Your Personal Happiness Quartet

How happy we feel is strongly influenced by 4 neurotransmitter chemicals: endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. They are often called “the quartet.”

Endorphin on Electric Guitar, Serotonin on Sax, Dopamine on Drums, Oxytocin on Oboe

Here’s a very basic idea of what they do for you and 7 ways to help boost your happiness:

ENDORPHINS 

They promote a sense of well-being, lesson pain and are primarily released when we are in pain or stressed.  Endorphins work in similar ways as prescription anti-anxiety drugs and opiate painkillers but provide the benefits without all the side-effects.

Low levels of endorphins are linked to opposite effects: physical and emotional pain (including chronic pain linked to disorders like fibromyalgia), addiction and risk taking behavior.

SEROTONIN
Serotonin is often called the “happy hormone”.  It improves your mood and helps beat depression.  Not only does it help with mood stabilization but plays a big role in getting good sleep, dreaming, emotional and social stability.

Low levels serotonin are associated with various mental disturbances including: depression, anxiety, PMS,  sugar/carbohydrate cravings, trouble sleeping, obsessive thinking and addiction to alcohol or drugs. Too high levels can be  problematic as well.

DOPAMINE

Dopamine is one of the strongest “feel-good hormones”.   It makes you feel energized, alert, motivated and in control.  Within the brain, dopamine helps control the reward and pleasure centers as well as helping regulate movement and emotional responses.  Interestingly, it enables us to not only see rewards, but to take action to reach them. 

Dopamine deficiency is implicated in Parkinson’s Disease and people with low dopamine levels may be more prone to addiction.  Low levels can trigger depression, lack of concentration (brain fog), poor motivation and difficulty initiating and/or completing tasks.

OXYTOCIN

Oxytocin is often referred to as the “love hormone” since it’s released during highly emotional moments, such as  childbirth, being in love, and during orgasm. It motivates us to strengthen personal relationships, be faithful and facilitates compassion.  Oxytocin is a powerful hormone, produced mainly in the hypothalamus, and acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain

On the flip side, as a facilitator of bonding among those who share similar characteristics, oxytocin fosters distinctions between “in-group” and “out-group” members, and sets in motion favoritism toward “in-group” members and prejudice against those in “out-groups”.

7 ways to get the “Happiness Quartet”

working more for you:

We are all capable of producing our own natural highs (without taking illegal or prescription drugs) and when we repeat  behavior that facilitates the release of neurotransmitters we become naturally motivated to create positive habits.

1.  Tasting

Neurotransmitters that signal the release of endorphins come mostly from nutrients in our diet, like amino acids, vitamins, fatty acids and minerals. 

Serotonin is made primarily through intake of tryptophan-rich foods, such as turkey or milk. Most proteins will help release serotonin, including meat, fish, chicken, poultry, cheese, milk and eggs, which are complete proteins. A number of different plant foods, such as beans with sprouted grains, will get the same effects. Whole foods like seeds, nuts, beans, lentils, peas, corn or the germ of grains, such as buckwheat and oats, are all good plant sources of amino acids that help increase serotonin.

Fats comprise 60 percent of the brain. Essential fatty acids support the activity of neurotransmitters, including serotonin. Get healthy fats from coconut or olive oil, wild-caught fish like Alaskan salmon, nuts, seeds and avocado.

2.  Laughing

Laughter is a quick-fix for feeling almost instantly better, thanks to the release of endorphins.  Studies have even linked laughter with an elevated pain threshold. Try regularly doing something to keep your sense of humor: play with children, watch funny shows, recall a funny moment, share jokes, spend time with friends who have a sense of humor.

3.  Connecting

Give a hug, get a massage or simply have a deep conversation with someone you trust will all help release oxytocin and other chemicals that help you feel calm and comforted.  Some studies show acupuncture and other hands-on treatments  have similar effects. Make time for friends, reach out to others in need, find a sense of purpose and notice how good you feel when you do something nice for someone else.

4.  Learning

Every time you experience something novel or learn something new dopamine’s reinforces you.  With the internet, learning is at your fingertips.  Use your techno-time to look up something that peaks your curiosity,  travel, take up a hobby or get better at something you already do and release feel good neurochemicals.

5.  Smelling

The release of endorphins helps you feel calmer almost instantly when you smell the aroma of something that reminds you of fun or comforting times.  It can be as simple as the scent of fresh baked cookies, a parent’s favorite perfume or a dab of essential oil scents such as vanilla, chamomile, rose and lavender.  Your nose, after all, is close to your brain.

6.  Sunning & Nature

Sunshine and nature sites/sounds/colors seem to help regulate the release of serotonin and melatonin.  It only takes about 20 minutes a day to help your skin produce vitamin D (sunscreen will block this), which is important for your mood.  Studies indicate that exercising outdoors elevates mood better than indoors.

