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Science Proves That Gratitude Is Key to Well-Being

Acting happy, coaxes one’s brain toward positive emotions

“Building the best life does not require fealty to feelings in the name of authenticity, but rather rebelling against negative impulses and acting right even when we don’t feel like it,” says Arthur C. Brooks, author of Gross National Happiness, in a column in the New York Times. In the article, from 2015, he argues that “acting grateful can actually make you grateful” and uses science to prove it.

A 2003 study compared the well-being of participants who kept a weekly list of things they were grateful for to participants who kept a list of things that irritated them or neutral things. The researchers showed that the gratitude-focused participants exhibited increased well-being and they concluded that “a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.”

The participants didn’t begin the study any more grateful or ungrateful than anyone else, and they didn’t change their lives during the study so that they’d have more to be thankful for. They just turned their outlook to one of gratitude, and they were happier for it.

How does gratitude do this? One way is by stimulating two important regions in our brains: the hypothalamus, which regulates stress, and the ventral tegmental area, which plays a significant role in the brain’s reward system that produces feelings of pleasure.

One 1993 study revealed another way to boost happiness even when you’re not feeling happy. Researchers found that both voluntary and involuntary smiling had the same effect on brain activity. You can convince your brain and body that you’re happy even when you’re not just by forcing yourself to smile. “Acting happy, regardless of feelings, coaxes one’s brain into processing positive emotions,” explains Brooks. In other words, “fake it ‘til you make it” works.

In his column, Brooks suggests adopting three strategies to harness the positive health effects of gratitude. One, practice “interior gratitude.” Keep a daily or weekly list of the things you are grateful for. For example, I might write: I am grateful that I have a job that I love and that through my job as a therapist in Santa Monica I get to help people. Two, practice “exterior gratitude.” Write thank-you notes and put your gratitude to others on paper. For example, you could write a thank-you email to your best friend for supporting you through a bad breakup. And three, “be grateful for useless things.” In other words, express thanks for the everyday stuff you usually overlook such as fresh fruit and air-conditioning.

Are you worried that writing a spontaneous thank-you note to a friend will make them feel awkward? Or that it won’t mean much to them?

GRATITUDE

Science says you’re wrong.

A study published in Psychological Science in June 2018 reveals that people often miscalculate how a heartfelt thank-you note will be received. Researchers asked a group of 100 participants to write letters of gratitude to someone whom they were thankful for, like a friend or teacher. While these weren’t just quick “thanks for my Christmas present” notes, researcher Dr. Amit Kumar observed that the gratitude letters took less than five minutes to write.

Participants were then asked to rate how surprised, happy, and awkward they predicted the participant would feel. And finally, the recipients were asked to assess how the letter actually made them feel. It turns out the note writers greatly overestimated how awkward recipients would feel and how insincere the notes would seem, and they greatly underestimated the positive effects they would have. New York Times science reporter Heather Murphy writes, “After receiving thank-you notes and filling out questionnaires about how it felt to get them, many said they were ‘ecstatic,’ scoring the happiness rating at 4 of 5. The senders typically guessed they’d evoke a 3.”

If expressing gratitude even when nothing especially gratefulness-triggering is going on can increase your well-being and help regulate stress, and even a small amount of effort to express gratitude can have a meaningful effect on the recipient of your thanks, why not make gratitude a part of your daily life? Do as the father of positive psychology Martin Seligman recommends in his book Authentic Happiness and write daily letters of gratitude. Spend five minutes every morning or evening writing a gratitude email to a loved one. Science says you’ll feel awkward, and science says to do it anyway.

Jul 30, 2018      Andrea Brandt Ph.D. M.F.T.       Mindful Anger
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The Benefits of Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude

We shortchange our well-being by reserving this resource just for Thanksgiving.

