Posted: 3:06PM March 15th, 2012 | Comments
There are a lot of things I do that I love to do, and yet getting myself to actually do them on some days remains a challenge. Take biking commuting, for example. When I’m out on my bike, I love it. I love being in the elements (as long as I’m dressed properly), I love the sense of camaraderie that comes from seeing other bikers on the road , I love the slower pace (as opposed to driving) that allows me to pay more attention to nature and the beautiful sights Madison has to offer, I love the feeling of working muscles.
With the beautiful weather this week I have been biking to work every single day. Every time I ride I think, why don’t I do this more often? Sure, it’s easy to love biking in warm, sunny weather, but I also know that even when I bike in cold, rainy, or snowy weather I am happier and less stressed than when I use my car to commute. So what gives? If I love it so much and know that it makes me happier to be on two wheels rather than four, why am I so quick to give up my bike at the slightest hint of inclement weather?
This brings me to the question of why do we (I assume I’m not the only one) sometimes choose not to do the thing that makes us happy? There’s been a lot of ‘happiness’ research as of late focusing on who’s happy, what makes people happy, how to measure happiness, etc. What the research has revealed is that people are not very good at predicting what will make them happy. (See Stumbling on Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert.)
After learning that we are such poor predictors of happiness, what occurs to me is that maybe my resistance to biking to work on some days comes from the difference between knowing (intellectual, rational) and believing (gut, intuition). Me “knowing” that it will make me happy is not the equivalent to me “believing” that it will make me happy, and believing something is related to being able to predict it. Your gut really needs to be on board. So why is it that some mornings I just don’t believe that biking to work will increase my happiness when nearly every time I’m pedaling around I am noticeably happier? That, it turns out, is a big, complicated question that I just don’t have the mental capacity to deal with today (I promise, I’ll work on it).
Instead of diving too deep into rabbit hole of self analysis, I stayed closer to the surface and started listing the collection of other motivators I keep in my back pocket, in the case that the happiness one doesn’t work. So, on the mornings that I am dangerously close to grabbing the car key instead of the bike lock, and telling myself that biking makes me happy isn’t working, I try these other tricks to see if there’s something will stick:
Biking can extend my life by reducing my risk of disease
Biking reduces the about of GHG in the atmosphere
Biking connects me to the community
Biking reduces my toll on the community
By biking, I’m ‘walking my talk’ (I am a sustainability professional, after all)
Biking saves me money
Biking reduces my dependence on oil
Biking benefits locally owned businesses (the big box stores on the outskirts of town are too far to get to in a reasonable amount of time, so I’m limited to those closer to the center, which are more likely to be locally owned)
By biking, I demonstrate to the community that it’s normal, and the more socially acceptable something is, the more likely people are to do it
Of course, all the reasons to bike that I listed are related to my happiness; they all have to do with what makes me feel good and how I’d like to contribute to this world. Telling myself that biking connects me to the community is really not that different from telling myself that biking makes me happy. Some days I just need to trick myself, I guess.