The Science Behind the Joy of Sharing Joy

Positive experiences happen to us every day, yet we don’t always take full advantage of them. Have you ever noticed that it could be a great day (you had eight hours of sleep, it’s the weekend, had a great conversation with a friend, etc.), but that it takes just one harsh word from someone or one piece of bad news to ruin the day? Research by Shelley Gable and Jonathan Haidt suggests that we have three times more positive experiences than negative ones. What keeps us from fully capitalizing on all the good in our lives, making us a slave to the bad?

Researchers have identified two main tendencies that keep us from experiencing, extending, and expanding our joy: negativity bias and habituation. The negativity bias refers to our mind’s innate tendency to give more weight to the negative; Roy Baumeister has shown that we tend to remember and focus more on negative experiences. Habituation, discussed in research on the hedonic treadmill, refers to the fact that while we receive boosts of happiness from new positive experiences, over time, we get used to these experiences and they no longer have the same effect.

How can we counter this tendency to assign greater weight to the negative experiences in our life? A recent study by Nathaniel Lambert and colleagues at Brigham Young University gives us a clue. Their research shows that discussing positive experiences lead to heightened well-being, increased overall life satisfaction, and even more energy.

This research may seem surprising because we are often reluctant to talk about our good fortune. We don’t want to show off. Sometimes we don’t want to “jinx” ourselves. Or we may feel guilty that good things are happening to us in the face of the suffering that exists in other people’s lives. Bonding over complaints, commiseration or even gossip somehow feels more proper, realistic, and grounded. However, Lambert and colleagues’ research suggests that describing our happy experiences to close friends and romantic partners is a better idea.

Several studies have shown that making daily lists of the things you feel grateful for—which helps draw our attention to the positive experiences in our lives—improves our psychological and physical health and well-being. For example, gratitude improves our ability to connect with others, boosts our altruistic tendencies, makes us optimistic and happier, decreases envy and materialism, and even improves health for people with physical ailments (neuromuscular disorder, in one study). Lambert’s new study, however, extends research on gratitude to show that verbally expressing the gratitude we feel to people close to us helps increase and sustain our well-being above and beyond simply feeling or writing down gratitude. Great literary figures have long known that happiness grows in sharing. In one of her letters, Charlotte Brontë observes “Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste.” In The Common Reader, Virginia Woolf writes “Pleasure has no relish unless we share it.” Lambert’s research provides empirical validation of their wisdom.

The researchers found that people who habitually tend to talk to people they are close with about the good things that are happening to them also tend to feel happier and more satisfied with life. They also found that the more these people shared their happiness with someone on a given day, the happier and more satisfied they were on that particular day. To determine whether sharing happiness caused this boost in well-being, the researchers then invited participants into a laboratory with a romantic partner or friend. Participants were asked to write down a positive experience or a neutral experience like a fact they had learned in class and either share it with their partner or not. Those that shared a positive experience with their partner experienced a greater boost in well-being than those who did not share their experience with their partner or who shared a neutral experience with their partner. These findings suggest that it is the act of sharing happiness (and not of just thinking about happiness but not sharing it, or of sharing neutral information) that boosts well-being.

Next, the researchers investigated the effects of regularly sharing happiness over a longer period (four weeks in this case). New participants were asked to write daily in a journal about experiences they felt grateful for, or about neutral subjects they had learned in class. They were then either given no further instructions or were instructed to share these with a partner twice a week. Those who shared their grateful experiences with a partner reported greater satisfaction with life, happiness, and vitality (level of energy and zest for life).

One reason that the study asked participants to share their experiences with close friends or romantic partners may come from the fact that these people may be more likely to support us. In the study’s last experiment, the researchers noticed that participants that received constructive, encouraging, enthusiastic, and positive messages after a successful experience (a high achievement on a test) showed greater signs of happiness, love, and appreciation. We’ve all experienced sharing an exciting event or plan with someone who did not respond in kind or, worse, criticized our idea and left us deflated. When sharing a positive experience, it is important to select a supportive listener.

The bottom line: sharing our joy increases joy. Telling people about our happiness has far greater benefits than just remembering it or writing it down for ourselves. This research may also help partially explain research by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler has shown that our well-being influences that of those around us, up to three levels of separation. To try and be happy may seem like a selfish endeavor but it is a worthwhile goal to pursue not just for oneself but for our community. In turn, we can help support others’ joy by encouraging them to share their most positive experiences, and the things they feel grateful for. Supporting a friend or acquaintance’s well-being in turn may impact not only ourselves but the well-being of all the people connected to that friend. Albert Schweitzer, a German physician and Nobel Peace Prize winner, was right when he said “Happiness is the only thing that multiplies when you share it.”

