The Science of Happiness

20 Jan

You may be wondering what science and happiness are doing in the same sentence, but according to the emerging field of positive psychology, there is actually a science behind this sought-after emotion. I’m currently taking a course on this subject, as one of my Health Promotion electives, and after three classes, I’m already looking at life in a different way. I went for a beautiful 8 mile run along the coast this morning, and instead of focusing on my stopwatch, I focused on the ocean, the sound of my footsteps, the beat of the music, the sun. I was truly present in my surroundings, and my new-found awareness left no room for negativity.

In an article from the American Journal of Public Health entitled, “Mental Health Promotion in Public Health: Perspectives and Strategies from Positive Psychology, the author writes, “Learned optimism is not about looking at the world through rose-colored glasses or having unrealistic of self-deceptive expectations. Instead, it is about teaching skills needed to promote mental health and to avoid mental worry, rumination, or spirals of negative thinking” (Kobau et al., 2011). It hit me hard that life is short, and I want to experience every moment without thinking about the next one. I know I’ll always be a planner, but being more present in life’s small experiences is something I feel I can work on….

Which leads me to my new goal. Gratitude. According to Kobau, “Gratitude helps people to savor their life experiences and situations, maximize satisfaction and enjoyment from these experiences, and minimize adaptation.” In a recently-conducted study, participants were asked to write down 5 things for which they were grateful, and there were noticeable physical and mental health benefits seen in the experimental group in comparison to the control group.

I know that I try to be aware of the small things, but they tend to slip by quickly or some days go unnoticed. I want to change that…so project gratitude begins tonight. Here are my five things:

  • The perfect running weather this morning
  • My delicious banana smoothie
  • The fact that my new physical therapist was finally able to tell me what’s wrong with my hip (and she can fix it!)
  • The words, “I choose you.”
  • The soundtrack of Winged Migration

What are you grateful for?

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