If you had a choice between happiness and your health, which would you pick?
According to happiness researcher Robert Holden, if you selected happiness, 65% of people agree with you. Many studies have posited that happiness (or even a positive outlook) can lead to more successful health outcomes. Holden tells us, “That’s because there’s no true health without happiness.”
The benefits of a positive outlook can transform the landscape of your life. For example, soldiers who displayed high optimism before deployment were less likely to develop chronic pain after being sent to Afghanistan or Iraq than those who were more pessimistic. (Reuters, Linda Carrol https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-military-pain/optimism-may-protect-against-chronic-pain-in-soldiers-idUSKCN1PX1W9). We also know that positive thinking improves physical health (https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-power-of-positive-thinking).
So how does one reach that giddy plain of Nirvana where state-of-mind is Kevlar-tough and a tropical “depression” can be weathered as easily as a light spring shower? In one study, “researchers found that the appreciation of life, new possibilities, and a patient’s own personal strength, greatly contributed to positive personal growth after a brain injury.” In other words, a brain injury survivor needs to be able to measure their own achievements against the backdrop of their rehabilitation journey.
[Note: Over the course of this journey, it may help to think of happiness as a “practice,” much like one must practice yoga or a musical instrument to achieve proficiency.]
Happily, Happify.com is a treasure trove of happiness research and mental exercises to keep all of us looking on the bright side of life. Here are three meme-able ones:
The S.T.A.G.E. Method
Use the S.T.A.G.E. framework outlined below to help you build five key happiness skills: Savor, Thank, Aspire, Give and Empathize.
Savor: As in savor the moment. Be mindful of all things possible.
Thank: Appreciate the things others do for you. Appreciate the things you’re able to do for yourself. Make sure to say “thanks.”
Aspire: Find a sense of purpose in your life. Find a positive reason to do what you do each day. Hope that you have the strength to do what needs to be done.
Give: People who engaged in acts of kindness showed a 42% increase in
happiness. ‘Nuff said.
Empathize: Care about others the way you want to be cared about.
“You have the power to take control of your happiness by choosing your thoughts, behaviors, and actions. Over time, we can build lasting habits that increase our resilience and improve our happiness levels.” (What is the Science of Happiness, Happify.com)
The Three Things Diary
Another simple, yet powerful method at developing a positive outlook and happiness is called the “Three Things Method.” While commonly employed in therapy, this exercise can be done independently by starting a “Three Things Diary.” Every day, you must write down the three things “that went well for you that day and provide an explanation for why they went well. The items can be relatively small in importance, such as “my co-worker bought me coffee today” to major, such as “I got a promotion!”
It is important to create a physical record of your items by writing them down; it is not enough simply to do this exercise in your head. On days you feel like you can’t do anything right or you couldn’t be more miserable – reference your diary. To make this exercise part of your daily routine, some people find that writing before bed is helpful. (https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/three-good-things)
Did You Know You’re Beautiful?
A little-known fact about happiness: it’s reflexive. When you give someone a compliment, BOTH of you enjoy the mental benefits. In “The Science of Happiness” podcast on PRI (https://www.pri.org/programs/science-happiness/these-words-cause-happiness), Eva Dickerson of Spellman University demonstrates one way to cultivate happiness socially. She approaches women on campus and asks, “Did you know that you’re beautiful?” to hear how happy she made others (and consequently, herself). By socially engaging with people, Eva is not only boosting her level of happiness, but her immune system and longevity. She also increased productivity, decreased stress, pain and insomnia, as well as, beneficial effects to the immune system and production of serotonin. (https://oaksatdenville.org/blog/benefits-social-interactions/)
The road through neuro rehab can be a long one after a patient suffers a stroke or traumatic brain injury. It’s natural to become depressed, frustrated and angry. But since we know that these reactions can negatively affect rehab outcomes, finding bits of cheer here and there can make all the difference in the world.
How can you cultivate happiness socially?
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About the Doc
Dr. Bryan Weinstein is a practicing psychiatrist with certification from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. He has practiced psychiatric pharmacology and psychotherapy since 1997. Dr. Weinstein is the CEO of Life Skills Village.