Lesson 6 – Health and Happiness

Recap:

Last time we discussed the happiest man in the world, and the fact that he wasn’t just born that way, it has been a practice that he has refined and that has been studied by scientists over a long period. 

We also touched on mindfulness and I left you with a glimpse into happiness at work.  In this lesson we will delve further into happiness whilst we are earning a living, and which comes first – success or happiness?

Remember –

  • it takes 21 days to form a habit
  • and the formula for happiness is – H = G + C + T&A

Your thoughts and actions are the most important part of the change that you are wanting to make.  Be the change you want to see.

How do you feel you went in the past 3 weeks?


Laughter is the best medicine. Old wives tale or code to follow?

How easy is it to feel happy when you have flu or a cold, or even worse, something more serious and debilitating? Do you feel sorry for yourself and miserable at your ill-fortune?

And yet, if you visit the children’s ward at any major hospital you would see children with life-threatening illnesses who are happy with their lot in life, making the most of the days when they feel pretty good.

People live with the most chronic of illness, yet some of them are happy and some of them are not. Just like those of us who are blessed with good health.

A survey by happiness researcher Robert Holden found that 65% of people would choose happiness over health.

How about you? Think about it now.

But why should we have to have one over the other. Surely there is a correlation between the two? Granted there are many diseases that are genetic and there is nothing you can do to change your DNA.

There are plenty of ways you can look after both your physical and mental well-being, however, and these go hand-in-hand with your happiness baseline.

We all know that the absence of happiness, stemming from isolation, depression, stress and anxiety, resentment and anger, all contribute to less than optimal health.

There are many studies that show today’s digestive disorders, inflammatory diseases and reduced immunity can be linked back to negativity, pessimism and unhappiness.

I’ve just finished doing a 6 week certificate in Positive Psychology with Dr Barbara Frederickson from the University of North Carolina. She has been researching and teaching the science of positive emotions for more than 25 years and has a very pragmatic view, and a wealth of research outcomes and statistics, on life, love, positivity and emotion.

One of Barbara’s theories that thoroughly echoed with my thoughts on life and emotion is ‘positivity resonance’. Whilst I want to delve into this more in Lesson 7, I wanted to touch on it here as it is so important to our overall health.

Positivity resonance refers to micro-moments of shared connectivity and positive emotion between one or more people, such as ‘just getting’ what someone is explaining, or connecting with a person telling a story, laughing at the same joke, or meeting a friend you haven’t seen in a while.

There are pre-conditions to these micro-moments bringing happiness. Firstly, both parties need to feel a sense of safety in the moment, and secondly, people have to be connected in real-time. So it can’t be done via social media. There has to be a personal and real connection. It has to be authentic.

I was walking through the city last week and had the most amazing experience, shared with a number of people. Out of a building onto a busy street came a couple of women wearing orange safety vests (hi-viz).

Following them were 10 children of pre-school age, walking in pairs and also wearing the same hi-vis. They were all wearing hats and they were each holding a large rope that was intended to keep them all together. Then there were two more women behind.

The children were all chatting and looking around the big city in wonderment, but this wasn’t the interesting part. Adults of all ages, including me, all had stopped in their busy working day to wave to the children and to smile at each other and to connect over such a sight.

I felt truly blessed to have witnessed it and to have shared the experience with the other adults on the footpath. The innocence of small children together on a fast-paced city pavement with workers rushing to and fro was a micro-moment of happiness in my day, but it extended further because of the shared experience.

Much work has been done by Dr Frederickson and her researchers on the fact that positivity resonance, as well as other forms of positivity, nourish your health, wisdom, and longevity. And it’s the health benefits that I wanted to share with you today.

When you make connections like this you get increases in neuro peptides, such as oxytocin. Oxytocin, is one of the triumvirate of hormones which includes dopamine, and serotonin, which are often referred to as our “happy hormones.”

Endorphins are also responsible for adding to your happiness.

When you’re attracted to another person, your brain releases dopamine, your serotonin levels increase, and oxytocin is produced. This causes you to feel a surge of positive emotion and research has shown that it can also enhance relaxation, trust and overall psychological stability.

One of my great take-outs from the Positive Psychology course was learning about the vagus nerve, (and since then cognitive resonance seems to have kicked in and I’m coming across it again and again in terms of our health).

The vagus nerve is part of your parasympathetic nervous system connecting your brain to your heart, lungs and digestive system. It oversees many crucial bodily functions, including control of mood, immune response, digestion, and heart rate.

Never heard of it? Neither had I, but it is vitally important to not only your physical health, but also to your psychological health. It is not under your conscious control and it regulates many of your bodily functions when the body is at rest.

The activity of this nerve is referred to as vagal tone. Vagal tone predicts the body’s ability to regulate heart rhythms, maintain healthy glucose levels, conduct cellular repair, reduce inflammation and ensure you digest your food and get the right nutrition from it.

You need good, strong vagal tone for a healthy body. But studies also show that there is a causal link between positive social connections, positive emotions, improved vagal tone and overall health that work in an upward spiral.

So if it is not under your conscious control, is there anything you can do to increase vagal tone?


Here are a range of things that my research has found, and not in any specific order except the last 2 (which I consider the choice of last resort):

  • Strong social connections
  • Sound, nutritious diet
  • Regular, moderate exercise
  • Deep breathing
  • Laughing
  • Meditation
  • Splashing cold water on your face
  • Reducing stress and anxiety from your life
  • Singing
  • Intermittent fasting
  • Supplements (such as Omega 3, zinc, ginger)
  • Vagus Nerve Stimulation – done by qualified practitioners

Just to close, I want to share a meditation that Dr Frederickson talks about. It’s called Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM) and is well-known practice for reducing stress, bringing about forgiveness and feeling good not only about yourself but towards others.

It is an opportunity to be benevolent in a way that the receiver never needs to know about, but will surely reap the results.


You find somewhere comfortable and quiet and start with yourself, repeating this mantra over as long as you wish.

May I feel safe

May I feel happy

May I feel healthy

May I live with ease.

You then move on to a loved one and repeat again, picturing them in your mind, naming them and wishing them:

May you feel safe

May you feel happy

May you live with ease.

May you feel healthy

You can do this as often as you like, with as many people as you like, working up to large groups. You can change the wording to make it more comfortable for you.

Personally I like ‘safe and secure’. ‘happy and content’, and ‘healthy and strong’. But that’s just me.

Sharon Salzberg is a pioneer in meditation and a strong proponent of LKM. Many studies have been done on practitioners of LKM and the benefits seem to be:

  • Increased positive emotions
  • A reduced internal critic (less negative self-talk)
  • Strengthened capacity for empathy
  • Decreased migraines in sufferers
  • Increased compassion
  • Increases in telomere length (more on this in another lesson).

The resounding message from all of the studies is that the greatest rewards come from sending these blessings to other people. It is so much more rewarding to give than to receive.


Exercises:

  • Keep up your Gratitude Journaling
  • Try Lovingkindness meditation, even if just for yourself
  • Review your weekly diet and work out if it is supporting your nutritional needs
  • Go for a walk in nature and get your body moving
  • Have regular check-ups at the doctor, dentist, skin specialist, just to make sure everything is running as it should. You do it for your car, therefore it makes sense to do it for yourself.
Photo by Owen Beard on Unsplash