Why Do We Think Suffering Is Good for Us?

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For decades, psychoanalysts were against any medicating to treat anxiety, believing it would interfere with the therapeutic process.CreditCreditMaskot/Getty Images

Feeling anxious or depressed and want to get better? You have to really work at it and suffer through years of therapy and sometimes try lots of drugs. No pain, no gain, or so we’ve been told.

That would make a stoic happy, but as a psychiatrist — and an admittedly impatient one — I know that just because something feels bad doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good for you. I’m pretty confident that people who are suffering prefer relief sooner rather than later and that if there was any way to make the treatment — be it psychotherapy or medication — more effective, they would gladly try it.

So I am cautiously optimistic that on Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration approved esketamine, a nasal version of the drug ketamine, which appears to relieve depressive symptoms far faster than other antidepressants. There are risks: The drug is potentially addictive, heavy use can impair cognition, and it could induce a psychotic reaction in some patients. But if prescribed judiciously, esketamine should be a boon to the 25 percent of people with depression who fail to respond to current drugs.

I have been wondering if esketamine could be used for another purpose, too: to strengthen the effects of therapy. This is because it targets the neurotransmitter glutamate, which plays an important role in learning and memory.

There is intriguing neuroscience research that suggests that it may be possible to boost the efficacy of psychotherapy with drugs that share some of ketamine’s effects, somewhat the way athletes can enhance their performance with steroids.

A while back, I saw a young woman who had been mugged on her way home from work. She was pushed to the ground by an unseen assailant who stole her wallet and fled, leaving her shaken up but otherwise unharmed.

In the next few weeks, she become increasingly anxious when walking alone at night and had intrusive flashbacks of the assault during the day. Normally, you would lose this fear after being back on the street a few times and seeing that nothing traumatic happens. But she’d developed classic post-traumatic stress disorder, in which a previously safe situation provokes a persistent, and visceral, sense of danger.

She began exposure therapy with one of my colleagues in which she gradually confronted the situation she feared — a dark city street — alongside her therapist, who assured her that nothing terrible would happen. Like many people, she found this treatment upsetting and emotionally draining, but she stuck it out and eventually recovered.

What if we could use a drug to speed up a difficult treatment like that and make it more effective?

The psychologist JoAnn Difede and her colleagues at Weill Cornell Medical College, where I also work, addressed that question with a study in 2013 of 25 patients who developed PTSD after Sept. 11. They randomly assigned the participants to virtual reality exposure (12 weekly sessions of simulated attacks on the World Trade Center combined with patients’ recounting their traumatic experience in vivid detail) with either the drug d-cycloserine or a placebo.

Subjects who received exposure along with d-cycloserine showed faster and greater improvement in their PTSD and depressive symptoms, and the benefits persisted after six months of follow-up.

Of course, this was a very small study. A 2017 meta-analysis of 21 studies found that d-cycloserine was superior to a placebo in boosting the short-term effect of exposure-based therapy, though any long-term effects were less consistent. Studies of the drug in rodents have also found that it helps the animals recover from the fear of shocks much faster than a placebo.

How might this work? D-cycloserine is an antibiotic that, like ketamine, increases the activity of glutamate in key brain regions, which promotes connections between neurons. It seems to amp up the molecular machinery of learning. And psychotherapy is all about learning — to overcome fear and to better handle stress, among other lessons.

For decades, psychoanalysts were against medicating anxiety at all, because they believed it would interfere with the therapeutic process. Fortunately, those days are largely over. Many are now comfortable giving patients anti-anxiety benzodiazepines like Klonopin if they are having a hard time grappling with issues that arise in therapy. Treating excessive anxiety can allow patients to better face their pain and fears.

This research suggests we could be doing more to use drugs to turbocharge therapy.

The timing of drug and treatment is probably crucial. In one study, rats were trained to fear a particular context (cage) or a cue (white light) by pairing them with a mild shock. The animals then underwent fear-extinction therapy, either in one long session after receiving a benzodiazepine or in two sessions with the drug given in between. The latter group were more successful at getting over their fear, which suggests that some exposure therapy must precede the medication.

But maybe, with the help of the right drug, just a little therapy could go a long way.

One small study randomized 20 subjects with PTSD to receive just two sessions of therapy in addition to either MDMA (the party drug Ecstasy) or a placebo. Those who got MDMA had fewer PTSD symptoms and were more open and less “neurotic” than those who took a placebo at a two-month follow-up.