7.  Moving

A large body of research shows that people who exercise regularly have added protection against depression, reduce anxiety and get better sleep.  Exercise is one of the most endorphin-boosting things we can do. It also increases self esteem, gives a sense of mastery, increases energy levels, and thanks to dopamine, keeps you motivated to continue and improve.   You don’t have to do 10,000 steps or do intense workouts.  Research indicates that 3 times a week of brisk walking will do the trick.

Putting into practice all 7 ways to get the Happiness Quartet working for you:  

Eat a hardboiled egg while walking for 20 minutes in the park with a trusted friend, practice speaking Mandarin Chinese, laugh at your bad pronunciation and stop occasionally to smell the flowers.  How easy is that!

 

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6 factors that may predict divorce or separation

What predicts divorce is a complicated subject.  However, a few themes have borne out in repeated studies.

6.  Age:  Couples that marry later tend to have relationships that last longer. The earlier the couple gets together, the greater the risk of later divorce. That holds if couples move in together while they’re younger (as in teen years), too.

5.  Education and religion:  According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are both powerful predictors of lasting or dissolving unions.

“Women with a bachelor’s degree have a 78 percent chance of having their marriages lasting 20 years, compared with 41 percent for those with a high school education, while it’s respectively 65 percent and 47 percent for men. Identifying as religious also gave a similar bump versus being nonreligious.”
3.  Neuroticism or emotional instability, a personality trait that measures how sensitive you are to perceived threats, and how likely you are to ruminate about them:  It’s been implicated in anxietyand depression disorders, and,has been shown repeatedly to predict divorce. ( Lehmiller)
2. Infidelity.  No surprise here. When people cheat on each other, As documented in a 17-year longitudinal study following nearly 1,500 people, cheating leads to lower marital happiness, a greater feeling of “divorce proneness,” or the chance you might split up, and a higher occurrence of actually doing so.

1.  Contempt:  The number one killer – things that signal you’re disgusted with your partner are all super toxic for a relationship, like hostile humor, name-calling, eye-rolling.

(John Gottman relationship research)

But there’s hope: if you want a relationship to last, be kind to the person you’re with. It could be that simple.

Justin Lehmiller, Ball State associate professor, Sex & Psychology blog.

It’s important to note that all of these things are correlations, even in the case of infidelity. these studies can’t say definitely what causes divorce.

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Practical Tips For Handling Conflict, Part II

Conflict is an indication that your “relationship has not been attended to in some way.” It gives couples the opportunity to identify this issue, address it, improve it and move on to enjoying your healthy relationship.

 

Bush and Hendrix shared several tips for navigating conflict effectively.

Make an appointment to talk.

“When you have an issue with your partner, ask them if it’s OK to talk about it,” Hendrix said, which he calls “making an appointment.” This is important because not asking can trigger your partner’s anxiety, leading to a defensive reaction, he said. You might simply say, “Is now a good time?”

Talk about yourself.

Hendrix suggested using “I” statements, such as “I think, I feel, I hope, I want.” When your partner hears the word “you” – such as “you did this” or “why didn’t you do that” – this also can activate defensiveness, he said.

Pretend to be your partner.

Pretend that you’re looking through your partner’s eyes, Bush said. Describe aloud how you think your partner is feeling (e.g., a wife pretends to be her husband and says “I am Mike, and this is how I see it.”) Then your partner can respond by either agreeing or clarifying how they feel, she said.

Deal with conflict immediately.

“Anything hurtful and left unattended festers and grows bigger,” Hendrix said. That’s why “when there’s a breakdown, repair should occur immediately.”

Be specific about what you need or want.

“Ask for what you want in one or two sentences, and make it positive,” Hendrix said. By being specific, direct and concrete, you give your spouse a chance to meet your request.

For instance, instead of saying, “I wish you were always on time,” say, “The next time we have a movie or dinner date, I’d like that if you can’t make it, you’ll call me 15 minutes ahead of time, and let me know.”

Express gratitude.

“Conflict is inevitable, but it shouldn’t be the background music [of your relationship],” Bush said. She and Hendrix stressed the importance of showing your appreciation to your partner. For instance, you might say, “Thank you for listening to me” or “Thank you for sharing that,” Hendrix said.

 

How Healthy Couples Manage Conflict – Part I

Scientific research keeps pointing to maintaining connections with others as a key to living longer and healthier.  This article is a basic guide for managing the inevitable conflict that comes in the most intimate relationships we have.

Couple Differences by Peggy

How Healthy Couples Manage Conflict

By MARGARITA TARTAKOVSKY, M.S.*

Healthy couples address the conflict.

“Some partners shut down and give each other the silent treatment or avoid the problem in other ways, said Bush, also author of the book 75 Habits for a Happy Marriage: Advice to Recharge and Reconnect Every Day. However, healthy couples are “willing to talk about what’s going on.”

