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Why Happiness is Healthy

Follow CNN’s Project Happy to explore what happiness means today, dive deep into the different ways we pursue it and find some tools to help make your life better. Come join us and #gethappy!

(CNN)Happiness – you know it when you see it, but it’s hard to define.

You might call it a sense of well-being, of optimism or of meaningfulness in life, although those could also be treated as separate entities. But whatever happiness is, we know that we want it, and that is just somehow good.

We also know that we don’t always have control over our happiness. Research suggests that genetics may play a big role in our normal level of subjective well-being, so some of us may start out at a disadvantage. On top of that, between unexpected tragedies and daily habitual stress, environmental factors can bring down mood and dry up our thirst for living.

Being able to manage the emotional ups and downs is important for both body and mind, said Laura Kubzansky, professor of social and behavioral sciences at Harvard School of Public Health.

“For physical health, it’s not so much happiness per se, but this ability to regulate and have a sense of purpose and meaning,” Kubzansky said.

Why be happy?

Many scientific studies, including some by Kubzansky, have found a connection between psychological and physical well-being.

A 2012 review of more than 200 studies found a connection between positive psychological attributes, such as happiness, optimism and life satisfaction, and a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease. Kubzansky and other Harvard School of Public Health researchers published these findings in the journal Psychological Bulletin.

It’s not as simple as “you must be happy to prevent heart attacks,” of course. If you have a good sense of well-being, it’s easier to maintain good habits: Exercising, eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep, researchers said. People who have an optimistic mindset may be more likely to engage in healthy behaviors because they perceive them as helpful in achieving their goals, Kubzansky said.
Lower blood pressure, normal body weight and healthier blood fat profiles were also associated with a better sense of well-being in this study.

For now these studies can only show associations; they do not provide hard evidence of cause and effect. But some researchers speculate that positive mental states do have a direct effect on the body, perhaps by reducing damaging physical processes. For instance, another of Kubzansky’s studies found that optimism is associated with lower levels of inflammation.

If what you mean by happiness is specifically “enjoyment of life,” there’s newer evidence to support that, too. A study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that people ages 60 and older who said they enjoyed life less were more likely to develop disability over an eight-year period. Mobility was also related to enjoyment of life. This study does not prove that physical problems are caused by less enjoyment of life, but suggests a relationship.

Where happiness comes from: genes + environment

There is substantial evidence that genetics play a big role in happiness, according to Nancy Segal, psychologist at California State University, Fullerton, and author of “Born Together — Reared Apart.”
Research has shown that identical twins tend to have a similar level of happiness, more so than fraternal twins. And in identical twins, one twin’s happiness is a better predictor of the other twin’s current or future happiness than educational achievement or income, Segal said.

“If you have happy parents and happy children, I think that people usually assume it’s because the children are modeling the parents,” she said. “But that’s not really so. You need to make the point that parents pass on both genes and environments.”

What’s more, there seems to be a certain level of happiness that individuals have generally, to which they usually gravitate, Segal said. That level depends on the person, and the situations he or she is in.
Even if genetics has a big influence, though, that doesn’t mean anyone is biologically stuck being unhappy, she said. It might take more work if your baseline mood is low, but certain therapies have proven useful for elevating psychological well-being.

The environment is still quite important for psychological well-being, too, Kubzansky said.
“To say to someone, ‘Don’t worry, be happy,’ is kind of not looking at the whole picture of, what are the environmental constraints on things they can do?” Kubzansky said.

 

Money and time

You might be thinking: “Maybe I would be happier if I had more money.” There’s that old cliché “money doesn’t buy happiness” – but is it true? A 2010 study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that emotional well-being rises with income up to a point, which seems to be a household income of $75,000. Day-to-day happiness did not increase with higher incomes.

But when participants were asked about overall satisfaction with their lives, that did continue to rise in conjunction with income, even after $75,000, Princeton University researchers Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton found. Their results show a sharp distinction between how people see themselves in terms of happiness “today” vs. life satisfaction.