It’s not that surprising. MDMA is known to promote openness and lack of defensiveness, both of which might be conducive to attaining insights. Could that wisdom be as enduring as the kind acquired during months of therapy? It’s possible. After all, therapy and prescription drugs like antidepressants change the brain in surprisingly similar ways.

Richard A. Friedman is a professor of clinical psychiatry and the director of the psychopharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College, and a contributing opinion writer.

5 Easy Ways You Change The Way You Look At Your Life

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The word “can’t” is probably the only four letter word I never heard in my 24 years as an FBI agent. I learned early in my career that negativity would impair my ability to analyze a tough case that looked impossible to crack.Once you allow a negative thought to take root, it can change the way you look at your life. Everything from business to relationships can become affected by your negativity if you allow it to raise its ugly head.

It might not be a lack of talent that holds you back in your business. It might not be a lack of personality that holds you back in your relationships. Instead, it might be the way you look at your life and relationships that prevents you from moving ahead.

Witnesses are always important in FBI investigations because they observe first-hand the sequence of events. In the same way, you need to witness your thoughts and observe them so you are in a better position to identify and eliminate their negative influence.

Here are 5 easy ways you can change the way you look at your life:

1. Avoid Use Words Like “Always” and “Never”

Absolutes like always and never are rarely correct. If you use these words when confronted with an obstacle or barrier, you activate the limbic brain system. This produces emotions like fear and anger.

“My children never listen to me.”
“I never get recognized for my hard work.”
“Everyone always takes advantage of me.”
“I always end up on the short end of the deal.”
How To Make It Work For You: Think about how many times you use an absolute to describe a negative event. Have a trusted friend repeat how many times they heard you use absolutes like always and never in a conversation. Whenever you catch yourself thinking in terms of absolutes, stop and find a different way to express your disappointment.

2. Pay Attention To Your Self-Talk

Studies have shown that our mental chatter is 70% negative. Deep down, we are more self-critical, pessimistic, and fearful than we convey in our conscious thoughts. We are wired for survival, and our aversion to pain can distort our judgement and the way we look at our life.

The brain’s negativity bias produces a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news. The bias is so automatic that it can be detected at the earliest stages when the brain processes information.

How To Make It Work For You: Question your negative feelings; don’t act on them without thinking them through. For example, when you feel guilty about something, be skeptical. Is the guilt trying to teach you something rational and helpful about your behavior? Or, is it an irrational response to a situation?

3. Change Your Memory Of A Negative Event

Once you draw a conclusion about yourself and your abilities, all you will notice is information that reinforces your beliefs. This is called a confirmation bias, and your brain will discount new or different information that contradicts the way you look at your life.

For example, if you believe you’re a failure, that’s all you’ll remember about a specific incident or event—how you failed. The way you look at your life will become your reality. If you’ve drawn inaccurate conclusions about your talents and skills, you create self-limiting beliefs about what you can achieve in life. 

Research shows that new memories remain unstable for a short period of time after the event. During the unstable period, memories are being coded and consolidated into your consciousness.

We can erase our fear if we can alter our memory of it, and the best time to do that is during the unstable period which usually lasts a couple of hours. If we can interrupt the coding and consolidating, we can change our memory about an unpleasant event.

How To Make It Work For You: If you experience a terrifying event or situation, the best thing you can do is replace that memory with a better one—right away. Take the opportunity to update and transform your memory. It is important, however, that you make sure your environment is safe before trying to extinguish your fear-conditioned memory.

4. Keep It Positive

Optimism is a soft and fluffy term that is seldom taken seriously by leaders, entrepreneurs, and business owners. Much like the term happiness, it conjures images of toothy smiles and a Pollyanna attitude about life.

Positive thinking, however, has deep roots in serious research. Barbara Fredrickson, a positive psychology researcher, discusses how positive thinking can change the way you think about your life.

According to Fredrickson, a healthy balance of positive and negative emotions is essential to overall health. People should cultivate positive thinking in themselves and those around them because it not only nurtures psychological growth, it also fuels resiliency. Resilient people have energetic approaches to life, are curious and open to new experiences, and are positive thinkers.

How To Make It Work For You: As an adult, we need to give ourselves permission to play, and yes—smile! Play produces a sense of adventure, and that leads to to contentment and joy as we build new skills. The upward spiral leads to new success, which leads to more positive thinking, and on it goes….