Source: psychologytoday.com ~ By: Emma Seppälä Ph.D. ~ Image: Canva Pro

How Do I Find Joy When I Am Stressed and Overwhelmed

Ok, let me start by saying I’m a pusher. Not the kind selling drugs around the schoolyard, but the kind whose natural response to difficulties in life is to put my head down and push my way through. I’ve pushed my way through anxiety and exhaustion, pain and sadness. In my freshman year of college, I pushed my way through both studying and partying, so hard that I ended up pulling a muscle in my chest during finals and requiring painkillers. Then I pushed through that too, taking my finals while dosing up on Percoset.

During graduate school, finishing my thesis (on the topic of joy!) took so much effort that I holed up in my apartment for nearly a month, sleeping four hours a night and taking a break only for a couple of hours to see my mom for Thanksgiving. In my first year at IDEO, out of my depth on a complicated project, I cried in the bathroom and then returned to my desk and kept working, never asking for help lest anyone think I couldn’t handle it. Once, I got so sick on a research trip that a coworker found me huddled on the floor of a car dealership bathroom. (That was low.)

I used to think that this was a strength, a form of grit that made me resilient. But after an incident a few years ago, where I experienced a level of anxiety and burnout that surfaced as a persistent tingling sensation that wouldn’t go away, I began to see this in a different light. It was true that pushing through obstacles had helped me survive the difficulties of my childhood — my parents’ divorce and my mother’s illness — and that it had contributed to my career success. But at what cost? If my body was trashed in the process, was this really resilience?

I share this story because it helps to give context to why I feel like this question is so important. When we get stressed and overwhelmed, that’s often when we forget to look for joy. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • “I’ll see friends when I get through this test/presentation / rough patch.”
  • “I wish I had time to go see a movie / take a walk in the park / leave my desk for lunch but I’m just so behind on everything.”
  • “I don’t feel like I deserve to go get a massage/read for fun / take a vacation.”
  • “I feel guilty being joyful when my mom/partner/friend is struggling.”

When we are faced with persistent stress or overwhelming circumstances, many of us respond by postponing joy. Joy becomes something we either have to earn or deserve, through patience, hard work, or self-denial.

But here’s the thing — the science says that this is all backward! We shouldn’t put off joy until after we’re out of a stressful situation. Instead, we should see joy as a tool for coping with stress. Joy is a form of resilience.

Let me say that again: Joy is a form of resilience.

Small moments of joy help the cardiovascular system recover from stress. When we feel stressed, our bodies flood with chemicals like cortisol and epinephrine which raise our heart rate and blood pressure, keep us alert and focused, and help us respond to the challenges at hand. This is an adaptive response to stress, and it works well when it’s temporary. If stress becomes chronic, on the other hand, this places strain on the body and can lead to exhaustion and illness. But when we experience joy, such as by watching something funny, taking a little while to become absorbed in play, or spending time in nature, it gives our bodies a break from this stress response, enabling us to recover.

Joy also helps us recover mentally. According to psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, emotions can cause upward or downward spirals. When we feel sad or anxious, this can cause us to withdraw from social support and things we enjoy, which makes us sadder and more anxious, creating a negative feedback loop. Positive emotions like joy break this feedback loop, stopping the downward spiral. And they can also kickstart the opposite — positive spirals — that lead to greater connection, happiness, and wellbeing.

So this helps to explain why we should bother looking for joy when we’re feeling stressed. But how can we go about it?

START SMALL

In a moment of stress, it’s common for a scarcity mentality to set in. We feel we don’t have enough time, money, or energy to spend it on joy, so we hunker down and wait for better times. Rather than feel like you have to battle this impulse, just start small. Can you afford 5 minutes or $5 worth of joy? Most of us can. You might find that the energy boost you gain from the break will pay dividends, making it easier to allocate more for joy in the future.

WIDEN THE APERTURE

Stress narrows our focus, causing us to ruminate on our worries and fixate on our challenges. Joy might be right in our midst, but we simply don’t notice it. One way to broaden our attention back out is to get out into open space, preferably at some elevation. Giving our eyes room to focus on the distance not only lets the rest after hours spent staring at things up close (like our devices) but also helps us take in more of our surroundings.

As a child, I used to climb a tree in the backyard or go up on the roof when I was feeling upset or overwhelmed. James Taylor’s well-known song “Up on the Roof” describes this feeling:

When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face
I’ll climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space.

