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How Expressing Gratitude Might Change Your Brain

A lot of so-called “positive psychology” can seem a bit flaky, especially if you’re the sort of person disinclined to respond well to an admonition to “look on the bright side.” But positive psychologists have published some interesting findings, and one of the more robust ones is that feeling grateful is very good for you. Time and again, studies have shown that performing simple gratitude exercises, like keeping a gratitude diary or writing letters of thanks, can bring a range of benefits, such as feelings of increased well-being and reduced depression, that often linger well after the exercises are finished.

Now a brain-scanning study in NeuroImage brings us a little closer to understanding why these exercises have these effects. The results suggest that even months after a simple, short gratitude writing task, people’s brains are still wired to feel extra thankful. The implication is that gratitude tasks work, at least in part, because they have a self-perpetuating nature: The more you practice gratitude, the more attuned you are to it and the more you can enjoy its psychological benefits.

The Indiana University researchers, led by Prathik Kini, recruited 43 people who were undertaking counseling sessions as a treatment for their anxiety or depression. Twenty-two of them were assigned to a gratitude intervention; for the first three sessions of their weekly counseling, this group spent 20 minutes writing a letter in which they expressed their gratitude to the recipient, an hour in total (whether they chose to send these letters was up to them). The other participants acted as a control group, so they simply attended their counseling as usual without performing the gratitude task.

Three months after their counseling was over, all of the participants completed a “Pay It Forward” gratitude task in a brain scanner. Each was “given” various amounts of money by imaginary benefactors whose names and photos appeared onscreen to add to the realism of the task. The researchers told the participants that each benefactor said that if the participant wanted to express their gratitude for the monetary gift, they’d appreciate it if the participant gave some or all of the donation to a named third party (again, identified by photo and name), or a named charity. The participants knew this was all an exercise, but were all told that one of the transactions, chosen later at random, would actually occur — that is, they’d actually receive the cash amount offered to them by one of the benefactors minus the amount they chose to pass on (and the money they opted to pass on really would go to charity).

The researchers found that, on average, the more money a participant gave away, and the stronger the feelings of gratitude they reported feeling, the more activity they exhibited in a range of brain areas in the frontal, parietal, and occipital regions. Interestingly, these neural-activity patterns appeared somewhat distinct from those that usually appear when brain-scan subjects complete tasks associated with emotions like empathy or thinking about other people’s points of view, which is consistent with the idea that gratitude is a unique emotion.

gratitude

Most exciting, though, is the finding that the participants who’d completed the gratitude task months earlier not only reported feeling more gratefulness two weeks after the task than members of the control group, but also, months later, showed more gratitude-related brain activity in the scanner. The researchers described these “profound” and “long-lasting” neural effects as “particularly noteworthy,” and they highlighted that one of the main regions that showed this increased sensitivity — the “pregenual anterior cingulate,” which is known to be involved in predicting the effects of one’s own actions on other people — overlaps with a key brain region identified in the only previous study on the neurological footprint of gratitude.

This result suggests that the more practice you give your brain at feeling and expressing gratitude, the more it adapts to this mind-set — you could even think of your brain as having a sort of gratitude “muscle” that can be exercised and strengthened (not so different from various other qualities that can be cultivated through practice, of course). If this is right, the more of an effort you make to feel gratitude one day, the more the feeling will come to you spontaneously in the future. It also potentially helps explain another established finding, that gratitude can spiral: The more thankful we feel, the more likely we are to act pro-socially toward others, causing them to feel grateful and setting up a beautiful virtuous cascade.

However, let’s not allow the warm glow of all this gratitude to melt our critical faculties. It’s important to realize this result is incredibly preliminary. For one thing, as the researchers openly acknowledge, they didn’t conduct a baseline brain scan of the participants before they started the Pay It Forward game, so it’s possible, though unlikely given that participants were randomly assigned to the gratitude and control groups, that the participants who performed the gratitude task simply had more neural sensitivity to gratitude already, not because they performed the gratitude task. Another thing: Members of the control group didn’t perform a comparison writing task, so we can’t know for sure that it was the act of writing a letter of thanks, as opposed to any kind of writing exercise, that led to increased neural sensitivity to gratitude.