5. Stop Seeing Yourself As A Victim

Victimhood has become an American epidemic. If something goes wrong, we claim victimhood and blame someone else for our situation. We don’t like what someone says, or the way they look at us, we scream “micro-aggression” and seek a safe place where we know we’ll be coddled until our little tantrum ends. In the real world, not everyone is a winner and nothing is free.

We are mentally tough when we acknowledge and accept responsibility for our life. We cannot dodge responsibility for it. The worst thing we can do is take on the role of victim, make excuses, or blame others. This is a lie we tell ourselves, and it prevents us from reaching success.

How To Make It Work For You: It’s your choice if you let the actions of other people affect you in a negative way. If you always take things personally, you make yourself a victim of what others think and do. All this does is to give people power over you, and quite frankly, it’s self-absorbed to live this way. Do you really believe that everything is always about you?

This article was originally published on LaRaeQuy.

How To Find Your Own Truth: According to Joseph Campbell & Alan Watts

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  • Joseph Campbell’s monomyth as a guide to finding one’s self.
  • Alan Watts explores the notion of symbolically returning to the forest.
  • How to set ones own meaning in a world of confusion and chaos.

Joseph Campbell’s life work covered a wide range of the communal human experience. Campbell explored the various mythologies of our planet and managed to elucidate on the common threads between them all. He’s popularly known for coining the concept of the hero’s journey, or monomyth, which is a narrative cycle that is found to some degree in all great legends and stories around the world.

This topic of discussion in an influential television series with journalist Bill Moyers brought Campbell’s idea further into the mainstream posthumously in the latter half of the 20th century.

From this idea stems one of Campbell’s greater points about the universality of experience and need to find your own truth or, as his famous saying goes, to “follow your bliss.

Campbell’s ability to fuse comparative mythologies into one comprehensive world spanning myth can serve as the basis for discovering one’s own personal truth. Human patterns repeat themselves over timescales far and wide. Once you can come to terms with the multifarious iterations of these universal stories, Campbell believed that you need to leave ideology behind once you’ve learned from it.

Alan Watts, had a similar sentiment to this idea, a contemporary and friend to Campbell — Watts explored the implications inherent to Campbell’s view when exploring his early work of Return to the Forest.

Return to the Forest

Alan Watts – Return to the ForestAlan Watts Foundation

“You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential.” — Joseph Campbell

In Return to the Forest, Campbell explored what it meant to the individual and society when these common myths and systems begin to break down. In this chaos, when there is no central guiding myth, celestial authority or truth to guide us — what will become of the individual seeking meaning or their own truth?

Watts believed that the fundamental force guiding civilizations together has been one not only of mutually shared communication in a common language, but a common viewpoint of the world and even common types of sensuous experience. But such is the nature of change that through major cultural shifts, dynamics of technological change or ways of viewing the world, these foundational pillars of civilization begin to erode. Left in its wake is chaos and confusion.

Social cosmologies, views of the world held in common by society tend to break up.

Watts went on to say that the relativistic world of modern thought that Westerners live in, one that is largely bereft of one unifying worldview leads people to become interested in other and former attempts to reconcile the mysteries of living and the universe. For example, in Watts’ time and our own, the exploration of ancient Eastern religions, occult schools of thought, and shamanism.

However, in similar Campbell monomyth fashion, even this idea of going it alone, without an overarching myth to live by, has arguably been done before. Watts explores and explains the rich ideas of shamanism in agrarian culture around the world, and how metaphorically we need to drop out back into the forest if we’re to find ourselves.

“More and more each one of us is thrown on to our own resources. This seems to me an excellent state of affairs. So that in a symbolic sense we are back in the forest like the hunter of old who has nobody around him to tell him how to feel or how he ought to use his senses. He therefore must make his own exploration and find out for himself.”

Watts and Campbell believed that due to the uncertainty of our times and confusion inherent in modern thought, which offers us no secure and comfortable singular view of the universe — we are forced to confront and find truth for ourselves from the universe. We are all now as Watts put it:

All alone together whistling in the dark.

In a sense, much of Campbell’s work dealt with remedying these past mythological works to probe deeper into just what common truths lurks beneath all individual human psyche and communal beliefs. Or as he Campbell once quipped in The Hero with a Thousand Faces:“Mythology, in other words, is psychology misread as biography, history, and cosmology.”

Now to the point of finding one’s self or finding personal truth. Campbell believes that these myths and stories can become guide posts. But just what is your own personal truth? Well that’s for you and only you to find out and experience.

