Happier Science: Walk This Way

happier-science-112214There’s no shortage of research to support walking as the so-called perfect exercise; human beings are, after all, designed to walk! (We’ve discussed walking here before.) Walking is beneficial for our muscles, bones, circulation… even our mood and sleep patterns are improved by walking. (If only we could put a brisk 20-minute walk into a spray bottle to apply to all any life problem, much as the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding uses his Windex….)

So: walking = better health and greater happiness. This isn’t new news. What is new, though, is a new research on how purposefully walking in a “happy” or “depressed” manner may influence mood. Researchers designed a study utilizing already-proven biases about the connection between mood and memory. People in a happier state are more likely to remember positive information, while those in a more negative state are more likely to remember negative information. Lifehacker India describes the findings:

It was found that the respondents who had adopted the happy, confident gait and stance remembered more of the positive words from the list while those whose walking style had reflected depression and dejection, recalled more negative emotions from the selection of words that were read out.

Their findings, therefore, imply that one’s walking style has the potential to impact one’s mind – where one is more likely to process and retain information that matches how one is feeling.

“It is not surprising that our mood, the way we feel, affects how we walk, but we wanted to see whether the way we move also affects how we feel,” elaborates Nikolaus Troje, professor, Queen’s University, Canada as well as the co-author of the research paper.

Talk about a mind-body connection—the implications here for affecting mood via the body are huge. If just walking in a depressed way can make you feel worse, and walking “like a happy person” can pick you up… with the accompanying memory changes the difference in mood can bring… well, then, maybe that whole fake-it-’til-you-make-it idea applies to more than we thought. Sure, even faking a smile is good for you, but what about thinking about how you sit, stand, and—yes—walk?

Food for thought. Or maybe something to consider on your next walk.

Happier Science: Gratitude is as powerful in children as adults

As a mom of a 10 year-old, this is awesome to read. Actually, it’s just awesome:

According to new research, kids and teens experience the same benefits of expressing gratitude as studies have shown in adults.

Kids who feel and act grateful tend to be less materialistic, get better grades, set higher goals, complain of fewer headaches and stomach aches and feel more satisfied with their friends, families and schools than those who don’t.

In one study mentioned in the article, sixth- and seventh-graders were divided into three groups. One group recorded five things each week they appreciated, second group recorded five things that annoyed them, and the third wrote down five events that occurred. Kids in the gratitude group reported higher satisfaction with school and more optimism.

Awesome!

 

Science Says The Best Meals Serve… Happiness!

happier-science-111514Once upon a time, a long time ago, my husband and I got married and packed up my kids and moved 1,000 miles away to begin our new life together. The necessary adjustments in blending a family presented challenges, of course, and by the time we’d returned to visit family for the holidays, it felt like we were just starting to gel as a little unit. So when we somehow managed to screw up our Christmas Eve plans—we drove a couple of hours from where we were staying to attend a service at my old church, then realized the kids couldn’t wait until we got home for dinner, but everything from regular restaurants to fast food was closed—I was sure we’d ruined Christmas. But… we stopped at a gas station, and bought a bunch of nondescript sandwiches in triangular plastic containers to eat in the car on the long ride back.

This was when the kids were young enough to be picky eaters as well as flummoxed whenever their routine was disrupted. But we presented those sandwiches to them as if we were having the most exciting treat in the world. And it was snowing! Look at all the pretty snow, guys! Everyone ate their sandwiches, and we talked and laughed as we drove back to our relatives’ house. I remember those sandwiches being surprisingly good for gas station food, and now I know why:

A new research survey has revealed that meals are remembered more positively when they included good company, regardless of what the actual food was like.

The analysis revealed a memorable meal typically involved cooked food, wine, family and friends, and a “positive emotional state”.

Common highlights included meals eaten while on holiday, in romantic or in fine dining settings, or made at home with a special ingredient.

Other settings were “hearty, home-cooked” meals, those prepared either traditionally or spontaneously, or those remembered for cooking disasters.

What does this mean for our everyday happiness? Stop worrying so much about having just the right food on the table, and instead, make sure you have the right people around the table—the meal will be a memorable and happy one, even if the food isn’t fancy or perfect.

Thanksgiving is coming, and the winter holidays, after. If you want to eat, drink and be merry, focus on the “be merry” part. The rest will fall into place.

The Happiest Age, And The Factor That Matters Most

happier-family-science-102514I receive a daily digest highlighting new research on happiness, and I’m not going to lie—sometimes, my eyes roll pretty far back in my head while I’m scanning through them. Having basic needs met makes you happier? You don’t say! Having more control over your own choices increases feelings of esteem? How unexpected! But every now and then a piece of research comes through that just stops me in my tracks while I ponder it.

This past week, the results of a survey in Britain concluded that people are happiest at age 58, presumably, it is concluded, because this is when our best work-life balance is achieved. I found this fascinating, and weirdly specific, but it makes sense—it’s young enough to not be old/sick and/or retired and bored, but old enough that probably the daily stressors of child-raising or even just caring about what other people think are either over and greatly diminished. I can dig it.

This, however, was not the piece of information from this study that I found the most interesting. Nope, the best part was this:

The biggest key to contentment was spending time with family, according to almost two-thirds (63%) of those who took part[.]

