Last spring I signed up to take an online course called The Science of Happiness. The course started in September and ran through November—timely for a native Californian with a propensity towards Seasonal Affective Disorder heading into a New England winter. Not surprisingly the course comes out of U.C. Berkeley, where contemplating the neurobiological and evolutionary roots of happiness over steaming cups of chai is, like, totally legit.
What really hooked me on taking the course was a Ted Talk by Sean Achor on the concept that happiness inspires productivity and success, vs. our more typical perspective that views success as a gateway to happiness. I bossed my kids into watching it (at about 7 minutes it gets rolling on some great messages to kids) and vowed to give this happiness thing a closer look.
I soon discovered that there’s a robust body of scientific study around the topic. The research helps explain how your brain and body work better when you are happy, as well as the benefits of being kind, compassionate, forgiving, mindful, generous, socially connected and, most importantly, grateful.
Gratitude is a biggie, a practice that is the express route to all the bennies that go along with happiness. In one study people who kept a weekly gratitude journal (it turns out daily is overkill and can backfire) of the things, people and occurrences that made their life better, were 25 percent happier than their non-journaling peers. Kids who were taught to cultivate gratitude at school were happier and better adjusted in the near term and years down the road. Grateful couples are happier. Grateful bosses are more popular. Grateful moms are, I am sure, way nicer…even before their first cup of coffee.
Being grateful isn’t just about thinking, “Gee, I’m a lucky dog,” but about acknowledging that you have benefited from gifts outside your control and deliberately reciprocating in some way. Ahem, your Mom was right about the thank-you notes.
Here is where it comes around to my point. (It always comes around, but sometimes there’s a huge turning radius.) This gratitude epiphany coincided not only with the lead up to Thanksgiving, but also with a gentle, loving reminder that, “Honey, isn’t it time to crank up the Racer eX blog?”
To kick off the season, I’m giving a little something back by acknowledging a few gifts for which I am truly grateful. I encourage you to do the same, then let the oxytocin surge through your veins until you’re downright high on happiness. Note from the happy scientists: when counting your blessings or expressing gratitude, its best to be genuine and specific.
Ok, here’s what’s topping my list:
Winter: Sadly, it’s not a given. Every time the mercury drops and stays down long enough to let the white stuff accumulate it’s a gift. Further, I am grateful that I have avoided reading the UN Report in Climate Change. Hint: it’s not happy.
Snow: In the words of my Dad, “All Snow is Good Snow.” From featherlight crystals to fat, wet, all-about-that-base flakes, to graupel pellets that attack like airborne facial scrub—I love it all.
Coaches: The full-on, frozen-footed ones who are out there rain, snow and (rarely) shine making sure my kids have everything they need to do what they love, and somehow keeping it fun.
Passion: I love that there are people passionate enough about this sport to maintain ongoing debates over the nuanced merits and misconceptions of something as mundane as the pole plant, and to collectively dissect every aspect of technique and equipment.
Kooks: See above. I count myself among them, though via blind commitment rather than any analytical prowess. It takes kooks to dedicate an inordinate amount of time, energy and brainspace to the task of keeping this sport progressive, viable, and more accessible than, say, polo.
Parents: Anyone who does what it takes to let their kid(s) fully participate in ski racing is a champ. Few sports are as much of a chafe to pursue, yet few can be as fun and rewarding to parents and kids. By the way mom and dad, “Thanks!”
Kooky Kids: I realize that it is part luck and part blessing that my kids grew to love this sport as much as I do. It could have gone either way when we packed them into ski boots, towed them up the driveway and froze their little butts off all those years ago.
The “B” Team: The stars get all the attention and tangible rewards, but at every competition level a team is animated by a full roster of talented and committed athletes around them. Day in and day out they work toward their own goals while making it fun and pushing each other to keep the bar high.
So that’s my short list. Thanks for reading, and of course, Happy Skiing.