Foods, Uncategorized

Spaghetti Squash

spaghettisquash

Is Spaghetti Squash Good for You?

 

Question: I’d like to buy spaghetti squash and use it instead of pasta, but I”m not sure what to do with it. Also, I think it’s good for my diet, but I’m not sure. Can you tell me if spaghetti squash is good for a diet?

 

Answer: Spaghetti squash is a vegetable so sure, it’s good for you. Although pasta can easily fit into a healthy diet, it’s nice to have a little variety. It’s also a good way to cut calories if you regularly eat pasta dishes.

 

 

So What Is Spaghetti Squash?

For those readers who haven’t heard of it, spaghetti squash is a large, yellow variety of winter squash. But it’s not like other winter squash because after the squash is cooked, the flesh can be raked out with a fork. Cooked spaghetti squash looks like long strands of pasta and has a mild flavor, so it works well in many dishes that call for cooked pasta. Spaghetti squash can also be served as a side dish with a little salt and pepper.

 

Spaghetti squash is nutritious and low in calories. One cup of cooked squash has around 40 calories, 10 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, and is an excellent source of calcium, potassium, magnesium, and niacin. For comparison, a cup of cooked spaghetti noodles has about 200 calories. Spaghetti squash is suitable for many special diets, including:

 

Dairy free

Gluten or wheat free

Low sodium

Vegan or vegetarian

Low fat

Low carb

Choosing and Preparing Spaghetti Squash

You can find spaghetti squash in the produce department of your local grocery store.

 

Look for squash that is firm with a hard rind. It should also feel heavy for their size. Avoid squash that has mold or feels soft and squishy.

 

Store the squash in a cool dry place for up to a month. The most common way to prepare your spaghetti squash is to bake it. Here’s what you do:

 

Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

Slice the squash in half length-wise and place both halves on a baking sheet, cut side down.

Bake the squash about 35 minutes, or until the flesh is cooked through.

Let it cool for a few minutes, and then rake the flesh out with a fork.

If you’re in a hurry you can place your spaghetti squash halves in a microwave for about 10 minutes or so.

Top the strands with tomato sauce with plenty of veggies and you’ll have a filling meal that’s low in calories. You can use cheese sauce, Alfredo sauce or any other pasta sauce, just remember they’re higher in calories.

 

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Berries You Should Be Eating

Beautiful Berries You Should Be Eating

 

Picking or eating berries is a special summertime treat. They’re so delicious and beautiful – think about rich red strawberries, juicy blueberries, and tangy cranberries. Mmm… so good.

 

Berries should also be a part of your diet because they’re loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, plus they’re rich in antioxidants that can protect your cells from free-radical damage. And best of all, they’re low in calories, so they’re perfect for weight-watching diets.

 

Beautiful, delicious, and good for you. Read on to learn more about these perfect nutritional gems.

 

2  Strawberries

strawberries

Strawberries are luscious berries that are easy to find in every grocery store year round. They’re also inexpensive and loaded with good nutrition.

 

One cup of strawberries contains over 100 milligrams of vitamin C, almost as much as a cup of orange juice. Strawberries also have calcium, magnesium, folate, and potassium. And they’re low in calories – one cup of strawberries has only 53 calories.

 

Keep them healthy by keeping them simple. Serve sliced berries with a dab of whipped cream and almond slivers. Dip large strawberries in chocolate for a nutritious snack that feels totally decadent.

3  Raspberries

raspberries

Raspberries are beautiful berries that are best during the summer months when they’re at their peak and most affordable. They’re delicate and don’t keep very long, so use them quickly. Most raspberries are red, but you might find gold or black raspberries, too.

Nutrition wise, raspberries are rich in calcium, magnesium, and vitamin C. Plus, they’re low in calories – one cup of raspberries has 64 calories.

 

4  Blueberries

blueberries

Blueberries seem to make it to the top of almost every superfoods list. Probably because they’re chock full of antioxidants. Blueberries are available year-round, but they’re at their best during the summer months.

They’re also good for plenty of nutrients – one cup of blueberries has lots of potassium and almost 4 grams of fiber. You’ll also get a good dose of vitamin C and only 83 calories.

 

 

5  Currants

currants

Fresh red or black currants may not be easy to find fresh, but you can find dried currants year-round. Probably the best way to get a hold of fresh currants is to visit farmers markets in late spring.

Currants are high in potassium, calcium, and vitamin C, and they’re rich in fiber. One cup of fresh raw currants has around 60 calories.

If you find fresh currants, buy plenty and freeze them.

