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The Happy Brain Chemicals that Makes You Feel Good

Did you know, 37% of people around the world are unhappy. That means at least 1 in 3 people you know aren’t happy with their life. Are you one of those people?

If so, there are simple ways to improve your happiness. Have you heard of happiness chemicals? Your brain releases these happy chemicals that make you feel good.

It is common to think happiness is a destination that you have to find either through material items, relationships, or career status. But happiness is the journey and something you can create on your own.

Improving your happiness can be as simple as getting a good night’s sleep. It is known that people who are sleep deprived have a harder time remembering positive ideas and an easier time remembering negative ideas.

What are the Happiness Chemicals

When you feel good, your brain is releasing one of the happiness chemicals or happy hormones. There are four main happiness brain chemicals:

  1. Dopamine
  2. Oxytocin
  3. Serotonin
  4. Endorphins

Each chemical has a job to do and when your brain releases one of these chemicals, you feel good.

It would be great if they all surged all the time. However, it does not work this way. Once the chemical has done its job, it will turn off, leaving you with a desire for more.

By understanding how these chemicals work, we can better improve our overall happiness by tapping into each of the four happiness chemicals.

Dopamine

Dopamine enables motivation, learning, and pleasure. It gives you the determination to accomplish goals, desires, and needs.

It’s similar to the, “I got it” feeling when you accomplish something. Once you achieve those goals, desires, or needs, dopamine gives a surge of reinforcing pleasure.

However, the overstimulation of dopamine can become a real problem because of its addictive nature. It is closely tied to developing bad habits or addictions.

The effects of dopamine are fleeting due to its instant gratification feeling, which leaves you desiring more.

Oxytocin

Oxytocin gives a feeling of trust, it motivates you to build intimate relationships and sustain them. It is also known as the “cuddle hormone” or “love hormone” because it plays a role in bonding.

This hormone gives you the desire to stick together with those you “trust”, which creates a feeling of safety or comfort. It helps your body adapt to several different emotional and social situations.

Oxytocin can boost your immune system which makes you more resistant to the addictive qualities of dopamine. Unlike dopamine, oxytocin gives you a lasting feeling of calm and safety.

It can help fight stress, improve relationships, and promote long-lasting positive emotions.

Serotonin

Serotonin rewards you with a good feeling when you feel significant or important. It is the pleasure you get when you experience social power, loyalty, or status.

It results from finding opportunities to assert or prevail. This is not aggressive, rather it is a calm form of confidence and accepting yourself within the people around you.

Serotonin is what motivates a leader to excel and grow. It not only motivates you but your peers to do the same. The feeling of not letting down their leader, parent, or teacher is what causes this motivation.

Endorphin

Endorphins release a brief euphoria that masks physical pain. It is a response to pain and stress which also helps alleviate anxiety and depression. Any kind of physical distress can trigger endorphins.

However, you can also get a release of endorphins when you experience “runners high”. Runners high only occurs when you exceed your limits.

The release of endorphins acts as a natural pain killer and diminishes your perceptions of pain.

The Effects of Happiness Chemicals

At least 1 in 3 people in the world who were surveyed in 2020 were unhappy. That’s a huge portion of the population.

happiness chemicals

Happiness or lack thereof affects everyone and can contribute to poor overall health. There have been numerous studies linking depression to the reduction of happiness chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin.

One study found people with clinical depression have increased levels of monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A). This is an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters.

We will discuss how neurotransmitters play a role in the happiness chemicals later in this article, but simply this means you will get less dopamine or serotonin, thus, less happiness.

This deficiency can lead to various effects that could contribute to mental illnesses like depression.

How Deficiency Affects You

Low levels of happiness chemicals can lead to various symptoms such as fatigue, lack of motivation, and feeling anxious just to name a few.

Here are some of the common symptoms due to the deficiency of the happiness chemicals.

Dopamine Deficiency

  • procrastination
  • low self-esteem
  • lack of motivation or enthusiasm
  • low energy or fatigue
  • inability to focus
  • feeling anxious
  • feeling hopeless
  • mood swings

Oxytocin Deficiency

  • feeling lonely
  • stressed
  • lack of motivation or enthusiasm
  • low energy or fatigue
  • a feeling of disconnect from your relationships
  • feeling anxious
  • insomnia

Serotonin Deficiency

  • low self-esteem
  • being overly sensitive and emotional
  • anxiety and panic attacks
  • mood swings
  • depression and feeling hopeless
  • social phobia
  • obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • insomnia

Endorphin Deficiency

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • mood swings
  • aches and pains
  • insomnia
  • impulsive behavior

For those who have difficulty dealing with these symptoms and are feeling stress and overwhelmed, consider taking the window of tolerance self-assessment to identify your symptoms and how to self-regulate.

Benefits of Happiness

Happiness not only plays a role in making you feel good but contributes to:

1. Improved overall health

    • improved heart health and lower risk of heart disease
    • the ability to combat the stress hormone cortisol
    • stronger immune system so you’re less like to get sick
    • a healthier lifestyle such as physical activity and sleep habits
    • can help reduce aches and pain of those with chronic conditions
    • increase life longevity

2. Improved creativity and problem-solving skills

3. Benefiting the community through involvement with charities

4. Having more positive relationships with those around you

5. Being able to enjoy life more and get through life challenges easier

6. Being happy with what you have

How to Increase Happy Brain Chemicals

Most people don’t get enough of each of the happiness chemicals. I know I certainly struggle with this. If you have a full-time job or studies it can be challenging.

This deficiency can make you feel sad, depressed, hopeless, and anxious. Especially those who suffer from depression or experience downward spirals. Thankfully, they’re many simple ways to naturally boost each of the happy brain chemicals.

Below are some of the many natural ways you can get your daily happiness chemicals. Pick a few to start and remember that continuous practice is what makes a difference.

How to Increase Dopamine Levels Naturally

  • meditate regularly (increases dopamine by 65%)
  • make a daily to-do list & long term goals (each time you tick off a task or goal you increase dopamine levels)
  • eat foods that are rich in L-Tyrosine (avocados, fish, eggs, cheese, banana, and pumpkin seeds)
  • exercise regularly (whichever form of exercise you enjoy the most will give you the most increase in dopamine levels)
  • create something such as writing, music, art & crafts (“if I create something, I am also creating dopamine”)

How to Increase Oxytocin Levels Naturally

  • physical touch, cuddling, hugging, making eye contact, and even shaking hands
  • socializing (connecting or talking with friends and family reduces cortisol and stimulates your vagus nerve)
  • touching your pet (research shows it lowers blood pressure)
  • getting a massage (reduces stress hormones)
  • acupuncture (elevates oxytocin concentrations)
  • listening to music (has a calming effect on the brain, slow-tempo music has also been shown to increase oxytocin)
  • exercise (stimulates the vagus nerve)
  • cold showers (stimulates the vagus nerve)
  • meditate

How to Increase Serotonin Levels Naturally

  • exercise (increases serotonin and dopamine, but also helps balance them)
  • cold showers (2-3 mins of cold showers can be unpleasant but offers great benefits that have longer-lasting effects than compared to caffeine)
  • sunshine (10-15 minutes of sunlight a day can increase serotonin and vitamin D)
  • eating foods such as banana, eggs, omega-3 fish, nuts and seeds, leafy greens, and probiotics
  • getting a massage (increases serotonin and decreases cortisol)

How to Increase Endorphin Levels Naturally

  • laughter and crying
  • creating music or art
  • eating dark chocolate and spicy foods
  • exercise or stretching
  • high-intensity interval training
  • getting a massage
  • meditate

Getting your daily happy chemicals seems pretty straight forward. But if you are struggling with happiness because you suffer from negative thinking patterns, I recommend learning to challenge negative thoughts first.

daily-dose-happiness-infographic

These are just some of the many ways you can get your daily happy hormones. If you have some that already work for you, continue doing those. If you don’t try picking a few from the list.

When choosing things that will help increase happiness levels, think about how each of them affects your health. There are three states of health (physical, mental, and social health).

Make sure you choose activities that don’t all contribute to one aspect only. Try to pick a few that can contribute to different aspects so you can reap the full benefits of the happiness chemicals.

If you are unfamiliar with the three aspects of the Health Triangle, I recommend taking the self-assessment first to see which areas you are lacking so you can choose activities that target that aspect.

Overstimulation of the Happiness Chemicals

Ever hear the saying…

“too much of a good thing is a bad thing

Well, it’s true. Overstimulation of each of the four happiness chemicals in the brain can lead to desensitization.

This in turn leads to an increased desire for those happiness chemicals which creates an addiction cycle. This addiction cycle can affect anyone, especially those who suffer from a mental illness such as depression.

Thankfully, there are ways we can manage or reduce overstimulation. For example, let’s take a look at dopamine as it is commonly known for its addictive nature.

How Dopamine Receptors Work

Dopamine itself is a type of neurotransmitter. The receptor is the receiver of the neurotransmitter. Each type of neurotransmitter has a unique receptor to match it.

To simplify, think of the receptor and neurotransmitter as a lock and key. A specific type of neurotransmitter will only fit into the correct receptor.

Once the dopamine attaches to the dopamine receptor it delivers a chemical message which gives you the effects of the neurotransmitter, in this case, dopamine.

Overstimulation of Dopamine Receptors

If your dopamine receptors are overstimulated, you can become desensitized to the effects of dopamine.

Overstimulation occurs when you experience prolonged periods of dopamine stimulation. This leads to the brain protecting itself by destroying some of the receptors.

Remember, happiness chemicals are only meant to be experienced for a short period before turning off.

Your dopamine levels should remain at an off or low state for some time before being stimulated again. This is a normal up and down experience with dopamine.

However, when you override your natural satiation mechanism by continually feeding yourself dopamine, then Supernormal Stimuli occurs.

This is what happens when you have a normal experience with dopamine versus supernormal stimuli:

stimuli

The supernormal stimuli is an overstimulation of dopamine which leads to desensitization. This tolerance then encourages us to feed our desire for dopamine even more which creates a cycle of addiction.

Here are some common activities we are all guilty of which leads to overstimulation:

  • eating fast food regularly
  • scrolling through social media feeds non-stop
  • binge-watching your favorite tv show all weekend with little to no breaks

Prevent Overstimulation

Preventing overstimulation can allow your dopamine levels to drop back to a normal level before the next stimulation.

This helps to maintain our sensitization and does not create an addictive attitude towards dopamine. By doing so this will allow you to feel the full effects of dopamine when you experience it.

Here are a few simple ways to prevent overstimulation:

  • limiting your use by stopping after some time (this allows enough time to drop to a normal level)
  • limiting the frequency of use (eating fast food once or twice a week versus every day)
  • not using it like a drug
  • not using it as an escape mechanism

This is especially important when you have a mental illness such as depression.

The desire to feel better or wanting to escape the pain you experience creates a higher risk for addiction due to the desire for happiness chemicals like dopamine.

Everything in moderation is important to maintain reasonable levels of happiness chemicals.

How to Increase Dopamine Receptors

Overstimulation causes dopamine receptors to be destroyed. Abstaining from the activities that cause overstimulation will allow the number of dopamine receptors to increase.

The increase of dopamine receptors will then increase the effects when dopamine is released. Thus, more happiness!