“These are the kinds of experiences that cannot be transmitted, which for their very nature are something one finds out for themselves. If they could be explained or transmitted they couldn’t be the very thing which they are intended to be. Our discoveries of something authentic, genuine, first hand and part of one’s universe, cannot be codified and be factored into social communication.” — Alan Watts

Campbell & Watts’ exemplified living their own way

Correspondence: 1927–1987 (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)
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Both Joseph Campbell and Alan Watts lived a life on the fringes of their own meaning. Taking a cosmic and comprehensive look at the world-views around them, they developed both a sobering and at once wonderful view of the cosmologies of humankind. A statement made about Watts could be applied to Campbell as well:

“The pomposities of prodigious learning could be undone by him with a turn of phrase. One stood before him, disarmed — and laughed at what had just been oneself.”

Together, their wisdom today still stands as a spectral guide to finding one’s own truth.

9 Valuable Lessons I Learned In The Real World

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Let me tell you a story:

When I was in the 3rd grade, we had to write a paragraph about something we loved, and then draw a picture in the box above it.

We were first asked to draw and write in pencil, and then once the teacher had checked our work, we were supposed to carefully go over each word in the paragraph with a black pen, creating the finished product.

When I started going over the words with my black pen, I outlined the first word of the paragraph, and then the second, and then I thought it would be fun to outline the last word of my story, and then some words in the middle — just sort of outlining the letters I was drawn to next, not following any sort of rigid path.

My teacher walked over and said, “Cole? How’s it coming?”

I held up my piece of paper to show her how far I’d gotten — I was very proud of my work.

She scrunched her eyebrows, crossed her arms and asked, “Why aren’t you going over the words in order?”

A bit confused by her question, I said, very honestly, “They’re all going to be colored in at the end. Why does it matter how I get there?”

She called home that night and told my parents I had a learning disability.

My experience with formal education was, shall we say, less than impressive.

I was a straight C student all the way up through high school. I was a horrible test-taker. I didn’t do very well on my ACT. I was constantly asked to leave class because the questions I would ask were so rudimentary that my teachers thought I was mocking them — when really (at least, most of the time…) I just had trouble following the lesson.

Not everyone learns the same way.

And I believe a significant portion of my adolescence was wasted by a school system that tried to wedge me into a tiny circle on a Scranton sheet.

I’m not dumb.

I’ve been playing Mozart and Beethoven on the piano since I was seven years old. I’ve won writing contests and debate competitions. I am about to publish my first book. I just learn better by getting my hands dirty — not sitting in a fake-marble desk chair listening to a monotone teacher in front of a whiteboard.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit I definitely did not give school everything I had — I gave up on school at a very early age. Mostly because I felt like school gave up on me.

School never asked, “How do you learn?” Instead, school told me how I should learn — and when it didn’t work, school called me Dumb.

Well, here are 9 things school didn’t teach me that I learned on my own:

1. There are no rules

The people who enforce the rules (creatively speaking here) are the people who don’t have the confidence or the belief that the world is an easel and everyone has a paintbrush.

2. Titles are crippling, not “The goal”

All those kids that got straight As, went to the Ivy League school of their choice, got the fancy title at the fancy company… They can keep it.

Titles are crippling.

Titles encourage you to relax, and let your title speak for you — instead of your skill and knowledge earning you other people’s respect.

But when push comes to shove, it’s the people who have gotten their hands dirty in the trenches you want on your team. Not the ones with a fancy title in front of their names.

3. There is no “1 right way” to do anything

This is a massive disservice school teaches kids — that there is a “right” way and a “wrong” way.

False. There are a million ways.

And the name of the game isn’t to do it any one particular way. It’s to understand which one works the best for YOU, and will allow you to maximize your strengths.

4. HOW is more important than WHAT

HOW you do something is far more important than WHAT you do.

In every industry, there are those who do things with honor, integrity, discipline, passion, and heart, and there are those who do so with malicious intent, or a lack of sincerity, etc.

Think about the people who respect or look up to. You look up to them because of HOW they approach what they do, not WHAT they do.

5. Acceptance is overrated

Remember all those class projects you had to do?

Remember all the times you were told to agree with your classmates for the sake of learning how to ‘work well with others’ ?

That cultivates a bad habit of suppressing your own unique voice and the great debates that spark truly meaningful ideas.

Being accepted is overrated — and the real world taught me that the hard way.

6. Learning how to learn is what’s important

Reiterating the point here, school would be so much more beneficial if it taught students HOW to learn — not WHAT to learn.

