Posts from the ‘happiness’ category

The Science of Awe

Cedar Wright enjoys a view of the long way down, moments after getting the first ascent of the Virgin Tower in Enshi Grand Canyon National Park, China

“Scientifically speaking, the storm brought me into a state of awe, an emotion that, psychologists are coming to understand, can have profoundly positive effects on people. It happens when people encounter a vast and unexpected stimulus, something that makes them feel small and forces them to revise their mental models of what’s possible in the world. In its wake, people act more generously and ethically, think more critically when encountering persuasive stimuli, like arguments or advertisements, and often feel a deeper connection to others and the world in general. Awe prompts people to redirect concern away from the self and toward everything else. And about three-quarters of the time, it’s elicited by nature.”
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How to heal our smartphone-addled, overworked brains

The biggest casualty of everyone being so connected is productivity. No one is getting much done at the office. A few ways you can maintain a healthy brain at work.

FORTUNE — When cars first became popular 100 years ago, there were no road rules or speed limits to begin with. Inspired by the freedom of their speedy new toys, drivers zoomed around as fast as they could. Crashes were a constant.

Today’s speedy new toys, the smartphone and tablet, help people work when, where, and how they want. Excited by their newfound freedom, people are staying connected 24/7, working as fast as they can. The crashes this time are less obvious but still producing pain.

A creative team that used to debrief with their client by video once a week from the office is now on video daily from their tablets. A software project that took six people a few months to complete is now broken into hundreds of parts for micro developers to finish in a week. While these ideas may sound enticing, there are implications to moving this fast, as HP HPQ -0.87% discovered with tablets and Apple aapl 0.10% with maps. Continue reading…

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6 Scientifically Proven Ways to Fight Stress

A prolonged exposure to high stress levels can damage the brain and hamper good cognitive functioning. As part of a brain-healthy lifestyle, it’s essential to manage stress efficiently and effectively. What can you do when you realize that you are stressed? More importantly, what can you do to build resilience so you can go through difficult situations without feeling too much stress?

Here are six research-based lifestyle solutions that can be used to fight stress and build resilience: Continue reading…

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Shaking Off Loneliness

By JANE E. BRODY via The New York Times

I now know why I gained more than 30 pounds in my early 20s: I was lonely. I had left my beloved alma mater upstate for graduate school and a job in the Upper Midwest. I knew no one and felt like a fish out of water.

I filled my lonely nights and days with — you guessed it — food. Anything I could get my hands on, especially candy, cookies and ice cream. Food filled the hole in my soul, at least temporarily.

No matter how hard I tried, I could not rein in my out-of-control eating until I returned to New York and my family, and began dating my future husband.

Loneliness, says John T. Cacioppo, an award-winning psychologist at the University of Chicago, undermines people’s ability to self-regulate. In one experiment he cites, participants made to feel socially disconnected ate many more cookies than those made to feel socially accepted. In a real-life study of middle-aged and older adults in the Chicago area, Dr. Cacioppo and colleagues found that those who scored high on the U.C.L.A. Loneliness Scale, a widely used psychological assessment, ate substantially more fatty foods than those who scored low. “Is it any wonder that we turn to ice cream or other fatty foods when we’re sitting at home feeling all alone in the world?” Dr. Cacioppo said in his well-documented book, “Loneliness,” written with William Patrick. “We want to soothe the pain we feel by mainlining sugar and fat content to the pleasure centers of the brain, and absent of self-control, we go right at it.” Continue reading…

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Why Dreams Are Vital to Emotional Health

By Dr. Andrew Weil

Does insomnia cause depression? Does depression cause insomnia? Chronic insomnia is strongly associated with mood disorders, but which way does the causality run?

I think it’s likely that cause-and-effect can go in either direction, but surprisingly, there is little experimental research on the connection between sleep and emotions. What there is mostly tracks the effects of enforced sleep deprivation. A typical experiment restricts the amount of sleep subjects are allowed to get over days or weeks, then measures the resulting cognitive and emotional effects. Such research shows that sleep restriction tends to make people less optimistic and less sociable. One study at the University of Pennsylvania found that subjects limited to four to five hours of sleep per night for one week reported feeling more stressed, angry and sad. Their moods improved dramatically when they resumed normal sleep. Continue reading…

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Why Movies Like Oscar-Winning ‘Undefeated’ Make Grown Men (and Women) Cry

The newly minted Oscar winner for best documentary, Undefeated, has left many critics gushing—with praise, but also tears. The true-life sports tale follows a struggling high school football team in a poor area of Memphis, Tennessee, whose fortunes begin to turn under the guidance of a devoted and determined coach. The emotional story has reduced folks at ForbesEsquire, and other media outlets to sniffles and sobs. It made us wonder: What actually causes people to cry at movies? Continue reading…

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How meditation can reshape our brains (and revisiting neuroplasticity)

I learned some of this at MARC (at UCLA) and found it fascinating.

