a life of gratitude

A Positive Outlook May Be Good for Your Health


By Jane E. Brody
March 27, 2017

“Look on the sunny side of life.”

“Turn your face toward the sun, and the shadows will fall behind you.”

“Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day.”

“See the glass as half-full, not half-empty.”

Researchers are finding that thoughts like these, the hallmarks of people sometimes called “cockeyed optimists,” can do far more than raise one’s spirits. They may actually improve health and extend life.

There is no longer any doubt that what happens in the brain influences what happens in the body. When facing a health crisis, actively cultivating positive emotions can boost the immune system and counter depression. Studies have shown an indisputable link between having a positive outlook and health benefits like lower blood pressure, less heart disease, better weight control & healthier blood sugar levels.

Even when faced with an incurable illness, positive feelings and thoughts can greatly improve one’s quality of life. Dr. Wendy Schlessel Harpham, a Dallas-based author of several books for people facing cancer, including “Happiness in a Storm,” was a practicing internist when she learned she had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system, 27 years ago. During the next 15 years of treatments for eight relapses of her cancer, she set the stage for happiness and hope, she says, by such measures as surrounding herself with people who lift her spirits, keeping a daily gratitude journal, doing something good for someone else, and watching funny, uplifting movies. Her cancer has been in remission now for 12 years.

“Fostering positive emotions helped make my life the best it could be,” Dr. Harpham said. “They made the tough times easier, even though they didn’t make any difference in my cancer cells.”

While Dr. Harpham may have a natural disposition to see the hopeful side of life even when the outlook is bleak, new research is demonstrating that people can learn skills that help them experience more positive emotions when faced with the severe stress of a life-threatening illness.

Judith T. Moskowitz, a professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, developed a set of eight skills to help foster positive emotions. In earlier research at the University of California, San Francisco, she and colleagues found that people with new diagnoses of H.I.V. infection who practiced these skills carried a lower load of the virus, were more likely to take their medication correctly, and were less likely to need antidepressants to help them cope with their illness.

The researchers studied 159 people who had recently learned they had H.I.V. and randomly assigned them to either a five-session positive emotions training course or five sessions of general support. Fifteen months past their H.I.V. diagnosis, those trained in the eight skills maintained higher levels of positive feelings and fewer negative thoughts related to their infection.

An important goal of the training is to help people feel happy, calm and satisfied in the midst of a health crisis. Improvements in their health and longevity are a bonus. Each participant is encouraged to learn at least three of the eight skills and practice one or more each day. The eight skills are:

  • Recognize a positive event each day.
  • Savor that event and log it in a journal or tell someone about it.
  • Start a daily gratitude journal.
  • List a personal strength and note how you used it.
  • Set an attainable goal and note your progress.
  • Report a relatively minor stress and list ways to reappraise the event positively.
  • Recognize and practice small acts of kindness daily.
  • Practice mindfulness, focusing on the here and now rather than the past or future.

Dr. Moskowitz said she was inspired by observations that people with AIDS, Type 2 diabetes and other chronic illnesses lived longer if they demonstrated positive emotions. She explained, “The next step was to see if teaching people skills that foster positive emotions can have an impact on how well they cope with stress and their physical health down the line.”

She listed as the goals improving patients’ quality of life, enhancing adherence to medication, fostering healthy behaviors, and building personal resources that result in increased social support and broader attention to the good things in life.

Gregg De Meza, a 56-year-old architect in San Francisco who learned he was infected with H.I.V. four years ago, told me that learning “positivity” skills turned his life around. He said he felt “stupid and careless” about becoming infected and had initially kept his diagnosis a secret.
“When I entered the study, I felt like my entire world was completely unraveling,” he said. “The training reminded me to rely on my social network, and I decided to be honest with my friends. I realized that to show your real strength is to show your weakness. No pun intended, it made me more positive, more compassionate, and I’m now healthier than I’ve ever been.”

In another study among 49 patients with Type 2 diabetes, an online version of the positive emotions skills training course was effective in enhancing positivity and reducing negative emotions and feelings of stress. Prior studies showed that, for people with diabetes, positive feelings were associated with better control of blood sugar, an increase in physical activity and healthy eating, less use of tobacco and a lower risk of dying.

In a pilot study of 39 women with advanced breast cancer, Dr. Moskowitz said an online version of the skills training decreased depression among them. The same was true with caregivers of dementia patients.