What good is memorizing chemistry equations if you don’t fundamentally understand the process of learning?

So many kids struggle as soon as they get out of school because they don’t have anyone telling them anymore, “Here, learn this next.”

They lack direction — because they were never taught the art of learning.

7. Your passion is not a waste of time

School (and society at large) wants us to believe that there are acceptable hobbies and hobbies that are a waste of time. It’s the reason the first departments to go are always art or music related.

But what you love is NEVER a waste of time. You will always learn more from an interest pulled at from your heart than a pursuit dangled in front of your head.

8. “Success” does not have one definition

School likes to measure things — usually in the form of a letter grade beside each subject of study.

It inherently defines “success” as “better” or “higher” or “more.” But that’s just not true. “Success” could mean honest expression, or it could mean presence, or it could mean facing a challenge, failing, and learning a valuable lesson.

Success comes in many different forms. It’s not always about getting the “A.”

9. It’s OK to be different

And finally, the most important one of them all: Who you are is already good enough.

School has this funny way of making kids that are “different” feel extra-different, extra-weird, extra-not-normal. But you know what? Get out into the real world, and the most valuable thing you could possibly have is to be “different.”

Everybody wants to stand out. Everybody wants something that’s going to set them apart.

You have what everybody wants: Remember that.

This article originally appeared on Inc Magazine.

Language is the tool of any communication. Think about meeting someone you know. They speak to you in your first language. Ofcourse this comes automatically since you always speak the same language. In what language are you reading this article? Exactly, English is the most common mutual language to speak in. When you meet a […]

via Use different languages in your daily life —

How to Make Your Mind Chatter More Positive

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By Susanna Newsonen

If you’re anything like me, you might have noticed that you’ve got some internal chatter in your head. This might happen especially when you’re by yourself, when you’re ruminating about something, or when you’re faced with a scary challenge or setback.

This mind chatter can be good or bad. If it’s good, it can help you to plan what to say or do, to process things that have happened or to give yourself a pep talk about overcoming a challenge. If it’s bad, it can get really bad. Here’s an example.

The other week, an old bully resurfaced in my life and sent a series of hurtful messages to me. I was initially shocked by this unprovoked attack but quickly gathered myself to tell them to stop being a bully. They continued with their attack to the extent that I had to block them from being able to contact me.

This is when my not-so-helpful not-so-loving mind chatter kicked in. “Why did you do that? That’s not very helpful. Clearly, there is something wrong with you and that’s why they’re attacking you. This is a result of your actions. The universe is punishing you.” It just continued and continued with multiple different variations of this. This wasn’t exactly helpful. It didn’t make me feel better about myself or the situation—in fact, it only made me feel worse.

I called one of my friends to talk about it as I needed some outside perspective. She was already familiar with the bully and she said the following to me: “Susanna. You’ve done what you can. You’ve already tried to resolve this situation before and they’re not listening. This isn’t about you but about them. There is nothing wrong with you.”

That’s when it hit me. I’d fallen back to my old, pessimistic way of thinking for a moment and it totally lacked any ounce of self-compassion. My friend triggered me to really reflect on what I’d said to myself in that moment of crisis and also notice the kind, encouraging words she had said.

Imagine how much better you would feel if you talked to yourself the way you talk to your bestest friends? Imagine if you could cheerlead yourself the way you cheerlead them and they cheerlead you? Just imagine for a moment what that would be like. Pretty darn good, right?

That’s why today I want you to take a good close look at your self-talk. Today, as you go on with your day and notice your internal chatter kicking off, ask yourself:

1. Are these words helpful, constructive and/or encouraging?

If not, how can you change them to be more like that?

2. Am I being rational and reasonable with these words – or am I blowing things out of proportion?

Usually, we overdramatize things with that inner critic’s voice so it’s important to check how realistic you’re actually being.

3. Is this something I would say to my best friend?

Often the answer is no and that is a good wake-up call to start treating yourself more like you treat your best friend.

The more aware you become of your internal chatter, the easier it is to start managing it. At the start, this can be scary as you might not like everything that you hear yourself say.

However, with continuous practice, you’ll notice the voice change into a more positive one. It won’t happen overnight and there will be some days that are worse than others, but the key thing is that you try.

After all, you can’t escape yourself so you might as well make yourself one of your best friends.

If you want to work on being your best friend, join The Self-Love Boostercourse before February 18th.

