And, How to Improve Your Immunity and Lower Your Blood Pressure Without Taking A Pill
Yes, it is possible. The evidence is in. You can gain significant health benefits, including your mental health, happiness, helpfulness, and generosity, by being, by doing just a bit more of one thing.
What is it?
That one thing is being GRATEFUL. Giving THANKS.
The science backs this up, but let’s talk about all the benefits before going into the science. In addition to improving your immunity and lowering your blood pressure, being a bit more grateful has shown to promote happiness, spur helpfulness, generosity, and cooperation.
Doing this one thing has the potential to up-level your entire life.
I recently read Gratitude Works by Robert A. Emmons, and I was surprised, no, shocked, by the evidence of how gratitude can improve our lives. Clinical trials have shown positive health benefits that being a bit more grateful has on an individual. And these benefits go beyond the psychological ones of happiness, contentment, and generosity. Being thankful has tangible physical benefits too.
“Whether it springs from the glad acceptance of another’s kindness, an appreciation for the majesty of nature, a recognition of the gifts in one’s own life, or from countless other enchanted moments, gratitude enhances nearly all spheres of human experience.”
— Robert Emmons, Gratitude Works
With such massive benefits readily available, why don’t we take more advantage of them? The answer may lie in our ancestry, our evolution, the reptilian and emotional parts of our brains. Our brains are wired to notice negative information much more readily than positive news. The theory is that our minds have become hard-wired this way as a survival mechanism.
“Our minds are like Velcro for negative information, but Teflon for positive.”
–Rick Hanson, Neuroscientist
Now, with this knowledge, we can act, and that action can become our power. We humans have the unique ability to consciously control the firing of neurons. We can fire positive neurons through our self-talk and visualizations. These neurons, firing repeatedly and with an emotional input, can build and reinforce new circuits in our brain.
With repetition and some positive emotional charges, we can wire the positive feelings into our brains and access the same mind-body connection that evolution provided to make physical and mental improvements to our fitness.
Improvements, like better blood pressure and increased immunity, have proven-out in the lab.
Is it easy? Yes.
Does it take a bit of effort? Yes.
Is it worth it? You bet!
And you may enjoy the journey. If you decide to build a few new habits, their development can even be FUN.
I recently completed a short course on creating new habits. The system I used was from the book Tiny Habits by B. J. Fogg. Fogg is a Stanford research scientist, and the course he offers is free, so you can’t beat that price. In his book, “Tiny Habits,” he identifies three keys to habit formation.
- Shrink the behavior. Make it small—keep it simple.
- Connect the behavior with something you already always do—a prompt.
- Celebrate your accomplishment every time you do it.
I highly recommend the book for anyone interested in making even the smallest of improvements in your life. What I found is that after I completed the third step, the celebration, I felt like continuing to do the habit even more. That little bit of celebration was enough to give me some momentum. It spurred me forward.
I now love this method. In the past, I would try using willpower to develop a habit. I would eventually get frustrated, but it has become easy and fun with the “Tiny Habits” method.
Now I know there are many ANTs, Automatic Negative Thoughts (Dr. Amen originally wrote about ANTs) out there that can spoil the party. One of them is measuring yourself against an ideal rather than the gains you are making with a new habit.
Dan Sullivan wrote a short book called The Gap and the Gain, where he states:
“ . . . . that all unhappiness in your life comes from mistakenly measuring where you are against any kind of ideal.”
— Dan Sullivan, Strategic Coach
He suggests that the proper way to measure is against where we have been—that is the gain. In other words, like B. J. Fogg, celebrate the wins, even if they are small wins, and you will be encouraged to keep moving forward.
And oh, by the way, the measuring is essential to progress. What gets measured, improves; and what gets measured and reported improves exponentially.
In a sense, measuring against some future ideal is like denying your success. Sullivan explains there will always be a gap between your future standard and your current capability. The key to sustaining your progress is to measure yourself against the progress you’ve made—the gain.
Measuring this way leads to happiness. It is, in a sense, another way of getting to gratitude in the celebration of the gain. Be grateful for the progress, have a little bit of pride in your move forward. There is research on different types of pride that deserves mention. I have found it fascinating to discover these differences as authentic pride (doing) and hubristic pride (being) display positive and negative characteristics, virtues that correlate with each. Suffice it to say, there are some real, tangible benefits to having “authentic pride” when it comes to goal achievement and relationships. In my mind, having authentic pride is closely related to measuring the gain.
