Health Spiral: Feel good↔be social↔improve health

Improving your health might be as simple as learning to be a better friend.  A study published in Psychological Science in May of 2013 shed some light on the interaction between improved social connectedness and potential changes in objective physical health measures.

Researchers taught one group of participants to meditate using loving kindness meditation, a practice known to increase feelings of love, compassion, and goodwill toward self and others.  A control group was put on a wait list and did not learn the meditative technique.  

The results: the intervention group experienced increases in their feelings of social connectedness which translated into improved vagal tone.  Because vagal tone is an objective measurement and low vagal tone is linked to high inflammation and predicts future cardiovascular problems, the researchers felt its measurement could be used to objectively measure a resulting physical health outcome.

There is strong support in the psychological literature linking positive emotions with increased social connectedness and increased social connectedness with improved health.  Generally speaking, people who experience more positive emotions show more prosocial behavior including greater inclusiveness, perspective taking, self disclosure, personal trust, and other centered focus.  Additionally, prospective based studies have shown strong links between social connectedness and improved long term health outcomes including reduced susceptibility to cardiovascular disease, infections, and possibly even cancer.

While there is ample evidence to suggest that positive social connections can improve health outcomes, it is difficult to objectively measure health improvements as a result of such interventions.  As a result, observing a change in an objective health measure such as vagal tone is an important step toward demonstrating the impact our psychological state has on our overall physical health. 

The bottom line: physical health and mental health are intimately linked depending upon one another for optimal function.  When we feel good we are more likely to connect with others socially and this connection is likely to improve our overall health.  Now go make a friend!   

Kok, B. E., Coffey, K. A., Cohn, M. A., Catalino, L. I., Vacharkulksemsuk, T., Algoe, S. B., et al. (2013). How positive emotions build physical health: Perceived positive social connections account for the upward spiral between positive emotions and vagal tone. Psychological Science. 24, 1123–1132   
















Can You Create Happiness?

Positive psychology has taken the world by storm in the last 16 years.  Researchers from vaunted academic institutions such as Harvard, North Carolina, The University of California, and the University of Pennsylvania (among many others) have been burning up the nations band width through Ted talks, book tours, and media interviews.  The simple idea: what makes us happy and can we use this information to increase the general happiness level of the masses?

In the frequently cited 2005 review by Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, & Schkade, Pursuing Happiness: The Architecture of Sustainable Change, the authors theorize a model where 50% of happiness is a set or predetermined point (thought to be genetically determined), 10% is due to life circumstances, and 40% is do to intentional activities.

Studies examining the effects of various intentional activities on increasing happiness have identified several likely methods of propagating this component of our total happiness.  Activities such as committing acts of kindness, savoring joyful events, and expressing optimism or gratitude seem to be promising methods for increasing our overall happiness level.

So how can you use this to add happiness to your life?


1) Express Gratitude—The easiest way to use the positive psychology movement to benefit your happiness is to frequently and sincerely express gratitude.  Research clearly links our feelings and expression of gratitude with increases in happiness.

2) Plan and Savor Events—There is a stronger positive correlation between life experiences  when compared to material positions, and happiness scores.  This holiday try going the extra mile and create an experiential memory that will last a lifetime.

3) Experience the Kindness Effect—Does it really take a lot of research to tell us that doing something nice for someone makes us feel happier?  Seriously, if you need to be told doing something nice for someone makes you feel good about yourself then you should go find your Kindergarten teacher and tell her she failed you. (My apologies to those who struggle with this idea through negative life experiences or neurological impairments.  I mean no disrespect to you).  To all of you with no good excuse, go do something nice for someone!  You’ll feel better. 



Lift Your Mood with this Super Food

Want to reduce your likelihood of heart disease, depression, and reduce your inflammation all with one super food?  Try eating more salmon!

With its mighty duo of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids - eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), salmon (or fish oil supplements) may be the most potent naturally occurring mood enhancer around.  Several studies have shown a greater occurrence of depression in subjects with lower plasma levels of omega-3s.  In countries with the highest intake of omega-3s, depression rates are 60x lower than in countries with the lowest intakes.  In addition, proinflammatory cytokine production (body inflammation) is greater with high omega-6/omega-3 ratios.

All this adds up to suggest a strong connection between omega-3s, health, and mood.  Try working 3 ounces of oily fish into your diet at least twice per week, and talk to your doctor about supplementing with fish oil.


When $20 Becomes Priceless

Few stories touch our hearts like the one involving 8-year-old Myles Eckert and Lt. Col. Frank Dailey of Toledo, Ohio, that aired in February of this year.  If you have not had the privilege of seeing the story, we have attached a link for you to view CBS correspondent Steve Hartman’s report at  Please take a moment to view this beautiful story.

The simple version is that 8-year-old Myles found $20 in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel restaurant.  Rather than spending the money on a video game as he had initially intended, he saw Lt. Col. Dailey also eating there and wrapped it in a note, giving it to the soldier.  The note read,

“Dear Soldier.  My Dad was a soldier.  He is in heaven now.  I found this $20 in the parking lot when we got here.  We like to pay it forward in my family.  It’s your lucky day!  Thank you for your service.  Myles Eckert, a gold star kid.” 

Myles’s father was killed in Iraq just five weeks after Myles was born.  All he has are stories and memorabilia from others by which to know his father.  After giving the money and note to Dailey, Myles asked to go to his father’s gravesite to share the story with him.

The story is a brilliant testament to the massive impact our lives can have on others.  When we seek to honor others, past or present, we can have a profound influence on our world.

In the months following this story there has been an outpouring of tributes and gifts given on behalf of this simple gesture of honor and love by an 8-year-old boy.  May we all have the capacity to see through our mental clutter and find the place in our hearts that allows us to honor one another.