“When I look back on the suffering in my life, this may sound really strange, but I see it now as a gift. I would have never asked for it for a second. I hated it while it was happening and I protested as loudly as I could, but suffering happened anyway. Now, in retrospect I see the way in which it deepened my being immeasurably.” ~Ram Dass

It’s that time of year. In addition to providing an opportunity to gather with family and friends to gorge ourselves on food and football, Thanksgiving is an annual culturally compelled celebration of our various blessings—a specific occasion to “give thanks.” As meaningful as this holiday can be and as helpful as it is to have structured encouragement to express gratitude, once a year is quite simply not enough. The bio-psycho-social-spiritual benefits of gratitude are myriad. Cultivating conscious contact with gratitude is a skill, and we can profit immensely by learning and practicing it.

Gratitude is about feeling and expressing appreciation: for all we’ve received, all that we have (however little it may be), and for all that has not befallen us. It functions as an antidote for attachment to what we want but don’t have and aversion to what we have but don’t want. Gratitude is the opposite of being discontented.

It’s valuable to be aware that nearly all experiences have both “positive” and “negative” aspects. Consistent with the above quote from Ram Dass, even circumstances that are brutally physically and/or emotionally painful, often contain considerable psycho-spiritual blessings in the forms of learning, growth, and healing. Sometimes we have to work harder to locate the positive and unearth its gifts (and sometimes these become manifest only in retrospect)—but if we make the time and invest the energy to look closely and search consciously, we will find them. There is always something to be grateful for, no matter how negative or desperate things may seem.

Gratitude changes perspective—it can sweep away most of the petty, day-to-day annoyances on which we focus so much of our attention—the “small stuff” situations that bring up feelings of impatience, intolerance, negative judgment, indignation, anger, or resentment. Gratitude is a vehicle to diffuse self-pity and self-centeredness, increase feelings of well-being, and prompt mindful awareness of that which is beyond oneself—of belonging to a greater whole, and of connection to others, as well as to the world.

gratitude

Over the past decade, numerous scientific studies have documented a wide range of benefits that come with gratitude. These are available to anyone who practices being grateful, even in the midst of adversity, such as elderly people confronting death, those with cancer, people with chronic illness or chronic pain, and those in recovery from addiction. Research-based reasons for practicing gratitude include:

•    Gratitude facilitates contentment. Practicing gratitude is one of the most reliable methods for increasing contentment and life satisfaction. It also improves mood by enhancing feelings of optimism, joy, pleasure, enthusiasm, and other positive emotions. Conversely, gratitude also reduces anxiety and depression.

•    Gratitude promotes physical health. Studies suggest gratitude helps to lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, reduce symptoms of illness, and make us less bothered by aches and pains.

•    Gratitude enhances sleep. Grateful people tend to get more sleep each night, spend less time awake before falling asleep, and feel more rested upon awakening. If you want to sleep more soundly, instead of counting sheep count your blessings.

•    Gratitude strengthens relationships. It makes us feel closer and more connected to friends and intimate partners. When partners feel and express gratitude for each other, they each become more satisfied with their relationship.

•    Gratitude encourages “paying it forward.” Grateful people are generally more helpful, generous of spirit, and compassionate. These qualities often spill over onto others.

Two specific ways you can practice the skill of being grateful are by writing gratitude letters and making gratitude lists. A gratitude letter is one you write to someone in your life to express appreciation for ways they have helped you and/or been there for you. Gratitude letters can be about events that have happened in the past or are happening in the present, and often help to strengthen or repair relationships. A gratitude list consists of writing down 3 – 5 things for which you’re grateful every day, each week, at other intervals, or under situation-specific circumstances.

You can test the effectiveness of these methods by tuning in to your current emotion(s), mood, and attitude. Once you’ve done that, take a few minutes and identify 3 things or people that you are grateful for and briefly describe to yourself or in writing the reason(s) for your gratitude. Then notice how the way you feel has shifted after doing this simple brief exercise.

For five years during the 1990s, I was the clinical director of a hospital-based addiction treatment program outside of New York City. I worked closely with the program’s medical director, a psychiatrist who was in recovery for many years through a twelve-step program.

