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Positive Psychology

A recent study by UCLA’s Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology showed that those with high levels of eudaimonic well being (which is happiness that comes from living a meaningful, purpose driven life) underwent gene expression that lowered inflammation and increased the body’s ability to fight off viral infections.

This connection between happiness and well being is what drives the relatively young division of psychology called “positive psychology”. Traditionally, we think of psychology as a modality that focuses on mental illness; however, positive psychology studies ways to increase happiness in the average person.

The University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center published an article in 2005 studying clinical interventions that make people measurably happier. This study found that there were particularly effective interventions that people could take to increase and maintain their level of happiness for an extended period of time. These are the two that stood out most to me as the easiest to incorporate into your every day life:

1. Write down three good things that happened each day and why they happened.

The study found that happiness associated with completing this exercise every night for only 1 week was maintained for a total of 6 months!

2. Show gratitude.

This exercise, called the “gratitude visit”, involved getting people in the study to write and deliver a letter of gratitude to someone that they had never properly thanked. Completing this exercise resulted in the largest positive effect on happiness which was maintained for an average of 1 month.

The people at one of my favorite websites, SoulPancake (founded by the hilarious and talented Rainn Wilson), released a The Science of Happiness video that recreated the “gratitude visit” exercise from the UPenn study. Watch the video below and see what a difference showing gratitude can make…

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