Correlation v. Causation

For many many years, I’ve been told that if I just go and work out more, I’ll be happier, or at least I’ll be less depressed. There is study after study that shows that people who work out more are happier in life.

And I believed it, because whenever I could get myself to actually wake up early and work out every morning I felt better for that time. Whenever I could convince myself to go and do my weight lifting routine 3 times a week, I generally wasn’t depressed.

However, I never took into consideration the biggest possible statistical mistake I could’ve made given the data. Correlation does not imply causation. I find it hard to work out or do those things when I’m depressed, hence I don’t work out unless I’m already in a state where I am starting to feel better or less depressed and thus able to get myself up and lifting weights.

Yes, there’s an endorphin high from weights, but there’s also an equivalent endorphin high from eating delicious chocolate ice cream, but no one suggests that as a cure to feeling depressed.  So what is happening? Well, naturally popular education has a consistent and persistent bias towards items which will “make our lives better,” and confirm existing items we’ve been taught.

We are told that working out is good for us, so we all try to find confirmation of that in any way possible. Even if it’s simply correlation.

We want to believe that being fit makes us happier, and possibly it does. However, the fact that people who work out are happier doesn’t imply that working out makes you happy. It just implies that once you get over that depressive slump which keeps you from working out, you are a happier individual.


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