Sunshine On My Shoulders

One of the oldest and best-known remedies for a variety of maladies is exposure to sun. Perhaps you can relate to the happiness felt on that first day of true spring sunshine after a long winter of dark skies and cold temperatures. If you have felt that first-hand, then you have an idea of the wonderful healing powers of the sun.

It seems strange that something as easily accessible (and free!) as the sun can help build bone strength, slow osteoporosis, or even ease pain, among other things. Strange but true. We humans (and most other vertebrates as well) need Vitamin D in order to maintain musculoskeletal health throughout life. Vitamin D is sometimes referred to as the sunshine vitamin, for good reason! It is estimated that most of us get upwards of 90 percent of the required amount of Vitamin D through exposure to sunlight. Studies dating way back to the 17th century showed evidence that rickets, a disease affecting bone development and strength especially in children, is best treated by sun exposure. We now know that the sunshine vitamin is also critical in the maintenance of muscle strength and in the prevention of many diseases such as type I diabetes, lots of kinds of cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, MS, heart disease, and even kidney disease (as evidenced in studies conducted at Boston University School of Medicine, by Dr. Michael Holick, 2005).  And check this out: patients who recuperate in rooms filled with sunshine heal faster and experience less pain and stress than those who don’t get the sunshine treatment (Walch et al, 2005). Holy cow and duh at the same time! Even Florence Nightingale knew that – she campaigned to have hospitals built to include lots of sunshine.

So, those are all pretty good reasons to dose on sunshine, don’t you think? But, wait! There’s more! Sunshine can also just make you FEEL better! You already know this – first day of spring sunshine and all, referenced early in this fascinating reminder of things that you probably already know but may not think about enough. Here is why: sunshine triggers the release of serotonin. Serotonin is the major “feel-good” chemical produced by the brain. The more sunshine, the more serotonin. The more serotonin, the more feel-good.

You KNOW I am not advising you to go lay out in the sun all day so you won’t be depressed. That’s silly. I remember one time we were discussing this very topic in one of my psychology classes, and one of my students asked if I thought it was a good idea to hit the tanning beds in the wintertime in order to get that coveted vitamin D. Seriously? Isn’t that like taking up smoking as a way to lose weight?  We know that too much exposure to direct sunlight can lead to skin cancer, so there must be some happy medium, right? Wear a hat to protect your face, ears, and neck. Wear sunscreen. Limit your time in the sun. Avoid sunburn. Be smart! It’s not rocket science.

But oh, make sure you feel the sun on your face every day if you can! Run, hike, pull weeds, lie in that hammock in the shade, walk a few blocks instead of automatically jumping in the car, go for a swim, play! Let that serotonin free! You canNOT overdose on Vitamin D from the sun! And while you’re freeing the serotonin and feelin’ good, you’ll also be working on your bone and muscle strength, easing pain, and staving off disease.

Sunshine. Just do it.

peace and love,

mom

 

References

Genuis SJ, Canadian Family Physician Médecin De Famille Canadien [Can Fam Physician], ISSN: 0008-350X, 2006 Apr; Vol. 52, pp. 422-3, 429-31; Publisher: College of Family Physicians of Canada

Holick MF, Seminars In Dialysis [Semin Dial], ISSN: 0894-0959, 2005 Jul-Aug; Vol. 18 (4), pp. 266-75; Publisher: Blackwell Science.

Walch JM, Rabin BS, Day R, Williams JN, Choi K, Kang JD. The effect of sunlight on postoperative analgesic medication use: a prospective study of patients undergoing spinal surgery. Psychosom Med. 2005;67:156–163.

Bring On the Rain

The first of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism is that life is “dukkha.” Roughly translated, that means life is “suffering.” If that is indeed truth, and I believe it is, do we just give up now, because we are doomed to suffer? No, no, no! We welcome the suffering, because suffering means learning. Suffering means recognizing the goodness and the joy because we know what their absence feels like. Suffering means we have the opportunity to face adversity and come out the other side, more resilient and feeling good.

Guess what the research reveals about adversity and resilience? You guessed it! Research supports the idea that some amount of adversity and suffering makes us happier, stronger, more resilient, better able to face future adversity with positive coping skills, and actually physically able to handle pain better. A study by Seery et al (University at Buffalo) in 2011 revealed moderate adversity across a lifetime to be associated with well-being and resilience. Just a little bit of adversity: not good! Too much adversity for too long: not good! A moderate amount of adversity across a lifetime:  really good!

Now, let’s think about this. If adversity is good because it requires us to face our problems head on, become resilient, feel mastery over bad circumstances, etc., does that mean we should seek out adversity? Should we go asking for bad things to happen in our lives so that we can get a good workout? Uh, no. Don’t do that! Bad things feel bad, sometimes end up changing things permanently for the bad, and sometimes really just screw things up. Please believe me when I say that there will be enough challenges and adversity in your every day WITHOUT seeking them out! The trick is to realize, really understand, that every day of your life will include some kind of crap. Every day. Because life is dukkha! But, oh my goodness, that daily suffering is your friend, because you know what to do with it! You work through it! You understand that it’s just a thing, a thing you have the muscles and the perspective to deal with. You look forward to the good, you feel gratitude for the many many wonderful things in your life. You don’t make a big deal of the suffering, because you accept that it will be there, and that you will know what to do, and that afterward you will be enjoying the feeling that you faced a problem like a badass, and now you can relax and drink a delicious smoothie and laugh with your loved ones. Look for the silver lining, always.

peace and love,

mom

Lean On Me

I am sure you have noticed, but I will remind you anyway, that when you do something nice for someone else, it makes you feel good. And when you do something nice for someone else without any intention or thought of reward or reciprocation, it makes you feel REALLY good (altruism)! The intrinsic motivation for doing a good deed is reward enough!

