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Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

28 December 2011 Holiday happiness is just an attitude boost away

by Kevin Fagan
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
San Francisco Chronicle

Helping helps all involved

It turns out you don’t have to be miserable during the holidays.That’s now scientifically proven by studies, say UC Berkeley scientists who do those studies.

These wise men and women have come up with quantifiable, tested data showing that with little more than an attitude boost, anyone can get through the toughest of holiday times with not just smiles on their faces, but real warmth in their hearts.

That goes for all those encounters with father-in-laws who could never stand your face, nephews who smash your favorite platter just to hear it shatter and sisters who think you’re a loser. Or even cousins fresh out of prison for the New Year.

It’s all about concentrating on the things in our lives that work well and being thankful for them, then tossing in a heaping helping of compassion, say the goodness-minded folks at the Greater Good Science Center.

Carrying on nice family rituals, religious or not, that are comforting and foster pleasant togetherness also goes a long way, they say.

Grind out the Grinch

The center has a set of reports, self-administered online tests – the “Altruism Quiz” is one – and graphics with good-attitude hints to reinforce all this advice. Paying close attention can help grind the Grinch right out of anyone, the center’s researchers say.

“The gist of it isn’t any more complicated than the fact that consumption and materialism will not make us happy,” said Christine Carter, a sociologist whose title at the center is the Santa-worthy one of “Happiness Expert.”

“We confuse those things with happiness,” Carter said. “But we have found that there are three main things that make you happier over the holidays, and they have nothing to do with materialism.”

Those three things consist of feeling grateful for the good things in your life, taking time with your family and using every opportunity you can to help others.

“The need for feeling grateful starts with Thanksgiving, but it doesn’t have to end,” Carter said. “It’s important all year round to be grateful for the things that a lot of people take for granted. It can be your kids, your close friends, even just the fact that you have hot water for a shower.

“When you train your attention on what you feel grateful for, you are highly likely to miss the hassles,” Carter said. “Our brains act as giant filters. We are either going to notice what we appreciate, or things that tick us off.”

Helping helps

As for helping others, Carter said, studies of emotional stimulation prove that the old saying about it being “better to give than to receive” is not just folklore.

“When you help someone else, whether it’s at a soup kitchen or just among your friends, it just makes you happier,” she said. “For one, when we’re focused on other people, we can’t focus on ourselves as much. You can’t be brooding on that nasty e-mail you got from the stepmother who doesn’t want you to cook turkey, or whatever.

“A lot of us just need to be distracted from ourselves sometimes,” Carter said.

Dacher Keltner, founder of the center and a UC Berkeley psychology professor, said his research on the vagus nerve in the brain is reinforcing the importance of compassion.

The vagus nerve extends from the brain down to the abdomen, and it reflects and stimulates feelings of happiness. Dacher’s research with doctoral candidate Craig Anderson indicates that showing compassion, maintaining eye contact and taking time to relax with techniques such as taking a deep breath all result in a healthily stimulated vagus – which in turn makes you happier.

“We know that December is one of the most violent months on the calendar, and there is stress this time of year with travel and getting together with family,” Keltner said. “But there is rock-solid science that shows that, instead of moving toward stress, you can move toward appreciating other people and feeling calmer at this time of year.”

Connect to others

He said his center has found that people are less connected to their neighbors and have fewer friends than 20 years ago, and that counteracting that trend is useful for Christmas, Hanukkah or New Year bliss.

“If you volunteer, look more closely to people who support you, allow yourself to touch people you care about with hugs or even just a neck massage – it all helps,” Keltner said. “Also, watch how you breathe – taking deep breaths when you need to, really do help calm you down.”

Carter is well aware that the reaction to feel-good advice can at times be more a rolling of the eyes rather than a nod of the head. That’s understandable, she said.

Letting yourself enjoy the holidays, let alone your entire life, can take a bit of concentration and work, she said. But it’s worth it.

“I think of happiness as a skill,” said Carter, whose seemingly perpetual incandescent smile would indicate that she takes her own advice. “It’s all about what you practice and think about.”

17 August 2011 45 Benefits of Meditation

by Dane
TheHappySelf.com

 

Ok ok…I’m sure by now you have read about meditation in a number of places.

But is meditation really for you and WHY should you even sit down and shut up?

Let me explain…

Meditation has been used for centuries as a method for relaxation, improving health, and finding mental clarity.  With so many benefits, it’s no wonder that it is used in cultures all over the world.