Healthy couples see conflict as an opportunity.

“They see [conflict] as a means for growing together… an opportunity to understand each other better and to clarify their needs and values,” Bush said.”

“The conflict doesn’t become a disconnect or a power struggle but an opportunity for both of them to create something new,” according to Harville Hendrix, Ph.D, co-creator of Imago Relationship Therapy with his wife Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D. It becomes an opportunity to have a conversation, he said.”

Healthy couples value each other’s perspective.

“Healthy couples believe that each partner has a valid point of view, whether they agree with them or not, said Hendrix, also author of several books on relationships, including the bestseller Getting the Love You Want. They realize that “there are legitimate differences and they understand that they don’t live in each other’s brains.”

Healthy couples consider their contribution to the conflict.

“Partners in healthy relationships “own their own stuff,” Bush said. They’re willing to look at how they’re contributing to the problem, she said.”

Healthy couples fight fair.

“Unlike unhealthy couples, they don’t name-call, insult, curse or hit below the belt, Bush said. They also don’t “bring up every problem that’s ever occurred.”

“Instead, “they stick to the issue at hand and have a respectful, curious attitude.” Instead of being defensive and focusing on explaining themselves, they’re interested in what their partner has to say.”

Healthy couples really listen.

“They give each other their undivided attention. They don’t interrupt or make remarks such as “That’s not right” or “Where did you get such a stupid idea?” Hendrix said. Rather, they are “fully … present to their partner’s point of view.”

Healthy couples kiss and make up.

“Typically, after an argument, healthy couples end up feeling supported, heard and understood, Bush said. Partners might apologize or say something like “I love you. We’re in this together,” she said.”

________________________________________________

A list like this can be daunting.  Make an assessment, figure out one or two areas to focus on.  You and your partner don’t have to choose the same area.  

Keep it in your conscious awareness so that when you “slip up” you can make a correction.  Learning is not about doing it perfectly.  It’s about making mistakes and making the corrections over and over.

*Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., is an Associate Editor at Psych Central. She also explores self-image issues on her own blog Weightless and creativity on her blog Make a Mess: Everyday Creativity.

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Is your present presentable? – 13 Guidelines –

In my family when we bought someone a gift we asked ourselves 3 questions:

  • The first criteria – “What do they NEED?”.
  • If we answered ourselves in the affirmative the next question asked – “What DON’T they have?”
  • And the final test to pick a gift – “Would the gift be USEFUL to them?”.

Sometimes the resulting gift was wonderful and appreciated.  This, I will admit, was often when the gift giver didn’t follow those rules or asked the recipient what they WANTED.

Entering adulthood I learned that my family-rules-of-gift-giving are waaaaay off.  Here are my own guidelines (I’ve been told that I am pretty good at picking out gifts that hit the mark):

Gift Exchange by Peggy

 

  1. Give people what they already have! I know, this doesn’t seem to make sense. Nobody needs what they already have.  But if they have it, they LIKE it. If they have a whole lot of whatever it is, they like it a whole lot. So get them more. They will love it. They have already told you by their own choices.
  2. If they don’t have it be sure they want it. This is something I have been guilty of–I think they need this. It would be good for them to have this. But if it’s easy for them to get and they haven’t gotten it . .   they may not want it, unless it’s new or updated.
  3. Wrap it beautifully or creatively. The neuroscience bears this out: When people are impressed by the wrapping that carries over to the gift. This is a similar concept to the wine testing that found people like a wine better when they are told it costs a lot, and like it less when told it is cheap – when it’s the exact same wine.
  4. Use their colors & style. Think about the colors they wear or have in their homes.  If you are getting clothes, this is also true of style–do they dress like a tomboy or a diva? Match their style. Matching style is good for everything, even a toaster.
  5. Give an experience or time.  Help them do more of what they love:  Tickets to an event, creating free time (Your time babysitting, pet walking, running errands, cooking a meal etc ), Always ask yourself the same questions you would for a physical gift –  Would they want/enjoy this?, Will it be easy for them to do?)
  6. Resist temptation to get what YOU would want,
  7. Think about how they will use it later, not so much about how they will react when opening the gift
  8. Ask what they would like (research on  gifts shows following the gift list is more appreciated than off list items).
  9. If you’ve found a great gift that fits more than one person, go ahead,  give the same gift to different people.
  10. Don’t go too fancy or complicated as most people want easy and convenient (unless you know they like fancy).
  11. Let them know you were thinking about them–why you got it, what it reminded you of about them (especially for unusual or weird gifts).
  12. if you give a “big” gift, leave it at that.  Additional small gifts decrease the perceived value of a big gift
  13. Ask their friends or look at their Facebook page for ideas on what they like (hobbies, interests, clothes/jewelry  do they wear in their photos)

Are there gift-giving guidelines you follow?  Let me know!

