Have you ever heard the term, “daily constitutional”? I only hear it in old movies or television shows, and unexplainably, it always brings a smile to my face. Not a smile as in, “That makes me happy,” but a smile as in, “That’s weird.” I recently pinpointed my unexplainable amusement. For some unknown reason, I had associated the term with “bathroom time.” That’s all the explanation I’m going to give. You can let your imagination do the rest.
I came across the phrase again when recently reading a biography about Teddy Roosevelt. I decided to explore this mysterious term, as I was certain people wouldn’t talk so openly about their bathroom time.
Are you ready? A daily constitutional is “something done that is beneficial to one’s general physical well-being; usually a walk taken for health purposes.” Not exactly what I had envisioned, but it certainly sheds a lot of light on the subject! And though I am now wiser regarding the meaning, I will continue to smile because of what I thought it meant for so many years. I suppose this could be considered one of my personal idioms. (You might enjoy reading about some of the other idioms that my family has created at Family Sayings: The Makings of a Good Idiom.)
Though the term may be outdated, the philosophy is not. We no longer speak about taking a daily constitutional, but instead, we talk about our morning walks, or our runs or our workouts. The idea is the same, I believe, though now we may be a little more intense about our constitutionals (I never see grandmas in the old movies working out with weights!).
The reason physical exercise was once referred to as a constitutional is that its purpose was for strengthening a person’s constitution. In that context, “constitution” refers to one’s strength or general health. And it could be broadened to include strength of temperament and disposition, as well. Now that we’ve got that cleared up, who doesn’t need a daily constitutional?!
I suppose the broader meaning of the term (as defined above) could be used interchangeably with the positive, purposefully-developed habits that I write about frequently (for example, in Building Your Values into Habits). If the typical daily constitutional was intended to strengthen the physical body, and my broader meaning is meant to strengthen the whole person–body, soul and spirit–that would require that the revised and updated version of a “daily constitutional” would include regimens (habits) that are targeted towards the whole person.
For example, we exercise to build the body. By that same token, what are some specific things we can build into our daily constitutionals for the purpose of building the spirit? What can we add into our daily constitutionals to strengthen our minds, our intellects? How about our social lives? And what can we do to “buff up” our emotions? (See Emotional Stability.)
Like everything else in life that is meaningful, becoming a strong, whole person won’t “just happen.” It has to be intentional.
Do you practice a daily constitutional? If so, is your constitutional single-faceted (body only), or does your daily constitutional address the “whole person”? Please, please share how you build in the comments.Photo compliments of Spyros Papaspyropoulos via Flickr