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Positive Psychology Archive


Ways to become "mindful"

Learning to focus the mind can be a powerful antidote to the stresses and strains of our on-the-go lives. The ability to pay attention to what you're experiencing from moment to moment — without drifting into thoughts of the past or concerns about the future, or getting caught up in opinions about what is going on — is called mindfulness.

This basic mindfulness meditation exercise is easy to learn and practice.

Simple steps to get happier and healthier










Photos: Thinkstock

Being grateful, doing things for others, and improving your health will pay off.

The New Year usually brings the resolve to eat better and exercise more. But here's another resolution for the list: improve your well-being. That's your overall emotional and physical health, which many people often give low marks when they're asked in national polls. But we have some tips to help you boost both.

Leverage your strengths for a more positive life

Strengths are built-in capacities for certain thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Everyone has these capacities to one degree or another. Your particular pattern of strengths is part of what makes you unique.

When you play from your strengths, you are likely to feel more energetic and perform better than when you are trying to use a capacity that comes less naturally. For example, one person trying to influence a local school board to ban soft drink sales might have the strength to speak up forcefully and clearly at a general meeting (despite the almost-universal fear of public speaking). Another person strong in team-building might feel uncomfortable speaking out in a meeting but could successfully build consensus among parents, nutritionists, and others to weigh the issue and come to a decision.

The magic of mindfulness










Photos: Thinkstock

Simple, life-changing steps to get engaged and get healthy.

In our fast-paced, multitasking world, focusing on anything for more than a few moments at a time can be challenging. But learning to focus your attention on the present moment can have benefits that affect not only your attention span but also your health. That's why a practice called mindfulness has become a popular meditation technique for everything from stress reduction to chronic pain management. "It's the mind-body effect that's getting a lot of press and research, and for good reason. It works, and there's scientific support behind that," says Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Herbert Benson, a pioneer and world-renowned expert on the physiological changes that occur during meditation.

The concept

Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism. It's about training your mind to focus on the present moment without judging thoughts and sensations. If that seems difficult, think about times when you've found yourself engrossed in an activity, such as dancing, listening to music, or painting—anything that allows you to become absorbed in it. If you can do that, you can practice mindfulness.

Go with the flow: engagement and concentration are key

Have you ever been so immersed in what you were doing that all distractions and background chatter just fell away? Nothing existed except the brush and your painting, your skis and the slope, your car and the road. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a renowned professor of psychology at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif., calls that state of intense absorption “flow.” Flow experiences lead to positive emotions in the short term, and over the long term people who more frequently experience flow are generally happier. Flow experiences have several common characteristics. These include losing awareness of time, not thinking about yourself, working effortlessly, and wanting to repeat the experience. They are more likely to occur when there is a balance between the challenge of an activity and the skill you have in performing it.

Positive outlook speeds recovery

People who have a positive attitude about the aging process have an easier time recovering from disability than those with a negative attitude.

Preserving brain function

Living with purpose may protect against changes.

Volunteering, caring for others, or pursuing a hobby may seem like routine activities. But a new study finds that engaging in meaningful activities promotes cognitive health in old age.

The study was published in Archives of General Psychiatry. Participants who reported higher levels of purpose in life exhibited better cognitive function despite the accumulation of abnormal protein depositions (amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles) in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease.

Raising your conscientiousness

Becoming more conscientious could be your ticket to better health and longer life.

Our weight, our genes, our diet, whether we exercise or smoke (or used to)—we accept that these are all part of the complicated mix that determines how healthy we are, the diseases we might get, and those that we might avoid.

Social networks and health: Communicable but not infectious

Poet and pastor John Donne famously proclaimed "No man is an island." It was true in his day, and because society has become increasingly complex and interdependent over the ensuing 400 years, it's certainly true today. Studies in the modern era show that people can be good medicine and that individuals with strong social supports are healthier than those who are lonely and isolated. Married men, for example, are healthier than their single, divorced, or widowed peers.

It's easy to understand how face-to-face interactions can be beneficial. But research suggests that social interactions have a ripple effect that extends far beyond household and family units. Some of these effects can promote health; others are detrimental. But whether for good or ill, these communitywide effects give networking a new meaning.

Emotional control and the heart

Depression, anxiety, anger, and other so-called negative emotions have been linked to heart disease and heart attacks. What about the flip side — are positive emotions connected to better heart health? Yes, say two reports that addressed this question from different directions.

At Duke University Medical Center, researchers asked 2,618 men and women scheduled to have a coronary angiogram (a special x-ray that shows blood flow through the arteries that nourish the heart) questions about what they expected their future cardiovascular health to be like. Fifteen years later, they found that those who'd had the highest expectations were 24% less likely to have died of heart disease than those with the lowest expectations (Archives of Internal Medicine, published online Feb. 28, 2011).

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