It’s hard to believe that something that looks so much like sitting around doing nothing is really doing quite a lot for your mind, body, and spirit.  However, it has been found that as little as ten minutes of meditation a day can bring about significant positive changes.

Here are 45 reasons why you need to start meditating …

  1. Allows for healthier flow of oxygen to the brain, which means clearer thinking and better reasoning skills.
  2. Better blood flow to the muscles also helps with physical stamina so you are able to exercise more easily and for longer periods.
  3. The controlled breathing of meditation translates into slower respiration and a decrease in asthma attacks and other breathing issues.
  4. Deepens religious/spiritual devotion and understanding.
  5. Meditation actually relaxes the nervous system, leading to a decrease in multiple stress-induced reactions.
  6. It also lowers your heart rate to a healthier level.
  7. The act of meditating, as well as the meditative exercises themselves, creates a more self-actualized individual.
  8. Doesn’t have negative physical side effects, as do anti-anxiety medications.
  9. Develops emotional maturity as one learns to be calm in the face of drama.
  10. Increases the release of serotonin in the brain, a chemical that improves mood and makes one feel good naturally.
  11. Helps prevent panic attacks in those who suffer from anxiety disorders.
  12. Meditation can be used to improve memory and the ability to learn new things.
  13. Those who meditate are able to see the big picture in order to solve complex problems.
  14. The relaxing effects of meditation lead to less aggressive behavior in individuals.
  15. Helps with the process required to break bad habits and addictions such as smoking, drinking, and using drugs.
  16. Slows down the racing thoughts that often keep people distracted and awake at night.  In general, those who meditate find that they fall asleep easily.
  17. Helps to normalize blood pressure.
  18. Meditative exercises lead to a higher level of attention and empathy throughout the day.
  19. Offers an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of oneself.
  20. Improves physical and mental reaction time during stressful situations.
  21. Can be a solitary act that requires no outside influence, including money.
  22. Allows an individual to feel a sense of connection to everything and everyone, increasing the personal capacity for love and acceptance.
  23. Through meditation, one is able to develop aspects of his or her character, such as will power and inner strength.
  24. Increases patience in those who practice, as they are less agitated and are even able to engage in meditation at times (like waiting in lines) when others would become annoyed.
  25. Keeps mental faculties sharp and slows down the effects of age on the brain.
  26. Meditators shift brain activity to less stress-prone areas of the brain, decreasing the negative effects of mild stress, depression, and anxiety.
  27. Ability to release negative emotions, rather than allowing them to become one’s focus.
  28. An improvement in physical posture results from holding one’s body appropriately, practicing breathing, and even from an increased sense of self confidence.
  29. The physical benefits of meditation include a decrease in physical pain, especially for chronic pain sufferers.
  30. Brings an opportunity to simplify one’s life, whether it means quieting some inner turmoil or recognizing the need for less material goods.
  31. It is common for those who meditate to discover a significant increase in their energy levels.
  32. Lessens the severity of physical and emotional symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome and other stress factors.
  33. Helps increase the overall amount lost during one’s weight-loss program due to a lowering of cortisol, as well as other factors.
  34. Those who meditate regularly benefit from lower levels of heart disease.
  35. Restores the body to a calm state once the flight or fight reflex has been triggered by an environmental stressor.
  36. Boosts an individual’s immune system to help ward off physical ailments and diseases.
  37. Increases creative output as the left and right hemispheres of the brain communicate more effectively and the mind is filled with less clutter and better able to focus in new directions.
  38. Can be used in conjunction with other forms of medicine or therapy to enhance physical and mental outcomes.
  39. Breathing is slowed for more efficient use of oxygen and a decreased waste of energy.
  40. Improves one’s ability to “live in the present” rather than always fretting over future desires or past regrets.
  41. Improves the ability to recognize one’s own thoughts and thought patterns, thereby allowing for self-reflection, acknowledgement, and even change.
  42. Removes obstacles preventing individuals from succeeding, specifically by making them clear to the individual so he or she can make appropriate changes on the path to success.
  43. Strengthens the digestive system for improved overall health and wellness of the body.
  44. Decreases tension within the muscles of the body, resulting not only in better relaxation, but also a lower likelihood of sustaining an injury.
  45. Hand-eye coordination increases within individuals who practice meditation.