How do the GAP and the GAIN impact our gratitude? The GAP is an ideal that is difficult, if not impossible, to attain. The GAP leaves us feeling frustrated. Measuring against the GAP feels like we aren’t making any progress. I had been doing this for most of my life.
I might have been operating at a level that many people would think of as impressive, maybe even superior. But, if you feel like you’ve fallen short of your ideal, some imaginary standard, you will not have the momentum to continue. You may even become frustrated and quit. You’ll find happiness to be elusive at best.
Feeling frustrated or stressed isn’t because there’s anything wrong with you or your achievements; it’s because of the way you’re thinking about your progress—measuring it against a future ideal rather than the gain you’ve created.
Whereas when you measure your current performance against where you have recently been, then even making some small gains will feel great. Having pride in them, celebrating those gains, and being grateful for them provides a shot of happiness (dopamine) and gives you added momentum and encouragement to do more. We all like this neuro-adapter dopamine, don’t we?
Thanks to evolution, what we do, how we do it, and how we experience success and progress are all functions of using our brains.
We can be consciously aware of how we think about our progress.
Dan Sullivan and Dr. Benjamin Hardy helped me discover that I could be conscious of how my brain measured progress. Rather than only taking things in, I am now aware of how to use the measuring more practically. We’re happiest when we’re using our brains to visualize, achieve, and then measuring the actual progress we’ve made. There is a right way and a wrong way to measure.
So how does all this relate to gratitude? Well, just like measuring the gain, gratitude trains the brain to focus on the positive, altering its typical, negative bias.
Steven Kotler, in his recent book, The Art of the Impossible, believes that a daily gratitude practice is one of the four horsemen you can ride toward more happiness. He states that
“ . . . . . a daily gratitude practice, daily mindfulness practice, regular exercise and a good nights rest, . . . . remain the best recipe anyone has yet found for increasing happiness.”
Dr. Andrew Huberman goes deeper into neuroscience in a recent video on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZN31fTPU64) called
I Guarantee Your Behavior Will Change.
He explains how important it is to register the wins. He goes on to talk about the science behind the benefits of good old GRATITUDE.
He is emphatic when he states this isn’t navel-gazing or just saying you’re happy with everything you’ve got. He emphatically states that it is WRONG.
It is about savoring the journey from whence you came. It’s about measuring the gain. It’s about that authentic pride, being grateful and deriving pleasure in the growth.
It turns out that the practice of gratitude has two effects. One is the secretion of molecules, like serotonin, which makes you happy about the here and now. There is also evidence that it promotes the secretion of dopamine. This neuromodulator makes your sense of possibility about things that extend beyond your immediate physical sphere more real.
Dr. Huberman has found that if you look at people who can sustain effort in very complex, even chaotic environments, even people who are navigating cancer treatments, they set milestones for themselves. When they reach those milestones, they internalize them, even subjectively, which leads to the secretion of these “feel good” molecules.
The serotonin and dopamine give them a sense of possibility about moving to the next milestone.
So gratitude can make you happy in the present and can give you a broader sense of perspective for the future. It is a powerful mental and physical medicine that can increase your happiness, generosity, and helpfulness. There is scientific evidence that it can reduce blood pressure and boost immune function.
In today’s high-stress world, a little bit of gratitude can go a long way.
Author – Speaker – Leader - Investor
Dave spent a long and distinguished career as a pilot and leader in the United States Air Force. Along the way, he managed to obtain three graduate degrees. As an investor in the stock market for more than 37 years, Dave has seen his share of ups and downs. When Dave retired as a Colonel in 2006, he founded Razor Sharp Investments. Subsequently, he worked with an investment education company, teaching new investors how to handle their money, and then two brokerage firms doing the same thing. In 2012, Dave founded his own investment firm. Dave has always been fascinated by the question, Why do people do the things that they do? On his discovery journey, he encountered Tony Robbins. He worked with his event staff to eventually progresss through the Institute for Strategic Intervention as a coach, making him ideally suited to tackle the most formidable challenges in a relationship. Dave continues to be committed to a life of service, mainly serving those struggling in their relationships over money.
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