 

6  Blackberries

blackberries

Blackberries look like large black raspberries, and they have a tangier flavor. They’re quite good for you because they’re high in calcium, vitamin C, and potassium, plus one cup of blackberries has over 7 grams of fiber about 60 calories. And like all berries, they’re loaded with antioxidants.

Blackberries are delicious in smoothies or served with a bit of creme fraiche.

 

7  Lingonberries

ligonberries

Tart but tasty lingonberries are best known in Scandinavian recipes and are often used to make preserves and juices. Lingonberry jam isn’t too hard to find but look for frozen lingonberries online.

Lingonberries are low in calories (although they usually need some sugar to overcome the tartness). They’re also high in vitamin C, magnesium, and fiber.

Try some lingonberry jam and brunost (brown cheese) on a slice of pumpernickel bread.

 

8  Bilberries

bilberries

Bilberries look a lot like blueberries, but they’re not. Bilberries are wild berries that come from the British Isles, so they’re most common in British recipes. Bilberries are also prized for their health benefits due to their antioxidant content.

Fresh bilberries may be difficult to find, but you can find dried bilberries online that make a tasty and healthy snack.

 

9  Cranberries

cranberries

Cranberries are native to North America and they’re most commonly served during the holidays. It’s fairly easy to find fresh or frozen cranberries in most grocery stores, plus there are lots of brands of cranberry juice.

As far as nutrition and health, cranberries are high in vitamin C and they have lots of antioxidants. They also contain compounds that may help prevent bladder infections.

Cranberries are very tart so most recipes call for some sugar but there are some savory recipes available.

 

10  Elderberries

elderberries

Elderberries are good for you.

Elderberries are small deep purple berries and quite tasty. They’re probably most associated with elderberry wine and elderberry syrup that’s used in cough syrups and cold tonics. It’s not easy to find elderberries in stores, but they may show up at local farmers markets. Or you might grow your own elderberries.

Elderberries are high in vitamin C, calcium, and potassium, and very high in vitamin A and fiber.

 

11  What About Cherries?

cherries

Cherries are good for your diet.

Technically, cherries aren’t berries because they have inedible pits, but these little red fruits are used in a similar fashion.

Cherries contain several nutrients and antioxidants, and dark cherries are an excellent source of melatonin – similar to the hormone that increases in your body as you get sleepy. In fact, nibbling on a small bowlful of cherries before bedtime just might help you sleep better.

Serve pitted cherries with plain Greek yogurt or a tart frozen yogurt. Or add cherries to a smoothie with bananas, strawberries, or other fruits.

 

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Slow Cooker Beef Brisket Low Carb

slowcookerbeef

Slow Cooker Beef Brisket and Vegetable Recipe for Low Carb Diet

 

Beef brisket is a meat staple in the US, particularly in Southern states. It is usually cooked in one of two ways – by braising, a long slow process of cooking the meat in liquid typically in a slow cooker or Dutch oven or on the BBQ also called smoking, a long slow process of dry cooking. The key to both is the “long slow” part, which breaks down the tough connective tissue in the beef, resulting in meat that is succulent, tender and flavorful. The Slow Cooker is most easily used for braised brisket, but if you use this recipe and you want to go for the drier type that is closer to a barbecue or smoked brisket, put all the vegetables on the bottom, as noted below. The meat will then sit on top instead of being submerged in the juices. The vegetables will be somewhat overcooked, but either way will be tasty from the broth.

 

Ingredients

One beef brisket, around 3½ to 4 lbs (you can ask your butcher to cut it in half if it’s too big)

1 tablespoon smoked or regular paprika

½ teaspoon chipotle powder if using regular paprika, ¼ teaspoon cayenne if using smoked paprika

1 tablespoon coriander or 2 teaspoons cumin (just depends on which flavor you like better)

2 teaspoons garam masala OR 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 teaspoon allspice

1 and ½ teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons pepper

2 packets sugar substitute (Splenda or Truvia preferred)

1 medium onion, sliced

1 large or 2 small-medium celery root (celeriac), peeled and cut into largish chunks (how to peel celery root)

2 large stalks of celery, chopped

1 bay leaf

3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

¼ cup (4 tablespoons) tomato paste

¼ cup sugar-free ketchup

Preparation

  1. Trim most of the fat off the brisket, but no need to be fanatical about it.

 

  1. Mix the spices and sweetener together and rub the meat on all sides with the mix. Refrigerate the meat for anywhere between and hour and a day, and take it out half an hour or so before cooking.

 

  1. Very lightly oil the bottom of the slow cooker, and add the onion, bay leaf, and garlic. If you want to raise the meat, also add the celery root and celery.

