Whether you’re a hardcore athlete or someone just taking their first steps into the fitness world, if you’re reading this you’re probably looking to make a positive change in your life.

Maybe you’re trying to lose that stubborn ten pounds. Maybe you just want to be healthier. Maybe you feel like you’re stuck in a rut with your current routine. Whatever your reasons, there’s a tool you’ve probably never heard of that can help you make positive changes that affect not just your health and fitness, but your whole life. It’s called positive psychology.

What is Positive Psychology?

In a nutshell, it’s the scientific study of happiness. Of what really makes us happy, and how we can have the happiest, most satisfying lives possible. It’s a discipline that turns traditional psychology on its head and looks at things from a different perspective. Instead of starting with the idea that there is a problem and looking at how to mitigate it, positive psychology starts with the assumption that things are already good and looks at how we can make them even better.

Modern Psychology vs. Positive Psychology

Modern psychology sees the mind from a sort of pass/fail standpoint. There is “healthy” and there is “sick,” mentally ill or not mentally ill. Once you slip below the threshold of “healthy” and into “sick” there may be gradations of how sick you are, but as long as you’re on the “not sick” side of the equation, you’re considered “healthy.” Period. It’s a lopsided scale that sees the mere absence of sickness in the same light as blooming good health and exuberance for life.

Positive psychology takes a different tack. Instead of seeing problems that need fixed, it looks at the positive side—at what makes us and keeps us happy, satisfied, and content. And, what we can do to increase the amount of satisfaction we have in our lives and ourselves.

The details may vary slightly, but there are five basic elements that determine how happy we are overall:

  • Positive emotions – Not just happiness, but pride and excitement. Awe. Satisfaction. The more often we experience these, the healthier and happier we tend to be.
  • Engagement or flow – athletes and creatives call this being in “the zone.” It’s being completely involved in a task to the point where you lose track of everything else.
  • Relationships – the more (positive) relationships we have, whether they’re family, romantic, friendships, work-related or workout-related, the more satisfied with life we are.
  • Meaning – feeling that we have a purpose in life, that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, is essential to overall happiness.
  • Accomplishments – we need to feel that we’re achieving something. Working towards achievements often gives us meaning, even if we don’t succeed in reaching the goal.

See where this is leading?

Enacting positive change in fitness

So how does CrossFit work to bring those five key elements of positive psychology into play?

It lets you experience positive emotions on a regular basis. It’s all about flow, and being “in the zone.” You build strong, positive relationships within the community, with people who have the same type of goals and accomplishments. You enjoy regular accomplishments, both major and minor. You’re part of something bigger than yourself, and you have a definite sense of purpose. It hits all five elements on a regular basis. And once you experience that kind of positivity in one area of your life, it tends to bleed over into the others.

There are strong links between feeling happy and being healthier. There’s also a correlation between exercise and your mind–and it works both ways. Exercise releases endorphins, the “feel good” hormones that account for “runner’s high.” But being happy in the first place influences your body’s response to exercise, too. Happy people have shorter recovery times. Their heart rate and blood pressure normalize faster. Their bodies repair themselves faster.

It’s a win-win situation. Working out makes you feel good, and feeling good makes you work out better.