This short phrase is perhaps one of the most simple bits of advice I can give to anyone who wants to become happier. Health, wellness, and happiness are complex subjects dependent and influenced by a multitude of factors from socio-economic status to biochemistry, from childhood trauma to career satisfaction. It may be overidealizing and unrealistic to expect that one simple act can reverse the spiral of unhappiness and depression that your life may have become, and put you back on track to happiness, but if ever there was such a phrase did exist, “go workout” would surely be one of them, at least in so much as my own life experiences are concerned.
We live in a chaotic and confusing world and our self-esteem and happiness are equally confusing and chaotic ideas. In such a tumultuous existence, where every thought or ever decision can be second guessed, we should take comfort in realizing that sometimes the answer to one of life’s most complicated questions: how do I experience happiness? Has such a simple solution as “go workout.”
“Go workout” is not a complicated phrase. Anybody could come up with it. But the ramifications of understanding this advice have dramatic results. I came across this phrase, in the context for which I am writing about it today, in Tim Ferriss’s podcast with Navy Seal turned Author, Jocko Willink, of whom I have written several times before. Tim had asked Jocko what his advice would be to anyone who is feeling depressed. The answer was given in typical Jocko style: “go workout.”
This isn’t just some meathead’s response to any possible question one could ask. Jocko is so much more than that. While he himself may be the anthropomorphized version of the word “tough” Jocko has a level of compassion, empathy, and understanding which belies his harsh exterior. This is a man who has served in combat operations, written children’s books, much more in between, and routinely gives quality life advice to his listeners on his own podcast.
Elaborating on his response, Jocko explains that so much of depression and anxiety, or a general lack of happiness, is that we are spending too much time in our own heads, either dwelling on the past, bemoaning the present, or living in fear of the future. The perfect solution to this, is to go workout, with Jocko accurately stating that it is very difficult to live in your own head when you are focusing on a strenuous workout. Nay, not even a strenuous workout, go do any form of physical activity or movement and you will experience, at least for a little while, an absence of anxiety and depression, and a moment of happiness.
I have written about the benefits of exercise and its effects on happiness several times. In one post I discussed scientific studies that linked increases in both short-term and long-term happiness with those who participated in regular (3-5x weekly) exercise. Additionally, I have helped document the negative impact of poor posture and its effect on mood and happiness, discussing the need for regular activity, exercise, and movement, to combat chronic movement patterns associated with modern life and linked to unhappiness.
Jocko’s statement, “go workout” is yet another notch in the column of ever-growing evidence and support for physical exercise augmenting happiness and mood. What I appreciate about this response is its’ straightforwardness. I recognize that happiness, mental-health, and wellness are immensely complicated matters that become influenced by numerous variables and for many people can take years of therapy, meditation, lifestyle change, reading, self-understanding and more before any meaningful progress is made. That is precisely why this statement resonates with me, Jocko’s advice to “go workout”, because in a world of chaos and complexity, it is quality advice given simply and in an easy to digest format. It is also one of the easiest things you can do today to improve your happiness. Resolving past traumas may take years working with a licensed professional. Working out is something you can do today. Yes, you should absolutely put in the time with the therapist, this is essential to you ever realizing true happiness, but it will take time. Working out, today, will make you happy, today, at least for a little while. Do this thing over and over, and it will start to have a more lasting impact.
I don’t intend to write about the scientific behind the benefit working out has on our mental health, or how making lifestyle changes around increasing your physical fitness will ultimately generate greater feelings of self-esteem. All I mean to do is iterate that there is a simple solution to creating happiness for yourself, a solution that you can implement today. It will not be an overnight fix, but if you workout today, whether it be a walk, a run, swim, bike ride, weightlifting session, pick-up basketball – it doesn’t matter, I guarantee you will provide yourself at least a few moments out of your own head, and enjoying your life, being happy. As Jocko said, you will find it very busy to spend time being unhappy or depressed in your own head, if you are too busy working out.
Take it from me, someone who has struggled with what at times was horrendous anxiety and depression. Go workout. You will feel better immediately. It will not be a permanent fix. But tomorrow again when those demons come knocking, go workout again. Eventually you will triumph for good.