After years of competing, former pentathlete Sam Murray struggled to find happiness. It was only after taking a step back from competition did she take control of her own happiness and find true fulfilment in life.

During her career, Sam was a highly successful parathlete, winning multiple World Championship gold titles along with a silver medal at the London 2012 Olympics at just 22-years-old.

Following her success, she was invited to speak at different events all over the world. However, with her coaches still expecting her to be training for the next championships, Sam started to struggle with balance in her life: “I really struggled with working out what made me happy. I felt that I was carrying a mental weight for the first time in my life. I felt truly lonely, and I realised that all my time was spent either training, competing, studying or working. My life was centred around achievement and the next goal and at 23 that just wasn’t working for me anymore.”

Taking Control of Her Happiness

At 23-years-old, Sam decided to make a change: “I started understanding that I had to be proactive about my happiness and focus on what made me feel good – and I really started to untangle my happiness from what I was achieving. For me, a key learning was that success doesn’t equate to happiness.” She began to ask herself, “Why did I constantly need to be chasing the next success to feel happy? And did that really make me feel happy? I was starting to realise that it didn’t really.”

This realisation led Sam to make some changes in her life. She reflects how it all started with her first yoga class: “I still remember that class like it was yesterday. It was pretty much the first form of physical activity that I’d ever done that wasn’t competitive. It taught me a lot about learning to be both more physically and emotionally open. And I started to learn about my mind and my body and noticing where I was carrying tension and how I was feeling. But more importantly, I started to value the importance of doing things that weren’t solely achievement orientated.”

Following on from this, Sam began therapy, where she explored what was really important to her and what brought her joy: “I realised that I didn’t always need to be striving towards the next goal to feel content and happy. This realisation left me feeling so much lighter and I noticed some big changes in myself.

Finding a Balance

With these new changes in her life, Sam noticed a positive effect on her career: “I started to notice that my approach to being an athlete was changing quite drastically. For example, when I was on training camps abroad, rather than whizzing from one training session to the next – as I might have done in the past – I took the time to really take in the beautiful scenery that was around me and I took a genuine pleasure in that. The simple things in life were becoming far more important to me.

I guess shedding that feeling of heaviness that I’d been carrying around with me worked. In 2015 I became world champion but this time rather than this being the only source of my happiness, it was a bonus.”

Over the next few years, Sam continued to compete, and despite struggling with some injuries she went on to compete at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Then, at the age of 29-years-old, Sam decided to retire. While the later part of her career didn’t quite go as she expected, Sam commented: “I left the sport with a clear sense of myself, and what I really wanted, and what made me happy.”

Now, Sam’s life looks completely different to how it did when she was a competing athlete: “I now fill my spare time with activities that make me feel great – I try new things like rock climbing and I practice yoga and I enjoy nature and I really enjoy spending time with positive people or sometimes it’s just a cup of tea on the sofa for me.”

The true secret to Sam’s happiness was reconnecting to the small, beautiful things in life: “I take time to notice the things that are beautiful. I find happiness in every day – in the simple pleasures. And I put a limit on how much I use my phone so that I can be connected to what’s going on around me. And the realisation that I find my greatest happiness in people and the world around me, means that I only endorse or advertise things that are good for the environment. So, by finding my true source of happiness I also found my purpose and meaning as well.

In sharing her story, Sam hopes to inspire others to find their true happiness and to build a fulfilling life.

Sam’s Top Tips on Finding Your True Happiness:

  1. Don’t rush: “It’s an ongoing process of working out what genuinely matters to you and what makes you happy. Take your time and experiment with what works for you!”
  2. Keep it simple: “Taking pleasure in the simple things can be a great way to feel more emotionally fit. Try to avoid setting yourself big unmanageable actions. Small changes are more than enough.”
  3. Listen to yourself: “An ability to check in with myself and take note of what’s working and not working has changed my life.”
Sam Murray shared her story through the Fika app, which aims to support people’s emotional fitness. The app features many audio stories from athletes which are accompanied by a series of emotional workouts, designed by expert psychologists to help people learn from, reflect on and act based on the athletes’ experiences. The Fika app is available on the Apple Store and Google Play.
Click here to read former Women’s Rugby captain Abi Chamberlain on how she learnt to be a leader in times of adversity.