HAPPINESS: A Smile a Day May Keep the Doctor Away – Take Small Steps

Positive thoughts…for your health?

 

We all know that optimism is a key element to happiness. But when life inevitably gets rough, keeping a positive perspective isn’t always easy. Negative feelings can certainly take a toll on not only our minds but our body too, perhaps more than we realize.  I always found it suspicious when I would catch a nasty cold or virus almost every finals week of the college semester or whenever I was feeling more blue than usual.

 

Can practicing daily techniques that promote optimism and stress reduction not only affect our mood but our physical immunity?

 

Before you rid this idea off as pseudoscience, you may be surprised to find out just how important positive emotion has shown to be on health.

 

The field of Positive Psychology has been exploring this connection for quite some time, and they have found some convincing evidence as to why positive thinking should be an important part of health regimens.

 

Researchers have found that those who experience higher levels of optimism have a profoundly greater cellular immunity than those who experience lower levels. Further studies have concluded strong associations between psychological well-being and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, increased post-illness recovery, and increased longevity

 

Across the board, a large sum of research has shown that something as simple as engaging yourself in meditation, gratitude exercises, and positive affirmations can lead to an all-around greater experience of health well-being.

 

It may seem miniscule, but there’s something more to positive thinking than meets the eye.

 

I am the kind of person who is constantly stressing about the next 100 things on my to-do list (can you relate?).  And unfortunately, this has caused me to be absent-minded, easily overwhelmed, prone to dwell on the negative, and vulnerable to illness.  Previously, I had never thought of myself to be the meditating type. How can you find fulfillment just from sitting there in silence focusing on nothing? How is that not a complete waste of time?

 

I’m not going to say that meditation is easy to master, it takes some commitment to develop a mindset for meditation which involves finding the right kind of method for you, whether that be visualization, audio, or breathing-based.

 

But once I decided to give meditation a try, I quickly realized just how much it could help me.

 

I started going to a mindfulness meditation class, and at first, it was hard for me to sit still. There were hundreds of things running through my head that seemed nearly impossible to settle. But, the more I practiced, the easier it became to release those chaotic thoughts and start to focus solely on existing in the present moment. I began to put my emotions and responsibilities into a perspective that I never knew was possible.

 

It felt like a weight had been lifted on my shoulders. 

 

My worries became much less severe just by allowing myself to take a little bit of time to bring my focus into the present and become grounded in my own body.

 

Life can move so fast, and we often feel like we must race through everything to achieve satisfaction. Through meditation, I discovered just how much that racing was increasing my stress, pessimism, and disconnecting me from my own body.

 

It was a baby-steps process, but as I started to make meditation a daily part of my life, I noticed huge differences.

 

I stopped feeling automatically overwhelmed when things got complicated, I could perform tasks more effectively, my grades got better, and best of all, I felt healthier. I was more conscious of my eating habits, more motivated to work out and go outside, and I noticed myself not catching as many pesky illnesses as I usually would during stressful times.

 

Another technique I tried to increase my levels of optimism was a gratitude journal. Every day for 5 months, I wrote down 3 things I was grateful for that were simple and specific to each day. Whether it was a morning cup of coffee that was particularly good, or just the sun shining through my bedroom window, I started to notice the small details in my daily life that make me happy. After some time, I stopped dwelling on negative situations so much, and I could come up with solutions to problems more easily.

I started to make a conscious effort to incorporate simple things in my routine that made me happy, energized, and motivated. I started appreciating life in a whole new light.

 

It sounds like common knowledge to say that happiness leads to healthiness, but this fact is certainly underestimated. Healthcare has historically treated the psychological and the physical as two separate entities, but we can no longer deny that one can significantly influences the other. The separation is becoming obsolete as we understand more about these mind-body connections. A growing push towards integrated treatment plans are leading to more holistic approaches to health.

 

If happiness is the goal, try finding simple ways to achieve it within the present instead of always working towards future satisfaction.

 

It’s an amazing feeling when you do something just for yourself, without responsibility or expectation.

 

We obviously can’t be happy (or healthy) all the time; often, we need to take further steps to stabilize our mood and health, and that is completely normal. But, making efforts to become more aware of underlying emotions that are affecting us, or gaining a new appreciation towards the small things can certainly complement this process. Discover what methods could work for you, whether it be meditation, being in nature, gratitude journals, creating art, writing, music, working out, etc., Both your brain and your body will thank you.

 

What activities do you do solely to make you feel happy?
Do you see a difference in your health when you’re feeling particularly positive or negative?
Do you think mindfulness techniques should be more incorporated within our healthcare treatments?

 

Christine

Christine Lombardo is a recent graduate of Widener University where she studied Psychology and Biomedical Science. She plans to continue her education in a Health Psychology graduate program. Christine is passionate about social activism and strongly believes in promoting education and open-dialogues to better understand prominent social issues. Her favorite things include cats, painting, coffee and Beyonce. Christine welcomes feedback from fellow readers, feel free to connect with her via email or Twitter.

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