Research helps explain this effect. Studies show that moving upward in space, even if only the distance of a flight of stairs, helps broaden what’s called a perceptual scope, helping us to zoom out and focus more on the big picture than on the details. When we’re up on the roof, our problems start to feel smaller, giving us more space for joy.

GET A NATURE FIX

The power of nature is that it not only elicits joy; it also reduces stress. Studies show that being out in nature quiets a part of the brain called the subgenual prefrontal cortex, which decreases our tendency to brood over problems, making us literally feel more carefree. Even if you can’t get outside, you can try bringing the outside in by sitting somewhere with a view of trees or greenery, incorporating plants or nature imagery into your decor, or listening to nature sounds like birdsong.

PLAY A GAME

Play is, in many ways, the opposite of stress. One of the key characteristics of play is that it is an “apparently purposeless activity.” While it might seem excruciating to do something that seems purposeless while you’re overwhelmed by stuff to do, play does something interesting. It makes us temporarily forget about two of the things that often make us most stressed out: our sense of time and our sense of self-consciousness. Think about what it felt like to play tag as a kid. You became absorbed in the moment, thinking only about running away from the person who was “it,” not worrying about whether you were late for dinner or what your hair looked like. Play gives us a powerful break from stress, restoring our resources so we can handle the other things that life throws our way.

PHONE A FRIEND

When we’re in distress, we often have an inclination to isolate ourselves or commiserate with someone who’s also stressed out. But emotions are contagious, so if we want to find joy amid stress, it benefits us to seek out our most joyful friends in troubled times. Because emotions can be transmitted even just by the tone of voice, a brief call with an upbeat amigo can be a joyful break that can have lasting effects. Not to mention that reinforcing our social connections can help remind us that we’re not as alone as we think we might be.

This topic is one that I’ve written a lot about over the years. For more ideas on how to find joy amid stressful circumstances, check out the post: 5 Ways to Find Joy in Tough Times. And for perspective on how to stay joyful when life isn’t going your way, check out this excerpt of my book Joyful, on the power of renewal.

Source: aestheticsofjoy.com ~ By:  Ingrid Fetell LeeIngred ~ Image: Canva Pro

Meditation to Boost Health and Well-Being

Practicing mindfulness and meditation may help you manage stress and high blood pressure, sleep better, feel more balanced and connected, and even lower your risk of heart disease.

Meditation and mindfulness are practices — often using breathing, quiet contemplation, or sustained focus on something, such as an image, phrase, or sound — that help you let go of stress and feel more calm and peaceful. Think of it as a mini-vacation from the stress in your life! Stress is your body’s natural alarm system. It releases a hormone called adrenaline that makes your breathing speed up and your heart rate and blood pressure rise. It kicks us into action, which can be a good thing when we’re faced with a real danger or need to perform.

But that “fight or flight” response can take a toll on your body when it goes on too long or is a regular occurrence. Mindfulness meditation provides a method for handling stress more healthily.

Meditation can improve well-being and quality of life.

Recent studies have offered promising results about the impact of meditation in reducing blood pressure. There is also evidence that it can help people manage insomnia, depression, and anxiety.

Some research suggests that meditation physically changes the brain and could help:

      • increase the ability to process information
      • slow the cognitive effects of aging
      • reduce inflammation
      • support the immune system
      • reduce symptoms of menopause
      • control the brain’s response to pain
      • improve sleep

More research is needed, but it’s clear that meditation’s effects on the body and brain are a no-brainer!

Find the method that works for you.

There are many different types of meditation, including:

      • compassion (metta or loving-kindness),
      • insight (Vipassana),
      • mantra, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR),
      • relaxation,
      • Transcendental,
      • Zen, and others.

It could be as simple as sitting quietly and focusing on your breath. When your mind wanders (and it will!), gently bring it back to the breath again. Gradually increase the amount of time you’re able to stay focused. If you’re not sure how to get started, look for online classes on meditation, get recommendations from friends, or research different types that interest you.

Transcendental meditation is a technique that allows your mind to focus inward, staying alert to other thoughts or sensations without allowing them to interfere. It’s typically done seated with your eyes closed for 20 minutes, twice a day. Mindfulness meditation may use an object of focus, such as the ringing of a bell, chanting, touching beads, or gazing at an image. Prayer can also be a form of mediation.

Not all meditation is done sitting down with your legs crossed and eyes closed. Moving meditation forms include qi gong, Tai Chi, and yoga.

The bottom line.

