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  1. Gratitude and happiness often go hand in hand, especially when gratefulness is seen as something essential in our daily lives and not just as a passing emotion. Time and time again, scientific findings have proven that far from being a monolithic concept, gratefulness is a complex emotion that has physical, social, and cognitive benefits. Sounds interesting? Below we discuss this in deatial.  5 science-backed reasons to pick up a gratitude practice 1. Stronger Relationships The social dimension of gratitude is one of the most important reasons to set up and/or persevere in a gratefulness practice. It can help us build stronger relationships because by practising it, we are acknowledging not only the existence of things to be grateful for in life but also and more importantly, we are acknowledging the source of those things. In the majority of cases, the origins can be traced back to other people, whether they are family members (such as your partner preparing your favourite meal) or strangers (the postman delivering your mail, farmers producing the foods that will be on your table, etc.).  When we think about how other people improve and bring pleasure to our lives, our appreciation for them increases naturally. Noticing the small things and how they came about can be a real eye-opener. It helps us feel more interconnected, part of the whole, and in unity with the world that surrounds the people in it and us. The result: we are less likely to feel lonely or isolated and more likely to live meaningful lives.  The link between conscious gratefulness and stronger or more fulfilling relationships is not just subjective:  Researchers at the University of Manchester have established that gratitude influences our perception of social support, encourages reciprocity, and helps create a more supportive environment. 2. Higher Cognitive Functioning Gratitude has also been shown to have the potential to turn us into better functioning individuals, and science leaves little room for doubt about this. For example, Dr Christina M. Karns carried out extensive research into the neurological aspects of gratitude. Her findings (which you can learn about here, especially in the second half of video) revealed that brain imaging scans show how practising gratitude activates two areas of the brain that are responsible for processing information for decision-making purposes.  This has been confirmed by studies at other universities, which showed that grateful individuals were more likely to be patient in receiving rewards and made better decisions in the long term, whereas individuals who were not feeling grateful when faced with a choice preferred immediate rewards even if those were not as beneficial. Researchers concluded that there is a connection between gratefulness and self-control. Combined, these two virtues can help us become more rational and focused when making decisions.  Even better, research at two US universities shows that feeling grateful releases dopamine, a molecule that keeps neurons functioning and that according to Science Daily, can increase motivation and energy levels. Gratitude practices like letter writing or journaling were also shown to help people achieve their goals more consistently, and this only makes sense. Consciously and intentionally set aside some time to reflect on the reasons we have to feel grateful sets a precedent for analytical thinking, which can then be extended to other aspects of our lives.  3. Happier And More Positive Emotions When being grateful becomes an integral part of who we are, savouring the little pleasures in life becomes an essential part of our day-to-day routine. And the more grateful we feel, the more enjoyment we can get out of life. This is more than just a hypothesis. A paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggested that gratitude is strongly related to other positive emotions like life satisfaction, a sense of agency or control, and hope. At the same time, the study found an unlikely correlation between the feeling of gratefulness and negative emotions, such as depression, envy, and anxiety.  From a science point of view, our brains have a built-in negativity bias that makes us more likely to remember bad experiences than good ones. This happens because negative events trigger an adrenaline rush that engraves negative feelings and memories in the brain, but the good news is that a gratitude practice can help re-wire our brains to overcome this bias. Research findings show that gratitude makes us more resilient and gives us reasons to be happy even in difficult times, establishing a link between gratefulness and the ability to cope better with problems and stress. Other studies found that people suffering from depressive symptoms reported a 35% reduction in their symptoms after starting a thoughtful gratitude practice.  It is interesting to note that gratefulness seems to have a cumulative effect, as participants reported that happiness levels kept increasing over time. 4. Self-Improvement When all the benefits discussed so far are taken into consideration, it is evident that following a gratitude practice is an excellent way of boosting our opportunities for self-growth and personal development. In fact, bringing gratefulness into our lives can transform our personalities for the better. Scientific studies conducted in 2010 suggested that this emotion serves as an intermediary between positive personality traits and well-being, especially when it comes to areas like self-acceptance, purpose in life, openness to others, and autonomy. The beauty of this is that there is no way of predicting where a gratitude practice will take you, as adopting gratefulness is like going on a journey of personal discovery.  5. Better Overall Health Grateful living has benefits that we can experience at a physical level too. Dr Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, is a well-known expert in the science of gratefulness who affirms that gratitude can be beneficial to our bodies and improve our overall well-being. The research carried out by Dr Emmons, and his team highlighted the mind-body connection and showed that grateful individuals tend to be more aware of how their lifestyle choices affect their health. For example, being thankful for how good exercise make us feel is likely to keep us motivated to work out frequently, and in turn, regular activity is linked to a stronger immune system, lower cholesterol levels, and lower blood pressure.  On that note, practising gratefulness appears to be good for our hearts too, and quite literally so. Scientists at the University of California – San Diego examined people who were at high risk of experiencing heart disease and who also kept a gratefulness journal and found that their symptoms worsened at a slower rate than participants who didn't follow the same practice. And in case that wasn't good enough, feelings of gratefulness cause higher activity in the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that regulates sleep patterns, metabolism, and stress levels.  As you can see, the benefits of incorporate gratefulness practices into your daily life are enormous. Why not give it a try and experience first hand the transformative power of gratitude?     modelphoto: colourbox.com  Written by Dee MarquesA social sciences graduate with a keen interest in languages, communication, and personal development strategies. Dee loves exercising, being out in Nature, and discovering warm and sunny places where she can escape the winter.