At a conference on addiction he gave a talk that focused on his personal recovery experience. During a powerful and moving presentation, he described being grateful that he was an addict. He went on to say that, in contrast to most people who operate more or less on automatic pilot and effectively sleepwalk through life, embarking on a process of recovery had given him the awareness to live life much more intentionally. As a result, he took little for granted and appreciated much. Although his reasoning made sense, it was difficult for me to comprehend the idea of having such profound gratitude for an experience that involved so much suffering . . . until I found my way to my own recovery.

There are no guarantees of anything and we can take nothing for granted in this life. Every day is a gift; every breath is a gift. What we do with them is a choice.

by Dan Mager, MSW       Nov 18, 2014
Dan Mager, MSW is the author of
Some Assembly Required: A Balanced Approach to Recovery from Addiction and Chronic Pain.
He received his MSW from Hunter College.
In Print:  Some Assembly Required: A Balanced Approach to Recovery from Addiction and Chronic Pain
 


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10 Self Esteem Tips to Feel Proud of Where You Are Right Now

“Love who you are, embrace who you are. Love yourself. When you love yourself, people can kind of pick up on that: they can see confidence, they can see self-esteem, and naturally, people gravitate towards you.” – Lilly Singh

Everyone needs a boost every once in a while. As much as we like to think that our self-esteem is fine, it always helps to give ourselves little boosts and reminders. If you find that your day-to-day life could use a little self-esteem boost, never fear. You’re not the only one, not by a long shot!

“Recognizing inner worth, and loving one’s imperfect self, provide the secure foundation for growth. With that security, one is free to grow with enjoyment, not fear of failure — because failure doesn’t change core worth,” says author of The Self-Esteem Workbook Glenn R. Schiraldi, Ph.D.

If you’re looking to find tricks that will help boost your self-esteem whenever you need it, look no further. You’ll be able to get your own self-esteem back up in no time.

10 SELF-ESTEEM TIPS TO MAKE YOU FEEL PROUD OF WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW

1. LOOK AT YOUR LIFE OBJECTIVELY

If things aren’t going so well, take a step back. Are they really that bad? It doesn’t do anyone any good to compare your suffering to someone else’s, but stepping back and looking at your life and situation objectively can help you stop feeling so low. After all, things probably aren’t as bad as they seem at first. Once you’re able to see that, your self-esteem will bounce back easily.

2. ADMIRE PAST ACHIEVEMENTS

When your self-esteem feels like it’s falling, don’t forget to look back at all the things you’ve accomplished. Look at where you were two years ago versus where you are now. Look back on all your school awards, your accomplishments, job advancements or relationship milestones. Whatever reminds you of how far you’ve come! It’ll make you feel much better.

3. ACKNOWLEDGE 5 POSITIVE THINGS

Sometimes, it can be hard to see the good things in life, and that can damage our self-esteem. When that happens, try pointing out five positive things about yourself and your life. Maybe you’re good at making people feel better, or great at handling difficult phone calls. No positive thing is too big or too small to make you feel better. Remember, “Reminding yourself of all your assets is a sure confidence booster,” says licensed psychologists Leslie Sokol, Ph.D. and Marci Fox

4. DETOX YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA

Seeing the carefully constructed lives of all the people around us can really start to put us in the dumps. It looks like people are doing and achieving so many amazing things, and it feels like we’re just stuck. To boost your self-esteem, turn off your social media. Delete your apps, log out, and focus on your life. Enjoy your time with friends and family without documenting it on Instagram or Snapchat.

5. READ AN OLD DIARY

If you have a journal that you’ve kept since high school, then a good way to feel a little better about yourself is to read back through it. All of your silly, high school drama will seem so hysterical now. It’s a good way to remind yourself that you’re not that person anymore, and thank god!

6. GIVE YOURSELF A PEP TALK

Yep, out loud. Talking to yourself is a great way to shake yourself out of feeling poorly. Not only that, but talking out loud to yourself is guaranteed to make it easier to internalize your messages.

“Remind yourself that, despite your problems, you are a unique, special, and valuable person, and that you deserve to feel good about yourself. You are, after all, a miracle of consciousness, the consciousness of the universe,” adds psychiatrist, philosopher and author Neel Burton, MD.

So, when you’re feeling particularly low, give yourself a pep talk. Treat yourself the way you would a close friend.

