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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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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


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8 Mental Habits That Suck Happiness From Your Life

There are different personality traits people possess which pretty much map out how their lives unfold. Each of you have developed certain habits and emotional masks that determine how you deal with your life and the people in it. You may not even notice it, but certain habits have the ability to keep you happy while the others can make you downright miserable. Here are 8 habits that can suck happiness out of your life.

1. Not Forgiving Yourself

Let’s face it, everyone has regrets. You are allowed to feel guilty about certain life choices you have made, the blunders you committed, the promises you have broken, and the lies you have told. Nobody is perfect and no one is completely free of regrets. But that doesn’t mean you have to be entangled in your regrets forever. Everyone makes mistakes. Cut yourself some slack, learn to forgive yourself.

2. Holding On To Grudges

People are bound to hurt you in life. Sometimes what they have done is so bad that it leaves a permanent scar. It is not easy to forgive certain people or forget how much pain they have caused you. But forgiveness is a factor that often decides how you move on with your life. Grudges tie you down, weigh down your soul, and prevent you from embracing happiness. Forgiving someone does not negate the fact that they hurt you, it just means that you are free from feeling chained to that particular incident.

3. Not Being Grateful

This isn’t just about saying “thank you” without even giving it a second thought; it is about practicing gratitude. Do not waste your time and energy seething about why you didn’t get a table at your favorite restaurant on a busy Saturday night, or because the waiter brought your regular fries instead of sweet potato fries. Be grateful that you are lucky enough to afford going to a restaurant or that you have people to wait on you. Never stop telling yourself how better off you are compared to so many others.

4. Thinking In Extremes

When something good happens you are ecstatic, and when things don’t go the way you want, you immediately sink into deep blues. This can reflect upon the way you connect with people too- if you love someone you are ready to die for them, and if you hate someone you want to see them suffer at any cost. This is a behavior that can never do you any good. Learn to balance things out. Try to find a silver lining, no matter how bad the situation is or how much a person sucks. Nothing good comes out of extreme negativity. Similarly try not to go overboard when you are happy- this does not mean you have to undermine your happiness, just that you should keep things a bit low key instead of throwing confetti for every good thing that happens in your life.

5. Following Double Standards

Sometimes you are quick to judge certain people and adamant about sticking to your judgment no matter what they do. Chances are that you have placed high standards for others that you yourself don’t even follow. There are also times when the person you hate the most is actually very much like you. Hypocrisy is something that can eat you from the inside, making you feel miserable. Try not to keep double standards, it will only make you feel like a fraud.

6. Putting Everything And Everyone In The Same Slot

Stop yourself from generalizing everything and everyone. All men aren’t the same. All women aren’t the same either. Not everyone who asks for your help is trying to con you. No, you will not fail at everything. And all your choices aren’t bad. True that people and situations disappoint you from time to time. But this does not mean things never change- learn to take risks, and some things and certain people will eventually turn around.

7. Believing Things Are Out Of Your Hand

You often feel that life is never under your control. It ‘s a fact that you can never plan your life too much, but that does not mean you can’t change it’s course. You may feel you don’t have the reins in your hand, though it has been within your reach all along. All you have to do is grab hold of your life and direct it the way you want to go. It might not always work in your favor, but you will never know until you try.

8. Thinking Someone Will Eventually Make You Happy

A common mistake committed by many is that they depend on others for happiness. Yes, humans are social beings, and we do need human company to be happy. But does not mean the key to your happiness is in the hands of someone else. Life is too short. It has no time for selfish friends, negligent partners, or judgmental relatives. It is up to you to save your ass and keep yourself happy.

Apr 21, 2017    by CureJoy Editorial
 


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Why the Grass is Never Greener and How to Be Happy Today

Lifestyle. Opportunities. Wealth. Just think how far we’ve come in the past 100 years—especially when you look at what we have today compared with our great grandmothers’ generation.

My great grandmother married very young, lived in the same place her whole life, and had 11 children. She never had a “career” and never got a chance to go on a vacation. Her life was hard, poor, and lacking in any real opportunity.

I wonder if she ever dreamed about moving to another city, or transforming her life, or about seeing the world with just a backpack. I bet she did, but back then there weren’t as many opportunities as we have today.

Thanks to technology, the Internet, and an improved society, our lifestyles are completely transformed. We have choices. We can live pretty much anywhere we want. We can travel and see the world.

We can secure jobs on the other side of the planet. We can start our own businesses and serve clients thousands of miles away. It’s definitely an exciting time.

But when there is a wealth of opportunities, choices, and places where we could choose to live, you’d think we’d all be happy, right? Wrong.

You see, the problem with having choices is that we become restless. We can’t settle on what we already have or be satisfied with what we’ve got because we’ll always be wondering about the next big thing.

It’s called “the grass is always greener” syndrome. We think someone else is having a better time elsewhere. We make ourselves miserable by constantly thinking about the unknown in an endless quest to find happiness.

We lie awake at night torturing ourselves over what we should do next, wondering if we’re missing out on something big. We feel we’re wasting our lives if we’re not doing something more important.

There’s also this sense of time pressure, particularly with my generation who had the saying “The World is your Oyster” drilled into us from a young age.

This means there can be a sense of urgency, because we feel like we’re running out of time and should be doing something greater or somehow we’ll fail.

Photo by Hello Turkey Toe
“If you worry about what might be,
and wonder what might have been, you will ignore what is.”
~Unknown

We also think we’re special and that our lives are destined to be adventurous, thrilling, and hugely successful. And when they’re not turning out that way? We become depressed. We want more. We get “grass is greener” syndrome.