(PA)

http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/12/7-science-backed-ways-to-give-less-bad-gifts.html?utm_source=eml&utm_medium=e1&utm_campaign=sharebutton-t

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Do You Meet My 3 Criteria for Feeling Guilty?

This is typically the time of year we begin to take stock of all that has transpired in the past months and our hopes for the coming year. It’s also that time of year when feelings of “guilt” tend to rise to the surface:  Guilt we’ve not given enough, been kind enough,  done enough, been enough, said enough, worked hard enough, lived up to our own goals or missed meeting others’ expectations  . . . .  You get the idea – humans are very creative when conjuring up guilty feelings.

Almost everyone I saw in private practice as a psychotherapist, at one time or another, expressed guilt:

Some harbored guilty feelings they were responsible for a parent’s short-comings, abusive behavior or unhappiness; Many felt guilty they had left an abusive home when they were of age and left a younger sibling behind without protection;  Clients felt guilty they couldn’t provide for their family in the way they imagined they should.  I could give millions . . . of other examples.

Guilt is my least favorite emotion because much of the time it is an intellectualization – an attempt to make sense of the irrational – while the feelings of sadness, hurt or fear lurk beneath our surfaces .  

Don’t get me wrong.  Guilt is needed and appropriate if you’ve done something immoral, illegal or unethical as it helps correct the course of future choices and actions.

  • Immoral – Guilt maintains healthy relationships
  • Illegal -Guilt helps keep society functioning at it’s optimum
  • Unethical – Guilt keeps business, commerce on the right path

If I said this once while I was in practice,  I said it a trillion times:

“DO feel guilty if you’ve betrayed or hurt another person, broken the law, or been unprofessional.  STOP thinking you’re guilty if your behavior doesn’t meet the the immoral, illegal or unethical litmus test and choose another emotion”

Why do we choose guilt when our actions aren’t immoral, illegal or unethical?  We want to think we have/had control – that we could have chosen to do something differently and therefore we will be in control and have choice in the future.  With feelings of sadness, fear or hurt we are simply vulnerable and feel out of control – out of control of ourselves and over circumstances.

If you think you are “guilty” and have not broken an immoral, illegal or unethical code pick another feeling! – any other feeling:  mad, sad, disgusted, fearful, hurt . . .  You won’t die if you are vulnerable.  Our fantasy of always being in control is mainly that . . . fantasy.

(jw)

 

 

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Here’s the Best Way to Cope with Family Tensions

The rosy pictures of family harmony is ever-present in the media during holiday season.  

As therapists we were privy to the fact that holidays are stressful and often bring out the worst in family and interpersonal relationships.  

Clients who had no family fantasized about what they were missing and clients with families fantasized about how to miss family gatherings.

Family Dynamics by Peggy

It’s gratifying to know we were on track with how we approached client holiday stress & strain.  The research bears this out:

  • It is not helpful to ruminate on what was, what could be, ruminate over and over about the hurt, anger, injustice of it all.  Rumination leads to depression and/or anxiety.  
  • It’s best to tell the “tale” once, focus on what hasn’t worked and find new ways to cope.

Here’s a synopsis of the research and article:

Family Arguments Over The Holidays? Replaying Them in Detail May Be the Best Way to Cope

“Repeated studies have found that people prone to depression can get worse if they excessively dwell or ruminate on a stressful incident such as a quarrel or a loss. But experiments by Exeter University psychologists have found that when individuals practised running emotional incidents through their head, focusing on sensory details and recalling exactly what happened, how it happened, and even where it happened, it helped them respond constructively and stopped them becoming so upset about a future or past stressful experience.”

“Psychologists at the University of Exeter have found that recalling the detail of shouting matches and disagreements, including exactly who said what to whom and how, may not be destructive and prolong the tension, but could help people keep incidents in perspective and stop the triggering of self-doubt and even depression.”

“After training to recall the details of an upsetting incident including the tone of a voice, the words used and how the event happened, people became more resilient and put the upsetting incident into context, stopping a downward spiral into low mood.”

“The same exercise of focusing on the sensory details of sad experiences and asking “How did it happen?” “How can I do something about it?” was also found to speed up recovery from doing badly on a test in undergraduates, and to improve interpersonal problem solving, such as finding a way to make up with your partner after an argument, in people who were currently or formerly depressed.”

“For people experiencing depression learning to focus on stressful incidents and to re-imagine them in full technicolour asking themselves ‘What is unique about this situation?’ ‘ How did it happen?’ – instead of ‘Why did it happen to me? had an a ‘significant’ impact on helping to alleviate mental ill health.”

Then again, one way to avoid all the holiday tension is to eat out or . . . leave town.

Read the full article:

http://neurosciencenews.com/psychology-replay-arguments-5819/

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