  2. Many people believe that mindfulness can make us happier. But is there any evidence to back this up? And how does mindful living improve our well-being, our sense of self, our happiness? New research sheds light on some of these fascinating questions.  Does mindfulness really make us happier? If you've been working on living a mindful life, you may instinctively want to answer yes. Perhaps you've reduced the stress in your life, or at least improved your ability to handle it. You may have focused your effort on the things that really matter to you. Or maybe you just feel a greater sense of confidence and comfort in yourself.  But although many of us can feel the benefits in our lives, there isn't a lot of scientific evidence so far to back up these ideas. That's starting to change. New studies shed light not only on whether mindfulness affects psychological well-being but also how.  Two recent studies from researchers in Australia and the United States have examined the ways in which mindfulness affects individuals' sense of self and behaviour. Both provide fascinating insights into the ways in which mindful living can affect fundamental parts of our identity.  Mindfulness and sense of self A 2016 study carried out by researchers at the University of Utah investigated the "self-concept clarity" of university students. Self-concept clarity, or SCC for short, is the extent to which an individual has a clear definition of their own beliefs and traits which remain consistent over time. Individuals with high self-concept clarity have a strong sense of self, a clear image of who they are. This view isn't necessarily accurate, of course - SCC isn't the same thing as self-knowledge - but it's stable.  There is an association with high SCC, positive relationships, high self-esteem and a greater sense of independence. Not much is known about where exactly it comes from. However, this study suggests that the connection is with intentional and non-judgmental awareness. In other words - mindfulness.  The study revealed that more mindful participants had greater self-concept-clarity, and that both mindful living and strong sense of self were correlated with psychological well-being. In fact, the relation between a mindful disposition and well-being through self-concept clarity was higher than the correlation between mindfulness and well-being alone.  The authors of the study conclude that mindful individuals may improve their well-being in several ways. These individuals avoid conflicting self-images, which can lead to distress. They may more frequently identify behaviour that will improve their psychological well-being and sense of self-esteem.  Mindfulness and authenticity A second study, conducted by researchers at the National University of Australia and Catholic University of Australia in 2016, shows some results that reveal further information about the connection between mindful living and values-based actions. According to the study, values-based action - action and behaviour consistent with an individual's values and beliefs - are an important part of the relationship between a mindful disposition and psychological well-being. Individuals who were more mindful tended to act more consistently with their own values and therefore to be happier. In fact, the researchers found that the connection between mindfulness and well-being through values-based action was much stronger than the direct link. Mindful individuals saw an increase in well-being primarily when they showed authenticity in action.  Psychological well-being Both studies suggest a correlation between mindful individuals and psychological well-being. It's worth taking a moment to examine the concept in a little more detail. Psychological well-being (abbreviated PWB) basically reflects what we would think of as happiness: an individual's level of satisfaction with various aspects of their life. It's not a simple concept, though. Well-being breaks down into two further categories: hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Hedonic well-being focuses on experiencing pleasure and avoiding pain. When we're comfortable, well-fed and enjoying ourselves, our sense of hedonic well-being is high. Eudaimonic well-being bases itself more on the happiness that comes from self-actualisation. Our sense of eudaimonic well-being is high when we feel that what we are doing is worthwhile and that we can fulfill our potential. Authenticity of action is vital to this sense of well-being.  Relating authenticity and self-image Both studies may show some of the connection between a mindful disposition and well-being. In the University of Utah study, mindful individuals did not suffer from some of the distress that can come from a confused or contradictory sense of self. They had clearer ideas of who they were. This may have allowed them to select actions and relationships that satisfied their values. In the Australian study, well-being came from authenticity:  Individuals who acted on their values tended to be happier. But of course, the two are inseparable. A strong sense of self is vital to values-based action since people with lower self-concept clarity may not even really be sure of their own values.  Putting it into practice Of course, these are just two studies, and as always further research must happen.  The evidence so far suggests that authenticity may be one of the most important connections between mindful living and well-being. Maintaining a mindful disposition can make us more aware of ourselves and our values, which is vital. But these values won't contribute as much to our well-being unless we put them into action. By identifying what our core beliefs are - what's really important to us - we can identify the actions that we need to carry out to put those beliefs into practice.  Hopefully, putting our core beliefs into practice makes the world a better place. But it's also an important part of building our sense of well-being. When we act with authenticity -- when we're true to our own sense of self -- we develop the habits that contribute to our own happiness.  Images licensed by Ingram Image  Written by Guest AuthorWe are happy to publish articles by guest authors that will broaden the perspective and bring new insights. If you are interested in publishing an article here on happiness.org please contact us.
