Gretchen Reynolds, who writes the popular Phys Ed column for the New York Times, shared via Oprah.com 10 ways to improve yourself via emotions, goals, and changing your way of thinking, all supported by scientific research.
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1. Be optimistic
A group of adults that meditated an average of 6 hours and 13 minutes over the course of 5 weeks developed patterns of brain activity associated with positive mood. Optimism is important because it impacts how you are able to go about your day. Not many people have this amount of free time, but a few minutes in quiet contemplation would still result in similar noticeable positive benefits.
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2. Find serenity
According to observations by Irish and Canadian scientists, mice fed a strain of probiotics, which are mostly found in yogurt, became calmer and less likely to panic under stress compared to mice that were fed a usual broth. The calm mice produced fewer stress hormones, having effects similar to taking an antidepressant. For a more natural and calming effect, look for some yogurt with active probiotic cultures every once in a while.
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3. Induce creativity
Volunteers who worked in rooms lit by a lamp with incandescent light bulbs instead of fluorescents were able to solve problems requiring creative thinking more successfully. Scientists believe that it was not the light of the bulb that induced creativity, but actually the perception of the light. Finding objects that induce creativity can also help boost productivity within your day.
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4. Nurture feelings of belonging
Students who considered chicken soup as a comfort food were fed some and scored higher on a psychological test of social connectedness than those who weren’t fed soup. When given fragments to complete, such as “incl,” the students converted this into relationship words, such as “include” rather than more neutral words like “incline.” Certain food stirs a sense of connection, and if in a stressful and unfriendly environment, may be considered to help connect with people.
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An experiment with mice given a compound called epicatechin, 5 grams worth of dark chocolate, enabled physical changes similar to regular exercise even without activity. Their muscles resisted fatigue better and could run faster without training. Whether physical exercise is done, or through supplements with similar results, exercise helps individuals resist fatigue to endure long days.
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6. Maintain physical affection
A survey of 1,009 heterosexual couples by the Kinsey Institute showed that physical affection is important to long-term relationships. Additionally, scientists found that women were more likely sexually satisfied by hugs and kisses even if sex didn’t follow. Maintaining physical affection with a partner calms, relaxes, reduces pain, and inhibits feel-good hormones, which indirectly also helps prolong relationships.
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7. Get energized
Picturing yourself beneath the sky and canopied branches help overcome the tired, draggy feelings of the day. Scientists found that daydreaming about nature is energizing. Going outdoors would also have a similar effect, with as little as 20 minutes in a natural setting increasing energy levels for the day.
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8. Live longer
Live longer by volunteering. Researchers found from 10,000 adults studied over 50 years that those who volunteer, with altruistic motives, outlived those who didn’t volunteer at all, and even those who volunteered for their own satisfaction.
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9. Spend on others
Studies found that the happiness levels of those who spend on others, or givers, were happier than those who spend for themselves. The givers, even upon being offered more cash to spend on themselves, were more likely to spend on others. This developed the “positive feedback loop” thinking, that happiness can exist when offering gifts.
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10. Keep a healthy diet
A study of 1,000 households showed that shoppers who paid with a credit card tended to purchase chips, cookies, and other unhealthy snacks. The theory was that shelling out cash is more psychologically painful and the person is less likely to spend on unhealthy or unnecessary items. When trying to shop for healthier food, bringing smaller change could help.