 

 

  1. Spread the tomato paste on the bottom of the meat – this would be the non-fat side. This is to keep the paste from scorching on the bottom of the slow cooker.

 

  1. Put the meat on top of the vegetables of choice (fat side up), and add the rest of the vegetables to the top if you are braising.

 

  1. Cook for 9-11 hours on low.

 

  1. When the meat is tender, remove the meat and vegetables from the pot, and arrange on a platter. Stir the ketchup into the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasonings. You might want a touch more salt, spice, or sweetness.

 

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Low Carb Coconut Shrimp

lowcarbcoconutshrimp

Low Carb Coconut Shrimp

 

This sugar-free version of coconut shrimp can be used as an appetizer, party food, or main course. There is a little sweetener in the coating because the popular restaurant versions are sweet, but this is optional. You may find that the Spicy Sweet Dipping Sauce has enough sweetness.

 

Ingredients

1 pound large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined (thaw if frozen)

1/3 cup coconut flour

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or 1 teaspoon ancho pepper

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

2 tablespoons water

1/2 cup shredded coconut – unsweetened

cooking oil of your choice

Preparation

  1. Mix coconut flour with red and black peppers, and salt.
  2. Whisk the eggs with a fork in a small dish, and mix with the 2 tb water. Add sweetener if desired.
  3. Put shredded coconut in a separate dish.
  4. Put oil in a large skillet to about 3/4 inch depth. Heat to 350 to 360 degrees, or until the end of a wooden spoon handle dipped into the oil collects bubbles around it.
  5. Holding shrimp by the tail, roll in coconut flour, and shake to get most of it off – you just want a thin coating.

Then dip in egg, again shaking off the excess. Finally, roll in coconut.

  1. Fry the shrimp until golden on each side, about 2 minutes per side. I usually put each in the pan as I prepare them, but you have to watch the ones in the pan closely if you do it this way. An alternative is to bread a few at once and then put them all in the pan at the same time. Don’t crowd the pan, which will lower the temperature of the oil – this makes them absorb more oil and end up heavy and greasy. Tongs are the best tool for turning and removing the shrimp.
  2. Remove from the pan to a paper towel or cooling rack. Serve with sweet and spicy dipping sauce, if desired.

 

Note: It’s probably not possible to get exact nutritional numbers. Frying temperature will affect the amount of oil absorbed, and the exact amount of coconut breading will vary. The following is my estimate, from the best I can tell.

 

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How Being Good to Others Can Be Good For You

beinggoodtoothers

How being good to others can be good for you.

 

Treating other people well isn’t just good for your karma. It’s good for your health and vitality, too.

 

Psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, author of Love 2.0: Creating Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection, studies how “micro-moments” of connection with others, like sharing a smile or expressing concern, improve emotional resilience, boost the immune system, and reduce susceptibility to depression and anxiety.

 

In Fredrickson’s view, our psyches need affirmative human connection in much the same way that our bodies need wholesome food.

 

“Moments of uplifting positive emotions function like nutrients for creativity, growth, and health,” she says.

 

Still, while none of us wakes with the intention to curse other drivers, snap at our kids, or shame our employees, we do — more often than anyone likes.

 

Moments of uplifting positive emotions function like nutrients for creativity, growth, and health.

 

And according to psychologist Elisha Goldstein, PhD, author of Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion, this may be because our brains contain a “negativity bias,” which favors cautious, fear-based thoughts over generous, positive ones.

 

We’ve evolved this defense mechanism to protect us from lurking danger, he notes, but it doesn’t protect our relationships very well. And in our fast-paced culture, where we compete for everything from parking spaces to pay raises, our primal survival behaviors are triggered routinely.

 

“We live in a kind of fundamental scarcity,” explains Kristi Nelson, executive director of A Network for Grateful Living, a nonprofit that promotes gratitude practice. “That sense of scarcity tends to run our lives.”

 

It also leads to perpetual rushing, which only makes matters worse. In Nelson’s view, the “preoccupation with always getting somewhere and getting more” drives an unhealthy tendency toward self-focus. We start to believe “it’s me or them.” All the time.

 

Under this kind of pressure, the very idea of being kind — keeping the needs and feelings of others in mind, showing care and empathy — can start to seem like a luxury at best. At worst, it just seems foolish.

 

Yet the act of focusing on others can reduce our eat-or-be-eaten anxieties. And in the process, it may actually improve our health and well-being.