Here’s the science behind the good feeling of giving: thought to be an evolutionary adaptation, the brain releases dopamine in response to altruistic acts (Reuter et al. 2010). Dopamine is a brain chemical that is involved with reward, as in “that felt good, let’s do it again!” There have been some clever experiments which tested and supported the hypothesis that altruism leads to happiness. In a now famous study conducted at Harvard School of Altrusim (just kidding, there is no Harvard School of Altruism, but that sounds kind of cool, don’t you think? It was actually Elizabeth Dunn in the Psychology Department of the University of British Columbia, who conducted the study, 2008), participants were asked to rate their happiness, then were given money and instructed to either spend the money on themselves, or to spend it on others. Long story short, those who spent the money on others reported greater levels of happiness. So, it turns out that money does indeed lead to happiness, provided you GIVE the money away rather that keep it yourself. By the way, in another study conducted by Dunn, she asked a group of college students to predict which would make them happier, spending money on themselves, or spending money on others. The majority of the participants predicted that spending money on themselves would feel best. So, maybe we are not such great judges of what will make us happy. Perhaps we should listen to Dr. Elizabeth Dunn! While we’re at it, let’s also take heed of the findings of studies conducted by Sonja Lyubormirsky of Stanford University (2004). Her study showed that participants who “committed” five random acts of kindness all in one day reported significantly higher levels of satisfaction. Random acts of kindness could be anything from volunteering at an assisted living facility to leaving a generous tip, from holding the door open for another to delivering dinner to a sick friend. Be a listening ear for a friend, allow him/her to lean on you; help them to carry on! And, where possible, commit the kindnesses anonymously (it feels better).

In short, do something good today! Do five good things today! Not only will someone else benefit from it, which is totally awesome, but so will you! You will feel happier, more satisfied, and really good!

peace and love,

mom

 

Feel This Moment

Did you ever have the experience where you just didn’t want a moment to end? It felt so good, you felt so good? I’m willing to bet that even after that moment you felt good for a WHILE! You were savoring that moment, and studies show that the residual effects from savoring a moment last far beyond the moment, increasing your sense of well-being (Bryant 2003, Hurley and Kwon 2007).

Some folks are adept at savoring. Some not so much. Good news is, savoring is not only a trait that some come by naturally, but it is also a skill that can be learned relatively easily, and like all skills, is strengthened with practice.

So, what exactly is savoring? It means to focus on AND enjoy past, current, and future positive events. So you can savor something you are looking forward to (a girl trip with my sister), or remembering (sweet cuddles from my kids), or something that is happening now (a lovely meal I am enjoying, the sun on my shoulders on the first perfect spring day).

Here are some techniques for successful savoring (thanks, Bryant and Verhoff 2007):

  1.  Express positive emotions while you are experiencing the memory or moment. Do this by smiling! Laughing!
  2. Share your good experiences with others. FYI, this is the very best use of Facebook.
  3. Focus on the moment! Let yourself become absorbed! You can do this by focusing on the sensory aspects of the moment: the sounds of the instruments in that song you are listening to, the texture and flavors of that delicious bite of chicken parmigiana, the warmth of the sun, the smell of the sea, etc.
  4. Committing the moment to memory, consciously and deliberately.
  5. Count your blessings. Name them one by one. More on this later!

Not only can savoring increase your feelings of well-being and happiness, but a recent study by Hurley and Kwon (2011) showed that savoring can DECREASE your feelings of depression. Think about it.

In conclusion! Make savoring a habit! Stop and smell the roses – breathe in that intoxicating scent, enjoy those beautiful colors and velvety texture. Be grateful that such a small thing can improve the world. Remember! Tell others about the beauty of that rose.

peace and love,

mom

 

Smile Like You Mean It

“Gray skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face.”

“Smile, though your heart is aching…”

Today’s tip for feeling good and creating happiness is based on sound neuroscience. Here’s the thing: Everything you do, every thought you think, every expression on your face, everything your body does without your conscious awareness — is physically represented on your brain by brain cell connecting to brain cell and forming a neural pathway. This is physical evidence of those things you do, think, feel. Because of this, everything that is psychological is always at the same time physiological.

So, when you SMILE, for instance, there is a neural pathway that is activated, not just for the muscular movement of the face, but also for the effect that the smile has on the way you think and feel. Smiling is usually associated as the result of feeling happy, but it works the other way around, too! Smiling can make you FEEL happier (Stanford University)! And guess what? It can be a fake smile, it can be a smile that is physically manipulated … just that act of turning the corners of your mouth up will do the trick. Also, smiling can actually result in a lowered heart rate and decreased stress levels (University of Kansas). Are you kidding me?!

Today’s tip for feeling good and creating happiness: SMILE! Try it out. Do it right now. Smile and hold it for ten seconds. It’s free, it’s science, it works.

peace and love,

mom