Here are a few other ways to increase dopamine receptors:

  • high-intensity interval training is the most effective form of exercise
  • digital detox (taking time off from technology for a week or two)
  • cold showers or ice baths

Hack Your Happiness Chemicals

To recap, there are four happiness chemicals that your brain releases to make you feel good:

  1. Dopamine: Enables motivation, learning, and pleasure
  2. Oxytocin: Gives you a feeling of trust to build intimate relationships
  3. Serotonin: When you experience social power or confidence in accepting yourself
  4. Endorphin: Brief euphoria to mask physical pain

How to Increase Happy Hormones Naturally:

  1. Understand how deficiency affects you by recognizing what symptoms you may experience
  2. Identify what activities you would enjoy doing to increase happiness
  3. Consistency is key, ensure you are regularly doing those activities
  4. Be aware of overstimulation and abstain from any activities as required

There are plenty of activities that can increase happiness hormones naturally. Choose a few you enjoy, either from the list or ones you already enjoy doing. What’s important is that you enjoy doing it, otherwise it won’t stick.

Remember, we’re looking to achieve long-term happiness so doing an activity once or twice will not make an impact on your lifestyle.

When you are dealing with an existing mental illness, addiction, or trauma, it can be difficult to increase your happiness chemicals.

Consider building up your window of tolerance first to help you deal with the stress, anxiety, or trauma you may have. Then when you come to increasing happiness, it becomes much easier to do.

source: MindPeelings


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5 Happiness Hacks That Take 5 Minutes Or Less

Feeling stressed or down? These science-backed tips will boost your mood quickly.

So often, the habits that experts recommend to increase happiness aren’t compatible with actual daily life. Who has time to sit down for an extended meditation session when you’re juggling 1,000 different things?

Fortunately, there is plenty you can do to boost your well-being throughout the day in just a few minutes. Here are five research-backed happiness “hacks” that take five minutes or less, but pay dividends all day long.

1. Tackle your hardest task.

Loretta Graziano Breuning, founder of Inner Mammal Institute and author of “Habits of a Happy Brain,” believes that humans can essentially rewire their brains. How so? By understanding that we have certain “happy chemicals” that were inherited from earlier mammals — and using that knowledge to develop habits that turn those chemicals on.

One of those chemicals is dopamine, which Breuning describes as “a sense of accomplishment,” and you can stimulate dopamine by going straight at your most difficult task of the day — ideally pretty early on. Have an email you’ve been putting off? A particularly challenging stretch of child care? A deadline you need to hit, or a difficult conversation you’ve been putting off? Tackle it first.

(If the task you’re taking on isn’t something you can complete in five minutes or less, break it into smaller chunks. Then start with one.)

Ultimately, the goal is to “focus on a specific target,” Breuning said, and to celebrate yourself when you’re done. It might feel counterintuitive to tackle a hard task when you’re looking for a feeling of happiness, but stimulating dopamine in your brain can help keep you humming along (and feeling proud of yourself!) all day long.

2. Take 10 deep breaths.

In a December study led by a team of researchers with the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds, experts broke down the four pillars they believe are essential to cultivating mental well-being: awareness, connection, insight and purpose. All these sound pretty lofty, but the pillars can be broken down into small daily habits that, over time, train the brain.

When it comes to awareness, for example, one of the simplest exercises to try is just breathing. Close your eyes and focus on the act of taking 10 breaths, the researchers suggested. That’s it! (Or consider 4-7-8 breathing. Or roll breathing. Or any of the hundreds of other types of focused breathing. Just find one or two methods that feel good to you so you’ll actually stick to it.)

Ultimately, research really does show how powerful mindfulness meditation can help to lessen feelings of anxiety and stress both in the moment and in the longer term. But the good news is that you don’t need to spend a huge chunk of your day doing it.

3. Listen to a happy song. (Bonus points for dancing!)

When you’re exhausted or dragging, press play on an upbeat song. Research shows hearing happy music is on par with mindfulness meditation.

For example, in a 2016 study of older adults with Alzheimer’s, listening to music improved their sense of well-being and mood and lowered their feelings of stress. On the other end of the spectrum, studies have shown that singing to babies in the NICU helps to keep them “quietly alert” and reduced parental stress.

Bonus points for dancing or moving your body along with the music, which can help increase your energy levels even further while zapping stress.

4. For a few minutes, focus on the people who’ve got your back.

According to Breuning, another key “happy chemical” is oxytocin, which people tend to think of as the love hormone, though she thinks of it as more closely tied to feelings of trust. To stimulate oxytocin quickly, she recommended thinking about the people you trust. Ask yourself: “If I need support, who will be there?” Breuning said.

You might go ahead and connect with that person by sending them a quick text or giving them a call, (or if you’re together at home, giving them a quick hug). And those simple moments of social connection with someone you love and admire are a big-time happiness booster.

But just thinking about who is in your “herd” can be enough, Breuning said. It stimulates your brain’s oxytocin, which helps you feel safe and secure.

5. Do something kind for someone. (Or just think kind thoughts!)

Research shows that daily acts of kindness are a simple way to boost happiness and they don’t have to be big. What matters is that you’re deliberate about it.

“Intentionally set a goal to be kinder to others,” experts at the Mayo Clinic suggest . “Express sincerely felt kindness to a co-worker. Make a special effort to extend kind words to a neighbor. Hold the elevator for someone or take time to help a loved one.”

Experts also now understand that it can be equally powerful (at least from a happiness-boosting perspective) to simply spend some time cultivating a sense of kindness toward someone in your own head — whether or not that person even knows it.

The Center for Healthy Minds recommended thinking about things you admire about that person. Then “recall situations where they expressed these qualities and then imagine expressing your appreciation,” the group noted. “You can then extend this to people you don’t know very well and eventually even to people you find challenging.”

By spending some time sending happy thoughts someone else’s way, you’ll bring a bit of joy into your own life.

By Catherine Pearson   05/12/2021 

source: HuffPost Life


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5 Things You Should Do First Thing In The Morning To Be Happier All Day

If you roll out of bed feeling tired or stressed, these a.m. habits can help you turn your mood around.

A few tweaks to your morning routine can help set you up for improved well-being for the rest of the day.

Mornings can be rough for many people who tend to feel sleepy pretty regularly, which in turn makes them report feeling irritable a lot of the time. And yes, it’s hard to feel cheery when you’re overtired and stressed — much of which, alas, is outside of people’s control.

But happiness experts say there are simple habits people can practice in the morning that will that have a profound influence on how they feel throughout the day. They’re easy tweaks that can help improve overall mental well-being.

Ready to take stock of your general day-to-day happiness and incorporate some new practices that can improve your mood all day long? Here are five strategies to consider:

1. Pick a wellness habit, then link it to an a.m. ritual you already have.

This first tip is pretty broad, and that’s on purpose. Because the truth is there are many evidence-backed strategies people can use to try to boost happiness.

So you might take some time to cultivate awareness through meditation. (One simple strategy: Close your eyes and focus on the act of taking 10 breaths.) Or you might be intrigued by the research that shows incorporating exercise into your daily routine can help boost happiness. Maybe you’d like to spend a few seconds every morning simply focusing on whatever nature you see outside your window, whether it’s the grass in your yard or the sky over the city.

There really are so many different wellness habits that can help you, according to psychiatrist Murray Zucker, chief medical officer of the health care platform Happify. The key is simply to start with one — whatever it is— then attach it to a routine that you already have. You’re linking habit to ritual, he explained.

So maybe every morning you get up, go to the bathroom, then make your bed. Link a moment in that routine (say, the bed making) to the habit you want to cultivate (maybe it’s reading 10 pages in a book). By tacking it on to something you already do, you’re much more likely to actually stick with it. And consistency really is the key to boosting happiness over time, Zucker said.

“Start slow and build gradually,” he added. He encourages people to really just start with one new habit you want to link to your existing routine, then go from there.

2. Get your phone out of your room.

“Do not have your screen in your room,” said Allison Task, a career and life coach who said that she insists on this as a non-negotiable with her clients. That’s because when you reach for your phone (or tablet, or computer, or click on the TV) first thing in the morning, you’re really inviting the outside world to dictate your mood first thing, she said.

And there really is a lot of evidence supporting the idea that screens hamper happiness. Studies have linked frequent social media use to decreased mood over time; other research has shown that a high volume of emails is connected with overall feelings of unhappiness.

Furthermore, screens can get in the way of sleep, which is deeply connected to people’s overall sense of well-being.

“Sleep is just a game changer,” Task said. You might not be able to control what time your toddler shuffles into your room in the morning or what time your alarm starts to blare, but you can at least try to protect your sleeping hours by keeping screens out of your room.

3. Talk to yourself…

Zucker noted that people tend to spend a lot of time talking to themselves in their own heads, particularly in the morning when feeling frazzled or stressed about what’s to come. He is a big fan of noticing self-talk and self-correcting using this simple technique: say your name.

“If you use your own name in your self-talk, you’re more likely to follow cognitive advice,” Zucker explained.

If, for example, you have a big presentation at work and you notice that you’re spending the morning psyching yourself out, telling yourself that you’re going to flop, you really can make yourself pretty nervous, Zucker said.

“But if I say: ‘Murray. You’ve done this before. You like doing this,’” you really can take some control over your own thoughts, which can set you up for greater happiness throughout the day.

“Just using your own name can be very helpful,” Zucker said.

Connecting with someone – even on your phone – in the morning can offer mood-boosting benefits that will linger throughout the day.

Connecting with someone – even on your phone – in the morning can offer mood-boosting benefits that will linger throughout the day.

4. … and somebody else.

“Make a social contact with somebody you have positive regard for,” Zucker said. This could really be anyone — a spouse or child, a friend, an extended family member.

What that “social contact” looks like really depends on your personality and your schedule. “For someone who is busy, it may be a phone call or a text. If you have more time, meeting someone for a cup of coffee to start your day is really a boost,” Zucker said.

But research suggests that even if you don’t actually meet up with someone or send them an email or text, it can be enough to simply send good thoughts their way. “You can start with a simple appreciation practice,” Cortland Dahl, a research scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds, previously told HuffPost. Just bring a friend or loved one into your mind, then consciously focusing on the things you really cherish about them.

5. Incorporate gratitude.

While it’s true that there is a huge range of habits that can help boost happiness in the morning, researchers and clinicians tend to return to one again and again because it’s so powerful: gratitude.

In research trials, people who journaled about the things they’re thankful for during the week scored much higher on measures of happiness than people who instead noted things they’d been irritated by. And a daily gratitude practice may even contribute to improved physical health — which, in turn, contributes to overall feelings of happiness.

There are many different ways to work gratitude into your morning routines, but it can (and should!) be simple.

“Many religions do a morning prayer,” said Task, who added that spending a moment doing something similar — whether you’re religious or not — can be a doable morning habit to cultivate.

“Take that pause to appreciate that you’re alive, whatever that means to you,” she urged. Say to yourself: “I’m so glad I’m alive, and I get to play with my 2-year-old daughter,” Task offered by way of example. Or that you get to go to work. Or you get to walk your dog. Or even that you get to hit the snooze button again — yes, even if experts generally say it’s not a great idea.

Just find some way to express some gratitude in the morning, because it truly can be enough to put you in a better frame of mind all day.

By Catherine Pearson   04/23/2021

source: HuffPost


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The 4 Steps That Will Increase Happiness, According To A New Study

Researchers believe these daily habits will train your brain to achieve better overall well-being. (Worth a try, right?)

Researchers believe they’ve cracked the code when it comes to achieving overall emotional and mental wellness through four key pillars.