Still, neurological investigations into gratitude are in their early days, and this research certainly gives us some intriguing clues as to how and why gratitude exercises are beneficial. For that we can be, well, grateful.

Dr. Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer), a Science of Us contributing writer, is editor of the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest blog. His latest book is Great Myths of the Brain.

By Christian Jarrett   JAN. 7, 2016
 
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12 Ways to Wake Up Happier Tomorrow Morning (and Every Morning)

We’d be happier if only things were different, right? If we had more money or a better job or weighed 20 pounds less? With these positivity-boosting strategies, you can be happier right now—no life changes needed.

Set your mind on being happy

Being happy is not about what you have or what happens to you, but how you react to it. In fact, research shows that the way to be happier is by actually trying to be happier. “Happiness is definitely a choice,” says Caroline Adams Miller, a professional coach, speaker, and best-selling author of Your Happiest Life Workbook. “Research on identical and fraternal twins separated at birth, among other studies, shows that at least half of our well-being is directly tied to what we choose to think about and do on a daily basis.” Another study, the Cornell Legacy Project, surveyed “wise elders” to find out their life lessons, one of which was that waiting to become happy doesn’t work. Instead, greeting each day with a good attitude puts us in control of our own positive mindset.

Do something for someone else

Wondering how to make yourself happier? Give back. Studies show that doing something for others is a great way to boost your spirits—and donating time gives a bigger boost than giving money, according to one study. “We did a study in which we asked people to do acts of kindness—one group did acts of kindness for others, another group did acts of kindness for the world such as picking up litter, and a group did things for themselves, like getting a massage or having a nice lunch,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, and the author of The How of Happiness. “We found that only doing acts of kindness for others or the world, especially for others, made people happier.” Whether you volunteer formally or simply shovel your elderly neighbor’s driveway, doing things for others gives you perspective on your own life and helps you feel you’re making a difference.

Call a friend

Research shows humans are pro-social beings, so having real, meaningful relationships in life is crucial to feeling happy. Really connecting and conversing deeply with someone has been shown to be more fulfilling than small talk, so make time each day to call or spend time with a friend or family member. “High quality, close relationships are fundamentally important for well being,” says Brett Major, a researcher in the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology (PEP) Laboratory. Plus, feeling we’ve helped out someone we love makes us feel good as well. Studies have shown that parents feel greater fulfillment when their children are happy. Strong ties can also help us feel more secure when something bad happens—research shows those in tight-knit communities fare better when faced with a crisis.

Find meaning in your pursuits

When we think, “once I achieve this goal, I’ll be happy,” we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. With success, it’s the journey, not the destination that’s fulfilling. “People don’t succeed at their goals and then become happy; being happy or emotionally flourishing first is what sets the stage for someone to become successful,” Miller says. “The research shows that when we do things that add meaning, purpose, and even pleasure to our lives, happiness is the by-product that allows us to thrive and grow in positive, proactive ways.” Even just getting caught up in an activity, called “flow” in psychology or being “in the zone,” makes you feel energized and fulfilled, whether you’re painting furniture, writing music, or just going through the junk drawer in the kitchen. “Accomplishing tasks and mastering skills helps people feel more confident in themselves and their abilities, which ultimately fuels well-being,” Major says.

Look back—and forward—with rose-colored glasses

Stewing over something you regret just breeds unhappiness. Instead, research from San Francisco State University shows that focusing on good memories makes us feel more content with our life. “In two minutes, write down every detail you can remember about a meaningful event from the day before,” suggests Michelle Gielan, a former CBS News anchor who’s now a positive psychology expert and the bestselling author of Broadcasting Happiness. “Yesterday’s high points can be today’s fuel for happiness.” This can even have an effect on our overall health: Geilan points to a study that found that patients suffering from chronic pain who did this for six months were able to reduce their pain meds. Finding the good in our past can help us look to the future with hope instead of trepidation.

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Cultivate gratitude

Actively cultivating a feeling of gratefulness is one of the best ways to get happier. “There’s a lot of research on trying to appreciate what’s good about your life rather than focusing on what you don’t have or what other people have and you want,” says Dr. Lyubomirsky. “We have people write gratitude letters to their mother, for example, and not even share them. They write out all the things Mom has done, and just the process alone makes you really appreciate everything.” This can make you feel closer and even improve your bond—especially if you decide to share your gratitude letter. “Genuine expressions of gratitude help build new relationships or strengthen existing ones by demonstrating to others that we appreciate, understand, and care about them,” Major says.

