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The Happiness Connection  

The healing power of laughter

A healthy laugh

This weekend I had the chance to catch up with an old friend I hadn’t talked to for a while. When I got off the phone, I noticed I was smiling broadly. It took me a moment to realize our conversation sparked a lot of laughter, and I was still feeling the effect.

Research shows laughter is a powerful medicine for physical, mental and social health. It has an amazing ability to bring balance to your body, mind and soul.

This is a topic I’ve written about before, but in these tricky times, I think it’s worth a revisit.

Physical health benefits of laughter

Laughter has a positive effect on both your immune system and your heart. It also burns calories. OK, it’s not like going to the gym, but it can make a difference if you do it often enough. Ten to 15 minutes of laughter burns approximately 40 calories, which can result in dropping three or four pounds over the course of a year.

Another benefit is it relaxes your body by releasing tension. Better yet, it stays in that state for up to 45 minutes. That explains why I was feeling so good even though my conversation had finished.

Mental health benefits of laughter

Studies link laughter to an increase in resilience, hopefulness and joy. When you laugh, endorphins are released by the brain. These are your natural feel-good chemicals. Not only do they boost your mood, they can also temporarily reduce pain.

Social health benefits of laughter

Shared laughter helps heal resentment, disagreements and frustrations and encourages forgiveness. Its ability to strengthen social connections means it boosts happiness.

Children laugh hundreds of times a day. This is another one of those traits that seems to decline as we reach adulthood. Fortunately, that doesn’t have to be the case. One of the best things you can do for your mental, physical and social health is to consciously seek out humour.

That brings me to the elephant in the room. If you tend not to laugh easily, where do you find enough amusement to inspire a belly laugh? It turns out laughter is a lot like smiling—fake it till you make it.

Humour may not naturally appear in your life, but that doesn’t mean you can’t seek it out. Approach it like any other habit or behaviour you want to incorporate into your life. It can be found in pretty much every situation if you look for it.

Start by smiling as often as possible. Instead of staring at your phone, smile at people you pass or interact with. It doesn’t matter if you know them. It doesn’t even matter if your smile is sincere. I wrote about the research of fake smiling in my 2016 column Smiling Makes You Super.

It turns out fake laughter has a similar effect. Find a private space and pretend to have a deep belly laugh. Fake chuckles often lead to real laughter as it seems like such a bizarre thing to do. Try doing this activity with a friend for even more hilarity.

When you notice someone laughing, move towards them. Most people are happy to share something humorous. Every time you find something that causes you to chuckle or guffaw, share it.

Because laughter is contagious, spend time with people who laugh easily. They’ll help you learn to laugh at both yourself and the absurdities of life. Don’t worry if you don’t think you’re a funny person. You can benefit as much from being an audience member as the comedian.

Try a laughter yoga class, which incorporates movement and breathing exercises to promote deliberate laughter.

The importance of humour and laughter in maintaining optimal mental, physical and social health cannot be overstated. There’s a lot of anxiety inducing things going on in the world today.

Rather than giving into negative emotions, battle them with a good belly laugh.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



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You can't be impatient when it comes to learning patience

Give me patience...now!

Recently, I’ve been reminded of what it’s like for many kids as Christmas approaches.

It isn’t so bad in July, but as December arrives and the day gets closer, their level of impatience ratchets up.

I’ve been waiting for almost a year to speak with a medical specialist. As my appointment approaches, I find myself feeling more restless and the days seem to stretch endlessly ahead of me.

I’ve noticed a similar behaviour in my partner. We’re making some changes to the front of our property and have a company coming in this month to do the heavy work. David is having a wonderful time cutting back brush and pruning trees to prep the area. This has resulted in several huge piles of branches that will be removed when they come to do the landscaping.

We know that’s going to happen in the next few weeks, but he wants it done now.

When I mentioned we were having similar reactions to different things, he laughed and said, “God grant me patience and give it to me right now!” That isn’t an original statement, but it made me laugh. It so perfectly expresses how we’re both feeling.

That conversation started me thinking about whether patience is linked to happiness. It turns out it is. Studies show patient individuals tend to have higher levels of mental wellness, better relationships and enhanced stress tolerance.

That’s great news for people who are either naturally patient or have learned the secrets to achieving that state, but what about the rest of us? How does an impatient person learn to be accepting and tranquil?

Let me share the things I discovered and that I am now working on.