In 2003, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical School conducted a research study regarding the effects of meditation on highly-stressed employees at a high-tech company.  The resulting brain scans showed that those employees who had been taught to meditate experienced a transfer in their brain activity into the joy and happiness center in the left frontal lobe of the brain.

Studies like this one are getting more and more companies, as well as individuals, thinking about the benefits of meditation and what the practice could mean for them.  From increased productivity and job satisfaction to better relationships among employees, there are some real reasons to consider meditation in the workplace.

Of course, all of these benefits can be extended to everyday life, too, so considering meditation just for job purposes is too narrow of a focus.  Instead, think of how you could gain physically, emotionally, and spiritually by incorporating a few minutes of this deep relaxation into your daily schedule.

Thousands of years’ worth of evidence shows pretty conclusively that those who practice meditation are both happier and healthier overall.  Not bad for something that requires no money, no equipment, and only a few minutes a day.

What are you waiting for?

29 July 2011 Re-Wiring Your Brain for Happiness: Research Shows How Meditation Can Physically Change the Brain

ABCNews
 By Dan Harris and Erin Brady
July 28, 2011
 
 
A quiet explosion of new research indicating that meditation can physically change the brain in astonishing ways has started to push into mainstream.

Several studies suggest that these changes through meditation can make you happier, less stressed — even nicer to other people. It can help you control your eating habits and even reduce chronic pain, all the while without taking prescription medication.

Meditation is an intimate and intense exercise that can be done solo or in a group, and one study showed that 20 million Americans say they practice meditation. It has been used to help treat addictions, to clear psoriasis and even to treat men with impotence.

The U.S. Marines are testing meditation to see if it makes more focused, effective warriors. Corporate executives at Google, General Mills, Target and Aetna Insurance, as well as students in some of the nation’s classrooms have used meditation.

Various celebrities also are known meditators, including shock jock Howard Stern, actors Richard Gere, Goldie Hawn and Heather Graham, and Rivers Cuomo, the lead singer of the band Weezer.

In one study, a research team from Massachusetts General Hospital looked at the brain scans of 16 people before and after they participated in an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation. The study, published in the January issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, concluded that after completing the course, parts of the participants’ brains associated with compassion and self-awareness grew, and parts associated with stress shrank.

Recently, the Dalai Lama granted permission for his monks, who are master mediators, to have their brains studied at the University of Wisconsin, one of the most high-tech brain labs in the world.

Richie Davidson, a PhD at the university, and his colleagues, led the study and said they were amazed by what they found in the monks’ brain activity read-outs. During meditation, electroencephalogram patterns increased and remains higher than the initial baseline taken from a non-meditative state.

But you don’t have to be a monk to benefit from meditation, which is now gaining acceptance in the field of medicine.

Physicians have increasingly started prescribing meditation instead of pills to benefit their patients. A Harvard Medical School report released in May found that more than 6 million Americans had been recommended meditation and other mind-body therapies by conventional health care providers.

Perhaps the most mind-bending potential benefit of meditation is that it will actually make practitioners nicer. Chuck Raison, a professor at Emory University, conducted a meditation study in which he hooked up microphones to participants who had been taught basic meditation and those who hadn’t. He then recorded them at random over a period of time. Raison found that these newly-trained mediators used less harsh language than people who had no meditation experience.

“They were more empathic with people,” Raison said. “They were spending more time with other people. They laugh more, you know, all those things. They didn’t use the word ‘I’ as much. They use the word ‘we’ more.”

However, even the Dalai Lama admitted that meditation is not the silver bullet cure-all for every ailment or emotion.

“Occasionally, [I] lose my temper,” he said. “If someone is never lose temper then perhaps that may come from outer space, real strange.”

The Dalai Lama also cautioned that meditation takes patience, so new mediators should not expect immediate results.

“The enlightenment not depend on rank,” he said, laughing. “It depends on practice.”

Some scientists believe that in a generation, Americans will see meditation as being as essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle as diet and exercise.

21 December 2010 New Year’s Éiriú Eolas schedule for Grande Prairie, Canada

Start the New Year with giving yourself the time to breathe, the time to heal and rejuvenate. You certainly deserve it!

