The first story’s titled:
5 Things That Will Make You Happier
Some scientists have argued that happiness is largely determined by genetics, health and other factors mostly outside of our control. But recent research suggests people actually can take charge of their own happiness and boost it through certain practices.
“The billion-dollar question is, is it possible to become happier?” said psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California, Riverside. “Despite the finding that happiness is partially genetically determined, and despite the finding that life situations have a smaller influence on our happiness than we think they do, we argue that still a large portion of happiness is in our power to change.”
Lyubomirsky spoke here Saturday at the annual meeting of theAmerican Association for the Advancement of Science. She and colleagues last year reviewed 51 studies that tested attempts to increase happiness through different types of positive thinking, and found that these practices can significantly enhance well-being. The results were published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.
Here are five things that research has shown can improve happiness:
1. Be grateful – Some study participants were asked to write letters of gratitude to people who had helped them in some way. The study found that these people reported a lasting increase in happiness – over weeks and even months – after implementing the habit. What’s even more surprising: Sending the letter is not necessary. Even when people wrote letters but never delivered them to the addressee, they still reported feeling better afterwards.
2. Be optimistic – Another practice that seems to help is optimistic thinking. Study participants were asked to visualize an ideal future – for example, living with a loving and supportive partner, or finding a job that was fulfilling – and describe the image in a journal entry. After doing this for a few weeks, these people too reported increased feelings of well-being.
3. Count your blessings – People who practice writing down three good things that have happened to them every week show significant boosts in happiness, studies have found. It seems the act of focusing on the positive helps people remember reasons to be glad.
4. Use your strengths – Another study asked people to identify their greatest strengths, and then to try to use these strengths in new ways. For example, someone who says they have a good sense of humor could try telling jokes to lighten up business meetings or cheer up sad friends. This habit, too, seems to heighten happiness.
5. Commit acts of kindness – It turns out helping others also helps ourselves. People who donate time or money to charity, or who altruistically assist people in need, report improvements in their own happiness.
Lyubomirsky has also created an iPhone application, called Live Happy, to help people boost their well-being.
Another story to help you be positive:
7 Thoughts That Are Bad For You
Our personalities do more for us than determine our social circles. Temperament can impact a person’s physical health.
“The idea that behavior or personality traits can influence health is one that’s been around for a long time. We’re just now getting a handle on to what extent they do,” said Stephen Boyle of Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina.
From those with a chill demeanor to the completely frazzled types, mental factors are ultimately tied to physical health. And while a highly neurotic person might deteriorate more quickly than others, not every character trait will kill you. Some might even boost lifetimes.
Cynics who tend to be suspicious and mistrustful of others, a character trait that scientists refer to as hostility, may have an increased likelihood of developing heart disease. “These aren’t necessarily hot-headed people, but people who are more likely to read into people’s behavior as some hostile motive,” Stephen Boyle said during a telephone interview.
In a study of more than 300 Vietnam veterans who were healthy at the study start, Boyle found that those who scored high on measures of hostility were about 25 percent more likely to develop heart disease.
Boyle and his colleagues think that hostile individuals might experience more stress, which can cause spikes in an immune-system protein called C3 that has been linked with various diseases, including diabetes. In fact, the participants with higher scores on hostility showed an increase in these proteins while the non-hostile men showed no such increase.
Lack of Meaning
If you lack a sense of purpose, your stay on Earth could be truncated. A study involving more than 1,200 elderly participants who didn’t have dementia at the study’s start found that those who indicated having a high purpose in life were about half as likely to die over the study period, which lasted up to five years. The results, published in the June 15 issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, held regardless of a person’s age, sex, education and race, along with level of depression and neuroticism.
“Persons with high purpose readily derive meaning from and make sense of the events of their lives, and likely engage in behaviors and activities that they deem important,” said study researcher Patricia Boyle of the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago.
Some other research has suggested that people with a higher sense of purpose may have different levels of stress hormones, better heart health or improved immune systems, though more research is needed to firm up any of these biological mechanisms, she said.
The opposite also holds: “The findings from our study suggested that people who no longer set and work actively toward goals or enjoy their day-to-day activities (how they spend their time) are those with greater mortality risk,” Boyle told LiveScience.
People who are highly neurotic — constantly worried and anxious, and prone to depression — die sooner on average than their chill counterparts. And a recently reported study of nearly 1,800 men followed over a 30-year period suggests that’s partly because neurotics are also more likely to smoke. Perhaps having a cigarette eases anxiety, said study researcher Daniel Mroczek of Purdue University in Indiana, adding that such a short-term payoff might not be worth it if it kills you down the line.
Lack of Self-control
Late for appointments? Can’t keep your desk organized? No self-control? These seemingly benign qualities could take a toll on your health.
A review of more than 20 studies and nearly 9,000 participants revealed people who are conscientious — organized and self-disciplined, as opposed to impulsive — live two to four years longer than others. Study researcher Howard S. Friedman of the University of California, Riverside, suspects the boost in lifetime can be attributed partly to the fact that highly conscientious individuals are less likely to smoke or drink to excess, and live more stable and less stressful lives. The study is detailed in a 2008 issue of the journal Health Psychology.
The jitters can put a strain on your noggin, research suggests. Compared with the highly frazzled, individuals with a mellow demeanor who are outgoing may be less likely to develop dementia, which can be caused by Alzheimer’s disease and other illnesses. The claim is based on a study that followed more than 500 elderly individuals for five years. Among the outgoing extroverts, dementia risk was 50 percent lower for participants who were calm compared with those who were prone to distress.
Gloom and Doom
The gloomy, inhibited person is not just at a disadvantage socially, but also physically.
A preliminary study of more than 180 patients suffering from peripheral arterial disease (plaque buildup in the arteries) showed participants with so-called type D, or distressed, personality, had an increased odds of dying sooner than other people. Type-D people are more likely to experience negative emotions while at the same time hold in their feelings.
The researchers, who detail their work in the August issue of the journal Archives of Surgery, suggest the personality type is linked with the body’s immune system as well as stress response system.
Whatever you do, don’t let this list worry you! Research is showing that prolonged stress can be deadly, and if it doesn’t do you in, workplace stress can increase your chances of heart disease, flu virus, metabolic syndrome and having high blood pressure.
A study of nearly 700 Israeli workers found that those who experienced job burnout (when work stress becomes unmanageable) were nearly twice as likely as others to develop type 2 diabetes, in which a person’s body becomes resistant to the sugar-regulating hormone called insulin.
And while a job promotion might boost your income, it also stresses you out. British researchers recently found that when people get promoted, they suffer on average about 10 percent more mental strain and are less likely to find time to go to the doctor.