Neuroplasticity is visited in this video. I often post about neuroplasticity and how that concept allows us to understand that we can heal and change our health and wellbeing by changing our brains.

Neuroscientist Sara Lazar’s amazing brain scans show meditation can actually change the size of key regions of our brain, improving our memory and making us more empathetic, compassionate, and resilient under stress.

Found on beyondmeds.com

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Learn To Listen To What Your Body Is Saying

I enjoy reading articles that recommend I get a massage…

Our bodies hold all of the information we need to function at our best, but too often we ignore their messages and plow ahead with what our minds tell us. Because most of us are taught from an early age to focus on external demands, we frequently ignore what our bodies are saying.

More often than not we treat the physical symptoms rather than looking for the internal cause of pain, depression, and weight gain. We take another extra-strength aspirin, rather than investigating what’s causing our head to ache. We use caffeine or sugar to give us a lift when we feel tired, rather than listening to our body’s message about needing rest. A look at our pets may be all we need to see the value of naps.

Our bodies communicate thousands of little messages to us every day. For instance, is your mouth pinched and tight? Are your shoulders up around your ears? Do you feel a knot in your stomach as you promise to do something? Your body is telling you that you are tense, stressed, and over-extended.

As a society, we notoriously put deadlines ahead of the protests of aching bones or inadequately nourished bellies. Your body is a sophisticated, intelligent machine, but too often we fail to understand them because we don’t value them as highly as we should.

So, what do you do to give your body an equal say in how you use it?

Start with the breath

Breathing consciously is a major part of body awareness. Allow your thoughts to come and go in the background while breathing in and out. As you inhale and exhale, think the words “In. Out. In. Out.”  Lovingly make a note to yourself how and where you are failing to breathe. Many of us breathe only in our chests when we should be allowing the breath to expand down into our abdomens. Perhaps you are denying life by taking in shallow breaths, and your body is asking you to stop and breathe more deeply. Practice this daily for five minutes to start, and soon it will be easy for you.

Allow yourself quiet time

Sit for ten minutes each day, or even five if that is more manageable. This will give you a chance to listen to your body. Begin by sitting while breathing and become the conscious observer of your thoughts. This would be a great practice, especially in the middle of a busy day. This time can also involve taking a walk or a nap or soaking in a hot tub.

Get a massage

This is not an extravagant indulgence; it wakes up the whole nervous system and helps you tune in. Massage is proven
to alleviate stress and help circulation and muscle recovery.

Use your journal to dialogue with your body

Ask your body how it’s feeling, what it wants, what’s going on. Give that sore wrist, or stiff lower back, a voice and let it tell you what its message is.

Eat when hungry, sleep when tired

Take a week and really pay attention to your body’s most basic needs. Do your real rhythms for eating and sleeping conform to the habits you’ve established? If they don’t, ask for help changing them.

Do a body inventory to relax

Start with your toes and work upwards. Scan your body from the inside, tensing each part slightly, then relaxing it to release residual tension. Tense your feet first, then your calves, and so forth, until you reach your face. Relax your entire body.

If your body suggests rolling down a grassy hillside, taking flight on a playground swing, or skipping down a winding path—why resist? It knows what it needs.

If you want to truly be happy and healthy—begin listening to your body. Body awareness is part of a healthy lifestyle, just as much as eating nutritious foods and exercising regularly. Its impulses hold the key to your well-being.

Via Positively Positive

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5 Things You Should Do Every Morning

Morning mantras set the tone for the whole day. Here are five things you should do every morning to be healthy and successful.

Each morning the sun shines, the birds sing and it’s another glorious day. With the winter cold, dark mornings and lack of any singing going on from the birds, it’s this time of year that it’s harder to stick to feeling wonderful and gleeful throughout the day. But you can try these simple steps to keep your mornings on track and start the day for a happier, more successful start.

1. Stretch in bed
Before you throw off the covers and jump out of bed, try a few simple stretches to ease your muscles and get your blood pumping. Reach your arms out to the side and extend the legs. Bend one knee up towards your hips and roll it across the body to feel a stretch in your lower back and thighs. Straighten your legs and repeat on the other side.

2. Drink a glass of water
Next stop is the bathroom for a big glass of water. This helps hydrate the body, which loses hydration while sleeping, and will help get you started on a good habit to continue throughout the day.

3. Shower
Although this is a given for most people, a warm shower can stimulate circulation and blood flow, giving you more energy throughout the day. Use warm water instead of steaming hot to reduce dry skin, and put on lotion afterward to seal in moisture.

4. Eat breakfast
In my experience, people who eat breakfast have more energy in the morning, tend to snack less during the day and may even do better on tests. Every day, try for something with protein — from egg white omelets to Greek-style yogurt. I do a mug scrambler to save time. Simply use one cup of liquid egg whites with a quarter cup of pre-cut frozen veggies. Microwave for up to four minutes, stirring once after each minute. Then add a spoon of salsa to top it off.

