Euphoria and gratitude… a runners high at 9,000 feet


Quick summary: If you can teach yourself to feel gratitude for a greater diversity of things… then you can add a positive association to any experience that you want.I have been thinking about health quite a bit lately and my mind stumbled back to thinking about some research that was explaining why exercise routines are difficult to establish… essentially using behavioral psychology ( = we are products of our environment – our behaviors are dictated by the responses that they receive from our environment) the author suggested that the amount of time between initiating exercise and receiving the ‘reward’ from exercise is too long… therefore our minds do not really associate exercise as being positive and often our minds create a negative association as exercise can elicit a degree of pain. Yesterday I ran for eight miles at around 9,000 feet and I had a very different experience. The combination of the breathtaking scenery, the high levels of positive feeling neurotransmitters (brain chemicals which affect your emotions … and most things) that were released to manage the pain of eight miles with limited oxygen, the limited oxygen itself, and my intentionally focusing on gratitude, created a state of euphoria during the exercise. I am going to suggest that by meditating on gratitude a person can counter the negative influence or association with pain in relation to exercising… to a degree. With this positive counter influence in place, perhaps you might be able to push you body to reaching a state of euphoria which arises when you push yourself as much as you can… without such a counter perhaps it is more “rewarding” to stop exercising a bit sooner than is advantageous.

Gratitude – I was engaged in a mindfulness program about gratitude and I was offered a lesson that was immensely helpful to me…

            Try and experience gratitude without being grateful for any one specific thing… contemplate the emotional experience of gratitude and free yourself to experience this wonderful feeling. Allow yourself to essentially live in a moment which is gratitude…

This can be a very difficult experience so let’s take it down a notch…

Start by contemplating gratitude for subjects which are easier for you to observe without judgment… for example allow yourself to feel gratitude that the universe exists, that colors exist, that plants are alluring, that the natural landscape is aesthetically pleasing, that you have the ability to notice existence etc ..

This too will be hard for many people at first as it is the brains job to categorize things as benign and to take things for granted (this is because the brain serves to ensure your survival… as gratitude for the universe has a limited effect on your survival, the brain will often categorize such things as inconsequential…as boring or as useless.)

I am suggesting that the brain is constantly passing judgments on the environment and because the brain seems to assume that novel subjects and experiences are more important to attend to… the brain hinders our ability to feel gratitude for most things in our lives.

As I have said time and time again… you can control your brain… you can free yourself to feel gratitude in new and extraordinarily euphoric ways.

It is easy to imagine feeling gratitude for someone giving you 10,000 dollars… it is perhaps harder to feel gratitude for the color of a plant.

This is the summary… if you can teach yourself to feel gratitude for a greater diversity of things… then you can add a positive association to any experience that you want… you can make exercise more positive if you allow yourself to experience gratitude to counter the negative associations driven by the pain of exercise.

Easier exercise to experience gratitude – Water.  – Imagine the lack of something to feel gratitude for what you have.

I have done a bit of international travel where it was quite a process to attain safe drinking water… in fact I have had many Colorado backpacking experiences where attaining water meant going out and walking ¼ mile in freezing rain.

 How often do you drink water? And how often are you grateful for that water. Imagine an existence in which water was difficult to attain … imagine that the water attained was full of sediment and tasted ‘funny’… now imagine the ease of turning on your faucet or opening your fridge and having fresh and clean water… Imagine a life where you were able to feel grateful… to feel gratitude every time you drank water… many people in the world have this experience… perhaps it would be helpful in this country if we did not take water for granted.

My Gratitude while I was running… I was grateful for: the love in my life, that love exists, that I am conscious of existence, that life was growing, that I could smell, that I could run in a high altitude environment, that my dog was happy, that the flowers were different shapes, that I allowed myself to go running, that I had plenty of water waiting for me in the car, that I have legs, that I could get back to my car without dying if it started to rain, that my parents always encouraged a healthy lifestyle, that my parents bought me a guitar as a child, that my family has supported the person that I am, that I am learning to not fear my own destiny……………………….

I can feel the effects of the behavioral intervention that I did unto myself… I feel myself associating my grueling run with euphoric positivity.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.
William Hambleton Bishop
William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

5 thoughts on “Euphoria and gratitude… a runners high at 9,000 feet

  1. Pingback: FreshBlogger Carnival of Personal Development #1 at FreshBlogger

  2. William, this is a terrific post. Years ago when I was an avid runner, I had a similar experience. At first it was torture to drag myself out of bed at 5:30 every morning to kill myself running up and down hills in the country, but after a few days I started to notice the positive things around me that made it all worthwhile.

    Particularly, I remember taking a lot of pleasure in the stillness of the cool darkness, and then at the turnaround point farthest from home, there was a dead tree on the edge of a hill with a great view. As I paused before heading back down the hill, I noticed there were several beautiful goldfinches flitting about the dead branches. The bright yellow of their feathers made them seem like giant fireflies in the dim light.

    I'll never forget that feeling. Thanks for reminding me to always look for positives!

    • WOW Ray – that is exactly what I am talking about – glad you found the post. your images in your narrative are truly beautiful… it is wonderful what nature and exersise can encourage us to feel… we just need to allow ourselves to engage… thanks for sharing – Will

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