This past year has been an excruciating one for millions of North Americans, and our collective well-being has taken a serious hit. A majority of adults in the United States say their mental health is worse now than it was pre-pandemic. Feelings of isolation are up. A majority of North American adults report feeling overwhelmed by their current stress levels.

Against that bleak backdrop — and given that COVID-19 case numbers are still reaching record highs, even as vaccines have arrived— it seems silly, almost, to think about cultivating emotional well-being. Now? Really? And most importantly, how?!

A research paper recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers a mental training plan that its authors call the “how” of well-being. Their findings suggest there are four key behaviors that tend to contribute most to overall satisfaction. And they see their plan as a way in which people who already feel relatively healthy can cultivate mental wellness on a daily basis.

“It’s a more hopeful view of well-being,” study researcher Cortland Dahl of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds, a cross-disciplinary research institute, told HuffPost. “It’s the idea that you can take active steps that improve well-being, very much so in the way that you might take steps to improve physical health.”

Of course anyone grappling with severe stress, anxiety or other mental health concerns should absolutely reach out to a qualified mental health professional.

Looking to be more deliberate about training your brain to cultivate mental and emotional well-being? Here are the four basic pillars of the plan, and some simple steps you can start taking right away.

Step 1: Cultivate Awareness — And ‘Meta-awareness’

Awareness is a “heightened, flexible attentiveness to your environmental and internal cues,” according to the Center for Healthy Minds ― which basically means your surroundings as well as your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations.

And studies do show that people with heightened awareness tend to have better overall well-being. Also, being distracted can lead to feelings of stress and unhappiness.

One simple tactic that will help you achieve this? Close your eyes and focus on the act of taking 10 breaths.

Another option? “One thing I like to do is when I’m doing dishes, I’ll notice the sounds, I’ll feel the sensations,” Dahl said.

The new Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences research — which pulls from a range of studies from the worlds of neuroscience, meditation traditions and more — suggests that “meta-awareness” is important, too. So it’s not only important to be aware; it’s also important to be aware that you’re being aware. Ultimately, cultivating meta-awareness helps you to deliberately direct and sustain your attention, the authors argue, rather than being pulled in by “distractors.”

Making a small effort to connect with friends, loved ones and colleagues via Zoom, email or text can help you tap into deeper feelings of kinship.

smile

Step 2: Cultivate Connection

Forging and strengthening a sense of togetherness is certainly a difficult goal amid COVID-19. But making a small effort to connect with friends, loved ones and colleagues via Zoom, email or text can be enough to help you tap into deeper feelings of kinship as the pandemic continues.

The researchers also say that simply cultivating feelings of kindness toward others can be enough to help boost your sense of connection — regardless of whether the person on the receiving end even knows you’re thinking about them.

They cite several studies and pilot programs that suggest kindness meditation programs can lower feelings of distress and boost positive feelings. There is even some preliminary evidence that these types of practices may help lessen implicit bias.

“You can start with a simple appreciation practice,” Dahl said. That might entail bringing a friend or loved one into your mind, then consciously focusing on the things you really cherish about them.

Step 3: Practice Insight

The researchers define insight as having self-knowledge about how your own emotions, thoughts and beliefs shape your sense of who you think you are.

And working to develop this kind of insight can empower you to challenge the beliefs you’ve held about yourself that you may have thought were immutable, Dahl explained. He cited a personal example, describing how he used to be deeply unsettled by public speaking and believed this was just an unchangeable fact of who he was.

“Instead of having this kind of constant judgment, we can get curious about our own inner worlds,” Dahl said.

One practical, real-world way to to do that is to simply notice when a negative thought crops up, and be inquisitive, the researchers wrote. Stop and ask yourself: Where is this thought coming from? Is it based in any assumptions?

Make an effort to notice how even some of the most mundane activities you do every day are connected to your core values. For example, doing the dishes might be an act of generosity toward those you love.

Step 4: Connect With Your Purpose

You don’t have to try and orient every day toward some far-reaching sense of purpose with a “capital P,” Dahl said. But it can be worthwhile to spend time thinking about your deep core values. Then make an effort to notice how even some of the most mundane activities you do every day are connected to them.

For example, doing the dishes or cooking a meal at the end of a long day might be an act of generosity toward those you love. Signing on for your “fifth Zoom meeting of the day” may help connect you to a career that you find meaningful.

Research has shown that having a larger sense of purpose in life is linked to positive health outcomes ― from resilience in the face of trauma to overall lower risk of death.

And ultimately, these four habits should help provide a clearer framework for people looking to improve their mental well-being and wondering how to start. If connecting with your sense of purpose every day doesn’t necessarily click with you right off the bat, for example, try something else.

“We think of this as the ‘eat your fruits and vegetables of mental health,’” said Christy Wilson-Mendenhall, a scientist at the Center for Healthy Minds who was also a researcher on the new paper.

The goal is to find what really works for you and that — crucially — “becomes easy to integrate into everyday life,” she said.

Catherine Pearson     12/30/2020

source: www.huffingtonpost.ca


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Poor Sleep Linked to Weight Gain

in 2-year smartphone sleep tracking study
 
Not sleeping enough or getting a bad night’s sleep over and over makes it hard to control your appetite. And that sets you up for all sorts of health problems, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.
The link between poor sleep and a greater body mass index (BMI) has been shown in study after study, but researchers typically relied on the memories of the participants to record how well they slept.
Sleep apps on fitness trackers, smartphones and watches have changed all that. In a new study, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers tracked sleep quality for 120,000 people for up to two years.
The results showed sleep durations and patterns are highly variable between people. Despite that, the study found people with BMIs of 30 or above – which is considered obese by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – had slightly shorter mean sleep durations and more variable sleep patterns.
It didn’t take much less sleep to see the effect. People with BMIs over 30 only slept about 15 minutes less than their less weighty counterparts.
There were some limitations to the study. Naps were excluded, other health conditions could not be factored in, and people who use wearable tracking devices are typically younger, healthier and from a higher socioeconomic status than those who do not wear trackers.
“These are quite pricey devices, and remember, they are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” said sleep specialist Dr. Raj Dasgupta, the associate program director of the Sleep Medicine Fellowship at Keck Medicine of the University of Southern California.
“The results would need to be validated by the appropriate FDA-approved devices, and because the study is likely on younger people who are more economically well off, does that really apply to older folks we worry about with poor sleep?” said Dasgupta, who was not involved in the study.
However, Dasgupta added, a major plus for the study is that it did monitor people for over two years, and the results corroborated prior research and were “not surprising.”
“While we cannot determine the direction of association from our study result, these findings provide further support to the notion that sleep patterns are associated with weight management and overall health,” the authors wrote.
“The findings also support the potential value of including both sleep duration and individual sleep patterns when studying sleep-related health outcomes.”

LINK BETWEEN SLEEP AND EATING

There is a scientific reason why a lack of sleep is linked to appetite. When you’re sleep deprived, research has shown, levels of a hormone called ghrelin spike while another hormone, leptin, takes a nosedive. The result is an increase in hunger.
“The ‘l’ in leptin stands for lose: It suppresses appetite and therefore contributes to weight loss,” he said. “The ‘g’ in ghrelin stands for gain: This fast-acting hormone increases hunger and leads to weight gain,” Dasgupta said.
Another reason we gain weight is due to an ancient body system called the endocannabinoid system. Endocannabinoids bind to the same receptors as the active ingredient in marijuana, which as we know, often triggers the “munchies.”
“When you’re sleep deprived, you’re not like, ‘Oh, you know what, I want some carrots,'” said behavioural neuroscientist Erin Hanlon, who studies the connection between brain systems and behavior at the University of Chicago, in a prior CNN interview.
“You’re craving sweets and salty and starchy things,” she added. “You want those chips, you want a cookie, you want some candy, you know?”
A 2016 study by Hanlon compared the circulating levels of 2-AG, one of the most abundant endocannabinoids, in people who got four nights of normal sleep (more than eight hours) to people who only got 4.5 hours.
People who were sleep-deprived reported greater increases in hunger and appetite and had higher afternoon concentrations of 2-AG than those who slept well. The sleep-deprived participants also had a rough time controlling their urges for high-carb, high-calorie snacks.

GET BETTER SLEEP

Want more control over your appetite? Depending on your age, you are supposed to get between seven and 10 hours of sleep each night.
Getting less has been linked in studies to high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, weight gain, a lack of libido, mood swings, paranoia, depression and a higher risk of diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease, dementia and some cancers.
So sleep a full seven to 10 hours a night, stick to a regular bedtime and get up the same time very day, even on weekends, experts advise.
Adding exercise to your daily routine is a great way to improve your sleep and improve your health. After finishing one 30-minute physical activity, you’ll have less anxiety, lower blood pressure, more sensitivity to insulin and you’ll sleep better that night.
You can also train your brain to get more restful sleep with a few key steps:
  •  During the day, try to get good exposure to natural light, as that will help regulate your circadian rhythm.
  •  Avoid stimulants (coffee, tea) after 3 p.m. and fatty foods before bedtime.
  •  Establish a bedtime routine you can follow each night. Taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, listening to soothing music, meditating or doing light stretches are all good options.
  •  Make sure your bed and pillows are comfortable and the room is cool: Between 60 and 67 degrees is best. Don’t watch TV or work in your bedroom; you want your brain to think of the room as only for sleep.
  •  Eliminate all lights – even the blue light of cellphones or laptops can be disruptive. Dull sounds, too. Earplugs or white noise machines can be very helpful, but you can create your own with a humidifier or fan.
Sandee LaMotte      CNN     Monday, September 14, 2020
sleep

 

