Monday, May 4, 2015

LET’S HAVE A SHOW OF HANDS!


by Kate Collins

Quick quiz! Answer this question without thinking about it: Are you happy?

 If the first word out of your mouth was “Yes!”, then lucky you!

Happy People are more optimistic, have stronger immune systems, decreased pain and chronic disease, less stress, and lower risk of heart disease, lower levels of inflammatory gene expression and stronger antiviral and antibody responses.

However, if you hesitated or said something on the order of “I wish!” then lucky you! There’s good news ahead, because you have far more control over your brain than you think.

In his book The Emotional Life of Your Brain, Davidson, Ph.D., suggests you can rewire your brain to become more optimistic—and that promotes health in the rest of your body.

For example, if you have a history of anxiety, your neural pathways have become wired for anxiety. But if you develop ways to feel a sense of calm and peace, those anxiety pathways are pruned away from lack of activity. Basically, it’s a use it or lose it thing.

But your brain's ability to rewire itself, known as brain plasticity, is not just controlled by your thoughts and emotions. It’s also controlled by your diet, and lifestyle choices, including exercise.

Here are strategies to become happier.
Surround yourself with reminders of happy times, such as photos or mementos.
Develop an attitude of gratitude and express it daily.
Complement people on things you like or appreciate about them. Make it a habit to say something kind to one person a day. Their happiness will make you happier.
Practice mindfulness. Live in the moment. If you’re living in the past or focusing on the future, you’re not present in the here and now, and those moments are gone forever.
Take at least five minutes to sit in silence and listen to the sounds around you. This is an easy way to meditate. If you focus on the sounds, really THINK about the sounds, you can’t worry or feel sad because you can’t  hold two thoughts in your head at the same time. You can also listen to music, pay attention to the tones, the rhythms, and the beat, and breathe deeply with it.
Exercise! Get up on your feet and move at least once every hour you sit. In addition, do stretches, take a walk, enroll in a yoga or strength training class, ride a bike – just being out in nature will improve your mood.
Eat right. You know what makes you feel sluggish, bloated, and regretful, so stay away from it. There is a ton of information about incorporating greens into your diet, which are not only superfoods for your body, but also for your brain and skin. Make your brain happy! Look younger! Eat lots of greens.
Schedule play time. Whatever that means to you, do it. Just planning it will brighten your mood.
Get plenty of sleep. Lack of sleep doesn’t just make you crabby, it affects your immune system and thoughts. So make your room light proof. Light disrupts melatonin production, and that will wake you up. Keep electronics away from your head. Cool your room down. If your brain is warm, it’s active. You want it to go to sleep, so turn down the heat, open the windows, turn on the A/C, whatever it takes to be cool.
Smile. A smile actually releases feel-good hormones in your brain.
Tell your image in the mirror that you are happy. Brains are computers that record and spit back what’s said to them. If you tell it you’re happy, it will respond by finding things to be happy about. Try it!

Please realize that the more you practice being happy, the happier you’ll become, because new neural pathways will form in response to your efforts. At the same time, your brain will undergo "synaptic pruning"—eliminating pathways you no longer need.

So next time you see a happy person and think, “I wish I could be more like her/him,” you can. Isn’t that great news?

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Now if you could only convince Spats (cat) to stay on my bed all night, I could get more sleep. Since he was so sick in Nov and Dec and since he is now 17, he can't jump onto the bed. He can get down to eat, wander around, use the litter box, get a drink, and then sits on the floor next to the head of the bed and meows until I wake up, get up, and put him onto the bed. Happens at least 3 times a night. Cordella

Teresa Kander said...

I said YES without even stopping to think about it. I stay happy/positive about pretty much everything---it's what has gotten me through my breast cancer journey...diagnosis, chemo, surgery, radiation, reconstruction (especially the setbacks along the way!) I'm going to keep your list, though, to see if I can do even better...LOL

Deb Forbes said...

I say yes. I choose to be happy even.when things go.wrong my.kids and grandkids tease me about it but I am so blessed can't help.but be happy

Lisa Ks Book Reviews said...

I said yes without even thinking. That's the first time in a long time I have done that. Promises to be a good week!

Zena Weldon said...