 

In 2013 Fredrickson conducted a six-week study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that tested the effects of meditation on stress. Instead of focusing on a mantra or the sound of the breath, participants were instructed to meditate on compassionate thoughts toward themselves and others — including people they did not like.

 

After six weeks, participants were tested for the effects of their practice on the vagus nerve, a cerebral nerve that stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system to regulate digestion and cardiovascular health. In participants who reported an increase in positive feelings and social connections, “vagal tone” was also improved.

 

And kindness does get easier with practice. When we’re good to others, says Goldstein, our mental habits of scarcity, negativity, and rigidity begin to shift. We become less and less worried about getting our share.

 

Interested in encouraging that positive shift within yourself? Here are eight simple ways to begin.

 

CULTIVATING KINDNESS

Strategies for growing compassionate connections with yourself and others.

 

ADJUST YOUR AUTOMATIC RESPONSES.

Stress triggers us to act in unkind ways — maybe cursing the driver who cut us off, or snapping at our kids when they’re slow getting dressed. Then we feel bad about it, which creates more stress.

 

“We get stuck in these anxious, negative loops,” says Goldstein. “So we seek out comfort where we can find it, and end up overeating, or paying too much attention to our smartphones, or otherwise constantly trying to distract ourselves.”

 

Fortunately, we can hack these automatic tendencies by consciously building new mental habits. “The brain has the wonderful ability to make things automatic,” Goldstein says. “When you have awareness that you want to be kind, and then you practice it, you’re essentially rewiring the compassionate part of your mind.”

 

When you notice an irritated thought, redirect your mind, he suggests. Don’t try to be kind right away; it will only annoy you further. Instead, take a breath and see if (counter to your automatic thoughts) you have what you really need and are basically OK.

 

You might still have time to get where you’re going, even if your kids are being pokey. Or you might realize that even if you are going to be late, you don’t want to waste time fuming about it. That’s all it takes to shift your mind into a kinder mode.

 

PUT YOUR HAND ON YOUR HEART.

This technique seems almost too simple to work, and yet it’s unbelievably effective for creating a sense of compassion and empathy, says Kristin Neff, PhD, University of Texas associate professor in human development, culture, and learning sciences, and author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.

 

Our physiology is hardwired to recognize this simple gesture as self-soothing. Trauma expert Peter Levine, PhD, theorizes that the hand-on-heart exercise works because the human nervous system is responsive to touch; like babies, we respond to being held by relaxing and calming down. That touch also brings us back into connection with our bodies and, in particular, our breath.

 

“It seems weird at first, when you start practicing this,” Neff admits. “But your mammalian system kicks in immediately when you place your hand on your heart. You begin to use a warmer, gentler tone with yourself and with others.”

 

SHIFT YOUR FOCUS TO WHAT’S WORKING.

Cultivate a sense of satisfaction whenever you get the chance. Even when you feel like life is a chaotic mess and you’re not getting the love, respect, or paycheck you deserve, take a step back to recognize a few good things in your world, advises Nelson.

 

“Often, kindness is just about stopping in your tracks and becoming aware of what you have,” she says.

 

Being grateful for amorphous blessings like health and love is fine, but a more helpful inventory might include overlooked gifts like clean water, warm clothes, even the ability to read these words.

 

Nelson calls seeking and naming these fundamental gifts “the radical commitment to take nothing for granted.”

 

When life feels abundant, it’s easier to be generous — and avoid the trap of scarcity thinking.

 

KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OBLIGATIONS AND OPPORTUNITIES.

Most of us have schedules, calendars, and other tools to keep us on track. Unfortunately, the quest to get things done can take precedence over our interactions with others. Marketing meeting: done. Oil change and brake repair: scheduled. Lunch with friend to talk about her divorce: check. What’s next on the day’s agenda?

 

“Many people are so wrapped up with their to-do lists that they treat people as obstacles, or as a means to some end that’s related to achievement,” says Fredrickson. “Why not slow down and really spend time in someone’s company? To do so is a gift to both you and the other person.”

 

The practice of being present in the midst of other people — not checking your phone, not rushing to deliver advice as soon as someone starts describing a problem, not scheduling social engagements back to back — can have profound effects, adds Goldstein.

 

He recalls one of his mindfulness students relating an anecdote about dinner with friends. Instead of always thinking about what she had to do next, she focused on listening to the conversation.

 

“Her friends noticed immediately, and they felt grateful,” he says. “That one decision had a ripple effect, where everyone there began showing each other more kindness.

 

“That’s what happens when we’re truly present with each other. You inspire other people to do the same for you.”

 

RESPECT THOSE YOU HELP.