“More money does not necessarily buy more happiness, but less money is associated with emotional pain,” Kahneman and Deaton wrote. “Perhaps $75,000 is a threshold beyond which further increases in income no longer improve individuals’ ability to do what matters most to their emotional well-being, such as spending time with people they like, avoiding pain and disease, and enjoying leisure.”

Would you be happier if you bought the car you always wanted? Several studies suggest experiences make us happier than possessions. That’s partly because once you have purchased something, such as a new car, you get used to seeing it every day and the initial joy fades, experts say. But you can continue to derive happiness from memories of experiences over time.

Experiences form “powerful and important memories that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world,” Thomas Gilovich, professor of psychology at Cornell University, told CNN in 2009.

But if you’re in the market for a birthday present for your sweetheart, a material object can still be meaningful, becoming a keepsake with sentimental value that increases over time, Gilovich said.

Or maybe you’ll be happier once you’ve lived longer. Research has also found that some sense of happiness may come with age.

Older adults may be able to better regulate their emotions than younger people, expose themselves to less stress and experience less negative emotion, Susan Turk Charles, a psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, told CNN in 2009. More science needs to be done on whether the diminished negative response is also associated with a feeling of happiness.

Happiness: Living in the moment

But what about right now – what can we do to make ourselves feel more positive?

If you’re seeking to increase your own sense of happiness, try mindfulness techniques. Mindfulness means being present and in the moment, and observing in a nonjudgmental way, Susan Albers, psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic, told CNN in 2010.

Can mindfulness help manage pain and mental illness?

Mindfulness comes from Buddhism and is key to meditation in that tradition. Therapies for a wide variety of conditions, including eating disorders, depression and PTSD, incorporate mindfulness. Focusing on the here and now is a counterbalance to findings that mind-wandering is associated with unhappiness.

Activities such as keeping a gratitude diary and helping other people are also associated with feelings of well-being, Kubzansky said.

A variety of smartphone apps are also available that claim to help you monitor and enhance your moods. But don’t feel you have to face emotional challenges alone; a professional therapist can help you get to where you want to be.

If a sense of well-being makes a healthier person, then policy-makers should also promote large-scale initiatives to encourage that, Kubzansky said. Creating parks to encourage exercise and insituting flexible work-family initiatives are just some of the ways that communities can become healthier as a whole.

So remember: A glass half full might be healthier than a glass half empty.

Want to find out more ways to get happy? Visit our Project Happy page at cnn.com/happy.
By Elizabeth Landau, CNN      Fri April 3, 2015
 
source: www.cnn.com


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How To Get Happier Now With Almost No Effort

You can lift your spirits without a gym membership, wearing Lycra or even leaving the house.

For sedentary people, getting out of the chair is enough to improve happiness, new research finds.

It turns out that very light activity is surprisingly effective in raising people’s level of well-being.

Mr Gregory Panza, the study’s first author, said:

“…simply going from doing no physical activity to performing some physical activity can improve their subjective well-being.
What is even more promising for the physically inactive person is that they do not need to exercise vigorously to see these improvements.
Instead, our results indicate you will get the best ‘bang for your buck’ with light or moderate intensity physical activity.”

Light physical activity is equivalent to a leisurely walk.

The kind of walk that doesn’t make you sweat, breathe faster or even change your heart rate.

Moderate activity is walking fast enough to nudge up your vital signs for around 15 minutes.

It’s amazing how little
you have to do
to make yourself happier right now.

Vigorous exercise is equivalent to going for a jog.

The study looked at 419 healthy, middle-aged adults.

The biggest gains in happiness were seen among those who were the most sedentary and then did some light or moderate physical activity.

People who sat around a lot had the most to gain.

Mr Panza said:

“The ‘more is better’ mindset may not be true when it comes to physical activity intensity and subjective well-being.
In fact, an ‘anything is better’ attitude may be more appropriate if your goal is a higher level of subjective well-being.”
People doing vigorous activity did not see increases in their happiness.
This is the reverse of a recent study that found vigorous activity can actually decrease mental well-being.
Dr Beth Taylor, a study author, said:
“Recent studies had suggested a slightly unsettling link between vigorous activity and subjective well-being.

