Teach Yourself Well-Being

Picture of person on a river meditating

We’ve all heard about the power of positive thinking, well new research proves this phrase to be true. This year’s World Happiness Report stresses a “need to shift our thinking about well-being from a static ‘thing’ to a set of skills that can be learned and cultivated over time.” A Huffington Post article written by UW professor of Psychology and Psychiatry Richard Davidson points out that just like we exercise our bodies, we need to exercise our brains. The idea is to take a few moments to stop and check how we are feeling; how our body feels, how our brain feels in the present moment, a type of “body scan.” Davidson offered four important elements that are indicators of overall well-being.

1. Sustaining positive emotion. People who are able to enjoy small pleasures, like the last bite of dessert or a good laugh, for prolonged periods of time reported higher levels of psychological well-being and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

2. Rebounding from negative emotion. “People with a greater purpose in life show increased resilience (how quickly someone recovers from adversity) and greater well-being.”

3. Mindfulness and mind-wandering. Not surprisingly, people who felt that they were able to focus on one task and not allowed their mind to wander feel better about themselves. Mindfulness or being present in the moment will lessen our want for other unnecessary things.

4. Caring for others. Empathy, compassion and gratitude are three very important elements of well-being. Pro-social behavior is not only good for those being helped, but also for the person helping.

To top it all off Polish researchers Tomasz Zaleskiewicz, Agata Gasiorowska, and Pelin Kesebir of UW-Madison recently did research into pro-social behavior in the face of mortality. They found that “reinforcing your self-image as a generous person, or helping to support your group, are effective ways of temporarily banishing the fear of dying.”

Their study which involved having participants fill out either a “fear of death” questionnaire or one about dental-pain anxiety. Shortly after they were presented with a sum of money which they could either keep for themselves or give to someone else, knowing there would be some sort of real pay-off in the end. The “Scrooge Effect Revisited” proved that those faced with death were not only more generous, but had more satisfaction in their decision.

As we can see, well-being more than just a physical state, it is a mental state that we have the power to control. Knowing how you feel and being able to react to those emotions are a big part of overall well-being.

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