Savor the moment

In the words of Ferris Bueller from the iconic ’80s movie, “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it.” Savoring positive experiences can help us fully appreciate the world around us. “We are so busy, always focusing on our to-do list, so stopping and smelling the roses is important,” Dr. Lyubomirsky says. The practice of mindfulness can help you be more aware of the moment and the gifts it brings. “It’s really being attuned and paying attention, as opposed to your mind wandering all over the place,” she says.

Get off the couch

It’s no surprise that exercise is good for your body—but it can improve your outlook. Research from the University of Vermont shows that the mood-enhancing benefits of a 20-minute workout last for 12 hours! “Exercise releases endorphins, which activate the body’s ‘reward system,’ basically telling the body ‘you should do this again’ by making a person feel really good, reducing stress, and improving mood,” says Acacia Parks, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Hiram College and the chief scientist of the website happify.com. For an extra bonus, exercise outdoors since being in nature also benefits your mood. Even better, do so in the morning. Geilan says morning exercise is a recipe for “double happiness” because your brain runs on the fuel of “having a win” early in the day.

Choose time over stuff

Easier said than done—but money really can’t buy happiness. Due to something psychologists call hedonic adaptation, we get used to the beautiful, wonderful things we have, so after a short period of time material possessions don’t do much to make us feel happier. If you’re going to spend money, buy experiences, like traveling, which studies have shown to lead to greater fulfillment than objects. The novelty of doing and seeing new things piques our interest and expands our perspective, helping us to better appreciate our own life. Learn the truth behind myths of happiness you’ve convinced yourself are true.

Do what you believe in

Recent research suggests that people are happier when they do the right thing for the good of others—although at the time it might be hard. That might mean missing your favorite TV show so you can volunteer at a soup kitchen, or cutting into your own reading budget so you can contribute books to a school fundraiser. “Following your conscience isn’t always pleasant, so it may not improve a person’s emotional state, but it may improve their evaluation of their life,” Dr. Parks says. Miller says tackling such hard stuff improves your “grit,” or perseverance, which boosts confidence. “People with authentic grit do hard things that build their self-respect and enlarge their vision of what they’re made of,” says Miller, who’s written a book on the topic called Getting Grit. In this way, when you make decisions that affirm your own values, you feel more secure. “People become less defensive and more open to others when they affirm their values,” Lyubomirsky says. “You feel better about yourself and more positive in general.”

Seek out good news

There is so much negativity the second you turn on the morning news shows that it can cast a shadow over your whole day. Instead, try to fill your morning with positivity. “In a study I did with Arianna Huffington and researcher Shawn Achor, we found that watching three minutes of positive, solutions-focused news as compared to negative news in the morning can lead to a 27 percent higher likelihood of reporting your day as a happy one six to eight hours later,” Gielan says. “Start your day with an inspiring story of a person or organization that overcame a challenge, or one that focuses on solutions to create positive change.” Try websites like upworthy.com, humansofnewyork.com, or huffingtonpost.com’s Good News.

Find the get-happy strategy that works for you

Actions you can take to become happier are not one-size-fits-all. If something feels artificial or you don’t identify with it, choose a different strategy. “Everyone needs to study themselves to figure out when they are at their best, and then take care to replicate those actions on a daily basis,” Miller says. Once you decide what works for you, your positivity can help you through even the worst of times. “Positive emotions enable people to build enduring resources—like friends who provide social support, psychological resilience, and new skills and knowledge—that can be helpful in coping with negative experiences,” Major says. And this can make us happier in the long run.

Tina Donvito
source: www.rd.com


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6 Ways To Start ‘Living Big’ (And How It Can Change Your Life For The Better)

Are you doing everything you can to achieve your dreams?

“Living Big” is a mindset of living with abundance. Now the abundance is not what you own, or have, it is what you share. There are as many wonderful ways to Living Big as there are water drops in an ocean, needles on an evergreen tree, grains of sand on a beach.Living Big is learning to generously share yourself, your stories, and enjoy the exciting connections that develop. It’s putting yourself out into the world and embracing the things that once scared you. It can change your life and increase your happiness and even your self-assuredness. There are people who are too afraid to put themselves out there, but this is the key to Living Big and making it work for you, so it’s important to learn how to do it!

