Going Long and Finding Gratitude
On Going Long and Finding Gratitude
By Claire Nana
By Claire Nana
In his 2004
TED talk, Daniel Gilbert, the author of Stumbling on Happiness, quotes Morese
Bickam, a man who spent several years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit:
“It was a glorious experience”. The point Gilbert makes is that gratitude
can come at times when we least expect it.
Or maybe not. Maybe there is something to losing
everything that makes us value what we have left. Years ago, a friend of mine
recounted the experience of losing his business, his marriage, and almost his
life to drugs, then one day deciding to go for a run. As he said, “There was
nothing left to do but run.”
Yet on that run he discovered a truth that had been
missing from his life. He didn’t need the business, the wife, the money, or the
drugs. All he needed to do in that moment was run. “It was such a relief to
realize that all I had to do was put one foot in front of the other. There was
peace in that,” he’d said to me.
To Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, the two
researchers who identified what is known as “Posttraumatic Growth” this makes
perfect sense. Posttraumatic growth is defined as the profound growth that
results from the search for meaning after a traumatic experience. It often
involves a fundamental shift in our sense of priorities and the way we view the
world. One of those changes is an encompassing sense of gratitude.
Things we might have overlooked now become incredibly important. Things like going for a run.
Gratitude, for Tedeschi and Calhoun, is not an
“add-on”. It is not something that we search for, build, or go after. Rather,
it is what emerges when we take everything else away. At its core, gratitude is
the profound realization that nothing more is needed beyond life itself.
I began to wonder if there is something to
struggling – I think most people would agree that running in any form can be
called a struggle – for longer periods of time that lends itself to a more
deeply felt sense of gratitude. After all, Bickam did 37 years.
Sure enough, according to Tedeschi and Calhoun, it is the traumatic experiences that are more severe in nature, or last longer, that are associated with greater gains in growth.
In many ways, this makes perfect sense. Athletes who
peak early in youth are often not the athletes that go on to great
performances. Why? Longer learning curves lend themselves to better mastery of
a skill. When something takes a long time to learn, we simply learn it better
than when it comes easily to us.
Perhaps running 10K is too easy. Perhaps it doesn’t
truly test us enough; the struggle is not long or hard enough to make us
appreciate crossing that line. Or maybe there is no uncertainty, no self-doubt
as to whether the challenge can be accomplished, and no searching for why, or
how we will get there. Maybe the run just isn’t long enough.
My friend didn’t run 10K races. Neither did Marshall Ulrich, who crossed
Death Valley a record 24 times, including a 586-mile ‘Badwater Quad,’ covering
the course four times (twice up and back), a self-contained, unaided solo, in
which he pulled all supplies (food, ice, medical) in a cart that weighed more
than 200 pounds at the start, an unprecedented four wins of the Badwater 135
mile race, and a record for the Badwater 146 mile race that ended in a summit
to Mt. Whitney that still stands today. In Ulrich’s memoir, Running On Empty, he
describes running incredibly long distances as a way to cope with the loss of
his first wife to cancer, and an overwhelming mountain of self-doubt and
Now Ulrich heads up the Dreams In
Action association, raising several thousand dollars for various charities
and telling people to “discover what you are made of: it’s more than you think,”
and my friend runs hundred mile races to benefit those addicted to drugs, who, like he had been, are searching for hope.
All they needed to do was go for a run – a long one.
Claire Dorotik-Nana frequently writes for professional organizations such as the International Sport Science Association and Professional Development Resources. She is also the author of Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks Into Springboards, now available on Amazon.