Giving to those in need is a beautiful act, but how you think about that gesture is important, says Nelson. She believes that “giving” is noble, but the notion of “charity” is inherently limiting. It doesn’t recognize how much we have in common with those we want to help, and it places us above them instead.

 

“Humility is one of the key ingredients to kindness,” she states. “When you’re being kind because you believe you’re better than someone else and they need your pity, then giving is less meaningful.”

 

Whatever the action is — volunteering at a soup kitchen, donating to a homeless shelter, or comforting a friend — there’s an enormous difference between being kind out of a sense of respect and doing it because you believe the other person is beneath you and has nothing to offer you in return.

 

“Pity sets up a hierarchy,” says Nelson. “It leads to us projecting our needs onto other people, not seeing what they truly need.”

 

Instead, she advises, keep in mind that we all are vulnerable and need help in our own ways. The kindness of generosity flows in all directions, including toward you. It feels good to give; you get something out of the interaction, too.

 

BE CONSCIOUS OF THE MONEY EFFECT.

As Nelson points out, being preoccupied with acquiring material wealth can lead to unconscious unkindness. But even having money on our minds (which is hard not to do when we’re constantly encouraged to make and spend more of it) can be enough to make us less friendly.

 

In a fascinating set of experiments, researchers primed one set of subjects to think about money, showing them phrases related to wealth, screensavers with pictures of dollar bills, and more. They primed another group with neutral imagery.

 

The money-primed subjects underwent two observable changes: First, they became more self-reliant and less likely than the other group to ask for help. Second, they became markedly less inclined to offer help to others in need.

 

For example, in one experiment a researcher walked through the room and spilled a bunch of pencils. The subjects who’d been primed to think about money consistently offered less assistance, picking up far fewer pencils than the other group.

 

For Nelson, overcoming the influence of money on our behavior involves staying conscious of our scarcity mentality. “That sense of scarcity is insidious,” she says, “and it takes engagement and mindfulness to run counter to that.”

 

Once again, reminding yourself that you do have enough — even if your resources are modest — is a powerful tool for inciting a mindset of kindness and consideration.

 

START AT HOME.

Studies in behavioral science have found that most of us are more likely to act cheerful toward complete strangers than the people we see and live with every day.

 

While any positive interaction boosts our baseline well-being, according to Fredrickson, it’s good to bring our kindness practice home, not least because it can be more difficult to be warm and caring toward the people we see routinely — and who occasionally annoy us, bore us, or treat us rudely. If we can rise to that challenge, we know we’re really growing.

 

“When we think about kindness, we often imagine these grand gestures, but we don’t need to join the Peace Corps to create more compassion in our lives,” says Nelson. “Start by looking closer to home. How do you treat the people you live with?”

 

REMEMBER THAT KINDNESS IS A PRACTICE, NOT A PROJECT.

In our quest for kindness, challenges are inevitable. Someone will always be driving slow in the fast lane or passing on the right. Mean-spirited gossip will forever be circulating at work. There will always be lines, angry online commenters, personal upheavals. And that’s OK.

 

“It’s better to see this as a playful adventure rather than a project that needs to get accomplished,” says Goldstein. “You’re trying to rewire yourself for a greater sense of well-being and purpose in the world, and that requires some lightness in your attitude. Once you become too aggressive or serious about it, then you’re going the wrong way.”

 

One trap many people fall into, according to Goldstein, is thinking of kindness as an achievement. This creates an idea of an endpoint: You did all the right things, so now you can check “being kind” off your to-do list.

 

A better approach, he suggests, is to strive to develop a growing awareness of what happens when we stray from kindness, and then gently direct ourselves back toward the compassionate path.

 

“You can cultivate kindness” says Goldstein, “by simply inviting yourself to begin again.”

HOW KIND ARE YOU

 

Our brains have a “negativity bias,” which predisposes us to fear-based, kindness-killing behaviors like rushing and defensiveness, explains Elisha Goldstein, PhD. But we can develop habits to help override those impulses.

 

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Five Ways to Happiness

happinesspic

Five Ways to Practice Happiness

 

When it comes to the quest for greater happiness, waiting and hoping are out. Learning and practicing are in.  Here’s how to create your own happy reality — starting now.

 

We travel in search of it, marry for the sake of it, see coaches and therapists to enhance it, switch jobs to capture it, and sock away money to secure it. Yet, for many of us, happiness remains elusive. And even though we spend much of our lives chasing happiness, many of us would be hard-pressed to even define it in the first place.

 

So what is happiness? Where can we find it? And once we do, how can we keep it?