But what exactly does this concept mean, and how can you use it in your everyday life? Simply put, Living Big means taking every opportunity that comes your way. It means seeing these opportunities and trying your best to make every day another chance for you to succeed and be happy.

You make choices all the time about how you’re going to handle situations or how you’re going to choose to live our lives. Living Big simply means you’re learning to open up to the world and share yourself so that you’re living your best possible life in return!How can you start using Living Big in your life?
Here are 6 ways you can share your talent and amazing self with the world:
1. Shift your focus to positive things.

Human beings are programmed to see the negative in life, and so it can take some time to stop focusing on this when something good happens to you. And it’s important not to dwell on the negative and to instead embrace the positive effects in your life. Focus on being abundant in the areas that count, like generousness, innovation, creativity, resilience, honesty, and happiness.These positive expressions will make sure that you’re living life according to a healthy moral compass and will draw similarly-minded people to you as well. Living Big guarantees that you’re looking at the world in a new light, making certain that you’re noticing the goodness in the world and striving to achieve it in every aspect of your life.

2. Live with humility and gratitude.

Have you taken the time to notice everything life is giving to you, and to be grateful for it? The abundance around you is unimaginably amazing! You live in a fascinating system designed to sustain our lives.

You only need to breathe, eat, drink, sleep, work, and play in order to live in this awesome system. And the miracle of support keeps on happening, every moment of every day. This is whether you are aware of it or not. The greater your awareness, the greater your humility and gratitude.

When you live with humility, you begin to recognize that every morning, you’re given a new chance to make the most out of your life, simply by waking up!

Part of Living Big is in recognizing the areas where you can be grateful and then being grateful for them. You get to pursue many wonderful things in this big, beautiful world, and every day is an opportunity to make certain that you’re in the practice of saying, “Thank you!” whether it’s to ourselves, the people who help you, the planet that supports you, or the universe that sustains you.

3. Appreciate the freedom that you have.

Freedom is not something someone gives you. It is something you take. So how can you truly appreciate this power and the ability you have to pursue the things you want in life?Stop what you’re doing sometimes. Step outdoors and take a deep breath. Smell the fresh air, feel the breeze on your skin, and look at the sky and see its magnificent, ever-changing picture.

It is all here for you. It is always here, nurturing, feeding you. It costs you nothing to appreciate it. You occasionally get so caught up in trying to move forward that you forget the amazing things you already have. It’s really important to literally stop and smell the roses every once in a while, just so you can ground yourself and appreciate your life and the world around you.

Create a commitment and every day, recognize your freedom and embrace your goals. Understand that they are possible, and go for it! Then see how accepting your freedom and your chance to do something wonderful in this world will change your life for the better. When you live enthusiastically with the knowledge that you have choices on how to respond to everything that comes your way, you will be able to see the big picture that you’re striving toward, and you’ll gain some insight into how to bring your passion to life.

And when you need grounding, step back out into the world, breathe in the air, and remember to be thankful for all that you have and all that you’ve worked toward!

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4. Live your dreams like they’re already happening.

The great American mythologist Joseph Campbell described the importance of “Following your bliss.” Your dreams will take you on a life-changing and ever-evolving journey that will grow and thrive as you do. And as you live big, they will change and become even better, new dreams replacing and building on the dreams you’ve already achieved.

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, you learned the importance of staying on your path with friends who love you and fighting for your dreams no matter how hard things get. Living Big encourages you to do the same.

You are all looking for something out in the world that is missing inside of you. Where is the answer? It is inside of everyone. Sometimes, you just haven’t recognized it yet. The more curious you are about your dreams, the more you nurture them to life, and the bigger you’ll live!

5. Living Big will teach you about perseverance and faith in the impossible.
Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why not follow my dreams?
  • Why can’t I make my life the way it most matters to me?
  • Why can’t I be unstoppable?
  • Why can’t failures and mistakes lead me to success?
  • Why can’t I imagine a successful future as though it has already happened?