Be aware of your feelings

If you don’t recognize what’s happening, you can’t make any changes. Take time to identify your emotions and what’s causing them. Where does your impatience show up in your body? Don’t judge, just acknowledge and seek to understand.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is a technique where you focus your full attention on the present moment. It’s about experiencing thoughts, feelings and sensations but not judging them. This practice not only lessens feelings of impatience but it can also reduce stress and physical pain.

There are many ways to do this. Meditation, yoga, limiting your focus to one thing at a time, slowing down, journalling and consciously breathing and eating are all great mindfulness tools.

Stop trying to control things you can’t

The best way to do this is to find something you can control and focus on that. I may not be able to make my appointment come quicker but I can immerse myself in activities that help me stop thinking about it.

Shift your perspective

Try to reframe your situation so it’s more positive. It can be helpful to expand your focus.

• In my lifetime, these days of waiting are merely a blink of an eye.

• Having this time before my appointment is perfect. I’m going to use it to complete my next book and get it to my editor.

Practice gratitude

It constantly amazes me how many ways this particular practice contributes to happiness and mental wellbeing. Studies show that taking time to express gratitude reduces impatience. This was a new discovery for me.

Show yourself kindness

Don’t get impatient with yourself for feeling impatient. Instead, be compassionate and loving. Get lots of sleep, eat well and exercise. Plan ahead so you can limit stressful deadlines or difficult situations during these periods.

Don’t expect immediate success

As with so many things, there’s no hard and fast rule on the speed with which you’ll accomplish a regular state of calm. Start small and celebrate the little wins. If you have a meltdown, forgive yourself, be grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow.

I’m grateful I don’t have many more days to wait but I’m also aware this is unlikely to be the last time I’ll find myself in this situation. With that in mind, I intend to continue to invite more tranquility into my life by practicing the advice I’m sharing with you.

Hopefully I’ll be able to change, “God grant me patience and give it to me right now!” to “God grant me patience and give it to me in due course.”

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



Puzzle your way to happiness and health

Puzzling effects of jigsaws

How many of the gifts you received in December of last year do you remember without having to pause to think?

If you struggle to think of any, you’re not alone. Unless there’s a reason for it to stay top of mind, out of sight really can mean out of mind.

This year, one particular present bucked that trend in my world. I received a murder mystery jigsaw puzzle from my sweetheart. As soon as I opened it, memories of spending time with my mom washed over me. Not because of the subject, but because of the activity.

When I used to go back to my parents’ house for visits, my mom often had a jigsaw spread out on the dining table. We’d spend hours chatting as we tried to complete the complex picture.

I hadn’t indulged in this specific activity in years, but when I excitedly opened the box and got started, I was hooked. On my next visit to Costco, I saw a display of jigsaws and bought myself another one. My collection has now grown to almost a dozen.

I’ve been averaging about a puzzle a week. Sometimes I only spend a few minutes during the day, other times I may be there for an hour or two. The 1,000-piece puzzles seem to be my sweet spot. They’re challenging yet not overwhelming.

I love the time I spend on this activity, but it’s brought with it some unwelcome thoughts. They mostly revolve around time-wasting. Shouldn’t I be doing something more productive?

Whenever I voice these concerns to my partner, he shuts them down by pointing out that it’s important to quiet my often overly busy brain and have time to simply be. It’s hard to argue with his perspective, but I needed more. Is there any other benefit to this activity?

It’s well documented that Sudoku, crosswords, word searches, etc. can help keep your brain healthy and active. But what about jigsaws? I went on a hunt to see what science had to say about this specific type of puzzle. It turns out that jigsaw puzzling goes beyond entertainment. It helps cognitive, physical, psychological, neurological, and social skills.

Cognitive

This has to do with the processes of the brain and includes memory, problem-solving, and the ability to concentrate. When you work on a jigsaw, you formulate theories and then use trial-and-error to test them. This process can significantly improve problem-solving and critical thinking, not to mention short-term memory and virtual-spatial reasoning.

The typical human brain has two sides. The left is responsible for logic while the right takes care of creativity and intuition. In order to complete a jigsaw or other puzzle, you have to engage both sides of the brain. This enhances cognitive functions as the two sides are required to connect and communicate.

Improving cognitive skills improves productivity, attention to detail, and mental agility.

Physical

The act of moving pieces is good for fine motor skills and improves manual dexterity. This is especially important if you’re very young or elderly.