10 Ways Sleep Can Change Your Life

What if someone told you there was a magic potion by which you could prevent disease, improve your intellect, reduce your stress and be nicer to your family while you’re all cooped up together during the pandemic?
It sounds too good to be true, as if solving those problems would really require dietary supplements, workout programs, diets, meditation and a separate room to cry alone.
It turns out that sleep, according to numerous studies, is the answer. It’s the preventive medicine for conditions related to our physical, mental and emotional health. And despite how important sleep is, it can be difficult to make it a priority.
“During a pandemic such as Covid-19, there’s a potential to induce or exacerbate many sleep issues,” Dr. Matthew Schmitt, a doctor of sleep medicine at Piedmont Healthcare in Georgia, told CNN.
“A lack of quality sleep not only affects how we feel during the daytime, but can also impair our immune system function, which is vital in protecting us from common viral illnesses.”
A sleep routine is just one of the behaviors that is part of sleep hygiene, a buffet of efforts needed to sleep well that include eating healthy meals at regular times and not drinking too much coffee, said Dr. Meir Kryger, a professor of pulmonary medicine and a clinical professor of nursing at Yale School of Medicine in Connecticut.
“All of these things are really interconnected in terms of their function. All of them are connected to the body clock,” Kryger said. “The body is like an orchestra where there’s an orchestra leader that’s sort of the main timer, but everybody else is playing it together and they’re optimizing what they are doing.”
Once you’ve developed your sleep routine,
here are 10 benefits you could gain from the regimen.
1. Helps your body heal and repair itself
Our nightly shut-eye is our bodies’ time for healing and repairing itself from performing its taxing daily functions.
“Imagine you’re a car or something that’s running for 16 hours during the day,” Kryger said. “You’re going to have to do stuff to get back to normal. You just can’t keep on running.”
During sleep is when we produce most of our growth hormone that ultimately results in bone growth. Our tissues rest, relaxing our muscles and reducing inflammation. And each cell and organ have their own clock that “plays a really important role in maximizing or optimizing how our body works,” Kryger added.
2. Lowers risk for disease
Sleep on its own is a protective factor against disease.
When people get too much or too little sleep, “there appears to be an increased risk of deaths … and other diseases raising their ugly heads,” Kryger said, such as heart problems and diabetes. The healing period during sleep also factors in, as it allows cells that would cause disease to repair themselves.
3. Improves cognitive function
Sleep feeds our creativity and cognitive function, which describes our mental abilities to learn, think, reason, remember, problem solve, make decisions and pay attention.
“As you sleep, memories are reactivated, connections between brain cells are strengthened, and information is transferred from short- to long-term,” said a National Sleep Foundation article on the subject. “Without enough quality sleep, we become forgetful.”
4. Reduces stress
Slumber of great quantity and quality can enhance your mood and also encourage the brain’s ability to regulate emotional responses to both neutral and emotional events.
5. Helps maintain a healthy weight
Getting your beauty sleep can help you to maintain a healthy weight or increase your chances of losing excess fat.
Two hormones control our urge to eat: leptin and ghrelin. Leptin tells us that we’re full, while ghrelin communicates hunger.
When we don’t sleep enough, both hormones veer in the wrong direction, Kryger said — ghrelin spikes while leptin declines, resulting in an increase in hunger and the potential to overeat and gain weight.
Sleep helps our bodies to maintain normal levels of the stress hormone cortisol as well, which determines how we hang on to excess fat.
6. Bolsters your immune system
Kryger has seen the immune systems of patients with sleep disorders fail to normally function. Sleep helps our bodies to produce and release cytokines, a type of protein that helps create an immune response by targeting infection and inflammation.
Additionally, “research done actually years ago showed that when people are sleep deprived, they do not have as vigorous a response to vaccination,” Kryger added.
“As we’re thinking about vaccination that’s being developed” for Covid-19, that kind of research is going to be important.
7. May improve your social life
The emotional benefits of sleep can transfer over into your social life. “Just imagine you don’t sleep enough and you’re cranky,” Kryger said. “Who’s going to want to be around you? Another part of it is being cognitively sharp.”
Adequate sleep can help you to be more confident, be more easygoing and support your efforts to do your part at home, he added.
8. Supports your mental health
Mental health disorders are often associated with substandard sleep and a sleep deficit can lead to depressive symptoms even if the person doesn’t have the chronic disorder, Kryger said.
“Getting the right amount of sleep is really important in possibly preventing a mental illness or the appearance of a mental illness,” he added. And in addition to the benefits for mood and stress regulation, sleeping enough “may make the treatment of the mental illnesses more efficacious if the person sleeps enough.”
9. Reduces pain sensitivity
Extending participants’ sleep time during the night or with midday naps, a 2019 study found, restored their pain sensitivity to normal levels in comparison to sleep-deprived individuals, who had a lower threshold for pain.
How this happens would have to be in the realm of perception, Kryger said, which ultimately traces back to the brain. “The brain is where sleep is,” he explained.
10. Increases your likelihood for overall success
Since sleep can improve our health on all fronts, it consequently can help us be the best versions of ourselves. Healthy cognitive functioning, emotional regulation, coping and social life are all foundational to pursuing and achieving our goals and overall well-being.
By Kristen Rogers, CNN       Tue August 4, 2020
source: www.cnn.com
sleep_snooze

 

People React Better to Both Negative and Positive Events
With More Sleep

Summary:
New research finds that after a night of shorter sleep, people react more emotionally to stressful events the next day — and they don’t find as much joy in the good things. This has important health implications: previous research shows that being unable to maintain positive emotions in the face of stress puts people at risk of inflammation and even an earlier death.
FULL STORY
New research from UBC finds that after a night of shorter sleep, people react more emotionally to stressful events the next day – and they don’t find as much joy in the good things. The study, led by health psychologist Nancy Sin, looks at how sleep affects our reaction to both stressful and positive events in daily life.
“When people experience something positive, such as getting a hug or spending time in nature, they typically feel happier that day,” says Nancy Sin, assistant professor in UBC’s department of psychology. “But we found that when a person sleeps less than their usual amount, they don’t have as much of a boost in positive emotions from their positive events.”
People also reported a number of stressful events in their daily lives, including arguments, social tensions, work and family stress, and being discriminated against. When people slept less than usual, they responded to these stressful events with a greater loss of positive emotions. This has important health implications: previous research by Sin and others shows that being unable to maintain positive emotions in the face of stress puts people at risk of inflammation and even an earlier death.
Using daily diary data from a national U.S. sample of almost 2,000 people, Sin analyzed sleep duration and how people responded to negative and positive situations the next day. The participants reported on their experiences and the amount of sleep they had the previous night in daily telephone interviews over eight days.
“The recommended guideline for a good night’s sleep is at least seven hours, yet one in three adults don’t meet this standard,” says Sin. “A large body of research has shown that inadequate sleep increases the risk for mental disorders, chronic health conditions, and premature death. My study adds to this evidence by showing that even minor night-to-night fluctuations in sleep duration can have consequences in how people respond to events in their daily lives.”
Chronic health conditions – such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer – are prevalent among adults, especially as we grow older. Past research suggests that people with health conditions are more reactive when faced with stressful situations, possibly due to wear-and-tear of the physiological stress systems.
“We were also interested in whether adults with chronic health conditions might gain an even larger benefit from sleep than healthy adults,” says Sin. “For those with chronic health conditions, we found that longer sleep – compared to one’s usual sleep duration – led to better responses to positive experiences on the following day.”
Sin hopes that by making sleep a priority, people can have a better quality of life and protect their long-term health.
Journal Reference:
Nancy L. Sin, Jin H. Wen, Patrick Klaiber, Orfeu M. Buxton, David M. Almeida. Sleep duration and affective reactivity to stressors and positive events in daily life.. Health Psychology, 2020; DOI: 10.1037/hea0001033
University of British Columbia. “People react better to both negative and positive events with more sleep.”  ScienceDaily, 15 September 2020
Materials provided by University of British Columbia. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.  September 15, 2020
 


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12 Simple Activities You Can Do to Start Building Self Esteem Today

Self-esteem is a popular topic these days, with even parenting guides encouraging parents to start young in encouraging their children’s self-esteem.

It’s not hard to see why — people with a good sense of self-esteem consistently have better mental health and are happier and more successful.

But what happens when you don’t have a high self-esteem? It’s not too late.

When you struggle with low self-esteem, improving your sense of self-worth can be a journey that takes both time and dedication.

However, there are things you can do right now to get you started on that journey. Below are 12 simple activities that you can do to boost your self-esteem today.

1. Make Yourself a Priority

From the time we are young, we are taught that putting other’s needs before our own is a virtue, while prioritizing your own needs is selfish. However, you can’t have a good sense of self-esteem if you don’t make your own needs a priority.

So what does prioritizing your own needs look like in the real world? It means meeting your own needs instead of ignoring them for the sake of others.

This can be easier said than done, especially if you are a parent or work in a demanding work environment, but when you recognize that your own needs have value, you begin to realize that you yourself have value.

2. Stop Being a People Pleaser

As Aesop once said, “He who tries to please everybody pleases nobody.” This includes yourself — if you spend your whole life trying to please everyone, you won’t find personal happiness.

That is because people pleasers have an unfortunate habit of making everyone else a priority over themselves and pretending to be someone other than their authentic selves.

As you can imagine, pretending to activities that you actually can’t stand or pretending to possess certain qualities you don’t actually have in order to get others to accept you can have a negative effect on your self-esteem.

You are, in essence, telling yourself that you aren’t good enough. The next step towards boosting your self-esteem, then, is forgetting what others want you to be and being your own authentic self.

3. Find Yourself

If you’ve spent your whole life ignoring your own needs and pretending to be someone else in order to please others, you may not know what your authentic self actually is. This is your chance to figure that out!

Turn your gaze inwards and analyze what really drives you and brings you joy. It may feel strange at first, but there is no wrong emotion in this scenario — all are an important step towards authenticity and increased self-esteem.

4. Watch Your Self Talk

Part of developing a healthy self-esteem requires analyzing how you talk to yourself.

We all talk to ourselves in some way, whether out loud or just in our heads, and the language we use can be a significant insight into how we view ourselves. Negative self-talk (i.e. calling yourself ugly or unlikeable) creates a feedback loop where your self-esteem drops, which leads to more negative self-talk, and so on.

The most effective way to break the cycle is to counter that negative self-talk through being kind and positive towards yourself.

Anytime something negative pops into your mind, counteract those thoughts by writing down something positive (i.e. a list of your positive attributes) until positive self-talk becomes a habit.

your mind

 

 

5. Don’t Beat Yourself up over Your Mistakes

As humans, we are frequently harder on ourselves than we are on our loved ones. Unfortunately, many of us view our mistakes as personal or even moral failures.

The thing is, we are all human, and all humans make mistakes. Instead of dwelling on your mistakes as some sort of personal punishment, try to view these mistakes as opportunities to improve yourself. Just by changing your way of thinking, you can boost your self-esteem.

6. Acknowledge Your Successes

On the flip side, you should also recognize your achievements. It is common for many of us to downplay our successes.

We say “It wasn’t that big of a deal. Anyone could do it.” This leads to feelings that we haven’t achieved much with our lives, hurting self-esteem.

If you want to boost your self-esteem, you should celebrate your successes. Think about the person you were just a few years ago, and recognize how much you have grown and changed.

Write your successes down and as time goes on you’ll be amazed at how much you have accomplished.

7. Be Grateful

Cultivating a healthy sense of self-esteem also involves the ability to be grateful for what you have. Some individuals tie their entire sense of self-worth in what they have, but someone else will always have more than you do, whether it’s more money, better looks, etc.

Instead of getting caught up in what you don’t have that others do, focus on what it is that you do have. Be grateful. When you focus on being grateful for the things that you do have, you start to feel happier with your life and more self-assured.

8. Nurture a Positive Attitude

A lot of changing your self-talk, emphasizing your successes over your failures, and being grateful has to do with maintaining a positive attitude. Such an outlook can be difficult to cultivate, as our brains naturally tend to dwell on the negative instead of the positive.

The first step towards nurturing a positive attitude is to associate with positive people. Negative people can only bring you down to their level. Positive people can only help you improve.

9. Commit to Your Decisions

Another way to cultivate positivity in your life is to fully commit to your decisions.

Once you have decided on a course of action, don’t waste your energy on self-doubt and second-guessing yourself. Use that energy to do the necessary research and work to see your task through.

When you give in to self-doubt and second thoughts, you are telling yourself that you don’t view yourself as a competent adult capable of making the right decisions and successfully completing a task.

As such, committing yourself to your decisions boosts your self-esteem by eliminating those doubts and insecurities.

10. Learn How to Say No

Another aspect of making yourself a priority and committing to your decisions is learning how to say no in a decisive yet respectful way. When you learn how to say no, you teach others that your boundaries are to be respected and that you won’t be taken advantage of.

One of my favorite quotes from the late Steve Jobs emphasizes the importance of saying no:

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

Substitute focus for happiness and you’ve got a winning strategy for life, not just business.

By teaching others to respect your boundaries, you affirm to yourself that you are allowed to have needs and boundaries. You also avoid getting stuck with tasks that drain your energy and sense of positivity.

11. Be Generous to Others

Making your needs a priority and learning how to say no to the things you don’t want to do doesn’t mean that you have to shut others out in order to build up your own self-esteem.