5. Meditate
After your breakfast, set the timer on your smartphone for three minutes. Simply focus on your breathing and find a positive mantra you like to think about. I inhale strength and exhale fear. I also use phrases like, “I am only one person but I can make a difference in many” or “I am grateful for my family, my health and my life.” Find something that moves you and either say it to yourself or write it down in a journal. It will help clear your mind and bring focus to your day.

Every day can be the best day of your life. Start living

Via Huffington Post

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The Self-Healing Benefits of Meditation

By Susan Piver

We all know that regular, moderate exercise is good for us. But imagine what it would be like if all you did was exercise: if you ran, walked, jumped, or lifted 24 hours a day. After only a very short while, exercise actually wouldn’t be that good for you because without rest, exercise becomes counterproductive and even risky…and so it is with your mind. We spend all day (and sometimes all night, too!) in a whirlwind of thought. When there isn’t something particular to think about (what to eat for breakfast, the tasks of the day, or what you’re going to say in an upcoming meeting), we search restlessly for something to fill the gap-worries, hopes, television, and so on. We never allow our minds to rest. And without this precious self-healing time, our minds become exhausted and thoughts less trustworthy. Just as we need to stop moving our bodies every once in a while, we also need to stop moving our minds. But how? The idea can actually seem terrifying, not to mention impossible.

But it is quite possible. The practice of self-healing meditation is just this: resting the mind in silence and space, allowing it time to recover and rejuvenate. Meditation does not mean sitting in a perfect state of peace while having no thoughts. Big misconception! Instead, meditation is about establishing a different relationship with your thoughts, just for a little while. Instead of attention being drawn off by whatever thought happens to present itself, in meditation, you watch your thoughts from a different, more stabilized perspective. You’re training yourself to place your attention where and when you want. This is very powerful. It gives you the ability to direct your thoughts (and mood) in more productive and peaceful directions. And, as has been demonstrated in the last few years, this ability has profound self-healing implications for physical and mental health.

Over the last 10 years, Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama has been engaged in formal top-level dialogues with leading scientists and brain researchers from M.I.T., Harvard, the University of Wisconsin, and others. Until several years ago, these annual conversations were held in private as simple but powerful inquiries into each other’s methods for understanding the mind. Recently, the results of this dialogue, and resulting studies into meditation, have been made public, and they’re fascinating.

When studying the brainwaves of meditating monks, Dr. Richard Davidson, director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin, found that brain circuitry is different in long-time meditators than it is in non-meditators. Here’s how: when you are upset – anxious, depressed, angry – certain regions of the brain (the amygdala and the right prefrontal cortex) become very active. When you’re in a positive mood these sites quiet down and the left prefrontal cortex – a region associated with happiness and positivity – becomes more active. In studying meditating monks, Davidson found they had especially high activity in this area.

One of the things that is so amazing about this finding is that for a long time, scientists thought that each individual was wired with certain “set-points” for happiness, depression, and so on. This study shows that the brain can rewire itself and alter its set points – simply by the self-healing power of thought.

We’ve all read reports that stress can affect health and immunity; Dr. Weil has emphasized this repeatedly. An ulcer, for example, has direct correlation with emotional stress. An ulcer, simply defined, is the presence of certain bacteria in the stomach, plus stress. Other conditions have a noted relationship to stress, such as heart disease, lowered immunity, diabetes, and asthma. The acute stress that results from almost being hit by bus or thinking your house may have been broken into is not the kind of stress that has deleterious affect. This kind of stress mobilizes your emergency responses and capabilities. But, according to neuroendocrinologist Dr. Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Biological Sciences, Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University, chronic stress is a different story. There is evidence that it shrinks neurons on the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in learning capacity, memory, and positive mood. The self-healing hippocampus has the ability to regenerate, if stress is discontinued. And meditation reduces stress, as shown in Dr. Davidson’s research.

Medical research has shown that there are two main contributing factors to depression: a genetic predisposition, and environmental factors such as stress, loss, and trauma. The first factor, genetics, is not within our control. The second, however, is. We can’t prevent loss and difficulty, but we can significantly alter our reactions to them. Zindel Segal, Chair in Psychotherapy in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, a pioneer in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has shown that MBSR participants are 50% less likely than other patients to relapse once depression is alleviated through medications and other therapies. This is because meditation teaches us, thought by thought, to alter our responses to stress, thereby increasing serotonin production, a neurotransmitter that influences mood, sleep, and appetite. Anti-depressants such as Prozac and Paxil, so-called SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) are drugs that increase serotonin.

As mentioned, meditation is often viewed as a way to relax — and it is. But it’s also a very precise strategy for maintaining health and training the mind in keen observation, increased power of concentration, and emotional stability.

It’s important to learn meditation from an accredited source. Although it’s a very simple practice, it’s also quite precise. Please visit my Web site, www.susanpiver.com, for a listing of resources.

Learn more about self-healing or visit Dr.Weil’s Q&A Library for more valuable health-related information.

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