Happiness is not a mystery of the mind and it's not magic. Happiness is the natural state for most people whenever they feel healthy, have flexible schedules, and expect the future to be good.
As I write this next paragraph, a few days have passed, and now I'm sitting at a table in my health club. I exercised, I had my healthy reward snack, and now I'm thoroughly happy, even though I'm working at rewriting and tweaking this chapter. Taking care of my body always influences my happiness more than whatever task I'm involved in. That's an important point because normally when you feel unhappy, you blame your mood on whatever your environment is serving up to you. It's easy to blame your environment because you know you can interpret almost anything as bad news or potential bad news. Just add pessimism and cynicism to any observation and you can manufacture bad news out of thin air. If you know anyone who routinely interprets good news as bad, you know how easily it can be done. I'm here to tell you that the primary culprit in your bad moods is a deficit in one of the big five: flexible schedule, imagination, sleep, diet, and exercise.
I've explained to a number of people my observations about how exercise, diet, and sleep influence mood. The usual reaction is a blank expression followed by a change of topic. No one wants to believe that the formula for happiness is as simple as daydreaming, controlling your schedule, napping, eating right, and being active every day. You'd feel like an idiot for suffering so many unhappy days while not knowing the cure was so accessible. I know from experience that you might accept the idea that daily lifestyle choices are perhaps a small part of what causes your bad moods. But you probably think the majority of your crabbiness is caused by the idiots and sociopaths in your life plus your inexplicable bad luck on any given day. Based on a lifetime of observation, my best estimate is that 80 percent of your mood is based on how your body feels and only 20 percent is based on your genes and your circumstances, particularly your health.
Ask yourself this question: At times when you've exercised earlier in the day, eaten well, hydrated, and had enough sleep, what percentage of those times have you found yourself in a good mood? I'll bet you don't know the answer to that question because it's not the sort of thing anyone pays attention to. But now that I've put the idea in your head, you'll automatically find yourself noticing the link between daily body maintenance and your not-so-mysterious happiness. I predict you'll observe that your good moods are highly correlated with exercise, diet, and sleep.
Exercise has two very different benefits that are hard to untangle. The exercise itself releases natural pain-relieving substances, endorphins, and that gives you a direct feeling of well-being. But exercise is also a mental escape from whatever was stressing you before you laced your athletic shoes. That's why I recommend forms of exercises that occupy your mind at the same time as your muscles.
Exercise also helps you sleep better, so that's a double benefit. Of the big five factors in happiness — flexible schedule, imagination, diet, exercise, and sleep — my pick for the most important is exercise. If exercise sounds like a lot of work, wait for my chapter on the easiest way to become active.
If the list of five elements for happiness seems incomplete, that's intentional. I know you might also want sex, a soul mate, fame, recognition, a feeling of importance, career success, and lots more. My contention is that your five-pronged pursuit of happiness will act as a magnet for the other components of happiness you need. When you're fit, happy, and full of energy, people are far more likely to have sex with you, be your friend, and hire you, sometimes all in the same day.
Excerpted from How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams, in agreement with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Copyright (c) Scott Adams, 2013.