Sunday 29 January 2017

Largest Study of its Type Say Any Physical Activity is Good!

Even minimal levels of physical activity can have a positive effect on happiness, the largest-ever smartphone-based study examining the relationship between physical activity and happiness has revealed.
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of Essex, is based on reports from more than 10,000 individuals.
Analysis indicated that periods of physical activity led to increased positive mood, regardless of individuals’ baseline happiness. There have been many studies about the positive psychological effects of exercise, but what we’ve found is that in order to be happier, you don’t have to go out and run a marathon – all you’ve really got to do is periodically engage in slight physical activity throughout the day.

Sunday 22 January 2017

Humour in Psychology is Serious Business

Rod Martin, who recently retired after more than three decades of teaching Clinical Psychology at Western University in Ontario, Canada, dedicated his career to the psychology of humour.

Using a questionnaire he developed in fieldwork during his PhD 30 years ago, Martin found people who scored highest – indicating they had a strong sense of humour – were less likely to become depressed or anxious when they experienced stressful life events.

However, he spent a good part of the rest of his career refining, and in many ways, discounting this finding. It turns out that the type of humour dictates how likely one is to be depressed or happy. Martin noted "...humour is a very complex thing, and it's not always positive. There are negative aspects of humour too, aspects that are associated with depression and anxiety – maladaptive humour,"

Martin became convinced that what's really important is not how much you laugh or how funny you are, but how you use humour in everyday interactions with people. Do you use it in an aggressive way? Do you put people down all the time? Are you sarcastic? Cynical?

The differences and results can be complicated and subtle as Martin explains "Self-deprecating humour is positive, healthy. You laugh at yourself. Self-defeating humour is not positive. It comes out of low self-esteem, putting yourself down in a funny way." but at great emotional expense.

Monday 16 January 2017

What are the Four Pillars of Meaning

According to author Emily Esfahani Smith in her book "The Power of Meaning; Crafting a Life that Matters", these are the “four pillars of meaning”: Belonging, Purpose, Storytelling, and Transcendence. "Ultimately, there were four themes that came up repeatedly, both in my conversations and in the research. Again and again, people mentioned relationships and communities that make them feel cared for and respected. They discussed life goals that contribute to the world, which they are actively working toward. They described creating narratives about their lives that help them understand themselves and the world more deeply. And they talked about experiencing awe and self-transcendence—times when they lost themselves and felt connected to something bigger." "The pillars are accessible to everyone; we can all build up each of these pillars in our lives. We can find belonging in a book club or in a brief connection with a barista at the coffee shop. We can find purpose by helping a colleague at work or coaching a Little League team. We can reflect on a pivotal experience from our life to understand more deeply who we are. We can look up at the vast night sky and feel awe at our place in the universe."

Even Small Moments of Intimacy Can Add Meaning to Life

In surveys, we list our close relationships as our most important sources of meaning. Research shows that people who are lonely and isolated feel their lives are less meaningful.

In 1985, when the General Social Survey asked Americans how many people they’d discussed important matters with over the past six months, the most common response was three. When the survey was repeated again in 2004, the most common response was zero.  Despite increased social media permeating our lives, many surveys (including those mentioned in the article below) point to a disturbing trend of people not having significant social connection in their lives. 

Psychologists have also discovered the value of small moments of intimacy.  These positive, short-term interactions between two people can be when a couple holds hands on a walk or when two strangers have an empathetic conversation on a plane.

Thursday 12 January 2017

Love After Love (a poem by Derek Waicott)

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

And say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Sunday 8 January 2017

The Gut: Our Second Brain (That Is Secretly Controlling Us!)

A video on titled "The Gut: Our Second Brain", talks about the intelligence of our "second brain" in our gut, which has as many neurons as that of a small pet.  It has a great effect on our health and emotions.

The Enteric Nervous System, which connects the gut's neurons to the brain neurons, may subconsciously influence how we perceive the world.  It could  influence our levels of anxiety and depression, for example.  One hypothesis suggests even neurological diseases, such as Parkinson's, are believed to exist first in the neurons of the digestive tract. 

A major area of study in the gut is about the bacteria used in digestion.  They are just part of the mystery of how our stomach and digestion may have a huge impact on our quality of life.  We are
ecosystems... We are more bacteria than we are human.  We have more bacteria DNA than human DNA.  Bacteria digest 30% of our food into energy.  

The bacteria may influence our propencity towards diseases!  Three enterotypes (classifications of living organisms) dictate how we convert our food into vitamins.  That's why some people have a greater or less disposition for liver disease, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  These enterotypes can be discerned just by examining stool of individuals.  Even obesity has been introduced into mice... when other controlling factors have been equalized...  by changing the makeup of their gut flora.  Other mice have been made more (or less) aggressive by trading gut flora from a mouse at the other end of the aggressive spectrum. 

When it comes to willpower, when they removed the bacteria from mice, their behaviour became odd. They take lots of risks.   When they add bacteria, the mice behave better.  There is very strong evidence that the microbiota influences the brain.  We're being influenced by the bacteria that has been on earth for millennia.  We've known that parasites have had an influence on the behaviour of organisms...  but now we see there may be many factors... and organisms... at play!

In humans, probiotics are being examined for their effect on anxiety.  There have been tests showing that changing the intestinal flora changes the subject's reaction to stress.

Friday 6 January 2017

Positive Psychology Influences Gene Expression

That's right!  Pursuing positive psychology actually influences your genetic code to turn on (or off) certain expressions, making a difference to your health.

People with high levels of eudaimonic well-being — the kind of happiness that comes from having a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life — showed very favorable gene-expression profiles in their immune cells. They had low levels of inflammatory gene expression and strong expression of antiviral and antibody genes.

 However, people who had relatively high levels of hedonic well-being — the type of happiness that comes from consummatory self-gratification (as is widely taught in our consumer society) — actually showed just the opposite. They had an adverse expression profile involving high inflammation and low antiviral and antibody gene expression.