That’s when we become unhappy and spend all of our time and energy on focusing on what we don’t have rather than counting our blessings.

Some of us might start to move around a lot—often to find the “perfect” city or town, somewhere we can call “home,” somewhere we’ll be happy. Others might jump from one job or relationship to the next, never fully committing to anything.

But once we’ve made that leap to the other side—once we’ve moved to where we thought the grass would be greener and where we’d be happy—we discover that it is no different. We start to wonder about the grass being greener elsewhere.

We are never truly happy when we have “grass is greener” syndrome. It’s a fact.

Focusing on things we don’t have is a recipe for disaster. It only leads to a miserable existence and causes us to forget what’s most important—and that’s what’s happening right now.

As John Lennon once said: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” And that’s certainly true.

We all seem to be victims of ignoring what’s actually happening right at this very moment, which is only natural when we have so many choices and opportunities available to us.

We can all forget the whole point of happiness, and that’s peace of mind, acceptance, and mindfulness. Essentially, it’s being happy no matter where you are in the world, or what you’re doing, or whom you’re with.

Being mindful quiets the mind and brings us a sense of peace that no other quest for a “perfect life” could ever bring.

Mindfulness helps you to appreciate life as it happens. It stops us from agonizing over what might’ve been or what could be. It just brings us back to the present.

Don’t get me wrong—opportunity is a marvelous thing and I only wish my great grandmother had the choices I enjoy today. But I’m slowly coming to realize that my great grandmother might’ve been just fine with her lifestyle.

She was quite possibly happier than me. Her life was simple and perhaps there’s a clue in that. Maybe the simple life is where we can all find peace.

Yes—embrace everything that comes along. Yes—go out and see the world and enjoy everything this life has to offer.

But whenever you feel yourself losing focus and wondering about where you’ll be happy next, bring yourself back to the present, look at what you already have, look around you and enjoy the moments that are happening right now.

Find peace in reading a good book, doing some gardening, going for a walk in the countryside. Take in the sights, smells, and sounds and breathe deeply. Start to notice what is happening right now, and I guarantee you’ll find peace.

Because happiness isn’t about where you live or the things you do. It isn’t about being on an impossible mission to do everything, see everywhere, and accomplish everything you ever dreamed.

Happiness is a state of mind.

How you achieve it is by building a life around your current location. Making new friends, settling into a routine, finding ways in which to enjoy “the moment” rather than dwelling on all the things you could be doing or the places you could be visiting.

Remember that all we ever have is right now. Forget about the past. Don’t worry about the future. Take each day as it comes, and most of all, stop thinking that the grass is greener, because it never really is.

By Katy Cowan


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Fun Fact Friday

  • Human bones are 31% water.

  • Deja Vu occurs when your brain tries to apply a memory of a past situation to your current one, fails, and makes you feel like it has happened.

  • Women have twice as many pain receptors on their bodies than men. But, a much higher pain tolerance.

  • Studies show being ‘grateful’ helps you make better decisions and investments.

Happy Friday!
 source:   factualfacts.com   https://twitter.com/Fact   @Fact


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Do This One Thing for Increased Happiness in the New Year

A specific and simple mindset shift can make a big difference.

As we look toward the new year, many of us make resolutions. I’ve talked at length about ways to make these resolutions more likely to stick (hint: “Lose weight” is just not likely to happen!) A great many of them fail because the goals are not formulated in a way that is conducive to achieving them, or because we lose steam once the year gets underway, as Haagen-Dazs wins out over kale. Plenty of people have decided that this makes the whole notion of resolutions silly. And plenty of others are just not interested in the resolution game, are not particularly prone to making lists, or are resistant thinking of a new year as a clean slate.

But lots of us are more consistently on the hunt for simple shifts that can make meaningful differences in our lives, no matter what month it is. Maybe you are looking to adopt a healthier mindset. Perhaps you are in a rut, struggling with depression or anxiety. Or maybe you’ve noticed that jealousy, loneliness, or a lack of motivation are getting the better of you lately. It may feel that inspiration is a world away. Looking to ignite a spark?

Express gratitude.

gratitude

Chances are you’ve heard this before, or you’ve skimmed this article, gotten to the previous sentence, and are disappointed that I haven’t given you some secret to the psychological universe that involves magical formulas or an app to end all apps. But just because you’ve heard it before doesn’t mean that enacting it doesn’t work. And just because it’s a simple and almost common-sense concept doesn’t mean that, once enacted, it can’t make a difference. In fact, all kinds of interesting research has shown that putting yourself in a frame of mind that focuses on gratitude for what you have is associated with improved emotional well-being.

If the mental health boosts aren’t enough for you, consider this: gratitude likely improves physical health as well. It may also improve your relationships, in terms of openness, communication and positive perceptions of your partner or friend.

Whether it’s keeping a notebook or jar full of moments big and small that you appreciate, doing a daily gratitude meditation, making what you’re thankful for a daily dinner-conversation opener or occasionally writing letters to people expressing appreciation for what they’ve meant to you, incorporating gratitude into your life as a consistent practice may very well make this coming year better than before. And best of all, it involves neither a treadmill nor an inordinate amount of kale.

Andrea Bonior Ph.D.    Dec 29, 2015 

Andrea Bonior, Ph.D, is a speaker and licensed clinical psychologist. She is the author of The Friendship Fix and serves on the faculty of Georgetown University. Her mental health advice column, Baggage Check, has appeared in the Washington Post Express for more than 10 years. She speaks to audiences large and small about relationships, work-life balance, and goal-setting, and she is a TV commentator about psychological issues.