When you look at closed doors around you as opportunities instead of losses, you’ll start to realize that you’re capable of so much more! Imagine yourself as a successful person who achieved all of their dreams, and then ask these question. Once you’ve pictured yourself where you want to be, work backward to discover what steps you think you needed to take to get there. It is all waiting for you, and it’s possible!

The greater your ability to trust in your dreams, the stronger you are. The greater is your perseverance to achieve your dreams. Remind yourself every day of the abundance around you.

Your dreams are your joyous compass to surrender, to create your success. Living Big is understanding that the world is available for you to thrive no matter what.

6. It will teach you discipline and to love and accept yourself.

Following a structure — any structure — requires discipline. Living Big and looking through the world to see the possibilities will require effort and discipline as well.

And as you practice being grateful for your opportunities and the blessings in your life, you’ll begin to appreciate and love yourself as well. After all, you’re the reason that you’re accomplishing your goals in life!

The more disciplined you are, the greater your self-love and the better the results in your life. Living Big is something everyone wants to achieve. Yet, wanting something is not enough.

Curiosity, self-discipline, and healthy connections bring light into our world. You can use these to overcome the areas where you might need help or are lacking a bit, and still look at the world with a smile and an attitude of thankfulness.

Being disciplined is loving yourself. Living Big is loving yourself with empowerment and sharing this with the world. Enjoy a better life and live big!

You deserve to be happy in life and to have the opportunity to fulfill your dreams. Living Big will help open these options to you and teach you to appreciate everything you have in life, even as you strive for bigger, better things.

Open yourself to possibilities and you can become the change you want to see in your own life!

Suzanne Kyra is a registered clinical counselor, empowerment speaker, and award-winning author. In addition to being an expert in individual, couple, family and professional development, she is an expert in Living Big. Go to her website, SuzanneKyra.com, to learn more about all of her personal and professional development programs, blogs and free information on How To Live Big and Live the Life You Love. 
Suzanne Kyra    June 22, 2018


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How to Stay Mentally Healthy During the Holidays

Do the holidays stress you out? You’re not alone. It’s a hectic time of year for many people, maybe even most people.

Nothing about our usual daily life goes away. The holidays add a layer of activities and responsibilities, both real and imagined, that take up time, money and emotional energy. Even if we enjoy many aspects of the season, there may well be moments when we wish we could rewind the calendar to somewhere in the middle of August.

I can’t reverse the calendar, but I can remind you of some strategies for maintaining your sanity during this most pressured time of year.

  • Recognize that the people in your life are who they are. It is not new information who will be the Scrooge, who will drink too much, who will have unrealistic expectations or who will be generous to a fault. No one is going to change just because it’s the holidays. Let go of the idea you can change anyone who bugs you. Find constructive ways to minimize their impact on your life. Put your energy and time into those who know how to love and whose presence makes you happy.
  • Give yourself permission to let some things go. Take a moment each morning to gather your thoughts. Make a list of all the things you have to do and want to do. Check off the two or three items that are really important to you. Let yourself entertain the idea of letting go of many of the others — or at least reducing them in some way. Many of us make our own stress by buying into the “have to’s.”
  • Take time every day to enjoy something about the season. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of decorating and shopping and baking and wrapping. But are you enjoying any of it? Stop. Breathe. Take a few minutes to enjoy the decorations on the lampposts or to really look at the lights. Savor one of the cookies. Inhale the warm smells coming from your oven. Wrapping a gift can be just another chore or it can be a way to quietly celebrate what the intended receiver means to you.
  • Take care of yourself. We should do this all the time but it’s especially important to get enough sleep, to eat right, and to get some exercise every day when stressed. Self-care is not an “extra,” even though it may seem to take too much time. Time invested in yourself each day will more than pay off in your general sense of well-being throughout the season.
  • Everything in moderation. Be mindful of your own tipping points when it comes to holiday indulgences. You already know your limits for alcohol and sweets. Listen to your own good sense and you’ll avoid waking up with regret, a hangover or an extra five pounds.
  • Stick to your budget. Forty-five percent of those polled in a recent survey done by Think Finance (a provider of payday loans) said that the financial stress of the holidays makes them wish they could skip the whole thing. This was true across all income levels. Yes, it’s difficult to resist the commercialism, the hype, the buy, buy, buy messages that are everywhere. But it’s important to remind ourselves that overspending is not the only way to express love. Gifts that are made by the giver often are more meaningful and treasured than anything that comes from a store. Spending quality time with someone sometimes is the best present of all.
  • Reach out. Lonely? Being alone, far from family or without one during the holidays is a key source of stress for many people. Connect with friends and plan some activities that celebrate the season — even if it’s just enjoying a peppermint stick in a cup of tea. Attend your house of worship and stay if there is a coffee hour. Get into the holiday spirit by volunteering at a soup kitchen or charity event for needy children. Being in a festive atmosphere with other good people who are doing good work is a great antidote for loneliness.
  • Do random acts of kindness. Get into the season of giving. Let someone else have that parking space near the store. Compliment the harried store clerk. Let the mom who is shopping with kids go ahead of you in line. Be generous with street musicians. Doing good will make you feel good — or at least better.
  • Be grateful. Research has shown that taking the time to be grateful every day has enormous physical and mental health benefits. It helps build our immune systems, keeps us in touch with the positive aspects of life, and connects us with others. So keep a holiday gratitude journal. From now until the New Year take a few minutes every day to write down at least three things you are grateful for. They don’t have to be huge events. Sure. If you win the lottery tomorrow, you can be grateful for that. But short of such a windfall, we can be grateful for having enough food to eat or for getting a phone call from a friend or for the neighbor whose holiday lights make us smile.

