Happiness in the Blue Zone

Research shows that our inclination to be happy is only 50% dependent on our genes.  So what if you weren’t born with the happiness gene?  The great news is that the other 50% is largely dependent on external factors and circumstances.  It is true that we can’t control everything that happens in life, but there may be a way to lean into a happier life. 

New York Times best selling author, Dan Buettner has been gaining a lot of publicity recently with his new book release, THRIVE: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way. 

Buettner has teamed up with National Geographic to research some key happiness contributers and their relationship to longevity.  It has led them to areas known as the “Blue Zones”, where people are reporting a high level of wellbeing.  The team found that there were essentially six life domains, or thrive centers that were common denominators for life satisfaction.  They include the following:

1. Community – the places people thrived most were those that made them feel safe and those that provided opportunities to walk – cities that had large sidewalks, outdoor cafes, parks, and gardens (way to go, San Luis Obispo, CA! – noted to be the happiest place to live in the U.S.)

2. Work – Do you enjoy your work?  Do you work close to your home? Do you regularily take vacations?  Turns out that all three factors contribute to your wellness.

3. Social Life – I once read that you become the average of the 5 people you surround yourself with most.  If that were the case, wouldn’t you want to surround yourself with positive people?  Having a close knit of dependable friends is crucial for wellbeing, according to Beuttner.

4. Financial Life – apparently, the old saying “money can’t buy happiness” may be true.  According to the research, after the basic necessities of life are met (food, shelter, health insurance), money will bring about only short-lived happiness.  The key to long-term financial wellness is to “save mindlessly and spend thoughtfully”.

 5. Home – Creating an environment that is clear of clutter, planting a garden, and surrounding yourself with items that hold meaning to you will all facilitate a happy demenor.  Beuttner also recommends creating a room where you can engage yourself in challenging, yet meaningful activities/hobbies. 

6. Self – This takes us back to Monday’s post.  It is incredibly important to know your own strengths, values, talents, and passions.  Turns out that the people that were happiest in life knew what made them unique.

I think Beuttner’s book gives us a lot to think about.  It shows us that happiness is something that we can lean into by making a few adjustments in our life.  I can’t wait to read the whole book!

Advertisements

Where does your happiness live?

How many times have we said to ourselves and others, “I just want to be happy” in life.  To most, happiness can range from contentment to pure elation and joy.  Sure, there is truth in Joseph Cambell’s simple advise, “follow your bliss”, but how many of us really know what that is?  Do we ever just stop and ask ourselves what exactly we want to be, do, or have in this lifetime? 

There is currently a plethora of books and motivational speakers discussing the science of happiness.  Psychologist Martin Seligman provides the acronym PERMA to summarize many of Positive Psychology’s findings; “humans seem happiest when they have Pleasure (tasty foods, warm baths, etc.), Engagement or (aka Flow, the absorption of an enjoyed yet challenging activity), Relationships (social ties have turned out to be extremely reliable indicator of happiness), Meaning (a perceived quest or belonging to something bigger), and finally Accomplishments (having realized tangible goals)”.

When I look at Seligman’s PERMA, I think the pleasure principle is inherent in most of us.  We all intuitively know what brings us that instant gratification in various capacities.  I think the other principles, however, take some serious thought.  It’s easy to think that we’d be happy the minute we won the lottery or the instant we met our ‘soul mate’.  But have we sat down and pondered how much money we really need to thrive in this world?  How would you recognize your soul mate if you haven’t really thought about your values and what you want out of a life partner?  The truth is, many of us can’t pursue happiness unless we know what gives our life meaning, what we want to achieve, and what healthy relationships look and feel like.  We chase happiness in hopes of catching up to something that ends up being elusive, at best, unless we know the unique experiences for which we are searching.

I recently read Jack Canfield’s book, “The Success Principles”.  One of his assignments is to write down 30 things you want to do, be, and have.  It is an exercise on becoming absolutely clear in what you visualize for your life.  I felt silly when I first sat down to write down 90 items, but it ended up being a lot of fun.  Because there were no limits, it was quite empowering and gave me clarity on what was most important to me in life.  That’s what happens when you peel back the layers, stop judging yourself, and listen to your authentic voice.  You start living your truth. 

Only then can you follow your bliss and be on your way to experiencing true happiness.

***Stay tuned for more on the science of happiness Wednesday****

Deepali’s piece of wellness:  Exercise your mind and get excited about writing down 30 things that you want to be, do, and have.  You will have a much easier time hearing the sound of joy when it comes knocking on your door!

Starting your Exercise Program

   

  1. See your doctor before you start any exercise program.  Get a full physical to make sure everything’s in working order, then find a personal trainer in your neighborhood and make an appointment with him or her for a consultation.  Most trainers will give you a free consultation and help you figure out what your fitness level is, your body fat and circumference measurements, and the right way to start a program.
  2. Start Slow!  Many beginners make the mistake of doing too much when they first start out.  If you haven’t worked out in a while (or ever) start with a walking program of about 20 to 30 minutes, 3 days a week. Each session, add a few minutes to your workout to progress each week.
  3. Write down your workouts every day, making notes about what you did, how you felt and how you improved since your last workout
  4. Schedule your workouts each day like you would schedule a doctor’s appointment.
  5. Get your best friend, spouse or significant other into working out with you!
  6. Every day, ask yourself how you will make your life healthier.  It can be as simple as drinking more water or parking farther away from the front door.
  7. Reward yourself!  Give yourself a massage when you reach your goals, or maybe some new workout clothes.
  8. Set daily or weekly goals.  Long term goals are great, but are so far away we often forget why we’re working so hard.  To stay motivated, write down a daily or weekly goal and then follow number 7 (rewarding yourself) if you reach it.
  9. Prepare for your workout the night before by packing your gym bag or, if you work out at home, laying out your workout clothes so when you get home, you’re ready to go.
  10. Eat regularly throughout the day so you don’t hit a wall during your workout. 

