When I first moved to the village where I now live, I remember well that feeling of knowing no-one, and wanting to fit in. As someone who has always explored my surroundings by bike, I plucked up the courage to approach a group of local women whom I’d been told went out cycling on a weekday evening. It felt a bit pushy, asking if I could tag along – and on that first ride, I felt nervous – they seemed a real ‘gang’ and I was the outsider. I knew nothing of the local gossip they shared, and felt worried they’d be annoyed with me if I failed to keep up with them (which I can think of now as slightly irrational ‘over-catastrophising’), but not so much that it stopped me being determined to match their pace and be accepted.
I remember hearing another woman, who was also a newcomer to the village, lament that there was ‘no-where to cycle around here!’. This struck me as somewhat negative, us living inside one of our beautiful National Parks, with a couple of hundred miles of cycle tracks to explore. We all chatted along the way, and found that we had many things in common – including a love of Scandi-noir TV, and books (of course we shared a commonality – we were all women!) I remember cycling home from the pub after our post-cycle pint, a feeling of elation pumping my legs up the road in a final euphoric spurt of energy. I had a sense this had its roots in the fact that I’d connected with others, in a positive way. Add to that the feel-good endorphins released in exercise, the beautiful natural setting of forest and heath, and I’d pretty-much ticked all the boxes listed in countless studies that have set about analysing what brings us happiness and greater well-being.
Actions, not Outcomes
A UK study on ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ conducted on behalf of the government listed actions, rather than outcomes such as being in a relationship, having good health etc. in its findings. At the top is connecting, followed by being active, taking notice (which could apply to both ourselves, and the world around us), on-going learning (or embracing new challenges), and giving. Another joint study that measured the happiness rates of more than 20,000 people through an App put intimacy right at the top, followed by 9 activities that connect us with others, through sport, being around nature, or the arts.
Women often fare better than men at the ‘authentic connection’ stuff – as we are conditioned to express our emotions, through language, far more readily than males. Though there’s something additional about the nature of connecting experiences that adds to our satisfaction and well-being levels – this is when it’s a two-way sharing process; we let others in on our lives by talking, and in return we are there to listen back.
I now have a solid group of local cycling buddies with whom I’ve had more fun-filled and challenging experiences than I can recall, held together by the thread of simply jumping on our bikes together and heading out into the great, free outdoors. We’ve cycled for charity, cycled the canals of Amsterdam and simply cycled to the end of the road and carried on. Few things feel better than blasting along a country track with like-minded friends on a hazy autumn day before retiring to the local pub to mull over what our next cycling adventure might be. Whilst there are many things in life over which we do not have control, I firmly believe that if we want to improve our well-being, there are some simple yet powerful actions, such as connecting with others in an authentic and meaningful way as we’re filling our lungs with air and engaging with Great Outdoors that can certainly pave the way.