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The holiday season may be busy, but it doesn’t have to drive us insane. We do have the ability to bring down the stress and bring up the joy. After all, the best gift we can give ourselves and those around us is our own peace of mind.


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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?

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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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4 Scientifically Proven Tips to Improve Your Happiness

Everyone wants to be happy in their lives, but it isn’t always easy. You may take drastic measures — try to buy new things, meet new people, uproot your life, but nothing changes. But being happy starts in your mind, so you have to give your mind what it needs first. If you’re looking for some foolproof ways to improve your life, here are 4 scientific tips on how to boost happiness, starting in your brain.

EXPERIENCE GRATITUDE
Studies have shown time and time again that expressing gratitude and humility for the good qualities in your life can make you happier on a chemical level. Gratitude stimulates the brain to create dopamine and feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin. By expressing your gratitude to people you are grateful for, you in turn create a positive social relationship with those around you that keeps on giving.

EXPRESS YOUR EMOTIONS
Whether it’s through verbal language, writing or some other form of art, expressing what your innermost feelings are can have an instant effect on your life outlook. Often, our deepest emotions can get blurred while they’re still whirling around in our minds. By putting your emotions out there, you can take a step back — look, read or watch — and begin to understand your feelings for what they really are. This allows your brain the space to analyze and process emotions, which often reveals that they are not as intense or dire as you may have previously thought. Expressing your emotions allows you to put everything into perspective.

GIVE UP PERFECTION
While worrying about your problems can seem productive — at least it’s on your mind, right? — it gets you nowhere in the long run. Instead of struggling and stressing over making the best decision possible, you are far better off making any decision rather than worrying over it. Making a decision moves you forward. Worrying does not. Once you’ve made a decision, your brain will immediately feel more at peace. While making a bad decision is not encouraged, making one that is good enough but not ideal is probably the best way to go in terms of reducing stress and increasing happiness. A good enough decision activates a different part of the brain than an ideally perfect decision. The former activates the prefrontal cortex, which controls logic, while the latter activates more emotional portions of the brain which can make us feel less in control. An active decision also increases dopamine production, meaning it actually makes you happier, regardless of what you have decided.

ENJOY HUMAN TOUCH
Human contact is a powerful force in the body. It can boost the immune system, increase trust, improve learning and — you guessed it — boost your happiness and wellbeing. Human touch like a hug releases oxytocin in the brain, which actually works to facilitate intimacy and social bonding. Feeling like you have a network of trustworthy people around you can do wonders to improve your happiness. Go for long hugs, if appropriate. Those stimulate the most oxytocin production.

Being happy starts in the brain. By being true to yourself and others, you can live a happier life, accompanied by other great side effects — like stronger social connections, stronger feelings of self-worth and a more positive outlook on life. Of course, listening to good music or drawing a hot bath are great mood quick fixes, too, but true happiness starts at your core.

 source: www.care2.com