      • While meditation can help you manage stress, sleep well and feel better, it shouldn’t replace lifestyle changes like eating healthiermanaging your weight and getting regular physical activity. It’s also not a substitute for medication or medical treatment your doctor may have prescribed.
      • Try different types of meditation to find what works for you, and make it a regular part of your healthy lifestyle.

Source: heart.org ~ By: American Heart Association ~ Image: Canva Pro

Five healthy habits net more healthy years

Are healthy habits worth cultivating? A recent study suggests healthy habits may help people tack on years of life and sidestep serious illnesses, such as diabetes and cancer. After all, if you’re going to gain an extra decade of life on this earth, you want to enjoy it!

12 Habits of Super-Healthy People

Have Breakfast

1/12

It’s important for a bunch of reasons. It jump-starts your metabolism and stops you from overeating later. Plus, studies show that adults who have a healthy breakfast do better at work, and kids who eat a morning meal score higher on tests. If a big plateful first thing isn’t for you, keep it light with a granola bar or a piece of fruit. Just don’t skip it.

Plan Your Meals

2/12

It’ll help you save time and money in the long run. Block out some time, then sit down and consider your goals and needs. Do you want to lose weight? Cut back on sugar, fat, or carbs? Add protein or vitamins? Meal prep keeps you in control. You know what you’re eating and when. A bonus: It’ll be that much easier to skip those doughnuts in the breakroom at work.

Drink Plenty of Water

3/12

It can do so many good things for you. Staying hydrated is at the top of the list, but it may also help you lose weight. Another reason to go for H2O? Sugary drinks are linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes. If you aren’t a fan of plain water, add flavor with slices of orange, lemon, lime, watermelon, or cucumber.

Take an Exercise Break

4/12

Don’t just grab another cup of coffee — get up and move. Do some deep lunges or stretches. It’s great for your body and mind. Just 30 minutes of walking five times a week may help keep the blues at bay. And if you can’t do those minutes all at once, short bursts help, too.

Go Offline

5/12

Checking your email and social media a lot? Sure, your friends’ and family’s latest updates are just a click away, but do you really need to see pictures of your cousin’s latest meal? Let it wait until morning. Set a time to log off and put the phone down. When you cut back on screen time, it frees you to do other things. Take a walk, read a book, or help your cousin chop veggies for their next great dinner.

Learn Something New

6/12

New skills help keep your brain healthy. Sign up for a dance class or a creative writing workshop. Better yet, master a new language. The mental work it takes can slow the signs of aging and may even delay the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

Don’t Smoke

7/12

If you light up, quit. It’s a big move toward better health. Your body repairs itself quickly. As soon as 20 minutes after your last cigarette, your heart rate and blood pressure drop. Why wait? Kick the habit, today. Your doctor will be happy to help you get started.

Sleep Well

8/12

There are almost too many benefits to list. A good night’s sleep keeps you in a better mood, sharpens memory and focus, and helps you learn new things. In the long term, it lowers your risk of heart disease and helps you keep trim. Aim to get 7 to 9 hours a night. For the best rest, do it on schedule — turning in and waking up at about the same times every day.

Train Your Muscles

9/12

Strength training helps your body trade fat for muscle mass. That means you’ll burn more calories even when you’re being a couch potato. But these workouts can also help you slim down, strengthen your heart, and build up your bones. Do strength-training exercises — like push-ups, lunges, and weight lifting — at least twice a week.

Head Outdoors

10/12

A few minutes in the sunshine raises vitamin D levels, and that’s good for your bones, your heart, and your mood. Plus, being outside means you’re more likely to move your body instead of parking it in front of the TV or computer. Choose nature over city streets, if you can. One study found that people who strolled in urban green spaces were calmer than people who walked in built-up areas.

Keep Your Balance

11/12

If you’re young and active, good balance will help you avoid injuries. If you’re older, it will keep you active longer and lower the chances you’ll fall and break a bone. No matter your age, good balance means better muscle tone, a healthier heart, and greater confidence. Yoga and tai chi are great ways to work on it, but just about anything that keeps you moving, even walking, can help.

Be Mindful

Be Mindful

12/12

It can mean meditating or simply stopping to smell the roses. However you do it, studies show mindfulness slashes stress, relieves pain, and improves your mood. And scientists are beginning to understand how. One study found that 8 weeks of regular meditation can change parts of your brain related to emotions, learning, and memory. Even washing dishes can be good for your brain, as long as you do it mindfully.

Source: webmd.com ~ By: Melinda Ratini, DO, MS ~ Image: Canva Pro

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