The Importance of Gratitude

According to Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy,8 an expert in brain and mind health:9 “If [thankfulness] were a drug, it would be the world’s best-selling product with a health maintenance indication for every major organ system.”

A team of researchers at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) showed that people with a deep sense of happiness and well-being had lower levels of inflammatory gene expression and stronger antiviral and antibody responses.12 This falls into the realm of epigenetics — changing the way your genes function by turning them off and on.

Part of your longevity may depend on the DNA you were born with, but an even larger part depends on epigenetics, over which you have more control. Indeed, research suggests your thoughts, feeling, emotions, diet and other lifestyle factors exert epigenetic influences every minute of every day, playing a central role in aging and disease.13

How to Cultivate Gratitude

Like a muscle, your sense of gratitude can be strengthened with practice. One way to harness the positive power of gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal where you write down what you’re grateful for each day. This can be done in a paper journal, or you can download a Gratitude Journal app from iTunes.14

In one study, people who kept a gratitude journal reported exercising more, and had fewer visits to the doctor compared to those who focused on sources of aggravation.15,16 Avoiding getting sucked into bad news is the other side of this equation. You may have to limit your media exposure from time to time if you find it difficult to maintain a positive outlook in the face of worldly horrors. Other ways to cultivate gratitude include:

  • Write thank you notes
  • Nonverbal actions such as smiles and hugs
  • Remember to say “please” and “thank you”
  • Express thanks through prayer or mindfulness meditation

The Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) is another helpful tool. EFT is a form of psychological acupressure based on the energy meridians used in acupuncture. It’s an effective way to quickly restore your inner balance and healing and helps rid your mind of negative thoughts and emotions. In the video below, EFT practitioner Julie Schiffman demonstrates how to tap for gratitude.

Make happiness your goal

The first step toward greater happiness is to choose it. You need to believe that happiness is possible, and that you deserve it. (Hint: You do. Everyone does!)  Research shows that the mere INTENTION to become happier actually makes a big difference.18

Identify that which makes you happy

If it’s been awhile since you’ve felt truly happy (that carefree joyous state you probably had as a child), you may have forgotten what it is that gets you there. Take time to reflect on what gives you joy (and not just the obvious, like your family, but also little things, hobbies and interests).

Make happiness a priority

If you have a free hour, do you spend it doing something fun? Or do you spend it catching up on housework, tackling an extra work project or otherwise working? The latter is a “minor form of insanity,” according to happiness researcher Robert Biswas-Diener, Ph.D.19

It certainly will not help you get happier. To break free of this trap, make a point to schedule your weeks around events (or ordinary activities) that make you feel happy and alive.

Practice kindness

When people make a point to conduct three to five acts of kindness a week, something magical happens. They become happier. Simple kind acts — a compliment, letting someone ahead of you in line, paying for someone’s coffee — are contagious and tend to make all of those involved feel good.

Get away

Taking time away from the daily grind is important for helping you recharge. And while even a weekend getaway can give you a boost, a longer trip is better to help you create meaningful memories. These memories can be tapped into later to help boost your happiness. Experts recommend a two-week vacation, ideally, even if it’s to a locale close to home.

Spend more time outdoors

Exposure to bright outdoor light is crucial for a positive mood, in part because regular exposure to sunlight will helps to enhance your mood and energy through the release of endorphins.22 Getting sun exposure outdoors will also help you optimize your vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiency has long been associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), as well as more chronic depression.

Identify your sense of purpose

Happiness isn’t about pleasure alone; it’s also about having a sense of purpose. The term “eudaimonic well-being” originated with Aristotle, and describes the form of happiness that comes from activities that bring you a greater sense of purpose, life meaning or self-actualization. This could be your career, or it could be gleaned from volunteering or even taking a cooking class.

Socialize — Even with strangers 

Having meaningful social relationships is important for happiness, but even people who engage in “social snacking” report greater happiness. Social snacking describes the little ways you connect with others, including strangers, on a daily basis.

In general, the more you mingle and chat with the people around you, the more cheerful and brighter your mood is likely to be. To learn more about the benefits of striking up casual conversations wherever you happen to be, see my previous article, “How to Talk to Strangers.”

Let every thought be a positive thought

Simply thinking about something positive, and smiling as a result, can make you happier and more upbeat. (Simply fake smiling is actually linked to worsened mood.) A genuine smile includes the facial muscles around your eyes, and can actually prompt brain changes linked to improved mood.

Have a back-up plan for bad days

When you’re having a bad day and your mood is sinking, have a plan in place to lift it back up. This could be calling a close friend, watching a comedy or going out for a jog — whatever works best for you

Prioritize experiences over things

Research suggests experiences make us happier than possessions; the “newness” of possessions wears off, as does the joy they bring you, but experiences improve your sense of vitality and “being alive,” both during the experience and when you reflect back on it.

Ditch unnecessary and joyless distractions  

There’s only so much time in a day, so be sure to protect your attention and time from unnecessary and unproductive distractions. This includes texts, tweets and emails, which take you away from the true pleasures in life. If necessary, turn off social media completely.

Think keeping tabs on your Facebook friends equates to happiness? Think again. Research suggests the more time people spend on Facebook, the more their moment-to-moment happiness declines and the less satisfied with life they become.21

Savor pleasant moments

People who take the time to savor pleasant moments report higher levels of happiness, regardless of where the day takes them.20 If you don’t already do this, keeping a daily diary of pleasant moments and whether or not you truly savored them, might help.

You might be surprised at how much happiness is to be had in your everyday life. Try appreciating the scent of your coffee, relishing in the feeling of your soft bed or enjoying the sunrise before you start your day.

article source: www.mercola.com

Important note: *I am not a doctor and these statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products or services promoted on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. You need to do your own research.

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