  3. The Key to a Good Life A unique longitudinal study designed and run by the Harvard Medical School has reported fascinating results on the key to a good life. What the study reveals in the area of happiness and well-being may lead to a revolutionary new understanding of how we can best live "the good life". The results, so far, are clear and startling.  The strongest indicator of a happy, healthy long good life seems to be having good, high-quality close relationships. Equally, conflict-ridden, hostile and unloving relationships were found to be actively toxic. For these men in the study and associated with a shorter and less healthy life. The strongest predictor for how a man would age into his eighties seems to be how happy he is with his closest relationship when he is fifty.  Watch Robert Waldinger's TED talk about the study. He is the current director of the Grant study and a Harvard psychologist. He has also published a book about the study.     75 years and four directors The 75 year-long 'Study of Adult Development', currently directed by psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, follows the lives of 724 American men. It asks for their views on happiness and records the details of their lives as they unfold. The study has gone through generations of researchers. Waldinger is the fourth director so far.  There are 60 subjects of the original groups of children still alive. Their children and grandchildren are now participants in the study. The initial two groups chosen were vastly different from each other. One group came from the prestigious halls of Harvard. While the other group was chosen from troubled teenagers in Boston. The subjects are studied physically and also questioned on their feelings. Blood tests and brain scans are among some of the other objective data gathered.  Unpicking the research The study has found strong links between the amount of satisfaction men reported within their primary relationship, and their levels of well-being, healthiness, and even length of life. This link held true across economic difference, social strata and health conditions. It even showed links across differing levels of professional success. Even though some of the men in the study had led entirely unremarkable working lives. While in another group one of the members went on to become President.  Happily partnered men reported - in their 80ies - that on the days they had more physical pain, their mood stayed just the same. The results sound, initially, frighteningly unachievable for most of us. A counsel of perfection requiring an unattainable level of harmony in relationships. But the researchers found that having a good, secure, close relationship did not mean having a perfect and conflict-free partnership. Many of the men who reported themselves as content with their relationship also reported many arguments. But crucially felt that they could whole-heartedly rely on their partner to be on their side when it was truly important. Despite superficial daily conflict, the sense that a partner "has your back" seems to be key to that sense of solidity in a relationship. From there the protective benefits seem to stem.  Putting it into practice as a key to a good life So, is this disastrous for those who are alone? Perhaps widowed in later life, or in the aftermath the of divorce? Will their existing bad luck grow due to poor health and a shortened life span? The study appeared to find not. Good, close relationships of any kind added to the chances of a positive outcome. Whether these relationships were with family or close friends. The security of the attachment seems to matter more than the nature of the relationships. The sense of connectedness to a trusted other being the key factor.  For those men in the study without a close connection to anyone, health and happiness outcomes were significantly poorer. It seems that loneliness is more than just extremely unpleasant. It appears to be actively toxic. A conclusion that requires thoughtful consideration on a societal level, not just a personal one. Despite the received perception that work is the fount of self-esteem and contentment. This study clearly shows that our focus should be on what goes on in the home, rather than the workplace.  So what's the key to a good life? Conclusions drawn from this study point to a clear direction of travel for those of us who want to build a happier and healthier future. One that will take us into later age still content and with a sense of well-being. The time we spend on our close relationships now - even in the midst of our busy lives - focusing on work and external considerations, may appear to be a luxury. It is increasingly becoming clear that the emphasis on making and preserving strong relationships builds the foundations of happiness later on.  Taking time to switch off from the trivial day to day distractions to focus on the people in our lives who form our support system may prove to be the single most important step we can take for our health, longevity, and happiness.    Image source: TED on youtube.com  Written by Guest AuthorWe are happy to publish articles by guest authors that will broaden the perspective and bring new insights. If you are interested in publishing an article here on happiness.org please contact us.