 

These are questions that have consumed philosophers, spiritual leaders and artists (to say nothing of folks like you and me) for thousands of years. In the past decade, though, the same questions have attracted the attention of a growing number of psychologists, neurologists, and other respected academics and clinicians.

 

These researchers are turning their attention toward the mechanics and chemistry of happiness, which they define (in simplified terms) as the emotional experience of having a pleasant, engaged and meaningful life. And their findings are having a dramatic impact not just on the field of psychology, but also on the way many of us are cultivating happiness in our own lives.

 

At first glance, the notion of investigating happiness may not seem particularly revolutionary. But, in fact, the new interest in happiness represents a relatively contemporary shift in psychological focus. Historically, it seems that psychology has been more interested in fixing mental-health problems and illnesses than boosting actual happiness. And so the problems got more than their fair share of attention.

 

GETTING PAST GLUM

“Sigmund Freud famously suggested that the goal of psychoanalysis is to make extraordinarily unhappy people ‘ordinarily’ unhappy,” says Darrin McMahon, PhD, a professor of history at Florida State University in Tallahassee and the author of Happiness: A History (Grove, 2006). In short, psychology tried to make life tolerable for people suffering from severe mental illness.

 

Yet today most psychologists don’t treat the severely mentally ill. Instead they primarily work with people who are dealing with everyday dissatisfactions and worries, and the classic “talking cure,” meant to remedy acute mental illness, remains stuck in the same old Freudian paradigm.

 

“As a clinician, I treated people with depression and anxiety,” explains Andrew Shatté, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and coauthor of The Resilience Factor: Seven Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles (Broadway, 2002). “The way that we defined success was that people would come in and we measured their symptoms: If they had 30 symptoms and we got them to five, we called it a success. If we got it down to zero, we said ‘mission accomplished.’” In other words, helping clients build more happiness into their lives wasn’t part of the picture.

 

But if plumbing the mind’s recesses and dredging up past miseries doesn’t necessarily promote happiness, what can it hurt? Perhaps a lot, says Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a professor of psychology at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif., a prominent figure in the study of happiness, and the author of numerous books, including Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Harper Perennial, 1991). “Most people, when they ruminate about the cause of their wretchedness, become more wretched,” he says. “For most people, that’s just compounding their misery.”

 

A LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE

Shatté and Csikszentmihalyi are just two of a growing number of psychologists who, as part of what’s known as the Positive Psychology movement, have shifted their attention to advancing the knowledge of what makes us feel satisfied, energized, hopeful — and happy.

 

What they’ve discovered is that while overall life satisfaction does have an innate component (some people are just born happier and are wired to stay that way), happiness is also something we can practice and cultivate.

 

Happiness hinges on our choices, attitudes and thoughts — and when we know more about how these choices, attitudes and thoughts affect the quality of our lives, we have a powerful recipe for cooking up more lifelong joy, meaning and satisfaction.

 

Below are five of the fundamental conclusions from “happiness studies” done in recent years. Many of them sound like commonsense realizations — principles you’d think that we’d all be acting on already. But when it comes to creating our own happiness, turning common sense into common practice is a step most of us have yet to make.

 

  1. YOUR MENTAL GAME MATTERS, SO SHIFT YOUR THINKING.

Studies suggest that each of us has a baseline for happiness. Positive and negative events — winning the lottery or suffering a spinal cord injury are two examples that researchers have studied — will knock us off our baseline. But over time, we tend to return to roughly the same level of happiness, whether we are millionaires or confined to a wheelchair.

 

Where this baseline is set involves our temperament and genetics as well as our fundamental belief systems and thinking styles, explains Shatté. “The thing about our belief systems is that they become habits of thinking,” he explains, “and often these thinking styles are inaccurate.”

 

To illustrate the point, Shatté describes an experiment he frequently performs at seminars. He flashes a series of “word jumbles” on a screen and gives attendees 12 seconds to solve each puzzle. What he doesn’t tell them is that none of the puzzles has a solution. After several minutes, he pauses the exercise to ask participants to chart their feelings about their failure — frustration, anger, embarrassment.

 

“Each specific kind of feeling results from habits of thinking,” he explains. “If you think you’re not as good as other people, you’re going to be sad; if you are looking for a violation of your rights, you’ll be angry; if you think you will lose standing, you’re embarrassed. The point is, every one of these thoughts was wildly inaccurate, given the truth that the puzzles are unsolvable. We make mistakes in our thinking and we pay a price for them.”

 

The takeaway? People who gain self-knowledge about their inaccurate beliefs and feelings, Shatté says, can permanently lift their baseline for happiness. The more you understand your thinking style and beliefs, the more you are able to see the inaccuracies for what they are and be less affected by them.