7. NO NEED TO BE PERFECT

Analyze your perception of what ‘perfect’ means. Are you trying to reach the heights of someone else, or are you trying to achieve an impossible standard? Letting yourself stop worrying about being perfect can be an amazing self-esteem boost.

Ariana Grande once said, “Be happy with being you. Love your flaws. Own your quirks. And know that you are just as perfect as anyone else, exactly as you are.” Remember, perfection is entirely subjective. Doing your best can be perfect, and your best won’t be someone else’s best. It’s all about doing what’s right for you.

8. YOU’RE NUMBER ONE

Sure, doing things for friends and family members is important, but you have to remember that it’s okay to put yourself first sometimes. If you need a day to relax, it’s okay to say “no” sometimes. Don’t be afraid to put yourself first if you need to have time to let your self-esteem reboot. It’s okay to treat yourself when things get too much!

9. BE SPONTANEOUS

Get in your car and take a road trip one town over! Go out to a new bar! Play a game you usually wouldn’t, or read a genre of book you’ve never tried before. Being spontaneous and acting out of character can be a great way to change up your life and give you a little boost of excitement. When we’re feeling low, sometimes all we need is a little change of scenery.

10. HANG WITH FRIENDS

This is a sane way to remind yourself how loved and appreciated you are. When you’re not feeling so hot, getting together with friends is an automatic self-esteem booster. After all, friends are there to lift you up and validate you.

“A healthy dose of skepticism and uncertainty about ourselves is a good thing because it helps us make better decisions. No one knows everything or has perfect instincts, and having good friends on whom we can rely for advice helps improve our sense of self-confidence and make better decisions,” says psychologist and author Irene S. Levine, Ph.D.

Don’t be afraid to reach out when you need some self-esteem boost. Your friends will always have your back!

Final thoughts

No matter how you usually feel in your day-to-day life, it’s probably true that your self-esteem isn’t always infallible. You may need a reminder from time-to-time, like everyone. Learning the best way to boost your self-esteem will make it easier for your self-esteem to stay high.

REFERENCES:
https://WWW.PSYCHOLOGYTODAY.COM/BLOG/NURTURING-SELF-COMPASSION/201703/8-STEPS-IMPROVING-YOUR-SELF-ESTEEM
https://WWW.PSYCHOLOGYTODAY.COM/BLOG/THINK-CONFIDENT-BE-CONFIDENT/201001/SIX-WAYS-BOOST-YOUR-SELF-ESTEEM
https://WWW.PSYCHOLOGYTODAY.COM/BLOG/HIDE-AND-SEEK/201205/BUILDING-CONFIDENCE-AND-SELF-ESTEEM
HTTPS://WWW.PSYCHOLOGYTODAY.COM/BLOG/THE-FRIENDSHIP-DOCTOR/201110/FIVE-WAYS-FRIENDS-HELP-BUILD-OUR-SELF-CONFIDENCE


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Rewire Your Brain to Think Positively

When you walk into your kitchen, what do you notice first, the beautiful flowers on the counter or dirty dishes in the sink?

If it’s the dirty dishes, that would be quite common – noticing the negative before the positive.

Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist and best-selling author, reported that we’re evolutionarily wired to notice bad over good. This clearly made sense 200,000 years ago for our ancestors who were trying to avoid threats and survive.

Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize itself and change its hardwiring structures over our lifetime. This can be both positive and negative for our mental health. If we’re not aware that our brain has a natural bias to notice negativity first, and we don’t know that we can train it to see more positively, we risk becoming more prone to focusing on negativity. This can impact our thinking, emotions and general mental health. As negativity becomes more intense, it can result in increased risk for mental illness such as depression.

It’s beneficial to understand some basic brain research in order to take positive action to offset thinking patterns that promote negative plasticity. With proper treatment and support, we can learn to stop negativity and repair the brain so it can become more positively wired. This is the micro skill of thinking of the positives first.