Psychological

This is the area my partner immediately identified as beneficial for me as it relates to the human mind and feelings. Spending time with a jigsaw puzzle helps reduce stress and anxiety. It quiets the mind by distracting you and providing you with an opportunity for an almost meditative state. Studies found that spending just 30 minutes a day for eight weeks working on jigsaw puzzles can significantly reduce anxiety levels.

They also discovered jigsaw puzzling can increase your feelings of happiness and satisfaction. The act of finding two pieces that fit together releases dopamine. This is the neurotransmitter that’s responsible for regulating mood and increasing optimism. The more successful you are, the more you want to continue so you can get even more dopamine.

Neurological

Your nervous system or the signals between your brain and the rest of your body is probably the area of benefit that gets the most attention when it comes to doing puzzles of any sort. Research shows working on puzzles, including jigsaws, may actually delay Alzheimer’s and dementia. This is because the activity promotes neuroplasticity or the ability to make new pathways in the brain when old ones have been damaged or pruned from lack of use. This process may happen more easily when you’re young, but it occurs regardless of your age as long as you encourage it.

Social

Working together on a jigsaw can be a rewarding social activity. It fosters collaboration and a sense of achievement. It was a strategy I used when I taught elementary school. I always had a puzzle table where students could go when they’d finished their work.

If you want more family time, try my mom’s strategy and start a puzzle. Invite everyone to participate, but don’t apply any pressure. You may be surprised at the results. There’s something alluring about joining in on the quest to complete the picture.

So, it seems my new hobby isn’t a waste of time. In fact, I’m doing myself a favour every time I settle down to find the right place for a few more pieces.

If you haven’t completed a jigsaw puzzle for a while, or ever, I encourage you to give it a try. You may be surprised at how much you enjoy it. And if your brain suggests you’re wasting your time, enlighten it by sharing all the ways you’re helping both it and the rest of your body to be happier and healthier.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



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You don't have to rely on others for your own happiness

Love yourself first

I’m not a huge fan of awards shows, but this year I tuned into the Grammys because I wanted to see Joni Mitchell.

What a performance. If you’re looking for an example of an empowered older person, she’s a good contender.

The other performance that really caught my attention was Miley Cyrus. She was nominated for, and won, record of the year with her song Flowers. I knew the song but hadn’t really listened closely to the words. As she performed it, I concentrated on the lyrics.

It’s about a breakup and the resulting realization that you don’t need to be in a relationship in order to enjoy things like receiving flowers or going dancing. Pretty much anything you can do when you have a partner, you can do when you’re single. If you want flowers, you can always buy them for yourself.

I was raised to believe that if I found the right person, they’d make me happy. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Everyone is responsible for their own happiness.

That’s a powerful statement, and not one I was ever introduced to by my parents. I don’t blame them for withholding this vital lesson from me. My mom and dad didn’t teach me this because they’d never been introduced to that principle either.

It’s not like I made a conscious decision to hand over the key to my happiness to someone else, I just copied the behaviour my parents modelled for me. I grew up thinking happiness came from a loving partner, the circumstances I encountered, and by living my life a certain way.

That strategy worked for me for many years. Honestly, I didn’t really stop to consider there might be a different way to view the subject. You may have had a similar upbringing and belief about happiness.

The problem is the happiness this strategy provides is fragile. Remove your partner, or other relationships, throw in some daunting challenges, and you may find your feelings of wellbeing slipping away. To make matters worse, if you don’t know how to make yourself happy, you may be like me and have no idea how to right the ship when it starts to sink.

One of the secrets to being happy regardless of what life throws at you is to love and care for yourself. If you’re waiting for other people to validate you, you’re putting yourself in a very vulnerable position. It may encourage you to stay in a less than satisfying relationship because you don’t think you can be happy on your own.

I’m not saying it isn’t wonderful to be spoiled with flowers, or to share romantic moments with a partner. But even if you’re in a relationship, there’s no guarantee that these things will be part of your experience. Rather than letting yourself feel resentful or dissatisfied if you adore flowers and never receive them, buy them for yourself.

Empowerment means you know what makes you feel good and you’re willing to provide those things for yourself. It may feel scary to go to a movie alone, or treat yourself to dinner in your favourite restaurant, but that feeling will subside the more you do it.

The stronger your loving connection to yourself is, the more your sense of wellbeing will grow. In the words of actor Robert Morley, “To fall in love with yourself is the first secret to happiness.”

So, don’t be afraid to show yourself a little love.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



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About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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