 “None of this is rocket science,” Dr. Moskowitz said. “I’m just putting these skills together and testing them in a scientific fashion.”

In a related study of more than 4,000 people 50 and older published last year in the Journal of Gerontology, Becca Levy and Avni Bavishi at the Yale School of Public Health demonstrated that having a positive view of aging can have a beneficial influence on health outcomes and longevity. Dr. Levy said two possible mechanisms account for the findings. Psychologically, a positive view can enhance belief in one’s abilities, decrease perceived stress and foster healthful behaviors. Physiologically, people with positive views of aging had lower levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of stress-related inflammation associated with heart disease and other illnesses, even after accounting for possible influences like age, health status, sex, race and education than those with a negative outlook. They also lived significantly longer.

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John Wooden's 7-Point Creed: 'Be Thankful'


Craig Impelman
February 22, 2017

The seventh item of Coach Wooden’s Seven-Point Creed is, “Give thanks for your blessings and pray for guidance every day.”

When Coach spoke on this point, he would frequently recite one of his favorite Abraham Lincoln quotes: “If we magnified our blessings the way we magnify our disappointments, we’d all be a lot happier.” Indeed, accepting disappointment without complaint is one of the key points that Coach taught on the subject of being thankful.

Coach learned at an early age to accept disappointments with good grace because of the example set by his parents. Although his father, Joshua Wooden, lost his farm due to the mistake of another, he never complained or assigned blame. Joshua’s ability to make the best out of an adverse situation was one of the traits that Coach came to admire most in his father.

Coach also saw the same quality in his mother Roxie, after she suffered the deaths of her two daughters within a year of each other. Her first daughter, Cordelia, died from diphtheria at 2 years old, and her second daughter died at birth. Despite these tragedies, Coach never heard his mother complain, nor witness her feeling sorry for herself as she raised four spirited boys.

“The great secret of life is to cultivate the ability to appreciate the things we have."

At times, Coach emphasized the importance of being thankful by quoting Lao Tse: “Freedom from desire leads to inner peace.” He also added his own words of wisdom: “The great secret of life is to cultivate the ability to appreciate the things we have, not compare them.” Coach often encouraged us to not take for granted the many things we have that we did nothing to earn, such as life itself, the beauty of nature, the great country we live in, or the love of our family and friends.

The second part of that advice, to pray for guidance, were also words Coach took to heart. His own faith was very dear to him and he respected the religions of all people, because he knew that faith was an important part of living a worthwhile life. He encouraged his players to have a faith and to be able to defend their beliefs, but he never encouraged them to pray to win. That would be far too selfish, he said.

In 1942, Coach received a faithful attendance pen from Frank E. Davidson, who operated an interfaith men’s club called The Forum. Men would attend during the Sunday school hour to study and pray together, and then leave to worship at their own churches. The night before receiving the award, Coach’s team won the finals in the sectional tournament against a Catholic team whose coach, Johnny Howe, also attended The Forum. The next morning, Frank Davidson joked, “There I was at the game last night and here was Johnny Wooden, who I knew was going to receive his medal for not having missed in the last year—and there was Johnny Howe with his team all blessing themselves. Now wasn’t our Lord in a heck of a spot?”

Contentment makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor. 

As he liked to do, Coach shared with us some great wisdom to remind us to give thanks for our blessings and pray for guidance every day: Contentment makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor.

  • Take time to live, it is the secret of success.
  • Take time to think, it is the source of power.
  • Take time to play, it is the secret of youth.
  • Take time to read, it is the foundation of knowledge.
  • Take time for friendship, it is the source of happiness.
  • Take time to laugh, it helps lift life’s load.
  • Take time to dream, it hitches the soul to the stars.
  • Take time for God, it is life’s only lasting investment.

When Coach was asked whether he was able to live up to his father’s Seven-Point Creed, he would often say, “I am not what I want to be, not what I ought to be, and not what I am going to be, but I am thankful that I am not what I used to be.” No matter how daunting the task of living up to your creed, pursuing your dreams or reaching your goals might seem, the key is that you must never stop trying. For each new day brings progress, and in doing your best you achieve success. 

By studying Coach's teachings, you can discover how a return to the fundamentals could mean the difference in your ability to achieve.  

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8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Become More Positive


By Angela Ruth
May 5, 2017, This story originally appeared on Due

When our brains go negative that can eat away at our productivity, creativity and decision-making skills.

It’s been said that humans on average can have anywhere from 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day -- if not more. Pretty fascinating, right?