Awareness

This micro skill leverages lessons learned from meditation. They promote the benefits of being patient when learning this skill and not judging yourself, just noticing and then gently refocusing your attention. When you walk into a situation, approach it with the intention of looking for the positive. By being aware that your brain is naturally biased, and reminding and refocusing, you can train it to find the positive first.

Accountability

If you’ve been overly prone to see the negative first and have a difficult time seeing the positive, this can be changed if you really want to. For this micro skill to work it’s necessary to understand and accept that only you can directly impact your brain to increase its positive plasticity. If you can’t seem to do it alone, professionals can help you learn how. Positive change begins with awareness, and requires self-motivation. If you’re committed to find more of the positives in your life, this can benefit your mental health over time.

You can teach your brain to focus on the positives instead of the negatives
 to help improve your wellbeing and mental health.

Action

Your brain’s wiring is impacted by your habitual thinking habits. The more you create positive plasticity, the more likely you’ll wire more happiness into your brain.

1. Search for the positives.

Before you walk into your home after work, make a commitment that you’ll notice three positives before allowing your brain to focus on a negative. You can take this practice to work, team sports and relationships. This trains your brain to look for the positive over the negative. If your brain goes to a negative, don’t judge it; release it and move on to find the positive.

2. Give the positive more air time and importance.

It’s common for people when they get together to talk about what’s not working and focus on negatives. Make a commitment to give the positives more air time when you interact with others. By focusing on the positive and talking about it you create conditions and expectations for your brain to notice more positives, so you have more to share. This activity can influence others to think positively, which will help them as well.

3. Refocus to the positive.

Life isn’t perfect, so there will be times when you have a challenge that’s not positive and you want it over with. The key is to move away from the negative, because it inhibits you from finding a solution. By acknowledging the challenge and changing your focus to finding a solution – a positive – you move your attention away from the fear centre of the brain to turn on other parts that drive decision making and planning. This helps to increase your resiliency and move through life’s challenges and setbacks.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto.

This article supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell’s Employee Recommended Workplace Award. This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

Bill Howatt    SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL    NOVEMBER 1, 2017


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Life Is Wonderful vs. Life Is Woeful

Reconciling the positive aspects of life with the terrible is challenging.

In an era of incivility and aggression—an era of selfishness, greed and exploitation; with a wealth-poverty gap, political polarization, fundamentalist extremism, terrorism, fascist rhetoric, misogyny, gun violence, racism and anti-Semitism, war, and so much more—how can we possibly tolerate such terrible circumstances?

On the other hand, in an era of exciting progress—scientific discoveries; magnificent art, writing and music; relative peace; international cooperation; feminist progress; philanthropy; exploration of the cosmos; mindfulness and spirituality; and so much more—how is that we’re so fortunate to live in such an idyllic world?

How do we possibly manage to put the disturbing negatives of our lives into some perspective which enables us also to recognize love, laughter, tears, play, creativity, productivity, pleasure and resilience?

Weathering The Storm

How are we able to recognize that life is both wonderful and woeful?

 

  1. We compartmentalize. We put depressing events and temporary ecstasies in mind compartments, where these ephemera belong, and, facing “Triumph and Disaster,” we “treat these two impostors just the same” (as in Kipling’s poem “If”).
  2. We are mindful of and grateful for those we love, for our health, our sustenance and supports, and for our work and interests.
  3. We work and struggle to make a better world; we become contributing human beings, acting against unfairness and cruelty, and create a positive emotional footprint, treating others with kindness and respect, volunteering and helping those in less fortunate material, physical, or psychological straits.
  4. We philosophize. While we detest unfairness and cruelty in the world, we recognize that plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose—that history has endured many troublesome eras, and that basic human needs and propensities haven’t changed over the millennia.
  5. We note and savor the positive changes in the world, like the spread of democracies; peace agreements; inspirational figures like Albert Einstein, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and the Dalai Lama; the successful Paris talks on climate change; the apology and reparations from Japan to South Korea regarding “comfort women”; ISIS setbacks; the eradication of polio and progress against other diseases; the public contributions of major foundations; Habitat for Humanity; the Peace Corps; random acts of kindness; and much more.
  6. We engage in local and national democratic and political processes, to ensure as best we can that responsible, knowledgeable, mature, dedicated individuals are elected to public office.
  7. We overcome. We demonstrate, even in the face of challenges and adverse circumstances, our spirit, stamina, intelligence, initiative, and energy—and with the help of others, we withstand and display resilience and benevolence.
  8. We smell the flowers, and we plant the flowers…

 

Saul Levine M.D., is a professor emeritus at the University of California at San Diego.
 