I've told my art students that their brains hear everything they say. If they say "I can't draw," there's nothing I can do because their brains won't disappoint them. I encourage them to say, "I can write my name. That's a shaped line. I can draw!" It works and with practice they do draw images the way they want. Thank you for the other tips too, Kate!

If I start to feel down, I've found smiling and gratitude bring a sense of peace and pleasure. And looking a nature. And offering others an honest complement.

Diane LaBrie Leverson said...

I am happy! Who Knew? LOL People always say I have a smile on my face and I like to make people laugh. I find that when I think too much about myself I'm not as happy. Try to think more about bringing a little joy to others and you will be happy.

Connie Correll said...

Yes, I am Happy! I'm retired, in good health and all my sons are thriving on their own!

mary kennedy said...

A wonderful blog, Kate!! Excellent tips. Pets can bring an enormous amount of happiness into life and even on a bad day, I find myself smiling at the crazy antics of my cats.

Kate Collins said...

Yikes, Cordella. I used to have to put my cat in the basement when she kept interrupting our sleep, but at the age of 17, that would be tough to do. It won't last forever. I guess you have to stick it out, don't you?

Kate Collins said...

Teresa, you are my hero! You go, girl. Keep that happiness spinning webs of golden light around you. Blessings, my friend.

Kate Collins said...

You recognize your blessings and that makes you even happier. Good for you, Deb!

Kate Collins said...

I'm applauding you, Lisa. Things must be looking up. Your last sentence shows me you set your intentions -- and the Universe will work to make that happen for you.

Kate Collins said...

Well said, Zena. When I feel down, I go for a walk and start counting all the pretty things or amazing sights and saying how grateful I am that I can appreciate them. And then I feel better.
I work with a group at a women's shelter and I always tell them, "If you believe you can't do something, you can't. Turn that statement around."

Kate Collins said...

Well said, Diane. I'm happiest when I'm making others smile. That's why I like to post funny things on my FB page and also why I add humor to my mysteries. Who wants to frown all the time?

Kate Collins said...

Those are wonderful reasons to be happy. Good for you, Connie.

Kate Collins said...

Good point, Mary. Pets do bring happiness, along with lots of love.

Robert Giddings said...

What is not to be happy about? I wake every morning to beautiful sights and sounds, feel the floor when my feet hit it as I roll out of bed. I never really thought I'd live past 25, now on 35 years of bonus time, living the dream every day.

Anonymous said...

Even harder because I have a very small one story townhome with no basement. Would rather have the interruptions than the alternative.

Kate Collins said...

It's all about attitude and you've got the right one. Yay!

Liz Straw said...

I answered most of the time. Perhaps not the answer everyone expects, but it really does not change for me much. May is Mental Health Month. A great month to celebrate mental health with all the new flowers blooming and budding. Trees turning green and no snow on the ground. I suffer from severe depression, PTSD, and anxiety. Most people are not aware of this as I seldom let it show in public if I can help it. I know I have been blessed. I am a cancer survivor, and I survived (obviously) flat-lining after an operation. (hence the PTSD, it is not at all like on television or the movies). I am not sure I really remember life without depression, although it was diagnosed later in my life. Junior High and High School were not great times. Made lifelong friends in college and had a much better experience.
I am not disappointed in my life, depression makes me who I am. My medications keep things under control. Life is good and I want to live a much longer life.
Depression sucks, but it does not make me unhappy all the time. You live with and around it. Support Mental Health Month.

Margaret said...

I say YES. I have been very blessed with a happy life. Everyone has sadness and loss, and with each loss we have to start a new normal. But life is too short not to be happy. But, not to say I never have a bad day or get angry or irritable, because I DO, trust me I do. But I have so many more things that make me happy and I focus on that.

Kate Collins said...

Yay for you, Margaret. You're a realist and you're happy. What a great combo.

Kate Collins said...

Thank you for sharing that, Liz. I'm glad to hear that you do find happiness. Sometimes it's in the smallest of moments, like a cup of delicious coffee and a good book, or just gazing at the clouds and marveling at how they float and change. If we live in the moment and practice mindfulness, it helps keep our focus on feeling contentment. I hope everyone who reads the blog will join in to support Mental Health Month.