So join us to our complimentary presentations on Sunday evenings,

January 2, 16 & 30, February 13& 27, 6:30 pm

at the Rabbit Hole (10020-100 Ave)

Ongoing meetings

Saturday at 11 am & Tuesday at 6:15 pm

at Building Blocks Day Care Center

(S.E. corner of the Grande Prairie Regional College Campus, corner of 104 Ave & 106 St)

Private Sessions also available


30 November 2010 New Meditation Research: Putting the ‘Om’ in ‘Chromosome’

By Way Herbert, posted: November 18, 2010in the Huffington Post

The Shambhala Mountain Center sits nestled among the remote lakes and pastures of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, where for four decades it has offered instruction and retreat to serious students of meditation and yoga. Starting in February 2007, it became a scientific laboratory as well. The center began hosting the Shamatha Project, one of the most rigorous scientific examinations of meditation’s effects ever undertaken. The Project is now beginning to yield its insights, and from early reports it appears that this ancient practice delivers benefits that go all the way down to the chromosomal level.

Many claims have been made over many years about the effects of meditation on health and well-being, but rarely have these claims been put to the test. Under the direction of Clifford Saron, a neuroscientist at the University of California at Davis, the Shamatha Project enrolled 60 experienced meditators in a three-month study. Half were randomly selected to receive intensive training and practice in meditation over the spring months of 2007, including two group training sessions and five or more hours of individual practice every day. Those who were wait-listed for the actual retreat served as controls — an essential part of the rigorous experimental design that distinguishes the Project from previous meditation studies.

At three points in the three-month study — before, halfway through, and at the end — Saron and his many colleagues took a battery of behavioral and physiological measurements of both the meditators and the controls, who ranged from 21 to 70 years old. They have been crunching the data and analyzing the results, which are now emerging in peer-reviewed journals.

For example: Those who intensely practiced meditation got better at visual perception, and as a result their attention improved. UC Davis psychological scientist Katherine Maclean (now at Johns Hopkins) had all the volunteers perform a difficult visual discrimination task on a computer screen — watching a parade of identical lines go by and spotting the slightly shorter lines that appeared occasionally. This 30-minute task is not only visually demanding; it’s incredibly boring as well. But as reported recently in the journal Psychological Science, the meditators’ increased visual acuity also freed up their limited cognitive firepower for vigilance; and their sharpened attention led to improved performance on the task. This improvement lasted for five months after the retreat was over.

That may not be all that surprising, since focus and attention are what meditation is all about. Less expected is the recent finding that intense meditation may also have anti-aging effects. Tonya Jacobs, a scientist at UC Davis’s Center for Mind and Brain, has just reported (on-line in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology) that meditators show improved psychological well-being, and that these improvements lead to biochemical changes associated with resistance to aging at the cellular level. Specifically, an analysis of meditators’ white blood cells showed a 30 percent increase in an enzyme called telomerase, a chemical essential to the long-term health of the body’s chromosomes and cells.

The scientists emphasize that meditation does not lead directly to cellular health and longevity. Instead, the practice appears to give people an increased sense of meaning and purpose in life, which in turn leads to an increased sense of control over their lives and to less negative emotion. This cascade of emotional and psychological changes is what regulates the levels of telomerase, the anti-aging enzyme.

Positivity appears to be the link between meditative practice and a variety of health benefits. In a study scheduled for publication in the journal Emotion, UC Davis psychological scientist Baljinder Sahdra is reporting that meditation leads to a decrease in impulsive reactions — another health improvement linked to psychological positivity. Impulsivity has been tied to an array of health problems, including addictions and other risky behavior.

It’s well known that stress — and distress — lead to poor health, including a decline of telomerase and its healing properties. What hasn’t been known — and what these studies are beginning to document — is the exact order of psychological and physiological events in this chain and, what’s more, that this chain of events can be reversed.

26 November 2010 Meditation: The Key to Resilience in Caregiving

By Sharon Salzberg, Posted: November 19, 2010 in the Huffington Post

As I look forward to co-leading this retreat, People Who Care for People: Tools for Resiliency at the Garrison Institute, I find myself reflecting on caregivers I know. Some practice caregiving professionally, as nurses, first responders, chaplains, non-profit attorneys; others in their personal lives, as parents, children, siblings, friends. As difficult and pressured as caring for others can be, as tiring and overwhelming as it often becomes, many express a very powerful happiness at being able to serve.

An important element in how we keep going is being able to touch that happiness, broadening our perspective beyond what we see just in front of us, reminding us of our deepest motivation and what we care about most. In a challenging environment, facing our own or others’ suffering, we need to draw on inner resources.

