happiness

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Are Negative Emotions Good For You?

happysadfeetWe live in a “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” “Boston Strong” “Life Is Good” culture.

So what happens when we feel bad? Well, many of us feel guilty about it.

But, according to research by psychologist Jonathan Adler, negative emotions should be celebrated — or at least not be discounted — because they serve a critical function.

Adler, of the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Mass., spoke to Scientific American recently about the work:

…anger and sadness are an important part of life, and new research shows that experiencing and accepting such emotions are vital to our mental health. Attempting to suppress thoughts can backfire and even diminish our sense of contentment. “Acknowledging the complexity of life may be an especially fruitful path to psychological well-being,” says Adler…

Unpleasant feelings are just as crucial as the enjoyable ones in helping you make sense of life’s ups and downs. “Remember, one of the primary reasons we have emotions in the first place is to help us evaluate our experiences,” Adler says.

Here’s a bit more on the mechanics of the study:

Adler and Hal E. Hershfield, a professor of marketing at New York University, investigated the link between mixed emotional experience and psychological welfare in a group of people undergoing 12 sessions of psychotherapy.

Before each session, participants completed a questionnaire that assessed their psychological well-being. They also wrote narratives describing their life events and their time in therapy, which were coded for emotional content. As Adler and Hershfield reported in 2012, feeling cheerful and dejected at the same time—for example, “I feel sad at times because of everything I’ve been through, but I’m also happy and hopeful because I’m working through my issues”—preceded improvements in well-being over the next week or two for subjects, even if the mixed feelings were unpleasant at the time. “Taking the good and the bad together may detoxify the bad experiences, allowing you to make meaning out of them in a way that supports psychological well-being,” the researchers found.

Readers, are you oppressed by overwhelming pressure to be bubbly and positive all the time? Does this notion of embracing complexity — both the good and the bad — ring true? Let us know.

Why To Exercise Today: It Might Make You Feel Better About Yourself

By Karen Weintraub
Guest Blogger

 

Yes, it’s a little subjective, and sounds like a refrain from Marlo Thomas’ Free To Be You And Me, but still it’s worth noting: exercise can make you feel better about you.

Indeed, when older people start exercising, they become more satisfied with their bodies and themselves, a newly published study out of Baylor University suggests.

The study got 1,800 older people exercising regularly, and found that their self-image improved, as did their happiness with the way their bodies functioned.

All of the study subjects participated for about six months in an exercise and behavior change program called Active for Life®. The aim of the research, whose participants were 69 years old on average, was to explore what factors changed older people’s self-image.

On average, all the volunteers felt better about themselves by the end of the study.

But the people whose self-image improved the most exercised the most.

Race also played a role: Whites seemed to gain more than African-Americans (though African-Americans had higher bodily satisfaction to begin with). People with more education, less depression and lower body weight to begin with also advanced the most.

As we age, we generally get more content with ourselves, even if we’re still unhappy with our appearance. But why not get happier about that, too?

Karen Weintraub is a freelance health and science writer based in Boston.

The Science Of Human Happiness

Fulfillment isn't about IQ, it's about making social connections

If you can spare a little time to snuggle up with a good story this weekend, here’s my suggestion: David Brooks sprawling take on human nature, free will, brain function, and ultimately, what makes us happy, in the current New Yorker.

It’s a great narrative, woven around a character named Harold, a sensitive guy, with unique abilities to intuit the feelings and motives of those around him, but whose upbringing stressed ambition, rationality, status, resume-building. Harold’s story is interspersed with current research that details the “revolution in consciousness” we are now undergoing.

Some of the most compelling science that has emerged, Brooks writes “illuminates the rich underwater world where character is formed and wisdom grows…giving us a better grasp of emotions, intuitions, biases, longings, predispositions, character traits, and social bonding, precisely those things about which our culture has least to say.” He adds, “the cognitive revolution of the past thirty years provides a different perspective on our lives, one that emphasizes the relative importance of emotion over pure reason, social connections over individual choice, moral intuition over abstract logic, perceptiveness over I.Q.”

By the end of the story, Harold has an epiphany, triggered, as it happens, by the revelations of a neuroscientist answering questions from his audience after a lecture:

I’ve come to think that flourishing consists of putting yourself in situations in which you lose self-consciousness and become fused with other people, experiences, or tasks. It happens sometimes when you are lost in a hard challenge, or when an artist or a craftsman becomes one with the brush or the tool. It happens sometimes while you’re playing sports, or listening to music or lost in a story, or to some people when they feel enveloped by God’s love. And it happens most when we connect with other people. I’ve come to think that happiness isn’t really produced by conscious accomplishments. Happiness is a measure of how thickly the unconscious parts of our minds are intertwined with other people and with activities. Happiness is determined by how much information and affection flows through us covertly every day and year.”

It feels so true to me, what the neuroscientist says, and it feels like a variation (in a wholly different context, of course) of what Obama said so very eloquently this week in Tucson at the memorial service for the shooting victims: “In the fleeting time we have on this earth,” the President said, “what matters is not wealth or status or power or fame, but rather how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better.”

If You’re A Daydream Believer, Reconsider: Harvard Study Finds People Happier When They Focus On The Moment

By Marielle Segarra
WBUR intern

Has your life coach, therapist, or Zen-like best friend ever told you to live in the present?

The advice is common, and seemingly impossible, for a reason.

A new study out of Harvard finds that daydreaming makes you less happy than you would be if you focused on the present moment. But the study also suggests that daydreaming can be difficult to snap out of: the minds of the 2500 study participants wandered 47 percent of the day.

The study, conducted by Harvard Professor Dan Gilbert and graduate student Matthew Killingsworth, monitored the activities and thoughts of each participant through an iPhone application that asked questions throughout the day. The application asked what people were doing, whether they were focused on their activities, and how happy they were.

The findings:

● People were less happy when their minds wandered, regardless of whether they were working, dancing, shopping, or doing anything else. The one exception was sex. Participants were generally happy and focused during that (except for the time it took for them to answer the iPhone application, one might assume).

● Participants’ minds were more likely to wander to pleasant topics than unpleasant ones, but they were still not as happy when daydreaming as they were when they focused on the present moment. Continue reading

Why Sisters Make You Happy

It's not what you talk about with your sister that makes you happy, it's the talk itself, writes Deborah Tannen

As the mother of two daughters, this essay by Deborah Tannen in The New York Times on why having a sister makes you happy, made me, well, happy. Her premise is not what you’d expect. The key isn’t the content of those deeply personal and emotional discussions you have with your sister, Tannen writes, it is more the simple fact of talking, about anything, even the minutiae of daily life, that can produce the feeling of connection, and ultimately happiness.

An example is Colleen, a widow in her 80s who told me that she’d been very close to her unmarried sister throughout their lives, though they never discussed their personal problems. An image of these sisters has remained indelible in my mind.

Late in life, the sister came to live with Colleen and her husband. Colleen recalled that each morning after her husband got up to make coffee, her sister would stop by Colleen’s bedroom to say good morning. Colleen would urge her sister to join her in bed. As they sat up in bed side by side, holding hands, Colleen and her sister would “just talk.”

That’s another kind of conversation that many women engage in which baffles many men: talk about details of their daily lives, like the sweater they found on sale — details, you might say, as insignificant as those about last night’s ballgame which can baffle women when they overhear men talking. These seemingly pointless conversations are as comforting to some women as “troubles talk” conversations are to others.

So maybe it’s true that talk is the reason having a sister makes you happier, but it needn’t be talk about emotions. When women told me they talk to their sisters more often, at greater length and about more personal topics, I suspect it’s that first element — more often — that is crucial rather than the last.