Here’s the issue. Some speculate that an astounding 80 percent of our thoughts are negative and you train your brain to have more negative thoughts over positive thoughts.

According to Loretta Breuning, Ph.D., Founder of the Inner Mammal Institute, Professor of Management at California State University, East Bay and author of The Science of Positivity and Habits of a Happy Brain, this really isn’t all that shocking.

 “Our brain is not designed to create happiness, as much as we wish it were so. Our brain evolved to promote survival. It saves the happy chemicals (dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin) for opportunities to meet a survival need, and only releases them in short spurts which are quickly metabolized. This motivates us to keep taking steps that stimulate our happy chemicals.”

Even worse? “You can end up with a lot of unhappy chemicals in your quest to stimulate the happy ones, especially near the end of a stressful workday,” adds Dr. Breuning.

When our brains go negative that can eat away at our productivity, creativity and decision-making skills. That’s because negative thoughts tend to have a bigger impact than positive thoughts. Again, this goes back to evolution. Survival depended on being able to detect and avoid dangerous situations.

As Dr. Breuning explains, “The bad feeling of cortisol has its own survival purpose. It alerts you to an obstacle on the path to meeting your needs so you can navigate your way to good feelings. But once you do that, your brain finds the next obstacle. You will feel bad a lot if you follow your survival brain wherever it leads.”

The good news is that you can actually train your brain to become more positive through these eight techniques.

1. Observe your thoughts.

The first place to start is by observing your thoughts -- even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Since we’re creatures of habit, you may notice that you have the same negative thoughts creeping up in your mind. Are you anxious about an upcoming trip? Are you stressed out at work? Are you upset about a fight you had with your spouse?

Once you know what negative thoughts are bothering you the most, you can start working on a solution to resolve the problem. For example, if you’re really bothered by a co-worker, then approach your boss with the problem and ask if you can be moved to another part of the office where you don’t have to interact with them as much.

2. Scan for the 3 daily positives.

Before you go to sleep you can easily train your brain. Reflect on your day and think about three good things that happened to you that day. Whether if it was someone buying you a cup of coffee, a beautiful sunset or landing a new client. Even the smallest things, like being paid a compliment, having lunch with an old friend or watching your dog roll around are more than enough to make you happy.

3. Give someone a shoutout.

Gratitude is really important. Research has found that showing gratitude can do anything from making you more optimistic to warding off heart disease. A gratitude journal is a good place to start, but I’ve found that sharing your gratitude is far more beneficial.

It could be anything like thanking an employee or colleague for all of their hard work, a quick catching up email with a friend, complementing your barista or having a nightly discussion like “What was the best part of your day today?” with your spouse.

It may seem a little awkward at first, but trust me, you’ll feel excellent when you give someone a shoutout.

4. Help others.

Whether it’s helping a swamped colleague on a project, holding open a door, buying a stranger a cup of coffee, donating money or volunteering, any acts of kindness can boost happiness.

5. Surround yourself with positive people.

Since emotions are contagious, it only makes sense that you would want to surround yourself with positive people who inspire, empower and motivate you.

6. Look after your body and mind.

Research has found time and time again that taking care of ourselves physically and mentally can influence our happiness and train our brains to be more positive.

For example, eating healthy, particularly bananas, eggs, blueberries and salmon can boost your spirits.

Exercising for just 20 minutes a day is the best way to release endorphins, which in turn will improve your mood. And, finally, start practicing mindfulness through yoga and meditation. Mindfulness is simply being aware of your thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad. An easy mindfulness exercise is to merely set your phone alarm for three separate times during the day. When it buzzes -- stop for one second and take a breath. Even this small break will train your brain to be more balanced.

7. Subconscious re-training and inner healing.

Sometimes in order to become more positive, we have to uncover and then release the past negative experiences that we’ve been holding onto. Exercises like tapping, daily affirmations, neuro-linguistic programming and mirror work can help you discover and heal these wounds. Additionally, these exercises can help you build a more supportive and affirming belief system that you can use the next time you face any traumatic experiences.

8. Make time to do something that you love.

This may be easier said than done, but one of the best ways to become more positive is making time for something that you absolutely love.

The action doesn’t matter. Just make sure you love it. It may be reading, cooking, playing a sport, going to the movies, planning a camping trip with friends or picking up a new hobby. Try to set aside an hour a day by setting boundaries that will free up a little time to something that gives you genuine happiness.

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