Posted Jan 05, 2016    Saul Levine M.D. Saul Levine M.D.    Our Emotional Footprint
 


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How Complaining Rewires Your Brain for Negativity

Research shows that most people complain once a minute during a typical conversation. Complaining is tempting because it feels good, but like many other things that are enjoyable — such as smoking or eating a pound of bacon for breakfast – complaining isn’t good for you.

Your brain loves efficiency and doesn’t like to work any harder than it has to. When you repeat a behavior, such as complaining, your neurons branch out to each other to ease the flow of information. This makes it much easier to repeat that behavior in the future – so easy, in fact, that you might not even realize you’re doing it.

You can’t blame your brain. Who’d want to build a temporary bridge every time you need to cross a river? It makes a lot more sense to construct a permanent bridge. So, your neurons grow closer together, and the connections between them become more permanent. Scientists like to describe this process as, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely. Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around you. Complaining becomes your default behavior, which changes how people perceive you.

And here’s the kicker: complaining damages other areas of your brain as well. Research from Stanford University has shown that complaining shrinks the hippocampus – an area of the brain that’s critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. Damage to the hippocampus is scary, especially when you consider that it’s one of the primary brain areas destroyed by Alzheimer’s.

Complaining is also bad for your health

While it’s not an exaggeration to say that complaining leads to brain damage, it doesn’t stop there. When you complain, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol shifts you into fight-or-flight mode, directing oxygen, blood and energy away from everything but the systems that are essential to immediate survival. One effect of cortisol, for example, is to raise your blood pressure and blood sugar so that you’ll be prepared to either escape or defend yourself.

All the extra cortisol released by frequent complaining impairs your immune system and makes you more susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. It even makes the brain more vulnerable to strokes.

It’s not just you…

Since human beings are inherently social, our brains naturally and unconsciously mimic the moods of those around us, particularly people we spend a great deal of time with. This process is called neuronal mirroring, and it’s the basis for our ability to feel empathy. The flip side, however, is that it makes complaining a lot like smoking – you don’t have to do it yourself to suffer the ill effects. You need to be cautious about spending time with people who complain about everything. Complainers want people to join their pity party so that they can feel better about themselves. Think of it this way: If a person were smoking, would you sit there all afternoon inhaling the second-hand smoke? You’d distance yourself, and you should do the same with complainers.

eckhart-tolle-complain-quotes

The solution to complaining

There are two things you can do when you feel the need to complain. One is to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. That is, when you feel like complaining, shift your attention to something that you’re grateful for. Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the right thing to do; it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23%. Research conducted at the University of California, Davis, found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood and energy and substantially less anxiety due to lower cortisol levels. Any time you experience negative or pessimistic thoughts, use this as a cue to shift gears and to think about something positive. In time, a positive attitude will become a way of life.

The second thing you can do — and only when you have something that is truly worth complaining about – is to engage in solution-oriented complaining. Think of it as complaining with a purpose. Solution-oriented complaining should do the following:

  1. Have a clear purpose. Before complaining, know what outcome you’re looking for. If you can’t identify a purpose, there’s a good chance you just want to complain for its own sake, and that’s the kind of complaining you should nip in the bud.
  2. Start with something positive. It may seem counterintuitive to start a complaint with a compliment, but starting with a positive helps keep the other person from getting defensive. For example, before launching into a complaint about poor customer service, you could say something like, “I’ve been a customer for a very long time and have always been thrilled with your service…”
  3. Be specific. When you’re complaining it’s not a good time to dredge up every minor annoyance from the past 20 years. Just address the current situation and be as specific as possible. Instead of saying, “Your employee was rude to me,” describe specifically what the employee did that seemed rude.
  4. End on a positive. If you end your complaint with, “I’m never shopping here again,” the person who’s listening has no motivation to act on your complaint. In that case, you’re just venting, or complaining with no purpose other than to complain. Instead, restate your purpose, as well as your hope that the desired result can be achieved, for example, “I’d like to work this out so that we can keep our business relationship intact.”

