Get happy = get healthy

I’m traveling in Virginia this week, and a good friend told me about a study out of UCLA that explains four ways to make you to feel happier. The Dalai Lama worries that Americans don’t feel they have a right to be happy and that being happy shouldn’t be a goal. He says that’s nonsense, and if the Dalai Lama says “Go for it – it’s okay,” who are we to argue?

Here’s what’s important about happiness as explained by UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb:

“Everything is interconnected. Gratitude improves sleep. Sleep reduces pain. Reduced pain improves your mood. Improved mood reduces anxiety, which improves focus and planning. Focus and planning help with decision making. Decision making further reduces anxiety and improves enjoyment. Enjoyment gives you more to be grateful for, which keeps that loop of the upward spiral going. Enjoyment also makes it more likely you’ll exercise and be social, which, in turn, will make you happier.”

Sounds good. So how do you get started?

Ask “What am I grateful for?”
Knowing that you’re going to report in to yourself on what you feel grateful for at the end of each day does a couple of things. First, it gets you in the habit of noticing good things around you. Good things happen all the time and for some reason it’s easier to remember and focus on the bizarre things. Second, when you have a daily gratitude habit, you start to see a pattern of awesome things around you and you feel special. And third, expressing gratitude lifts your energy and lifts the energy of everyone around you.

What was cool in this study was they found that even if you don’t have anything to be grateful for at the end of the day, your brain is still happier. The very act of observing and considering gratitude helps.

Label negative emotions
If you’re feeling bad or edgy or just out of sorts, it helps your brain when you name what’s going on. It takes quiet time and a bit of pondering to decide how you feel. Name it. And then let it be. Naming how you feel somehow takes the sting out of a negative emotion.

Make a decision
Everyday, you’re surrounded by choices. Being decisive helps your brain relax and start to move down a path. The UCLA study showed that the key is to make a decision that’s “good enough” rather than try to always make the “best” decision. Most decisions have pros and cons, and no decision is perfect. But decide and get moving and your brain will thank you.

Reach out and touch someone
It’s so easy to feel disconnected these days, and physical touch is a great antidote. Touching can be as simple as getting a massage. Or tapping an acquaintance on the arm as you talk. But what your brain really loves is a big long hug with someone you like. Just thinking about that lifts your energy, doesn’t it?

What was interesting in this study was that a phone call lifts your happiness hormones but not as much as touch. An email is a step down from a phone call. And texts don’t change anything in your physical being. Their recommendation? “Don’t text — touch.”

Here’s a link to a longer write-up with all the UCLA medical findings. I hope you find something here that resonates with you.

Happy June from the Grounds of the University of Virginia. It was a huggy weekend 🙂 

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