How to Go on a Happiness Walk


A Happiness Walk is an easy addition to your morning routine which will help improve the rest of your day in a variety of ways. If you think about it, human beings have evolved for millennia to primarily walk (and occasionally run) as their main form of exercise. When I imagine pre-history human beings, I imagine them walking for a large portion of the day, looking for food, interrupted with pronounced bursts of running.

For our purposes, getting into the habit of walking each day is a great cornerstone to your exercise program. It's easy on your body and I makes you feel good. I call it a Happiness Walk, rather than simply a morning walk, because I then layer on certain behaviors that maximize positive emotions inside myself. This enables me to feel very efficient because I'm not only exercising, but conducting a variety of behaviors which are going to get my day started in one of the best ways possible. 

I leave the house around  8am - 9am to walk the dogs (I have an Australian Cattle Dog named Jack and my roommate has a Wire-Haired Terrier named Zim). I think having dogs is helpful because they need to be walked every day and, in walking the dogs, you end up walking yourself. It's just an extra little piece of motivation to actually leave the house and begin the walk. 

I walk at a leisurely pace, frequently stopping as dictated by the dogs. Sometimes the pace is not intense enough for me, so I finish walking the dogs and then go on a second walk by myself, with the second walk being at a brisk pace. A nice aspect of walking is that you can easily tailor the pace to your current abilities. If you are out of shape, just start slowly and go for short walks. Over time, you can add a few minutes and a slightly faster pace. Having walked daily for multiple years now, many times my stamina can outpace that of my dogs (one of whom is a high energy working breed). 

Walk around your neighborhood and enjoy the beauty all around you. Metaphorically (and possibly literally) smell the roses. Take this time to soak in how amazing it is to exist at all. How amazing it is that you happened to be born where you were born, when you were born. How amazing that there is an earth to exist on in the first place. It's statistically almost impossibly unlikely, but somehow we have all won the cosmic lottery by existing. Usually I also listen to the nature sounds all around me, although occasionally I listen to something on my headphones, depending on my mood.

A key aspect of the happiness walk is smiling and waving to the other people whom you encounter. I live in suburban Atlanta right now, so for me this is primarily morning commuters driving through the neighborhood on their way to work. Each time a car drives by, I wave at the driver while smiling my biggest possible smile. If you don't feel like smiling, just fake it as best you can. At driving speeds, it is unlikely the driver is going to notice the minute details of exactly how you are smiling.

That's one of the key benefits of the Happiness Walk: you get to practice genuinely smiling. In face to face social encounters, genuinely smiling is amazingly useful. But sometimes a genuine smile doesn't come naturally. By practicing my genuine smile each morning, I'm getting better at letting my natural smile shine through, rather than trying to force a smile when socially required. 

You may be wondering what to do if a cluster of 2 - 3 cars drive by at the same time. I actually make an effort to wave to each of them individually. I have noticed that the first driver typically reacts as normal, but the second car usually responds even more positively than normal because it's clear that you have gone out of your way to great them by waving two times in fairly rapid succession. 

Which reminds me, the reaction of the other people is an important aspect of the Happiness Walk. You can utilize other people as a sort of energy mirror. You can bounce positive energy off of others and it reflects back to you. By that I mean the very act of waving at someone and smiling gives you positive emotions, even if the other person totally ignores you. Most people wave back, though, and most of those people are smiling while they do it. 

Of those who don't wave back, the vast majority are distracted because they are looking at their phones rather than their surroundings. Since I can observe this behavior, I don't take it personally that the other person ignored me because the other person didn't see me in the first place. It also reminds me to be careful if walking in the street, because the reality is that a lot of people out there are not paying attention. I look forward to widespread adoption of driverless cars for this very reason. 

Occasionally a driver is looking at the road, aware of their surroundings, and still doesn't wave back. This happens maybe 10% - 15% of the time. Again, I don't take this personally because most of these people just seem to be stressed out and in a rush to work. Maybe they are late or maybe they're stressed out about something at work. These cases remind me to be happy that I'm having a relaxing walk instead of rushing around. That feels good as well. 

Remember that most of us are not spending enough time out in the sun to get sufficient vitamin D. So in addition to the exercise benefits and the positivity benefits, you are recharging your body via sunlight with some of the chemical building blocks for a great day. 

So that's the happiness walk. I take one every single day to make sure my day starts out right. On the rare occasion that I'm in a foul mood, forcing myself to smile and wave repeatedly really helps to lift the funk and get me mentally back on track. It's also a great method because you can scale down or scale up the intensity very easily based on your overall fitness level. The key is consistency. 

Think about trying out this technique in your own life. You could make the decision right now to go on a Happiness Walk each morning for the next seven days, just to see how it makes you feel. It costs nothing but a little bit of time and it could set the stage for the entire rest of your day to be awesome!