Why we are happiest when we’re working hard, the stories of our lives, and taming the voices in our heads

Happy Monday,

We often confuse ease with happiness.

We mistakenly think that if our lives were easier, we’d be better off. That if we didn’t have to work so hard for the things we want in life, we’d feel happier and more fulfilled.

But for most of us, the exact opposite is true.

In fact, the times when we’re working hard, striving after some worthy goal are the times where we feel most alive.

As psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience:

“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

Think about it: When you look back on some of your proudest achievements in life, were they a result of idleness or hard work?

If you’re like most people, hands down, your proudest accomplishments are ones involving goal pursuit or mastery. You’ll most remember that pull-up you worked so hard for, the dream job you finally got after years of putting in the work, or the book you wrote after years of struggling to put words to the page.

Put simply: we are happiest and most fulfilled when we are striving after a goal to better ourselves, our loved ones, or humanity.

Keep this in mind the next time you’re tempted to skip doing the work.

What I’m reading —

Story of My Life: How Narrative Creates Personality  by Julie Beck / The Atlantic

We humans like stories. We want to know that each plot point adds up to some greater life narrative. We want to know that in the end, we’ll be able to look back at our lives and see that all the puzzle pieces fit together nicely, that all of our ups and downs happened for a reason.

The issue is when we create a narrative based on the expectations of others, whether from our families or society as a whole. These standard narratives become blueprints for us to follow, and while some people may thrive with standard narratives, others may feel alienated and stigmatized for wanting something different.

Writes Beck in this fascinating article on recognizing our life’s stories:

“The downsides of standard narratives have been well-documented—they stigmatize anyone who doesn’t follow them to a T, and provide unrealistic expectations of happiness for those who do. If this approach were a blueprint for an Ikea desk instead of a life, almost everyone trying to follow it would end up with something wobbly and misshapen, with a few leftover bolts you find under the couch, boding ill for the structural integrity of the thing you built.”

What I’m listening to —

Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why it Matters, and How to Harness it by Ethan Kross (audiobook)

Does your inner voice often drive you crazy? Mine does, too. The stuff I say to myself… well, let’s just say I would never say these things to anyone else, especially someone I care about.

We all have a voice in our heads. This book looks at why that inner voice exists—and how to turn our inner critic into our inner coach. Some things I found especially interesting:

  • Why placebos work
  • How rituals (pre-game or otherwise) help calm our inner chatter
  • How to stop beating yourself up by saying your own name — e.g., “Krista, you’ve got this!”

A quote that inspires me —

“So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.” Christoper Reeve

What I’m training this week —


Jump training or plyos are one of my favorite ways to build power and explosiveness. These exercises also adds a nice challenge to almost any bodyweight exercise and are a staple of 12 Minute Athlete workouts.

Some of the exercises I did in my workouts this week: plyo push ups, squat jumps, ninja jumps, jump lunges, and, of course—burpees.

Three new workouts from last week —

Burner 4-Minute Tabata Workout (Tabata, bodyweight-only)

Heart Pounding Medicine Ball HIIT Workout (12 Minute, medicine ball)

285 Rep Stronger Challenge Workout (Time challenge, kettlebell, medicine ball, dip bar)

And here’s a fun challenge workout I posted on Instagram using a tire (but any sort of elevated surface will work).

Remember, you can get these and all future workouts right in the 12 Minute Athlete app when you subscribe as a Super Athlete (this is WAY cheaper than joining a gym or hiring a personal trainer! In addition, you’ll be helping to support the site and making future features to the app possible.).

As always, I value your feedback, so please feel free to reply directly to this email if you have any questions or comments (yes, I am a real human). I get a lot of emails and messages, so I can’t reply to all of them, but I do read everything you guys send me!

Here’s to doing the work,

Krista Stryker

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