 

Happiness Practice: Pay attention to your instinctive emotional responses and begin consciously challenging the negative thoughts and limiting belief systems that underlie them. Develop a self-calming or hopeful mental mantra (“Everything is an opportunity.” “I get to choose my responses.” “This, too, shall pass.”) to get you through anxiety-ridden moments. (For more suggestions, see “Three Deep Breaths” in the October 2006 archives.)

 

  1. DON’T COUNT ON MORE MONEY TO MAKE YOU HAPPIER.

The relationship between money and happiness is a complicated one. Some studies show that living in a wealthier nation can increase your happiness, regardless of your income level, but that within those countries, the rich report only marginally higher levels of happiness. Other studies suggest even the poorest people of the world, like those who live in the slums of Calcutta, can achieve happiness.

 

How to explain these discrepancies? Well, it turns out that basic needs like food and warmth generally must be secured as a precursor to happiness. To that end, money helps. And another ingredient of lasting happiness is pleasure, which can also be bought. But pleasure by itself, untethered from meaning and purpose, doesn’t stay pleasurable — or promote happiness — for very long.

 

Research shows factors such as meaningful relationships with family and friends and a sense of duty and purpose outside ourselves are equally important in determining overall happiness. Lacking those things, no amount of money is going to up your happiness quotient.

 

In fact, focusing on money to the detriment of things like relationships, duty and purpose is a proven recipe for unhappiness. Study after study shows that the more stock you put in what psychologist Tim Kasser, PhD, calls “extrinsic” values like status, possessions or good looks, the unhappier you are. It turns out that materialism — a preoccupation with material goods at the expense of other cultural, social and spiritual values — is a highly reliable way to drive your happiness downward.

 

Kasser, a psychologist at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., and the author of The High Price of Materialism (The MIT Press, 2002), considers well-being to depend on the fulfillment of four psychological needs: safety and security, competence, connection to other people, and autonomy or freedom.

 

“Our research shows that when people have strong materialistic values, they tend to feel low satisfaction of those needs,” he says. “Fundamentally, they’ve hinged their sense of worth on what others think of them, so their [happiness] is always fragile and contingent.”

 

The key to sustained happiness, it seems, is finding a balance between pleasure and meaning — and knowing when enough material wealth is enough.

 

Happiness Practice: If you’re compromising your close relationships, authentic priorities or sense of inner purpose in the pursuit of material wealth, it’s time to refocus your energy. Make a list of your core values and the experiences that matter most to you, then start building more of them into your schedule and budget, even if it means making some financial sacrifices in other areas. Seeking meaning, and finding ways to be generous with your time, care and money, will bring you far more happiness than a pile of greenbacks. (See “For a Good Cause” in the January/February 2002 archives.)

 

  1. APPLY YOURSELF FULLY TO WHATEVER YOU DO.

If only you could take early retirement and spend the rest of your days in a hammock sipping margaritas — then you’d be happy! Don’t count on it.

 

One of the crucial ingredients of a happy life is what Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow.”

 

If you’ve ever been so absorbed in an activity that you’ve lost track of time, you’ve probably experienced flow for yourself.

 

“It’s when you are completely involved in something that stretches you and forces you to use your skills. You’re so focused you don’t even know you exist,” Csikszentmihalyi explains. You’re not thinking that you’re happy at the time, he continues, “because being happy would distract you from what you’re doing. But after you finish, you look back on it and wish you could stay in it forever.”

 

Here’s one of Csikszentmihalyi’s most surprising research discoveries: The actual task doesn’t matter. He’s studied factory workers and fishmongers who take routine jobs and “turn them into a work of art,” he says. A person can cultivate flow whether organizing paint cans in the basement or preparing a seminal speech for a big client at work. Entering a state of flow requires no more than presence, a problem-solving attitude and the conviction that you are going to do the best job you can at the task at hand.

 

To get lost in your next undertaking, says Csikszentmihalyi, shift your mindset. “Instead of approaching [it] with the attitude ‘here’s another stupid thing I have to do,’ say, ‘I’m going to do it as well as possible.’” When you’ve found your groove, you’ll have found more genuine happiness.

 

Happiness Practice: Regularly stretch your skills and abilities and be willing to give your full attention and intelligence to whatever you’re working on (or playing at) at the moment. Seek opportunities to develop mastery in various areas of your life (for ideas, see “The Skillful Life” in the June 2008 archives), and begin swapping passive “sit around” entertainments for active, meaningful, challenging ones that allow you to apply your skills and to experience “flow” on a regular basis.