Bringing It All Together

Just like smoking, drinking too much, and lying on the couch watching TV all day, complaining is bad for you. Put my advice to use, and you’ll reap the physical, mental and performance benefits that come with a positive frame of mind.

TRAVIS BRADBERRY       Entrepreneur.com      Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016
A version of this article appeared on TalentSmart and Entrepreneur.com.


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Cultivating the Happiness Habit

New research increasingly shows a link between positive emotions and good physical health. It may be a case of chicken and egg—people who are happier tend to cultivate healthier habits and those who practice healthy habits report greater happiness—but health and happiness are clearly connected. There are also simple practices that will boost both your happiness and your health.

How Happiness Affects Health

The role of negative emotions on health has long been studied, with clear evidence that serious, sustained stress or fear can over time cause people’s bodies to get worn down and become susceptible to illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. “We need to take more seriously the possibility that positive emotional style is a major player in [reducing] disease risk,” said Sheldon Cohen, psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon. Results of his studies confirm that people who are happy, lively, calm or exhibit other positive emotions are less likely to become ill when they are exposed to a cold virus than those who report few of these emotions.

optimism

A 2012 study published by the Harvard School of Public Health reviewed more than 200 studies that found a connection between positive psychological attributes, such as happiness, optimism and life satisfaction, and a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease. Happiness (or the continuous cultivation of a positive and grateful attitude rather than seeking external pleasures and continuous stimulation), on the other hand, can play a significant role in boosting a person’s health and resiliency.

Researchers at UCLA have discovered that happiness can even alter your genes in a healthy way.

Cultivating Healthy Habits

It’s never too late or too difficult to cultivate the kind of happiness that is connected with good health.

Our health is shaped by five key factors (in order of importance): our behavioral choices, social circumstances, environmental conditions, genetics and access to medical care. While these affect each other, the good news is that we are not simply trapped by our circumstances. In fact, studies show that much less than half of our state of health is determined by our biology.

The biggest factor in determining our health is actually the daily choices we make in terms of our diet, physical activity, sex, stress and more. It is also determined by the attitude and mindset we cultivate.

It isn’t simply that happy people are healthier, but people who have a sense of well being often find it easier to maintain healthy habits. Happier people often eat better, exercise more often and enjoy good sleep than those who are not. Harvard School of Public Health professor Laura Kubzansky who has studied the link between health and happiness says, “People who have an optimistic mindset may be more likely to engage in healthy behaviors because they perceive them as helpful in achieving their goals.”

Cultivating the happiness habit

People who deliberately cultivate positive thinking and positive habits often find these to be mutually reinforcing. It might take effort at first but soon people find healthy practices to be rewarding both in terms of increased vitality and sense of well-being.

empathy

The charity Action for Happiness surveyed 5000 people and discovered that “our day-to-day habits have a much bigger impact on our happiness than we might imagine.” While they found that there were many habits linking health and happiness, it was also vital for people to accept and be kind to themselves.

Kindness linked with mindfulness, a technique that focuses on the present rather than the past or future, and which encourages gratitude and enjoyment of what is.
Action for Happiness developed a list of healthful behaviors that contribute to well-being:

  • Giving: do things for others
  • Relating: connect with people
  • Exercising: take care of your body
  • Appreciating: notice the world around
  • Trying out: keep learning new things
  • Direction: have goals to look forward to
  • Resilience: find ways to bounce back
  • Emotion: take a positive approach
  • Acceptance: be comfortable with who you are
  • Meaning: be part of something bigger

Whether you feel happy or not, you can make positive choices that boost both your mood and your health—and that is something to smile about! You will also invest in a healthier brain and body for your own future.

by Valerie Au          January 15, 2015