In truth, humans are social creatures and a lack of meaningful human connections can severely impact your self-esteem.

For many people, helping others gives them a sense of meaning and purpose in life.

If you have the time and the means, give to charity, volunteer your time to a cause you feel passionate about, or even give blood at the local blood bank.

12. Love Yourself

At the end of the day, a person with high self-esteem is a person who loves himself. This doesn’t mean loving yourself as Narcissus loved his reflection, but rather loving yourself as a person who has value and worth.

When you love yourself, you lead a healthier life. You take care of your body by exercising regularly, eating the right food, and you take care of your mind with positive talk and a healthy social life.

In short, even if you currently don’t have a high sense of self-esteem, there are simple steps that you can take to start developing a strong sense of self-esteem today.

Some of these twelve activities might not be easy at first due to ingrained habits developed over a lifetime, but if you consistently practice these actions every day they will start to become second nature and you will start to see an improvement in your self-esteem.

 by Daniel Fries

Daniel Fries is an entrepreneur and writer. He is the co-author of two highly-cited papers in the field of translational oncology research. Dan’s diverse background includes positions as a research associate at OSI Pharmaceuticals, an associate scientist at Medtronic Cardiovascular, and research scientist at both the Michigan Center for Translational Pathology and the Meyerson Lab at Dana Farber of Harvard Medical School. Currently, Dan manages and operates a portfolio of internet companies, and has partnered with Wired Investors to help grow the company the in the rapidly expanding micro-private equity space. Dan holds a BS/BA in molecular biology and Spanish from the University of Michigan. He speaks Spanish fluently and currently splits most of his time in between startup incubators in Chicago, Saigon, and Mexico City. He is fascinated by the potential of exponential technologies in both biotech and cryptocurrency.

APA Reference
Fries, D. (2018). 12 Simple Activities You Can Do to Start Building Self Esteem Today. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 11, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/12-simple-activities-you-can-do-to-start-building-self-esteem-today/

Scientifically Reviewed      Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 19 Jun 2017)      Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018


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Positive Psychology: The Benefits of Living Positively

Positive psychology often is passed off as pop psychology or New Age-y by those who haven’t actually looked into it.

The actual theory behind positive psychology was defined in 1998 by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi [1] and looks at all aspects of a person’s psychology. It does not discount traditional psychology, nor supersede it. Rather than viewing psychology purely as a treatment for the malign, however, it looks at the positive. Positive psychology is a recognized form of therapy and is offered by some counselors and psychologists.

Psychology has always been interested in where people’s lives have gone wrong, and what has resulted because of it [2]. Illnesses such as depression are well-documented and patterns of depressive behavior well-known. However, until recently, what makes people happy and how they achieve inner happiness and well-being has been a mystery.

Practitioners of positive psychology study people whose lives are positive and try to learn from them, in order to help others achieve this state of happiness [3]. It is a scientific study and not remotely hippie-ish, despite its connotations.

Positive thinking is one aspect of positive psychology. Surrounding yourself with a great lifestyle and material goods may seem to lead to happiness, but how you really feel is governed by what goes on inside your head. When you go out of your way to think positively, you actually purge yourself of negative self-talk. [1]

Negative self-talk is one of the biggest barriers to positive thinking. People become so accustomed to negative thinking that their conscious mind will pull them down, even when they have done nothing wrong. These people become insecure, overly apologetic and indecisive. Worse still, they open the door to numerous stress-related problems.


Negative thinkers have four common mindsets:

=> Filtering.
Many negative thinkers will pull the negatives out of a situation and focus on them. Sometimes these people will see only the negative in a situation, to the point where they deny any positive.
=> Personalizing.
Some people make every tragedy about themselves. They will personalize every negative thing and assume that bad things happen because they are unlucky, or as a result of something they did or didn’t do. They will often construct negative situations with perfect logic, providing plausible reasons why negative things are either their fault or set out to hurt them.
=> Catastrophizing.
This involves anticipating the worst. Some people even precipitate it. They can turn a slightly awkward interaction into an overreaction, making the situation worse. If something negative does happen, they will use it to validate their negative assumptions.
=> Polarizing.
This type of negative thinker sees things as black or white. Either a situation is perfect or it is a catastrophe. This type of negative thinking can affect every area of a person’s life. Its effects can be both psychological and physical. By practicing positive thinking, you can actually stave off medical conditions and reap the benefits of having a positive outlook on life.

Depression is complicated illness with physical and mental health elements. It would be flippant to suggest that someone with a positive outlook will not encounter depressive feelings.

However, positive psychology can be beneficial in treating depression. It can equip sufferers with the tools to stop downward spirals when they begin and help them to see the positive aspects to their lives. It can also help to stop the negative thinking habits that are common in depression. [4]

Scientific studies also show that there is a direct link between stress and the immune system. When a person is experiencing a period of stress and negativity, his or her body is less able to mount an inflammatory response to attacks from bacteria and viruses. This results in an increase in infections such as the common cold and cold sores. [5] Having a positive outlook on life also equips people better for dealing with serious illness. Tackling diseases such as cancer with optimism and self-belief has shown to have a beneficial effect on recovery and ability to tolerate treatment.

Among the other health benefits listed above, positive thinkers have a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease. They tend to have lower blood pressure than those who do not engage in positive thinking. The health benefits extend to the emotional side, too. optimists will have better physical and psychological well-being, and better skills for coping with stress and hardship.

It is important to remember that simply having a positive mindset won’t actually stop bad things from happening. But it does give you the tools to better deal with bad situations. Sometimes your coping skills come down to nothing more than refusing to give in to your negative side and your fears. For some people, positive thinking comes quite naturally. For others, seeking professional help is necessary to get them on the right track.


References

[1] http://www.ippanetwork.org/divisions/
[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2003/nov/19/1
[3] http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/Default.asp
[4] http://www.positivepsychologytraining.co.uk/depression/
[5] Miller, G. E. & Cohen, S. (2005). Infectious disease and psychoneuroimmununology. In K. Vedhara & M. Irwin (Eds.). Human psychoneuroimmunology. New York: Oxford University Press.
[6] http://uhs.berkeley.edu/students/healthpromotion/pdf/Positive%20Thinking.pdf

By Joanna Fishman              8 Jul 2018
happiness

 

20 Things to Avoid if You Want to Be Happier

Life requires that we prioritize what is important. The simple reason is that we don’t have enough time to do all – or even most – of the things that make us happier.

Part of prioritizing means saying “no” to certain people and things.

In this article, we’re going to focus our attention on 20 things that we would do well to say “no.” You’ll see many familiar things on here (T.V., anyone?) However, you may be a bit more surprised at some of the other things that can make you happier.

DO YOURSELF A FAVOR AND SAY ‘NO’ TO THESE 20 THINGS TO BECOME HAPPIER:

1 – ALCOHOL/DRUGS
For those made to suffer through the atrocious circa 90s “Just Say No” commercials, we apologize.

Drugs are atrociously bad for mental and physical health. Drugs ruin lives, families, and institutions. Per statistics published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug abuse and addiction cost American society alone over $700 billion per year.

It’s common for substance abuse to abuse both alcohol and drugs. There also exist correlations between substance abuse and mental health problems.

The message here is simple: stay away from drugs and limit alcohol intake.

2 – MORE WORK
Some people love what they do, and that’s a beautiful place to be. For the rest of us, however, work should be viewed as a necessity to live. You’d think that we live forever considering just how much time some people spend at the office.

Per a report by the American Institute of Stress (AIS), “job stress is far and away the major source of stress for American adults,” adding, “[job stress] has escalated progressively over the past few decades.” (Emphasis added)

3 – FAST FOOD
Unless you’re super careful, and the place that you eat offers healthy options, fast food can show up on your waistline quick. Statistics show that a fast food meal contributes a disproportionately high percentage of daily caloric intake.

Over 50 million North Americans eat fast food every day or about 15 percent of the population.

4 – PROCRASTINATION
It may bring some comfort to know that the cause of procrastination is solely psychological – i.e., it has little to do with your willpower. Highly anxious individuals seem to have more difficulty with the procrastination bug than others.

So what to do? Just get started. Don’t think about how much work needs to be done. Emotional pain and discomfort associated with procrastination drop precipitously after an action is taken.

5 – DIGITAL DISTRACTIONS
The era we’re now living in is the most distracted in human history. One massive reason for this is the sheer ubiquity of mobile devices.

The problem is that these distractions are both alluring and addicting. Things like “distracted driving” have become a real thing. Some research shows that our attention span is shrinking as the digital age evolves.

6 – MAKING EXCUSES
Excuses do nothing but disempower you and those around you. While the adage “You’re stronger than you think” may seem overly cliché, it’s nonetheless true.

The cool thing is that once you stop making excuses, you realize how much happier you feel. It feels as if you’re retaking control of your life, which you are.

7  – WATCHING T.V.
The amount of television that people watch is insane.

Per a Nielsen report, the average American spends about 35.5 hours watching the tube. The problem with this isn’t so much the activity in itself – but the opportunity cost.

That is, those hours you could use say exercising, building a business plan, spending time with the family, and other more meaningful things.

8 – PERFECTIONISM
Speaking of procrastination, one of the more common reasons that people put things off is fear – and this includes fear born of perfectionism. For the uninitiated, perfectionism is the unhealthy striving for, well, perfection.

Not only is perfectionism unrealistic, but it’s also unhealthy. Perfectionistic tendencies are connected to multiple clinical issues, including anxiety and depression, eating disorders, chronic fatigue, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

9 – SUGAR
Okay, so it may be very difficult – perhaps even impossible – to completely abstain from sugar. However, one would be well-advised to curb any intake. Per an article published by Harvard University’s health publication, “The effects of added sugar intake – higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease – are all linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke.”

10 – OVERSPENDING
Psychologists and other behavioral experts have thoroughly debunked the idea that money can buy happiness. So why do we keep spending too much? It’s all psychological. To overcome the habit requires diligence, patience, and discipline.

The cool thing is that once the seed habit of saving is planted, people find that they enjoy it.

11 – MIND-WANDERING OR RUMINATION
Rehashing what “could’ve/would’ve/should’ve been” is a complete waste of time. Unfortunately, the human brain is uniquely wired for pointless thinking. According to a widely-cited study by Harvard researchers Gilbert and Killingsworth, our minds drift about in aimless thinking about half of our waking hours.

Unsurprisingly, this constant turning over of the mind is not conducive to becoming happier. The conclusions reached by Gilbert and Killingsworth: “(I) people are thinking about what is not happening almost as often as they are thinking about what is…(ii) doing so typically makes them unhappy.”

12 – COMPARING YOURSELF
We have an unhealthy obsession with comparing ourselves with others. Such is particularly true in consumer-driven societies like the United States, where possessions and status are so coveted.

But comparing yourself to people does nothing but make us feel worse. It’s not easy to stop such an ingrained response, but we can take a step in the right direction by intentionally redirecting our focus when such thoughts arise.

13 – NOT FINISHING THINGS
We do enough things. So, this one’s not that bad, except that leaving things undone creates unnecessary mental tension and, studies show, drains our cognitive reserves.

The answer lies in a two-step process: (1) determining which endeavors are indeed worth committing to, and (2) avoiding everything else.

14 – NO OR TOO MUCH ALONE TIME
Neither too much nor too little seclusion is healthy. While we introverts may treasure our solo status, it doesn’t change the biological evolution of our brains.

