The longer this pandemic invades our lives, the harder it is for many people to stay grateful, positive and optimistic. These, along with forgiveness, are qualities that contribute to happiness. As we approach the holiday season, we are given many opportunities to mindfully focus on these traits. Let’s take a look at how optimism, gratitude and forgiveness contribute to a happier, healthier life!
Optimism: The Secret to a Long, Healthy and Happy Life
Optimism has been proven to improve the immune system, prevent chronic disease and help people cope with unfortunate news, ultimately leading to a happier life. But did you know it also affects your longevity?
Many factors influence longevity. To answer the question of whether an optimistic attitude plays a role in living longer, investigators studied more than 700,000 participants from whom detailed health, sociodemographic and lifestyle data was collected over several decades. Participants also completed validated instruments that measure optimism.
In both sexes, higher optimism levels correlated with increased longevity, after adjustment for sociodemographic and lifestyle factors and coexisting health conditions. Study participants with the highest levels of optimism had 50% (for women) and 70% (for men) higher likelihood of living to age 85, compared with those with the lowest optimism levels. And, an added bonus, they were happier with higher scores in satisfaction with life.
An Attitude of Gratitude
During the month of November, our attention turns toward gratitude. Sadly, the holidays may look a bit different this year. Rather than focusing on the differences, we need to remain optimistic and better understand how being grateful can lead to happiness.
Gratitude is a fullness of the heart that moves us from limitations and fear to expansion and love. Feel the love, compassion and understanding that gratitude brings into your heart and brings attention to the present moment. It is in the present moment that miracles occur.
Take the time each day to focus your attention on appreciation, gratitude and love. We recommend keeping a gratitude journal and writing down 3 things you are grateful for each day. I am grateful for the opportunity to reach out to all of you and hopefully improve your lives in some small way!
The Art of Forgiveness
The path to finding true happiness in our complicated world is by learning the art of forgiveness. Forgiving others and forgiving yourself are both crucial. One of the most powerful definitions of forgiveness is “giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.” Letting go of a past that we thought we wanted is the first step. Those words can set you free in your life and in your relationships.
A close friend, whom I admire, would say “I made the best decision with the information that I had at the time.” No regrets; no looking back. This is such a healthy attitude! This good advice eluded me for so long. I spent a lot of time and energy wondering what I may have done differently to direct a different outcome in a given situation, when, in truth, that was the only outcome. Things really do happen for a reason.
Analyzing a situation and learning from your mistakes is healthy up to a point. Eventually, you need to let it go. Because letting go is a choice. To let go and find forgiveness is to find freedom. When you hold on to pain and hold on to resentment that hurt feeling is nothing more than your ego’s response to a person or a situation. And you are choosing to let that have power over you.
Forgiveness is a courageous act of trust and compassion, one that comes with a bountiful reward of healing, love, light and liberation for our body, mind and spirit.
By finding forgiveness, we free attachments from the past and clear the ties that constrict our heart. We expand our ability to love and be loved and invite peace and well-being into our lives. When you unburden your mind, you release your spirit. Life becomes a rich and treasured adventure!
The Science of Happiness
“Most folks are about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” – Abraham Lincoln
Happiness is often a cute catchphrase rather than a topic for serious scientists. However, the research is growing in this arena. There is actually a Center for Health and Happiness at Harvard University! Scientists are beginning to look at what makes humans happy.
Scientific evidence suggests that there is a link between happiness and health that goes both ways. Well-controlled studies conducted in large populations indicate that people who are more optimistic and/or have a greater sense of purpose have at least a 20% reduced risk of developing major illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.
One of the keys to a happy life is living in the moment. Spending too much time thinking about the past or future can be detrimental to one’s happiness. According to a study of 5,000 people by psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert at Harvard University, adults spend only 50% of their time in the present. They found that when we are in the present moment, we are at our happiest, no matter what we are doing.
It may not be easy at first, but like working a muscle, you can strengthen your ability to stay present by trying this exercise.
Focus on your Breath:
An age old and effective practice for bringing your mind back into the present is to focus on your breath. When you find your mind wandering, take in a deep breath. As you breathe out, let go of your thoughts and bring your attention back into the present moment.
Another breathing exercise that is not sexy but tried and true. Count your breath. Inhale and exhale to a count of 10 and then start over. This increases your ability to pay attention and be present.
Your psychological well-being will continue to thrive as you learn to remain optimistic, to be grateful for the positive parts of your life, and learn to forgive those who have hurt you in the past.
Our team at Radiance Functional Medicine wish you a happy and healthy holiday season!