 

  1. EMBRACE VIRTUES, AND ENJOY THEIR REWARDS.

One of the most profound — and profoundly simple — tenets of positive psychology is that happiness is found not only through individual thoughts and behaviors, but also by connecting to a wider purpose and contributing to the well-being of others.

 

This idea has been with us for a long time, says history professor McMahon. “Before the 18th century, ‘happiness’ was not predominately a description of a feeling or an emotional state, but a description of a virtuous life,” he says. “When people began to think of happiness as a positive emotion and good feeling, it was a profound shift.” Today, positive psychology has rediscovered the value of “virtues” using the scientific method, he says.

 

Psychologists are still exploring the territory, according to Csikszentmihalyi, but new and emerging studies show that when a person feels gratitude, forgiveness or another classical virtue, she reports higher levels of happiness and satisfaction.

 

These studies seem to indicate that happiness is tied not just to living for yourself, but trying to do something for others.

 

One study, for example, found that senior citizens who tried to live out their faith in everyday life reported higher levels of happiness than seniors who simply went to church to socialize. Shatté’s studies in the workplace corroborate the findings: Those who are happiest feel they’re contributing to something important.

 

“We’ve compared people who make a million dollars a year to people making a tenth of that amount in the public sector,” says Shatté. The public-sector employees who believe they’re “contributing to the greater good” were, Shatté says, “more satisfied than anyone.”

 

Happiness Practice: Make a point of doing considerate, loving and generous things for others (“random acts of kindness”) daily. Seize every opportunity to do the right thing and to express gratitude for kindnesses you receive. Get involved with at least one organized cause that inspires you to share not just your money, but at least a little face-to-face time and effort. If you’re looking for meaningful ways to get involved, check out Web sites like http://www.idealist.org and http://www.volunteermatch.com to connect with organizations that might need your expertise.

 

  1. FOCUS ON RELATIONSHIPS AND CULTIVATE COMMUNITY.

Ed Diener, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and one of the nation’s foremost happiness researchers, has conducted countless studies on the variables that contribute to happiness. His lab has explored many different cultures, including African tribes, the Amish and Calcutta slum-dwellers, as well as more prosaic groups, like American college students.

 

What do the happiest people have in common? Positive social relationships. Happy people cultivate friendships and tend to be married or in relationships.

 

Surprisingly, it isn’t necessarily the quality or the quantity of friendships that matter. One study of college students found that the happiest of them had a “best friend,” but that companionship — just hanging out together — was more important to their happiness than making deeper connections.

 

Happiness Practice: Make some time every day to connect with the important people in your life. Establish some weekly or other regular rituals that give you opportunities to interact with others in meaningful ways. (For more on building community, see “Community Matters” in the June 2007 archives.)

 

Not sure where to start? Form a happiness-seekers circle with some friends, and meet monthly to compare notes on the practices that are working best for you. Try a different practice each month, and by this winter you might just find that cultivating happiness is fast becoming your hobby of choice.

 

MORE THAN A FEELING

 

The field of Positive Psychology has made it clear that enhancing happiness is not about turning your frown upside down or ignoring life’s disappointments. And it’s not about trying to feel happy when you don’t. Rather, it’s about taking daily actions that shift some of your core behaviors and attitudes over time. Here are three simple places you can start:

 

Develop Your Strengths: Each of us has a set of core strengths that can serve as a foundation for building happiness in life. By identifying and claiming your strengths (as opposed to just obsessing about your wants and weaknesses), you’ll experience more success and satisfaction in bringing them to bear on your work, activities and relationships. To get started, you can take a free, detailed 20-minute test called the VIA Inventory of Signature Strengths at http://www.viasurvey.org.

 

Scale Back on Stuff: Mountains of material goods do not equal happiness. Look for ways to reduce your acquisition of material possessions and to declutter and donate the excess stuff you’ve accumulated so far. On his anniversary, psychologist Tim Kasser, PhD, writes a poem for his wife instead of buying her things she doesn’t want or need. “It’s zero consumption and it’s a direct expression of our love.” His suggestion: When you’re about to make a purchase, take the time to consider if it’s necessary and consistent with your values.

 

Start Asking Questions: Challenging our own assumptions (most of which are embedded with judgments, fears and negative beliefs) is a powerful way to begin experiencing more of the happiness that’s there for the taking. For two examples of highly effective inquiry-based approaches, explore Byron Katie’s The Work method in “Coming to Terms” (October 2004) and Marilee Adams’s Choice Map in “Lines of Inquiry” (December 2004).

 

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