Most of us know that happiness and health are intrinsically linked – but did you know that increased levels of optimism correlate to reduced levels of heart disease?
Heart-Healthy Reasons to Get Happy
We have seen plenty of substantiated research showing how sadness and anxiety can negatively affect our health, but focusing on the optimistic flip side is a new perspective for science. Researchers at Harvard recently sought to take on this perspective. After reviewing more than 200 studies that investigated the links between cardiovascular health and one’s emotional state, the researchers found that individuals with higher levels of optimism, happiness, hope, and satisfaction with one’s life were linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. Isn’t is amazing what a change of perspective can allow us?
4 Steps for Cultivating Optimism
1. Commit to yourself before others.
To take joy in everyday life is a blessing that is available to all. It requires a strong desire and willingness to change in order to create the joy you want. If you are unhappy, choose to be otherwise. You have that power because no one can make you unhappy: only you determine how you feel. Commit to infusing your life and that of others with joy. Support this choice by freeing up your schedule to give you space for enjoyment, joining community groups with positive goals and smiling more.
2. Nourish your mind and body with qi gong.
Qi gong is a series of traditional Chinese exercises that have been practiced for thousands of years. These gentle exercises focus on breath work and meditation, so that you may revitalize your body by redirecting its energy and cultivating peace. Here is a pose called “Gathering the Energy of Love.”
On either the floor or firm bed, sit in a gentle cross-legged position. If this position is uncomfortable for you, sit in a chair instead. On each hand, let your middle finger and thumb touch, with the ball of your thumb gently placed over your middle fingernail; this is known as the hand pose of compassion in many Asian meditative practices, which integrates the heart with the spirit. Visualize a wave of loving feeling and compassion overflowing into your body. Spend at least five minutes a day in this position. After a week, you will most likely notice that you feel more peace and happiness.
3. Replace negative with positive thoughts.
Feed your body with healthy energy by reframing the way you say things to yourself. Instead of letting your thoughts run wild with anxiety, resentment or fear, practice positive affirmations. Say to yourself in these times of stress or imbalance, “I am proactive. I am diligent. I can handle the tasks I have ahead of me. I have just the right amount of work. I enjoy my responsibilities and fulfill them well.” Funny enough, repeating positive affirmations actually has the ability to suppress cortisol that is released by your adrenal gland in stressful times, which leaves you in a place of calm and with that much more peace of mind.
4. Share with others!
Once you have created a foundation of optimism in yourself, share it with others – and it will burn brighter for you both. Help a neighbor with a task, smile at a stranger, volunteer to help a student, share the harvest with your friends and family at a potluck and practice forgiveness for both yourself and others. These actions help spread the optimism near and far!