We did not find this in the current study, which is reassuring to individuals who enjoy vigorous activity and may be worried about negative effects.”

The study was published in the Journal of Health Psychology (Panza et al., 2017).

source: PsyBlog


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happiness is a state of mind.

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

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

By Katy Cowan


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The Surprising Secret to Healthy Aging

You probably know that exercise and diet are important when it comes to aging well. But there is something else you control that can help you along: a positive attitude.

Research shows more and more that your approach to life may be just as important in making your “golden years” your best years.

Aging: It’s in Your Mind

Growing older brings with it some natural changes (think those creaky knees). But folks who see good years ahead and who don’t accept stereotypes about aging — such as you’re less useful — may actually live longer.

And there’s science to back that up.

One study found that thinking positively about getting older can extend lifespan by 7.5 years. And that’s after accounting for things such as gender, wealth, and overall health. Some 660 women and men in Ohio joined this study, and they were monitored for more than 20 years.

If you see the glass half full, it could play an even bigger role in living better and longer than things such as low blood pressure and cholesterol, which have each been shown to increase life span by about 4 years.

A good attitude also seems to have a greater effect on living longer than not smoking, low cholesterol, or a healthy weight, a Yale study found.

The researchers’ earlier work showed the power of positive thinking when older people were asked whether they see themselves as “wise” or “senile.” People who thought themselves smart did better with memory, stress, and even with math.

The Power of Optimism

It’s difficult to know what comes first — the good health or the positive attitude.

One possible answer is they build on each other: A rosy outlook may help you exercise more and eat better. And that in turn helps you stay hopeful and happy because you feel better. You may hear that called a “virtuous circle.”

Optimism has been linked to living longer.

The Mayo Clinic found this out in a study they conducted over decades. They gave more than 800 people a test to figure out whether they were optimists, pessimists, or something in between.

Thirty years later, they checked to see just how long these people lived. The optimists did better; the pessimists had a 19% greater chance of dying in any given year.

 

Less Chance of Getting Sick

Part of the power of optimism is that it may actually lower the chance of getting sick. For instance, it may play a role in keeping your heart working at its best.

Optimism can be good for your blood pressure, one of the most important factors in heart health.

One study of more than 2,500 men and women who were 65 and older used a scale to measure just how positive or negative the people were. They took into account whether they smoked, drank alcohol, and what medications they were on.

What they found: People who were positive had lower blood pressure than those who were gloomy.

 

Memory

Being optimistic may help you with thinking and remembering.

People who are hopeful about their futures are less likely to be forgetful, a recent study out of Europe found. More than 4,500 adults age 65 and older were in it. The optimists were also better at problem solving and making sound decisions.

Learning to Be Happy

What if you feel like you’re a natural-born pessimist? All is not lost. Optimism can be learned; it takes practice like anything else.

Things you can do include:

  • Check yourself. If you’re having negative thoughts, pause and see whether there’s a better way to look at what’s bothering you.
  • Seek out humor and laughter
  • Make time for things that give you joy
  • Find positive people and hang out with them

 

 
 
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on August 17, 2016
 

Sources:
Levy, B.R. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, August 2002.
Press Release, Yale University.
Maruta, T. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, March 2000.
Ostir, Glenn V. Psychosomatic Medicine, August 2006.
Gawronski, K.A. Psychosomatic Medicine, June 2016.
News Release, University of Michigan.
Mayo Clinic, “Stress Management (Focus on Positive Thinking).”

source: WebMD


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Fun Fact Friday

  • Secretly thinking you’re better than everyone else is good for your mental health, researchers suggest.

  • Memory improves when you imagine yourself doing something.

 

  • Drinking 2 cups of cold water on an empty stomach can boost metabolism by 30%.

  • Five Things you can do to help you be happier:

    1. Meditation 2. Smiling 3. Exercise 4. Help others 5. Follow your passion.

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


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The Best TV Show To Feel Joy, Amazement And Awe

The study compared TV show genres to see which makes people happiest.

Watching nature documentaries — like being out in nature itself — can help you feel happier.

