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Optimism Wins Again

Optimistic women have better luck adopting healthy eating habits than women with a more negative outlook on life. But optimism itself isn’t what makes the difference, according to a new study from the University of Arizona, Tucson. Instead, researchers found that the behavioral skills that tend to accompany optimism led to success. These skills include being aware of your own behavior as it is unfolding, monitoring your eating habits by making a mental note of what you’ve eaten or keeping track of your food intake in a journal, and finding a healthy way to cope with unpleasant emotions or stress (instead of smoking or reaching for junk food). For the study, the researchers analyzed information from 33,500 women between the ages of 50 and 79. Among the data gathered were responses to a questionnaire that evaluated optimism levels and a survey of the healthfulness of the participants' diets when the study began and a year later. Overall, the researchers found that the most optimistic one-third of the women improved their diets the most.

My take? We know that optimism can benefit health by positively influencing the immune system, lowering production of the stress hormone cortisol and even reducing the risk of chronic disease. Rather than this trait simply being self-fulfilling, however, I believe optimism can be learned. The trick is remaining mindful enough to identify habitual thoughts and images that make you feel sad or anxious, and substituting positive ideas for negative ones, as well as spending more time with the optimists among your friends and family.

It's the Journey Not the Destination
Make each day count, with an outlook that both serene and inspired. Dr. Weil's website, Spontaneous Happiness, has everything you need to get on the path to emotional well-being. From exclusive videos and interactive tools to simple and effective methods that promote well-being, we can help you make each day a little brighter. Learn more - start your 10-day free trial today and save 25% when you join.

Sources:
Melanie Hingle et al, “Optimism and Diet Quality in the Women's Health Initiative,” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, published online February 21, 2014.

Are You in Control of Your Life?

If you think you are in charge of your life, and find you are able to reach your goals simply because you believe in yourself, chances are you’ll live longer than those who feel they have little or no control over life’s ups and downs. A new study from Brandeis University, the University of Rochester and the German Institute for Economic Research found that people who "feel in control" are more likely to live longer and healthier lives than those who feel pushed around by circumstance. That conclusion held true even when educational levels were factored in, the researchers found. The investigators looked at 6,135 people between the ages of 25 and 75 who participated in a 1995-1996 national survey. Earlier research has shown that people with less schooling tend to die sooner than those with college degrees and graduate training. But that disadvantage can be cancelled out by a high sense of control among individuals with less education, the researchers report. Overall, the study found that people with less education who viewed themselves as in control of their lives had a mortality rate three times lower than those with a lesser sense of control. The researchers gauged individual study participants’ sense of control by asking how strongly they agreed with questions such as “Sometimes, I feel I am being pushed around in my life.”

My take? This finding echoes what we’ve learned over the years from studies that have told us that positive thinking can enhance health. Pessimism has been linked to a higher risk of dying before age 65, while positive emotions - such as optimism - are associated with lowered production of the stress hormone cortisol, better immune function, and reduced risk of chronic diseases. The good news then – and now – is that optimism is at least partially learned. To take advantage of the power of positive thinking, I suggest reading a classic book on the subject, “Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind & Your Life” (Vintage Books, 2006), by famed psychologist Martin Seligman, Ph.D.

It's the Journey Not the Destination
Make each day count, with an outlook that both serene and inspired. Dr. Weil's website, Spontaneous Happiness, has everything you need to get on the path to emotional well-being. From exclusive videos and interactive tools to simple and effective methods that promote well-being, we can help you make each day a little brighter. Learn more - start your 10-day free trial today and save 25% when you join.

Sources:
Margie Lachman et al, “Perceived Control Reduces Mortality Risk at Low, Not High, Education Levels,” Health Psychology, Feb 3, 2014

Singing for Your Health

Singing in the shower may perk you up for the day, but if you really want to be happy, consider joining a choir. British researchers examined how singing affects our feelings of well-being by reviewing data gathered from an on-line survey of 375 people who sang in choirs, sang solo or belonged to a sports team. The investigators found that all three activities had a positive impact on mental well-being, but that singing in a choir topped singing alone, in or out of the shower. What’s more, the choir members felt even closer to their fellow singers than athletes felt about their teammates. The study didn’t delve into why, exactly, singing buoys us, but lead author Nick Stewart of Oxford Brookes University said that “further research could look at how moving and breathing in synchrony with others might be responsible for creating a unique well-being effect.” He also suggested that joining a choir “could be a cost-effective way to improve people’s well-being.” The survey results were presented on December 5, 2013 at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society's Division of Clinical Psychology.

8 Weeks To A Happier You!
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Source:
Hayley Dickson, “Choir Singing Boosts Your Mental Health", The Telegraph, December 4, 2013, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/10496056/Choir-singing-boosts-your-mental-health.html

Happy Heart News

People with cheerful temperaments seem to have some in-built protection against heart attacksThat old song “Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella” seems to have relevance to heart health. A new study from John’s Hopkins shows that people with cheerful temperaments seem to have some in-built protection against heart attacks and are less likely to die suddenly of heart problems than those who are anxious and depressed. Similar findings have emerged from earlier studies, but this new investigation showed that even if you’re at high risk, being cheerful, relaxed, energetic and satisfied with life reduces your chances of experiencing a coronary event by 50 percent compared to anxious and depressed patients. This held true even after accounting for such factors as age, smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.

Mindfulness and Consumption

This last week I had the great pleasure of being in St. Catharines, Ontario for a mindfulness retreat. This was led by the wonderful folk of Plum Village and dear Thây, Thich Nhat Hanh himself. (Thây is “teacher” in Vietnamese, and is what most people call Thich Nhat Hanh – which is nice because his

Being Together