Whether you care for a young child, an aging parent, a difficult-to-understand teenager, a client at work with no clear resolution to their problems in sight, any skillful relationship of caregiving relies on balance — the balance between opening one’s heart endlessly and accepting the limits of what one can do. The balance between compassion and equanimity. Compassion is the trembling or the quivering of the heart in response to suffering. Equanimity is a spacious stillness that can accept things as they are. The balance of compassion and equanimity allows us to profoundly care, and yet not get overwhelmed and unable to cope because of that caring.

I have been involved for several years in a program run by the Garrison Institute, bringing the tools of meditation and yoga to domestic violence shelter workers, and then to shelter supervisors and directors. These people are very much on the front lines of suffering, dealing daily with their clients’ issues of betrayal, heartbreak, fear, anger, humiliation. They might be survivors of trauma themselves. They might receive very little institutional support. They inevitably rely on inner resiliency to sustain their work over the long term.

Our premise has been that fostering greater balance of heart and mind is a key to that resiliency, and that one valuable avenue to cultivating this balance is meditation practice. Meditation helps us see our own difficult mind states — such as anger or fear or a sense of helplessness — with compassion instead of self-judgment. It also provides a refuge during life’s storms by helping us connect compassionately with others, no matter the circumstances.

Especially in times of uncertainty or pain, meditation broadens our perspective and deepens our courage. The spaciousness of mind and greater ease of heart that naturally arise through balanced awareness and compassion are fundamental components of a resilient spirit. They bring us an unusual kind of happiness, one not determined by the conditions we find ourselves in, not defined by the amount of “success” or “failure” we saw in our efforts today. Meditation helps us return, again and again, to this unique happiness.

24 November 2010 Meditation linked to happiness and positive behavior

Friday, November 19, 2010 by: Carolanne Wright, in Natural News

A study at the University of Wisconsin confirms meditation can alter the structure of the brain, fostering a brighter outlook and increased empathy. Since positive thinking and emotions affect health, meditation can contribute to overall wellness.

Richard Davidson, a trained psychologist who has practiced meditation for decades, believes meditation can strengthen brain circuits connected with happiness and positive attitude in a similar way we strengthen muscles with exercise. Davidson and his colleagues have produced scientific evidence that this form of mental exercise permanently changes the brain for the better.

Using MRI technology, contemplative neuroscientists were able to view the area of the brain, the left-sided anterior region, believed to be associated with positive thoughts. The researchers documented increased activity in this region of novice meditators who participated in an eight week mindfulness meditation course.

Davidson’s team discovered that the practice of compassion meditation also stimulates the limbic system (the brain’s emotional network) while increasing positive emotions. Expert meditators with more than 10,000 hours of practice showed the greatest activity in the limbic systems and appeared to have permanently altered their brains to generate positive thoughts. Even outside of meditation, committed meditators permanently changed the way their brains operated.

Positive emotions and optimism are good for your health as well. Evidence shows that optimists take proactive steps to ensure wellness whereas a pessimist tends to engage in health-damaging behaviors. Research further validates that individuals with a positive outlook have less hypertension, diabetes, and respiratory tract infections. Positive emotions also increase immunity and resistance to colds and flu, while reducing cortisol, incidence of stroke, and inflammation. As an added bonus, optimism increases longevity.

According to Health and Wellness by Gordon Edlin and Eric Golanty:

Advances in identifying the biological mechanisms of mind-body communication confirm that the mind can affect health in powerful ways. Joy, creativity, and contentment lead to a state of harmony, which we experience as bodily health and subjective well-being.

Nerve cells in the brain’s thought and feeling centers connect to other nerve cells in the brain and body, to hormone-producing tissues and organs and to immune cells. In this way, mental activity is able to influence many of the body’s physiological processes.

Meditation isn’t just for monks anymore. Use this powerful tool to strengthen a favorable mind-body connection that supports health and watch the mind become illuminated with positive outlook.

Sources for this Article:

“Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing”, Barbara L. Fredrickson, University of Michigan, Marcial F. Losada Universidade Catolica de Brasilia, October 2005, American Psychologist, 677-686

“The Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions”, Barbara L. Fredrickson, Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, Volume 359, September 2004, 1367-1378

“Optimism”, Clinical Psychology Review, Volume 30, Issue 7, November 2010, 879-889, Positive Clinical Psychology

Health and Wellness
, Gordon Edlin and Eric Golanty, Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2007

“The Health Benefits of Writing About Intensely Positive Experiences”. Chad M. Burton and Laura A. King, Journal of Research in Personality, Volume 38, Issue 2, April 2004, 150-163

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