On the flip side, while extroverts may despise being by themselves, such time is crucial for reflection and rejuvenation.

15 – THE MAINSTREAM NEWS
Okay, so perhaps doing away all news is unpractical – perhaps even unadvisable. But you should know that the unfortunate adage that “Bad news sells” is (a) true, and (b) media companies leverage this fact. This helps to explain why most of the news we read elicits feelings of fear and sadness.

So, don’t entirely ignore the news (though you could do worse), but watch how much attention you’re paying to it.

16 – NEGATIVITY
First off, we’re not telling you to ignore every instance of negativity, though limiting it is most certainly beneficial to your mental wellbeing. Everyone feels a bit negative from time to time.

We’re talking about limiting your exposure to consistently negative people. Sure, there are those rays of sunshine who can handle the negativity, though they’re few and far between. The rest of us need to watch how much time we’re spending amidst these folks to become happier.

17 – SHALLOW WORK
The term “shallow work” was coined by MIT-trained computer scientist and professor, Cal Newport. Instead of defining shallow work, let us note its opposite – what Newport calls (naturally) “Deep Work.”

Per Newport, Deep Work describes “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.”

Why engage in deep work? Because it “[creates] new value, [improves] your skill,” and, perhaps most importantly, “are hard to replicate.” Read: you’ll make more money and live happier.

18 – INCONSISTENCY
Being inconsistent in your efforts is detrimental to the achievement of the life you desire. It does little good to be filled with motivation and drive one day and then drift back into the same ole’ bad habits the next.

Inconsistency is often the byproduct of poor planning. As such, it is crucial to have a plan going into the day.

19 – SOCIAL MEDIA
Let’s bring Cal Newport back into the story. Besides being a big fan of sustained attention, Newport is a digital minimalist. In other words, he’s Facebook’s and Twitter’s worst nightmare. In one talk, he rails against the former, calling the social media platform an “entertainment product” – and, essentially, a colossal waste of time.

The fact that the average person spends 2.5 hours per day on social media does little to counter Newport’s argument.

20 – TAKING THINGS TOO SERIOUSLY

Here’s an exciting experiment: go anywhere you want, sit down with a beverage of your choice, and observe people for one hour. Watch closely. (Not too closely, lest an officer of the law intervenes.)

All joking aside: what do you see? Are people rushing around? Scrunched-up faces and tight shoulders? A seeming lack of purpose or direction?

This is how most people live their lives. Some people never stop living this way from the time they’re told to “grow up.”

Cliché time! Life is too short to take things so darn seriously. Let’s loosen up and be happier!

 


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Ikigai: Your Reason for Being

What Gets You Out of Bed in the Morning?
When asked what is the single most powerful contributing factor to one’s health and vitality, integrative medical doctor Oscar Serrallach answered without hesitation: having a sense of purpose. Serrallach went on to describe that while some of his patients have developed great regimes of nutrition, lifestyle activities and movement to support their wellbeing; those without a clear sense of purpose in their life experience continuing struggle with physical health issues. The distinguishing quality of many of his healthiest patients – those who  transcend common health challenges despite not having lived by the book, in terms of healthy lifestyle factors – is that they seem to be the most aligned or ‘called’ towards some primary focus of meaning in their life.

Japanese culture actually has a word which addresses this focus. The word is ikigai and translates simply as, ‘reason for being’.

What is Your ‘Reason for Being’?
According to the Japanese, everyone has an ikigai. To find it often requires deep enquiry and lengthy ‘search of self’ – a search which is highly regarded.

The term ikigai is composed of two Japanese words: iki referring to life, and kai, which roughly means “the realisation of what one expects and hopes for”. Unpacking the word and its associated symbol a bit further, ikigai is seen as the convergence of four primary elements:

  • What you Love (your passion)
  • What the World Needs (your mission)
  • What you are Good at (your vocation)
  • What you can get Paid for (your profession)

The word ikigai, that space in the middle of these four elements, is seen as the source of value or what make one’s life truly worthwhile. In Okinawa, Japan, ikigai is thought of as “a reason to get up in the morning”. Interestingly, while certainly incorporating the financial aspects of life, the word is more often used to refer to the mental and spiritual state behind our circumstance as opposed to our current economic status alone. Even if we are moving through a dark or challenging time, if we are moving with purpose, if we are feeling called toward something or have a clear goal in mind, we may still experience ikigai. Often the behaviors that make us feel ikigai are not the ones we are forced to take based on the expectations of the world around us, but rather they are the natural actions and spontaneous responses that emerge from a deep and direct connection to life.

 

Ikigai

The Question of Purpose
Many ancient indigenous cultures took time to honour the question of purpose through ceremony, vision quest and rites of passage in order to help reveal the essential role that each member was born to play in the greater tribe and story of life; though the space and reverence for this question does not always seem to exist today. For many, our decisions around life-focus unfold in a more reactionary way, propelling us into educational, professional and life-directional paths based less on deep inner calling or soul-inspired vision, and more on societal expectations, so-called ‘practical reality’ and what is required to survive in the systems we’ve created to live in.

The truth is, if there was ever a time on our planet where a sense of true purpose was needed, required, or desperately called for, now would be that time. But amidst the multi-layered pressures of our modern world, how do we peel back the layers and discover why we are here and what we are really supposed to be doing?

American mythologist and author Joseph Campbell shared his view on fulfilling our purpose when he said,

My general formula for my students is,

 ‘Follow your bliss.’ Find where it is, and don’t be afraid to follow it .

Sacred Activism, encourages us on the other hand to find our purpose by ‘following our heartbreak’. Andrew Harvey calls us to discover that which is most deeply disturbing in our world and to use this as a catalyst to propel our actions and discover where we can make the biggest difference.

Meanwhile, philosopher and civil rights leader Howard W Thurman said:

 Don’t ask what the world needs. 

 Ask what makes you come alive and do that… 

 Because what the world really needs is people who have come alive. 

While each of these viewpoints are powerfully compelling in their own right, whether we are following our bliss, following our heartbreak, or that which makes us come alive (or a combination of all three!), for many of us there is also an apparent need to follow that which pays the bills each month and allows us to cover the basic necessities of life. So how do we balance all of these factors in the creation of a life which is meaningful, purposeful and aligned with our true calling? Is it possible to have it all? The essence of ikigai gives us a framework to balance these elements into a cohesive whole.

Passion as a Vehicle for Change and Contribution
As the world moves through massive change on many levels, more and more people are feeling called to align their skills and gifts with a higher cause or sense of contribution. Beautiful examples are emerging in many arenas of social change and activism where people are not abandoning their passion for the cause but rather channeling the thing they most love doing in the direction of positive change – and discovering inspired ways to support themselves along the way.

Sixteen year old rapper, dancer and global youth director of Earth Guardians Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is a living example of ikigai, blending his creative gifts and passion for the Earth in the rise of a world-wide youth-lead revolution in support of future generations.  Poet/rapper/Facebook sensation Prince Ea has woven his love and concern for humanity and Earth with a gift for capturing profound messages into powerfully creative 3-5 minute videos – an expression of ikigai which galvanises the energy and support of millions of people online each week. Visionary art therapist and yoga teacher Atira Tan responded to her “heartbreak” witnessing child sex trafficking in Asia and has discovered incredible passion and aliveness through the sharing of her global foundation Art2Healing, bringing justice and transformational healing and movement arts to those who have suffered from this experience.

Youth Director of Earth Guardians, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, in hip-hop expression of ikigaiYouth Director of Earth Guardians, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, in hip-hop expression of ikigai.
The truth is many of the challenges we face in today’s world are not simple, technical challenges. They are complex, multi-dimensional issues which will require expansive, multi-dimensional thinking and action. The type of thinking, action and energy that emerges naturally when we are in the throes of creative expression or connection with others. When we are immersed in any endeavor that brings us into our hearts, that makes us come alive – and we are bringing ourselves fully to it – instantly we become more generative, more magnetic and more dynamic in our ability to navigate challenges and discover pathways of breakthrough.

What is Your Ikigai?
Take a moment to draw your own version of the overlapping circles of the ikigai symbol and consider the following:

  • What do you Love? What aspects of your life bring you into your heart and make you come alive?
  • What are you Great at? What unique skills do you have that come most naturally to you? What talents have you cultivated and what do you excel at even when you aren’t trying?
  • What Cause do you believe in? What breaks your heart or pulls at your gut? What change would you most love to create in the world? What would you give your life for?
  • What do people Value and pay you for? What service, value or offering do you bring, or could you bring, that brings real value to others? Something people need and are happy to pay for or share some value in exchange?

Take a few minutes to write whatever key words, phrases, and ideas come up for you in each circle, then look for areas of natural overlap. Reflect on the sum total of these elements and how they may relate to each other. Bring yourself quietly to the centre of the circles and leave space in your mind for whatever impulse or calling may emerge naturally in the coming days… What is one simple thing you could do or be today that would be an expression of your ikigai?

By Chip Richards        Monday January 14th, 2019
 


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7 Elements of Wisdom That Can Make You Happier as You Age

Despite aches and pains, the wisdom that comes with age can make you happier.

Despite more physical aches and pains as we age—the ‘paradox of aging’ suggests that older people are generally more comfortable in their own skin, feel better about themselves, and grow happier in their lives year after year…decade after decade.

Nora Ephron once said, “Looking back, it seems to me that I was clueless until I was about 50 years old.” As someone who just entered my sixth decade of life, I concur. The inherent wisdom that comes from life experience makes it easier to cope with the pitfalls of aging. Empirical evidence also suggests that lots of people get happier as they get older.

A new study by age researchers at the University of California, San Diego, reports that despite having more physical ailments, older adults living in southern California tend to be happier and have markedly better mental health than their younger counterparts.

The August 2016 study, “Paradoxical Trend for Improvement in Mental Health With Aging,” appears in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

For this study, senior author Dilip Jeste, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences and director of the Center on Healthy Aging at UC San Diego, and colleagues collected data via phone interviews on the physical health, cognitive function, and other measures of mental health in 1,546 adults, ages 21 to 100 years living in San Diego county.

Jeste emphasizes that this study wasn’t restricted to psychological well-being, but included other markers of mental health. One caveat about this demographic—and the cross-sectional method of collecting information—is that these findings only provide a snapshot of a limited geographic area at one-moment-in-time and are not longitudinal.

The Wisdom of Aging Facilitates an Upward Spiral of Psychological Well-Being
The researchers found a substantial improvement to psychological well-being among older adults that followed a linear trajectory—which improved year after year once people got over the hump of the colloquial “midlife crisis.” The linear nature of the findings surprised the researchers. In fact, the oldest cohort in this study had mental health scores significantly better than the youngest cohort.

Across the board, the participants in their 20s and 30s reported higher levels of perceived stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety. Alarmingly, this period of early midlife was associated with far worse levels of psychological well-being than any other period of adulthood, which is cause for concern.

These findings turn conventional notions of aging upside down. Aging in the 21st century doesn’t appear to be an unavoidable process of physical and cognitive decline. In a statement, Jeste said, “Some cognitive decline over time is inevitable, but its effect is clearly not uniform and in many people, not clinically significant—at least in terms of impacting their sense of well-being and enjoyment of life.”

In terms of causation, the specific reasons for improved positive mental health in old age are difficult to pin down. That said, below are seven elements of wisdom that I’ve found make people happier as they age based on empirical evidence and life experience.