5 Scandinavian Life Philosophies That Can Make You Happier

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By Ashley Hamer

By most metrics, Scandinavia is one of the happiest places on Earth. The annual World Happiness Report routinely rates the Nordic countries of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland among the top 10 happiest nations, which experts credit to their strong social support, both among neighbors and through government programs. In that way, perhaps learning a few Scandinavian traditions can give us all a lesson on how to be there for our fellow humans. Here are five life philosophies from Nordic countries that might make you a little happier in your own life.

Hygge

The Danish concept of hygge translates to something like “coziness of the soul.” It’s the feeling you get when you’re snuggled up under a blanket with a loved one drinking cocoa by the fire. As a life philosophy, it’s all about allowing yourself guilt-free indulgences, especially when the world is dark and dreary.

“Hygge could be families and friends getting together for a meal, with the lighting dimmed, or it could be time spent on your own reading a good book,” Susanne Nilsson, a lecturer at Morley College in the UK, told the BBC in 2015. “It works best when there’s not too large an empty space around the person or people.”

Lagom

Lagom is a Swedish word that roughly translates to “just right,” or “optimal.” You’ve likely heard the quote “everything in moderation, including moderation”? That’s what lagom is all about. Whether that’s how much sugar to add to a batch of cookies or how much of your life you devote to your work, this philosophy urges a healthy balance that doesn’t swing too far in any direction.

According to Lola Akinmade-Åkerström, author of “Lagom: The Swedish Secret to Living Well,” lagom “pushes us to find our own individual levels of contentment, inner peace, and most natural operating state. What makes it a very Swedish (or Nordic) [philosophy] is just how often lagom pulls us from individual focus to group focus.”

Sisu

If the other philosophies on this list are about taking time to enjoy life, sisu is kind of the opposite: It’s about persisting through challenges until you reach the end. “Sisu is a unique Finnish concept,” Finlandia University writes on its website. “It is a Finnish term that can be roughly translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.”

It’s not about courage in the moment, but the kind of courage that has to last over time — after inspiration has sputtered out and the real challenge has shown itself. No wonder it’s also the name of a towering Arctic mountain — a mountain first ascended by a Finnish mountaineer.

Fika

Fika is just another word for coffee break — it was named by reversing the syllables in “kaffe,” the Swedish word for coffee. But it’s much more than a coffee break. It’s about retreating from the stresses of the day by bonding with the people around you, something you’d ideally do several times a day. In reality, however, the Swedish tradition of fika seems to be dwindling as younger people work longer hours and take less time for breaks. That doesn’t make this lesson any less valuable, however. Breaks are good! We could all use more of them.

Lykke

The word “lykke” is simple enough: It’s simply the Danish word for “happiness.” But in those World Happiness Report rankings we mentioned, Denmark routinely ranks at the very top, so there’s a lesson to be learned in the Danish version of happiness. In his book “The Little Book of Lykke,” Meik Wiking divides this approach to happiness into six categories: togetherness, money, health, freedom, trust, and kindness.

To add more togetherness to your life, for example, try making family dinner a bigger to-do by lighting a few candles and playing relaxing music. To get a bigger happiness bang for your buck, pay for something now that you can enjoy several months from now — that way, the sting of the payment will be long gone from your memory when it’s time to enjoy the experience.

The Benefits Of Being Kind To Yourself Are More Powerful Than You Think, According To Science

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It’s not always easy to be nice to yourself. I’m not sure why this is, but I do know that that cliché about being your own worst critic is definitely true. It’s just so easy to get into the habit of placing other people’s needs or desires (read: your mom, your SO, your boss) way, way above your own. But the benefits of being kind to yourself can actually have a deeper, more lasting impact than you might immediately assume. While self-compassion is an important habit to practice no matter what, the results of a new study suggest it can have a very real, positive, if unexpected impact on your physical body.

Researchers from the Universities of Exeter and Oxford in the UK discovered that, when you actively practice self-compassion, it can actually calm and slow down your heart rate, not to mention switch off your body’s threat response, aka its fight-or-flight mode. Just to put that in perspective a little, when your body’s threat response is activated more than it needs to be (i.e. when it’s consistently activated during times of stress), it can legitimately damage your immune system over time, per research published in the journal Current Opinion in Psychology. So, if there are ways to avoid having that bodily response when it isn’t necessary, it’s all the better for your well-being.

