How to be happy

Have you ever had a few grumpy days? So grumpy that you feel as if there must be some sort of wiring malfunction inside your brain? Or perhaps a collection of ‘issues to deal with’ mount up and distract you from all the positive things in your life?

Several studies are pointing to gratitude and thankfulness as key factors in how happy and even how healthy we are.

A 2009 study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) examined blood flow in the brain when participants had grateful feelings (Zahn et al, 2009). Those participants who were more grateful had higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus, the area of the brain responsible for managing stress levels and essential bodily functions like eating and sleeping.

Another study, back in 2003, asked young adults to keep journals (Emmons and McCullough, 2003). One section kept happy, thankful, grateful thoughts in their journals, whilst the others kept journals of things that annoyed them. And guess what … the thankful journal keepers reported more feelings of determination, enthusiasm and energy compared to the others.

The same researchers did a later study on adults and found that even a weekly gratitude journal was enough to have a noticeable effect on mood, exercise patterns and a reduction in physical ailments.

So … when it comes to down days, perhaps we all need to be a little more grateful.

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How can you be a little more thankful?

Last year, we decided to keep a ‘thankfulness’ jar in our family. We started it on January 1st and when something good happens, in work, or at home, we write it down and pop it in the jar. Admittedly we haven’t always been great at remembering but we plan to get them all out at new year and say a huge thank you for the great things that have happened in 2013.

But when it comes to me and my rambling, busy brain, the best moment of the day is when I get on my knees, stare at my sleeping son, and give thanks for each and every lovely thing that has happened during my day. Yes, sh*t happens. And yes, it gets to me (I’m a sensitive soul) but whether you call it counting your blessings, acknowledging the good stuff, meditating or praying it is scientifically proven to make you happy.

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.
Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.
TWITTER: @fitschoolessex
FACEBOOK: ccfitschool
WEBSITE: http://www.alittlefitter.com

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