7 Elements of Wisdom for Aging Gracefully by Bergland

  • Stop holding grudges against yourself and others.
  • Embrace who you are, warts and all.
  • Vocalize your imperfections shamelessly.
  • Practice conscientious emotional regulation.
  • Stay even-keel via equanimity.
  • Apologize wholeheartedly for any wrong-doing.
  • Move on! Let go of negative emotions and regrets.

As we age, many people inherently learn the above elements of wisdom through life experience. That said, over the years I’ve found that having an itemized punch list of target mindsets and behaviors makes it easier to expedite your learning curve.

Conclusion: It Really Is “Getting So Much Better (All the Time)”
From a public health perspective, Jeste is concerned that the rates of psychological distress and mental illness in young people are rising at an alarming rate. Also, other studies have shown that mortality rates among specific middle-aged groups have skyrocketed in the past ten years. In a statement, Jeste concluded,

“Inadequate attention has been paid to mental health issues that continue or get exacerbated post-adolescence. We need to understand mechanisms underlying better mental health in older age in spite of more physical ailments. That would help develop broad-based interventions to promote mental health in all age groups, including youth.”

The latest research reminds us all that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for anyone in an earlier stage of life, or in midlife, who is feeling malcontent or suffering from depression. I’ve lived through this myself. As an adolescent—and again in my late 30s—I suffered major depressive episodes (MDE) that included suicidal ideation. Hang in there. I am living proof that it really does start getting better at a certain point in life. If you are suicidal, please seek assistance: <U.S.> http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/       <Canada>  https://www.suicideprevention.ca/need-help

Below is a passage I wrote for The Athlete’s Way over a decade ago—just months after getting through a harrowing MDE. This advice has continued to work for me over the subsequent years. If you are currently struggling with mental health issues, hopefully, these insights will be helpful for you, too.

“When life throws me a curveball, I have learned from experience to be proactive and reach out to friends and mental health professionals to help me through. When you are in the blackest of blackness, the light seems like it will never enter your brain again. But it will. The light will flicker again. That is the human spirit; it always, always comes back. I’ve been there myself. If you are depressed or suicidal do whatever you have to do to stay vital and get yourself back on track.
You were born to be alive. Don’t isolate. Reach out. Ask for help. There will be sunbeams in your soul again. Ride out the storm—but don’t do it alone. People will take care of you. Let them. And make a vow, when you’re back on top, to give something back.”

 

Christopher Bergland       Aug 29, 2016

 

smile

Express Gratitude
– Not Because You Will Benefit From It,
But Others Might

The world is currently in the midst of a pandemic where the most useful thing many of us can do is stay at home and keep away from others. Schools, restaurants, office buildings and movie theaters are closed. Many people are feeling disoriented, disconnected and scared.

At this time of soaring infection rates, shortages of medical supplies and economic downturns, there are also examples of people looking for ways to express their gratitude to those on the front lines of fighting the epidemic. In many European countries, for example, people are expressing gratitude for the work of the medical staff by clapping from their balconies. Recently, this same practice has migrated to New York City.

As psychology researchers, we have been working to study the connection between gratitude and well-being.

Gratitude and well-being connection
In 2013, psychologists Robert Emmons and Robin Stern explained gratitude as both appreciating the good things in life and recognizing that they come from someone else.

There is a strong correlation between gratitude and well-being. Researchers have found that individuals who report feeling and expressing gratitude more report a greater level of positive emotions such as happiness, optimism and joy.

At the same time, they have a lower level of negative emotions such as anger, distress, depression and shame. They also report a higher level of life satisfaction.

Furthermore, grateful individuals report a greater sense of purpose in life, more forgiveness and better quality of relationships, and they even seem to sleep better.

In short, grateful individuals seem to have more of the ingredients needed to thrive and flourish.

There are several plausible explanations for the apparent connection between gratitude and well-being. It may be that gratitude serves as a positive lens through which to view the world.

For example, grateful individuals may be inclined to see the good in people and situations, which may result in a more compassionate and less critical view of others and themselves.

Grateful individuals may also be naturally prone to forming mutually supportive relationships. When someone expresses gratitude, the recipient is more likely to connect with that person and to invest in that relationship in the future.

Gratitude exercises have weak effects
However, there is one important caveat to this research. It shows that gratitude is correlated with well-being, but it does not prove that expressing gratitude actually improves well-being.

Psychologists have conducted a number of experiments to see if giving thanks leads to greater well-being. For example, individuals may be asked to perform gratitude exercises at home and then report on their well-being afterward. These exercises include writing a thank-you letter or keeping a journal of things one is thankful for.

Several review papers over the past four years, including our recent paper, indicate that these gratitude exercises have fairly weak effects on well-being.

These review papers combine the findings from multiple different studies, which allows researchers to be more confident that the findings are consistent and can be trusted.

Researchers found that such gratitude exercises only increase happiness and life satisfaction a little bit. Similarly, the effect on symptoms of depression and anxiety was also small.

Express gratitude to help others
We are not suggesting that expressing gratitude has no value. Rather, we argue that gratitude should not be thought of as a self-help tool to increase one’s own happiness and well-being.

Instead, gratitude may be most valuable as a way of honoring and acknowledging someone else. Indeed, researchers have found that expressions of gratitude lead to improved relationships for both the one expressing gratitude and the recipient. The lead researcher of a 2010 study – psychologist Sara Algoe – concluded that for romantic relationships, gratitude worked like a “booster shot.”

During this global pandemic, perhaps it is more important than ever to express gratitude to the important people in our lives – not just loved ones, but the countless public officials, health care professionals and others who are fighting on the front lines.

April 2, 2020 
 
Jennifer Cheavens          Associate Professor of Psychology, The Ohio State University
David Cregg       Doctoral Candidate in Clinical Psychology, The Ohio State University
 
Disclosure statement
Jennifer Cheavens receives funding from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
She is also under contract with Cambridge University Press and receives compensation for editorial duties from John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
 
David Cregg does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article,
and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
 
Partners
The Ohio State University       /      The Ohio State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.

 


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20 Ways To Be A Happier Person

20 Ways To Be A Happier Person In 2020, According To Therapists
If you’re going to make a resolution for the new year, it may as well be improving your mental health.

Looking to make 2020 your happiest, most fulfilling year yet?

If your mental and emotional wellness took a backseat in 2019, there’s no better time than right now to prioritize it. (If anything, it’ll make the election year just mildly more bearable.) Your mood affects everything in your life ― your relationships, your work, your self-care ― so improving it should be at the top of your goal list.

That might feel like a huge and lofty task, but small, actionable habits can help you get there, according to experts. Below are the most common happiness tips therapists recommend. Maybe they’ll sound challenging or unrealistic (more on that later), but maybe they just might change your life.

1. Conquer one anxiety

Give yourself a motivational benchmark to start conquering your biggest fears this year.

“Single out the goal of selecting an anxiety that is holding you back, and thoroughly commit yourself to obliterating that fear,” said Forrest Talley, a clinical psychologist. “Hold nothing back in your assault; treat that fear as though it is enemy number one.”

Perhaps you’ve been worried about signing up for a half marathon. Maybe you’re afraid to reach out to book agents because you don’t want to be rejected. Perhaps you’re fearful of having a difficult conversation with a toxic friend or family member and you’re putting it off. Set the goal, pick a reward you’ll get when you complete it, then get to it.

“The thing to keep in mind is that very often happiness is found just on the other side of a doorway guarded by our anxieties,” Talley said. “And the new year is a great time to start kicking down some doors.”

2. Lock down a sleep schedule that works for you

You may think you’re doing OK on sleep, but take a closer look at your schedule. Are you really getting optimal hours? Are you maintaining relatively the same bed time every night?

“Getting a [consistent] good night’s sleep is vital; chronic sleep deprivation is a huge problem, especially for those who work late or are extremely busy,” said Joanna Konstantopoulou, a psychologist and founder of the Health Psychology Clinic. “It’s not just the 40-hour marathons without sleep which can be detrimental to your psychological health, but simply losing an hour or two on a regular basis can have a significant impact on your mind and well-being.”

That last bit is important. If you’re constantly shaving off an hour here or there ― thinking you can get by on five hours a night ― it’s time to reevaluate that sleep schedule.

“Start with small steps by giving yourself a sensible and realistic bedtime,” Konstantopoulou said. “Try to go to bed half an hour before your usual bedtime and stick to it. Evaluate this new habit every day by having a journal and writing down your progress.”

She noted that this new routine will improve your memory, reduce anxiety, and “transport toxins out of the brain” to potentially prevent chronic illnesses.

3. Find one small self-care act that works for you and prioritize it

Pick a you-centric activity and engage in it regularly, said Elena Touroni, co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic.

“The most impactful mental health goal a person can set is the commitment to balance workload and responsibilities alongside activities that bring them a sense of well-being and enjoyment,” she said. “When there is an imbalance in what we’re giving out to the world, and what we’re taking for ourselves, that’s when our psychological resources get depleted.”

Her suggestions to get you started? Try beginning each day with a five-minute mindfulness meditation session. Want to go further? “Go to therapy to unravel a lifelong pattern, get a personal trainer, or make time for reading,” she said. “This commitment can be broken down into specific and concrete goals, depending on your personal preferences, but it all comes down to making self-care a priority.”

4. Spend 10 minutes a day outside

Go for a walk during your lunch break, spend a few minutes drinking your morning coffee outside or pick up running. It doesn’t even have to be for a long period of time.

“This year, resolve to spend less time inside and more time outdoors in natural settings,” said Michael Brodsky, a psychiatrist. “Research in multiple countries show that spending time in green spaces can lift your mood and relieve anxiety in as little as 10 minutes.”

5. Regularly practice a simple mindfulness exercise

“Many of us spend our days worrying about the future or ruminating about the past, thus, missing a great deal of what is happening in the here-and-now,” said Anna Prudovski, the clinical director of Turning Point Psychological Services.

Making an effort to be more present “increases the sense of well-being, promotes vitality, heightens our awareness, helps train our attention, improves the quality of our work, and enhances interpersonal relationships,” she said. Sounds pretty nice, right? “Be more present” can feel a little vague, so here’s how you can get started:

Each day, spend five minutes noticing your surroundings and how you feel. Do this by naming five things you see, four things you can physically feel, three different sounds you hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. It’s OK if you point out something far away from you. Then take a second to label how you’re feeling in the moment (like, “I’m frustrated,” “I’m bored,” or “I’m excited”). This is known as a grounding exercise, which experts say helps with anxiety.

6. Say nice things about yourself

Roseann Capanna-Hodge, pediatric mental health expert and psychologist, suggested an adjustment to your everyday vocabulary, both in your thoughts and out loud.

“Instead of always focusing on the negative, flip your dialogue to only positive outcomes. For example, instead of saying, ‘If I get that job,’ switch it to, ‘When I get that job.’ Those subtle changes in using positive language helps to change your mindset to a glass half full instead of a glass half empty.”

You can also increase your positive thoughts by stating one thing you like about yourself when you look in the mirror each morning. Cheesy, but worth a shot.

7. Give up or cut back on one unhealthy habit

We know when things are bad for us, which can cause stress. You can curb that by reducing them or giving them up entirely, said Sarah C. McEwen, a cognitive psychologist. Think activities like high alcohol consumption or excessive caffeine consumption.

Getting those things in check “will all help to manage stress levels,” McEwen said.

8. Find a physical activity you love

“Exercise plays a large role in mental health,” said physician Jena Sussex-Pizula. “While studies are ongoing, a review article found consistent beneficial effects of exercise on depressive symptoms across multiple studies.”