Giphy

As for the new research from the UK, which has been published in the academic journal Clinical Psychological Science, here’s how that study went down: According to a press release from the University of Exeter, 135 students from the school were divided into five groups. Each group received different audio instructions, and while some included exercises of self-compassion, others “induced a critical inner voice.” To gauge how these different instructions affected the participants, the researchers tracked their heart rate and sweat responses, and they asked the students to report how they felt after hearing the instructions, with questions like “how safe they felt, how likely they were to be kind to themselves and how connected they felt to others.”

After all of that, the researchers found that the two groups whose audio instructions were encouraging them to be kind to themselves both reported feeling more self-compassion and connection to other people, and yes, their bodily responses illustrated feelings of relaxation and safety as well: Their heart rates dropped and slowed down, and the participants’ bodies produced less sweat when listening to self-compassion exercises. Meanwhile, the instructions that guided the participants toward a more critical inner monologue seemed to lead to the opposite results: a faster heartbeat, more sweat, and more feelings of distress. The main author of the study, Dr. Hans Kirschner, said in the study’s press release,

These findings suggest that being kind to oneself switches off the threat response and puts the body in a state of safety and relaxation that is important for regeneration and healing.

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Co-author of the study, Dr. Anke Karl, added,

Previous research has found that self-compassion was related to higher levels of well-being and better mental health, but we didn’t know why.

Our study is helping us understand the mechanism of how being kind to yourself when things go wrong could be beneficial in psychological treatments. By switching off our threat response, we boost our immune systems and give ourselves the best chance of healing.

And listen, I know self-compassion is kind of this lofty, what-does-it-really-mean kind of idea, which can make it feel daunting to practice or really trust as a legitimately helpful habit. But being kind to yourself can truly mean so many different things. Maybe you can create an easy ritual for yourself at the end of a hard week, like getting a bagel at your favorite bodega. Or maybe you can climb into bed early on a Friday night so you can devour more of that graphic novel you never have time to read. Maybe self-kindness just means making a quick list in your phone of all the things that made you smile that day.

Whatever it looks like for you, just do it — give it a try. What’s there to lose, right?

Exploring The Link Between Health and Happiness

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It’s common sense that it’s difficult to feel happy when you are seriously ill. But do feelings of happiness help to prevent people from becoming sick, or help them to get better quicker?

That’s the question posed by a new field of research focused on the relationship between happiness and health. And it’s a question that can be difficult to answer with data. But researchers are creating better measures for happiness and using new statistical techniques that help to tease out whether happiness really makes a difference in health.

In these types of studies, happiness doesn’t just mean that burst of joy you get from a feel-good movie or a when your favorite team wins a game. It also includes more general feelings of satisfaction and a sense of meaning and purpose in life.

A new systematic review published this month in the Annual Review of Public Health looks at the entire body of evidence on happiness and health to answer the question, does happiness really lead to better health?

The author is quick to note that when studying happiness, it can be difficult to control for reverse causation. (Is the subject unhappy because they’re ill or ill because they’re unhappy?) And it’s difficult to remove all of the other variables that influence happiness and health. For example, someone who is unemployed may feel unhappy because he lost his job and is more likely to delay medical treatment because he no longer has health insurance, which therefore leads to a more serious illness. But good research studies are set up to account for these variables.

Here’s what studies have found so far:

First, there is clear evidence demonstrating a link between happiness and a decreased risk of mortality.  Essentially, people who report that they feel a larger sense of well-being are less likely to die compared to those who do not. It’s important to note that this analysis does not establish a cause -and =effect relationship, but it still provides broad evidence of a connection.

Next, there is a range of prospective studies that show happiness is associated with a reduced risk of specific diseases including stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure and arthritis. There is also some evidence that people with serious health conditions – including spinal cord injury, coronary artery disease and heart failure – are likely to recover more quickly when they experience feelings of happiness.

There is no solid evidence yet of a happiness intervention that prevents illness or improves recovery time for specific diseases. But there are data that show positive psychology interventions help to reduce symptoms of depression. And also some evidence that these types of interventions lead to improvements in mental health and life satisfaction for older adults.

To find out what all of this means, we talked to Anthony Ong, a professor of human development at Cornell University whose work focuses on the link between human health and aging, emotion, race and social class and relationships.

“Although there is growing support for an association between happiness and mental and physical health, full understanding of the phenomenon is far from complete,” Ong said. “Questions remain regarding the underlying mechanisms. More research is also needed to clarify how much, when and for whom does happiness matter for health. In short, comprehensive understanding of happiness and health will require that we move beyond simply asking whether happiness is good for health to a serious consideration of measuring happiness in context. Context may include individual and environmental factors, personal histories and culture. The time for such inquiry is at hand.”

