to the start of your love story.”