How often? McEwen suggests 30 minutes a day if you can. “This [amount] has been shown to produce the most benefit for improving mood and reducing stress levels,” she said.

The most important part is finding something you enjoy. It doesn’t matter if it’s pilates, martial arts, spinning, running, dancing or lifting weights ― just make sure the activity is something that excites you.

9. Try meditation

Haven’t jumped on the bandwagon just yet? Now is as good a time as ever. McEwen suggests meditation for those who want to improve their level of stress resilience.

“A mindfulness meditation practice will have a tremendous positive effect longterm,” she said. “I recommend allocating at least 30 minutes daily, which can be divided into morning and evening.”

Feeling intimidated by the concept? McEwen suggested trying a local class or an app like Headspace, Waking Up or Insight Timer.

“Research has shown that the regular practice of meditation can actually improve your health because it lowers the negative effects of not only high cortisol, but also high cholesterol and high blood pressure,” she said. “Other great benefits of regular meditation include mental clarity and focus, improvement of memory and overall higher level of mental performance.”

10. Stop negative thoughts in their tracks

“Our thoughts are not always reality,” said Judy Ho, a clinical and forensic neuropsychologist and author of ”Stop Self Sabotage.” “And we need to get into the routine of challenging them and changing our relationships to our thoughts.”

You can do this by asking yourself a simple question when you’re beating yourself up. Next time you have a negative thought, ask yourself: Does this completely and accurately capture what’s going on?”

Ho said from there, you can transform the thought using one of two tactics. One is called “yes, but” and one is called “labeling.”

“‘Yes, but’ involves recognizing a not so great thing, and [adding] something that is positive or shows progress,” she said. “Example: I did eat three cupcakes while trying to cut down on sugar, but I have been doing a great job with healthy eating and can start fresh tomorrow.”

And as for labeling, try mentally recognizing or acknowledging that the thought you’re having is toxic. According to Ho, this “takes the wind out of the sails of a negative thought and reminds you that a thought is just a mental event, and nothing more.”

11. Invest in a quality relationship

“If you want to have good long-term mental and physical health, you need to first see if you have meaningful, loving relationships,” said clinical psychologist Kevin Gilliland. “Who knows you better than anyone and who do you know better than anyone? Have you invested in that relationship by staying in touch and talking on the phone (not just texting)? And when was the last time you got together?”

Gilliland suggests picking one person close to you this year, and planning to spend quality time together.

“If we’re not careful, we will end up giving our best in places that aren’t good for our mental health,” he said. “Study after study finds that loving meaningful relationships are good for our mental and physical health.”

12. Read self-development books

“Read at least one book on someone you admire, and how they have dealt with the struggles in their life,” Gilliland said. “There are a lot of ways to learn about your mental health, from therapy to self-help to the lives of other people.”

You can pick up many tips and find a lot of inspiration in these motivational books, whether they’re memoirs or expert-backed advice. Need a specific suggestion?

“I have so enjoyed Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography and recent album ‘Western Stars’ where he talks about his struggle with depression and family issues,” Gilliland said. “It’s powerful and encouraging … You can’t help but see yourself in some of his stories, he can paint with words like very few people can. It’s a wonderful way to learn about your mental health without feeling like its work.”

13. Cut back on your social media use

So often we view people’s highlight reels on social media. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy in our own lives, according to experts. And given that research shows spending too much time online is linked to poor mental health, now’s the perfect time to cut back.

“External validation is temporary; it’s difficult to maintain the pressure to chase ‘likes,’” said therapist Jennifer Musselman. “Build your self esteem from competence of something important to you, and by being of service to others.”

14. Set better boundaries

Did you find yourself feeling chronically overwhelmed and stretched thin in 2019? Time to reel that in and make more space for you by setting boundaries.

“This one is more important than people realize, and they have way more control than they realize,” Gilliland said. “If you don’t want to go, then don’t go!”

Consider: Is it something you think you “should” do? If so, then why? In the words of a popular therapist joke, stop should-ing yourself. Set those boundaries to thrive in 2020.

15. Make a progress list each week

Expecting perfection guarantees you’ll feel like a failure at least part of the time, and can lead to serious anxiety.

“Learn the art of progress, not perfection,” Musselman said. “We are setting ourselves up for failure from the get-go [when we expect] to ‘have it all’ perfectly balanced. In other words, we will always feel like we are failing.”

From “doing it all” as a mom to building your entrepreneurial business to perfecting your talent, it’s time to let go of that expectation that things are always going to be perfect. Instead, try writing down the incremental improvements you made each week. Celebrate small successes that eventually will lead to big ones.

17. Get a therapist if you’re able to do it

If you were trying to get in physical shape and had no idea where to start, you might turn to a coach or personal trainer. Mental health works the same way.

There are so, so many benefits to seeing a therapist. And there are affordable options, too: Attend group therapy at a local mental health center, seek free options in your community, opt for a sliding-scale psychologist, find a provider through your health insurance or try an app like Talkspace to get started.

“Getting a therapist in 2020 would be a good goal if you need a therapist and have been putting it off,” Talley said.

18. Write in a gratitude journal

Practicing gratitude “is so essential for a full and happy life,” Talley said.

Instead of allowing your brain to go to a place of anxiety and stress, Talley says to arm yourself with grateful thoughts. Writing them down helps.

“If you wake up and focus on that which you have to be grateful for, your brain becomes better at finding even more [gratitude],” Talley said.

19. Turn your phone off

It’s been shown in many studies that too much tech time can negatively impact mental health.

Become less available via text and email so you don’t feel emotionally tethered to your phone, and spend more time off your devices. Opt for screen-free activities ― especially at night ― that help you disconnect from certain social and work stressors.

“While it’s unclear if sedentary screen time is a marker for or risk factor for depression (as all that has been shown is a correlation), there appears to be a consistent association of increased screen time in patients with depression and anxiety,” Sussex-Pizula said.

20. Reduce food shame and stress through mindful eating

Have thoughts around food, calories, dieting, etc. been weighing on you in 2019? Lisa Hayim, a registered dietitian and founder of food therapy program Fork The Noise, said it’s time to kick this to the curb.

“When we feel nervous, scared, anxious, or even unsure of what to eat or how much, our stress hormones begin to fire,” she said. “Our sympathetic nervous system becomes activated, and we’re no longer making empowered decisions.”

Does this sound like you? Are you constantly thinking about what a food choice might “do” to your body?

“Breathe. Your body knows what it wants and how much it wants, when it wants it,” she said. Listening to it is called intuitive or mindful eating: enjoying whatever you want and taking cues from your body when it’s hungry and full.

“Decreasing stress around food choices is not just good for the body, it’s good for the mind and the soul,” Hayim said.

 

By Dominique Astorino   12/30/2019
wellness@huffpost.com.
happiness-comes-from-within-and-is-found-in-the-present-moment-by-making-peace-with-the-past-and-looking-forward-to-the-future

 

6 Things To Let Go Of
If You Want To Be A Tiny Bit Happier This Year

Examining the toxic thoughts and behaviors that you should kick to the curb and advice on how to do it.

Most people kick off January by creating resolutions that drastically aim to add healthy habits to their daily lives (which doesn’t always work, by the way ― and that’s OK). But sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is to let some things go instead.

“The new year offers a fresh opportunity, while the weight of the past keeps us in a place of inaction,” said Olecia Christie, a certified life coach and owner of Optix Communications in San Antonio, noting that it’s important to discern when to release the things that no longer serve our own growth and happiness.

With that in mind, here are a few things you should consider leaving behind in the new year, according to Christie and other experts:

Comparing your life to others’ on Instagram

In this era of social media, it always appears that everyone is living their best life — that is, everyone except you. Ibinye Osibodu-Onyali, a licensed marriage and family therapist at The Zinnia Practice in California, said you should remember that social media is a highlight reel. Comparing your daily life to a single picture capturing a perfect moment isn’t the best use of your time.

Instead, Osibodu-Onyali suggested engaging with the people you admire in 2020.

“Rather than spending so many hours per week scrolling mindlessly, begin to actually connect with people you admire on social media. Send them a DM, ask for advice, seek out actual mentorship,” she said. “You’ll be surprised how many new friends you will acquire just by reaching out, rather than being a jealous onlooker.”

Letting fear hold you back from something you want to do

Anthony Freire, the clinical director and founder of The Soho Center for Mental Health Counseling in New York, said in order to release fear, shame and guilt, you must first “shine a spotlight” on them.

“On your deathbed, you don’t want to be kicking yourself for not having completed your bucket list for any reason, but especially because of feelings like guilt, fear and shame — which are only problematic feelings because you’ve told yourself that you should feel that way,” he said.

Worrying about things you cannot control

It’s unrealistic to suggest giving up worry or stress entirely ― these feelings are a normal part of life. Instead, try to focus just on the worries you can take action on.

“Focus your thoughts on things you can change. When you have a list of worry thoughts, write out what you can change and what you can’t. Work on the situation that you can change, and just release the rest. It takes a lot of time and practice to learn this skill, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll find that you’ll worry less,” Osibodu-Onyali explained.

For some, this is easier said than done. If you find that you’re unable to manage your excessive worrying ― especially over things out of your control ― it might be worth seeking advice from a professional. This could be a sign of an anxiety disorder, which is a very real and common condition.

Old grudges or grievances

Research shows holding onto a grudge or anger for longer than necessary can be toxic for your physical and mental health. Right now is the perfect opportunity to work on letting go of some old baggage “by either working on repairing strained relationships or closing the chapter on relationships that cannot be salvaged,” Osibodu-Onyali said.

This doesn’t apply to people who have severely damaged or hurt you, but could be useful for someone you’ve grown distant with or just no longer envision as a healthy part of your life. You can either choose to move forward or let go.

“Although saying goodbye to a relationship can be tough, the closure can be very freeing,” Osibodu-Onyali said.

What other people think of you

There’s a saying that goes “what other people think of you is none of your business.” It’s important to know what your values are and to be grounded in them, so that you’re not swayed by the thoughts of others. Osibodu-Onyali said she often challenges her clients by asking: “So what if they don’t like you? What happens next?” She said more often than not, the answer is usually “nothing.”

“The truth is that the world doesn’t end and you don’t have to be liked by everyone,” she said. “Stick to your core group of supporters who truly love and respect you, and don’t spend time worrying about the people who don’t quite get you. If they don’t get you, that’s OK. You can’t be a part of every group.”

The need to be right in every conflict

We’ve all strived to win arguments; however, that can cause more stress than it’s worth. Freire said letting go of the need to win “takes up enormous energy because people tend to want to be right.”

“How many times do we fight with someone and we’re simply fighting to be right?” he said. “We say things we can’t take back and later we apologize and think to ourselves ‘I overreacted’ or ‘We fought over something so stupid.’ Sometimes we don’t even remember why we were fighting to begin with. Sometimes trivial things we get stuck on are just smaller manifestations of larger underlying issues.”

These kinds of interactions can often lead to “negative self-talk and anxiety as [we] overanalyze the situation and stress about the impact of the interaction,” according to Elise Hall, a licensed and independent clinical social worker in Massachusetts.

Instead, try looking at a fight as a problem to be solved (experts say there’s one phrase that can easily help you do this with a partner). This can help you let go of the need to be right and put your focus on a solution.

This all might be challenging, but it could be worth it to increase your joy — even just by a fraction.

By Stephanie Barnes      01/02/2020