***These were excellent tips provided by About.com

Whether you decide on running, walking, hiking, yoga, pilates, dance, or rock-climbing – make physical activity a part of your day.  When your body feels good, your mind feels good.  And that is a great way to feed your soul! 

Bodies in Motion

Our bodies were undoubtedly designed to move.  Unfortunately, these days, many of us find ourselves sitting a great portion of the day.  Whether it be working on the computer, talking to clients on the phone, or literally an “all-day” business meeting,  we are not giving our body the level of movement that it needs to maintain an optimal level of function and support.  As a result, we find ourselves tired, unmotivated, slumping over from a weak posture, and literally “breaking down”.     

Many of you know that one of my favorite inspirational websites is “Daily Om”.  There was a beautiful article that so eloquently discussed the importance and beauty of exercising our bodies, titled POETRY IN MOTIONI thought it fit perfectly for our discussion this week.  Enjoy!

Feeding the Mind-Body Loop

I started my morning today with an amazing 90-minute yoga session.  Yoga has been a part of my lifestyle for the past 5 years, serving as a sanctuary for exercising my mind and body.  I am always reminded of each one of the wellness kriyas as I arrive on my mat, striving to become strong and flexible in the body while being fluid in the mind.  My instructor, Danny, began class this morning with an intention – “Miracles”, he said.  “Be conscious of the miracles in your life, starting with your mind and body”.  It took me back to our topic of gratitude, which we discussed last week.  But this went a step further.  “We always have a choice – to either create peace or create war by what we put in our minds and how we treat our bodies.  There IS no neutral”, said Danny. 

This got me thinking about the power of intention.  In order to intend to think a certain way, we must exercise our brains in a way that perhaps doesn’t feel normal to us.  Research now shows that our brains actually have more elasticity and plasticity than we once thought.  Elasticity, or the ability to stretch and return back to shape, allows us to have flexibility, controlled mobility, and balance.  Plasticity, or the ability to mold or form, is the way in which the brain can re-shape itself by the input and experiences it receives.  This means we can actually create new neural pathways and strengthen existing ones by our mental and physical exercise.  I see this fascinating phenomenon daily in my profession, as I help to rehabilitate those that have suffered strokes, or injured areas of the brain that have been deprived of oxygen.    

There is definitely an integrated system in our minds and bodies.  Our brain communicates with our bodies through chemicals and hormones that it releases, thereby allowing for a particular physical response.  Think about how a stressful day can make your head hurt or raise your blood pressure.  Our bodies also signal our brains to process valuable information.  When you stub your toe, there are pain signals that communicate to your brain.  When you are at the gym working out, happy endorphins can swim upstream to create a lighter mood.  The mind and body have this perfect feedback mechanism.  But what we feed ourselves, both mentally and physically is truly what will impact our overall well-being. 

This week, think about what you are doing to “feed” your mind and bodies.  Start with your mind.  How about beginning to feed only positive mental images to your life experiences for a day?  This is what my yoga instructor, Danny, did.  Maybe you meditate for 5 minutes and feel how your body responds.  Perhaps, you think about using your non-dominant hand for daily tasks like brushing your teeth or using the remote control.  You could also try a mentally challenging activity like a crossword puzzle or sudoku.  It all may seem uncomfortable and awkward at first.  But know that by engaging your mind and body, you are re-creating a newer YOU.  And, to me, that’s a miracle in itself.  ***Stay tuned for more on exercising the mind and body.

Deepali’s piece of wellness:  Try at least one new way to use your mind or body this week.  I guarantee one will benefit the other.

My first post…….

Welcome to my blog!  I’m very excited to begin.  When I thought about the title I would use, I thought about what the word “wellness” meant to me.  It’s certainly the buzzword all over town these days.  Being of East Indian descent, I wanted to use a word from the ancient language of Sanskrit to describe how wellness pertains to all of us.  The word “kriya” fit.  Kriya literally means ‘the action of the soul’.  We are all on this journey to live our fullest potential – from the aspects of mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. The soul is always evolving……it is, therefore, always in motion.  In yogic terms, this starts with our breath.  The wellness kriya, to me, is the process by which we all strive to become more of who we truly are…….that perfect, authentic self that  lies deep within us.  We accomplish this by engaging and incorporating 7 actions  – the ingredients that I feel make up, what I call, our wellness quotient.  Those seven kriyas are:  Exercise the Mind & Body, Take a Risk, Feel Gratitude, Be Present, Believe in Spirit, Embrace Change, and Let Go.  Living our lives with these actions in mind will increase our wellness quotient and allow us to follow our truth.  Each week we will look closely at one of these categories.   My purpose is to empower others to believe in themselves and to provide teaching tools for unleashing their true potentials.  Let’s start peeling down the layers and get to the core!