The survey of 7,500 people around the world found they felt happier after viewing clips from BBC nature documentaries.

The study compared watching the documentary to the news or a popular drama show.

People reported that after viewing the nature documentary they felt more:

  • joy,
  • amazement,
  • awe,
  • and curiosity.

At the same time it reduced feelings of anger, tiredness and stress.

Professor Dacher Keltner, who teamed up with the BBC for the study, said:

“I have long believed that nature and viewing sublime and beautiful nature in painting, film and video shifts how we look at the world, and humbles us, brings into focus our core goals, diminishes the petty voice of the self and strengthens our nervous system.
When the BBC approached me about working together, it was a no-brainer.
I think their video content inspires green tendencies in viewers.”

Professor Keltner said:

“The importance of the Real Happiness study is that brief exposures to Planet Earth II content bring greater awe, positive emotion, and wellbeing to people in six countries.
The results also show that younger people are highly stressed out, and that viewing videos about the natural world reduces their stress, which tells me that we can turn to other kinds of new social media content to find calm during these highly stressful times.”

The study was part of the Real Happiness Project.

source: PsyBlog


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10 Ways to Find More Happiness

Happiness can be hard to feel at times

Sometimes the quest for happiness can be as confounding as Indiana Jones looking for lost treasure. Just when you think you have a clue, some giant boulder comes rolling toward you. Here are some tips to help you find some joy.

  1. Reach out to others. You may have good people in your life but have been out of touch. Picking up the phone and giving old friends a call can brighten both of your days and perhaps your lives as well.
  2. Remember that happiness is an inside job. That means that no one but you can really make you happy, even though it may not feel that way. When I see a smile on the face of someone I care about, it makes me happy, especially if I helped put it there. Maybe it is an inside job after all.
  3. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. If you are relying on one set of circumstances or person to make you happy, it probably won’t happen. You need to broaden your scope of friends and activities. Also, know that engaging in new adventures creates brain chemicals that add to your happiness.
  4. Trust your gut. When we go against our instincts, and it backfires, we usually feel sad. Follow your intuition and let it guide you toward people and things that will make your life just a tiny bit better. Day by day, your happiness will grow.
  5. Is meditation for you? Most books on happiness say that meditation is key, but most people don’t know even how to get started. There are classes all over the place, CDs, downloads, and websites—and you can also try just being nature. The idea is to allow you to calm yourself, so you can feel the good things that your fear and sadness are pushing away.
  6. Organize your thoughts. Many people push away happiness when they are overwhelmed. When you keep everything in your head, it can be difficult to get the perspective you need. Try making lists of the things that seem too big to manage on your own. You may find that you can do most of these things on your own and that the list isn’t as long as you thought, but if you need help, ask for it.
  7. Stay away from people who bring you down. This may sound simple, but if you are living with those people, it can be very complicated. In that case, a family therapy session could be very helpful. Many people don’t recognize that they are making life difficult for others, and in a group setting with a trained professional, they can learn to behave differently without feeling attacked.
  8. Look at the big picture. Most of the things that prevent us from feeling happy are day-to-day life issues. Once in a while, you go through something that makes the little things seem inconsequential, and this is when you need to remember that life is still going on, and whatever the issue is, it will end. Look at your life as a whole—not just the bad parts.
  9. Value your values. We all have a value system, a way we have decided to go through life, which makes us feel like a good person. When you know what works and what doesn’t, it can make your life a whole lot easier. The important thing to remember is to not lose sight of your values when life becomes a roller coaster. Keeping your values strong will help create happiness.
  10. Play more. Sometimes we get so involved in doing our lives and problem-solving that we forget to take time to have some fun. You may have to block out a day for fun in your calendar. But the important thing is to have a little joy every day to keep you going and growing.

Happiness can be hard to feel at times, so don’t think there is something wrong with you if you don’t feel it. We all go through phases, and some people are just naturally happier than others, so try to avoid comparing yourself with them. The truth is that happiness is here for you, and using the techniques above will allow you to feel more of it.

Barton Goldsmith Ph.D.        Emotional Fitness        Mar 20, 2017