So all of those family-themed posts we’ve been bringing you this week? It’s not just for fun (although I hope you found it fun). It’s because family plays a huge role in our level of happiness, no matter what our age. And we’re not talking textbook-definition family, either—no need to have a specific structure mirrored in a Norman Rockwell painting, or anything; this is about spending time with the people you live with and love the best. That’s it.

Sure, family may sometimes drive us nuts, but they’re also the most important factor in making us happier. That’s a big deal.

Happier Challenge: Break Bread Together

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGoooood Monday morning! We’re kicking off our first-ever theme week here at Happier, and we’re starting with a focus on family connection.

It’s no secret that the history of human beings is full of rituals around food. “Breaking bread together” is considered a sacred activity in nearly every religion, and eating together is a universal symbol of connection. Is this some sort of mysticism at work? Nope—science repeatedly shows that family dinners strengthen relationships, make kids more resilient, and are generally one of the easiest ways to lower teens’ risk of everything from eating disorders to substance abuse. Even if you don’t have kids and are a full-grown adult, eating with people you love confers plenty of benefits, from increased emotional well-being to actually increasing your odds of eating more nutritious foods. So that brings us to this week’s challenge, all about your family and food:

If you don’t normally have a sit-down, home-cooked family meal, have at least one, this week. If this is already part of your routine, invite a guest to join you!

Here’s some inspiration to get you jazzed to embrace family meals:

Will you take our challenge and share a moment about it in the Happier community? It would make us happier!

Happier Jump-Starts: Tips For Busting Clutter

happier-jump-starts-declutter-101214It’s unclear if cleanliness is truly next to godliness, but science suggests that order in your environment makes you happier and while clutter may foster creativity, order fosters generosity. Interesting stuff.

If you’re busy with work and family—or just, you know, life—cleaning your home may feel like a herculean task for which you have no time. The secret to keeping clutter at bay is to do small things on a regular basis, rather than trying to do everything all the time. Here’s a few ideas my family uses:

Basket or bust. There seems to be a tendency for horizontal surfaces to accumulate stuff ’round here, so a while back we implemented a rule that tables/countertops can only hold items if there’s a basket or other receptacle there for that specific purpose. No basket? Don’t leave your book (or mail, or hairbrush, etc.) there. Support this rule with clear designations for where things should go, so there’s fewer temptations to leave things around in random spots.

Weekly basket binge. To implement “basket or bust” we added a bunch of baskets and other “stuff holders” to our household, knowing full well that some (all) of them would be filled with junk in no time. Every Sunday is basket-emptying day, and if the kids don’t take their stuff and put it where it belongs, said stuff disappears (that’s a pretty good motivator to clean up).

Do the important stuff daily. Everyone has a different flavor for this: the FlyLady insists that if you shine your kitchen sink daily, your dishes will always be done; while Stephanie O’Dea of Totally Together Journal changed my life by suggesting you have the kids wipe down their bathroom sink and counter with the clothes they’re about to throw in the laundry each night. Pick the things you hate to see dirty and figure out how to keep ‘em clean every day, rather than waiting until they become a biohazard.

Break it down, pitch in. Everyone in the family can do chores. (If you’re a family of one, you’re on your own, but probably you have a smaller space, at least.) Make chores bite-sized and set an expectation that everyone do a little every day. If you cook, someone else does dishes. If someone does laundry, grab the dryer sheet out of the dryer and do some quick dusting with it before you toss it.

Use it or lose it. take an (honest!) inventory once a month or so of your belongings. Do you have items you can donate? Broken or otherwise ruined items you’re hanging on to “just in case” that should really be tossed? Be ruthless. Most of us have too much stuff. Getting rid of some of it can be freeing, and ultimately it leaves you fewer things to clean.

Can you keep the clutter down at your place without it making you crazy?

Mind Over Matter? Mind Can Change Matter!

brain-training-bikeThe notion that you can “think your way” to, well, any number of things, is hardly new. You can think your way toward success! Think your way through that last set of push-ups! Think your way… happier. Some people scoff, but research has shown time and again that this so-called “brain training” is a real thing. With enough practice, thought patterns can be altered.

If you live in the vicinity of Northwestern University, you might want to check out what promises to be a fascinating symposium next week—Richard J. Davidson, renowned psychology researcher and New York Times best-selling author, is presenting on the topic of Happiness as a Skill on October 16th, 2014. There will be both a lecture and a panel discussion.

The notable bit here is that Dr. Davidson’s research shows that this isn’t just about habits and actions, but real physiological brain changes which can be deliberately curated. From the lecture description:

This talk will examine the brain’s ability to change itself and enhance emotional well being through mental training and contemplative practices. The presented material will address the concept of neuroplasticity, which is the idea that our behaviors, thoughts, and actions have a robust and measurable effect on brain function and structure. By cultivating positive thoughts and behaviors we literally, at the level of biology, can alter our brain a positive manner.

Cultivating the skills which boost happiness actually changes our brains. How cool is that?? So working on being happier can alter our brains in all sorts of positive ways, making the human brain the only entity I can think of which can decide to change itself on a molecular level and then just… do it. (Nike should totally be using brains in their commercials instead of athletes.)