The take-home message: More research is surely required. But there is enough evidence now to demonstrate that health is associated with those larger feelings of happiness and satisfaction with life.

How to Reduce Anxiety in Our Nervous World

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By Monica N. Starkman M.D.

Someone with severe anxiety—particularly if they have recurrent panic attacks—is like the proverbial canary in the coal mine.  Because of increased sensitivity, such a person can be a sensor that more easily detects changes in the environment that are toxic for everyone.

Matt Haig is such a person. He learned to deal with recurrent panic attacks and thrive despite them.  As a survival mechanism, he identified the specific stressors lurking in our current hyped-up environment. Then, he developed strategies to decrease their power so they don’t set off anxiety.

You may think you know what many of these are, and likely you do. Examples are: social media; the 24-hour news cycle that keeps hitting us with one catastrophe after another; being glued to our cell phones, and more. However, when we read about these, we usually say: ‘Yup, that’s right” and then keep on doing what we usually do.

But not so after one reads, as I did, Matt Haig’s latest book:  Notes on a Nervous Planet. In a charming, easy-to-read but serious fashion, he presents the evidence so persuasively that it makes one realize how toxic our environment truly is. Then, he shares the changes in thinking and behavior he himself implemented, in order to aid us in making these changes for ourselves.

Here are some of the key recommendations Matt Haig makes.

Increase your Awareness

  • Our technologies keep changing, at a pace that is stressful for us to adapt to.
  • Realize how cluttered our lives are with pop-up consumer ads, news overload, and information overload. And how unmanageable that feels.
  • See the collective madness around us and realize how much of the stress we feel is from the culture in which we live. This collective stress magnifies our personal anxieties.
  • Realize how commerce and technology keep pressuring us to change our goals and behaviors.  Instead, we can make our own decisions and choices, and tune out the rest.
  • Consider how many times a day you look at your cell phone. What catastrophe could happen if you looked at it just five or ten times a day.

Inoculate yourself for self-protection

  • Resist being conditioned to want more.
  • You cannot use all the apps that are out there.
  • You can’t be up to speed on all the news.
  • You can’t watch every must-see show. You can’t keep up with each latest ‘buzz’ thing.
  • Accept that negative comments about you or your ideas will appear with people you engage with on social media.
  • Don’t let yourself feel inadequate in the midst of the self-promotion by others who seemingly are more productive, more beautified, etc.

Use the Internet well

  • Use the clock on the computer to keep track of how long you are spending time on it.
  • Download a user app to help limit social media use.
  • Arguing with strangers online to try and change their mind is usually both ineffective and stressful.
  • Be more considerate to strangers online, which is beneficial to you and them.
  • Don’t use social media when you are not enjoying it.
  • Find internet communities and support groups. These will be people like yourself with similar interests and concerns that will understand you better and be less judgmental.  (As a psychiatrist and novelist with a focus on the psychological wounds resulting from infertility and miscarriage, I can vouch for the positive benefits I see for people in the support groups specifically for those with these traumas.)

Choose your subjective world

  •  You can’t change most of the world, but you can find the version of the world that suits you best. You can change your perspective on it. You can select the parts of the world you let get in.
  • This might include looking at the news less, engaging with social media less, and adding activities that increase you sense of well-being and resilience.
  • Some ways to do this are described in the next few sections.

Seek out Nature

  • There is a calming feeling from being in nature and sensing you are part of a great natural order.
  • Seek out the ‘blue and green’ colors of nature. (Even in a city when not near parks, there are often shrubs around buildings and trees planted along sidewalks. Looking up and watching tree  branches swaying in the breeze can provide a minute of relaxation and mind-clearing.)

Make moments when you are set to ‘neutral’

  •  Just breathe. Don’t crave anything except what you already have: life itself.

Reading fiction is freedom

  • “It gives you the room to exist beyond the reality you’re given.” In addition, there is always some kind of truth in fiction, and it is a connection to the imagination of another person.
  • Matt Haig is also a novelist – (How To Stop Time, for example), as am I (The End of Miracles). As authors, we are well aware that there are about two hundred million print books alone that are also vying for readers’ attention, many of them fiction.  But as readers, we realize we are all drowning in books, as we are drowning in TV shows.  So we need to ignore the feeling that we may miss some good ones, and instead concentrate on the pleasures of the ones we choose.