Monday, February 3, 2014
Saturday, August 2, 2008
Removing Tattoos: Who Does It and Why
July 21, 2008 -- It seemed a good idea at the time. But you were young, wild, and in love with Roland. Now you are getting married to Ed and you want Roland's name off your right calf.
It seems that when it comes to getting tattoos removed, more women than men go in for the procedure.
Researchers compared results of a 1996 study to a 2006 study looking at how people feel about their tattoos. Participants were people who came to four dermatology clinics in Arizona, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Texas.
The study was led by Myrna L. Armstrong, RD, EdD, of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.
In background information presented with the findings, the researchers write "the vast majority of individuals who are tattooed are pleased with their skin markings (up to 83%)."
Apparently about a fifth are estimated to be unhappy with their tattoos, while "only about 6% seek removal."
In the 2006 study, researchers interviewed 196 tattooed people; 130 of them were women and 66 were men.
The researchers found that today more women (69%) than men (31%) came in to get tattoos removed.
According to the 2006 study, a typical woman who gets a tattoo is between the ages of 24 and 29.
Most women with tattoos are white, college educated, and unmarried. They describe themselves as "risk takers, from stable families, with moderate to strong religious beliefs."
More women are motivated to get the tattoo removed because of pressure from others or social stigma.
The top six reasons both men and women gave for tattoo removal:
- 58% just decided to remove it.
- 57% suffered embarrassment.
- 38% had lowered body image.
- 38% new job/career.
- 37% problem with clothes.
- 25% experienced stigma.
(Do you have tattoos? Have you ever considered having any removed? Talk with others on the Health Cafe board.)
Why People Get Tattoos
The 2006 study shows people get tattoos for these reasons:
- 44% wanted to feel unique.
- 33% wanted to feel independent.
- 28% wanted to bring attention to a particular life experience.
The researchers write that one out of four American adults aged 18 to 30 has a tattoo.
In both studies, the main reason for wanting to get rid of a tattoo was that people had a "shift in their identities," and wanted to do away with the past.
The findings appear in the Archives of Dermatology.
Monday, July 14, 2008
June 30, 2008 -- Workplace wellness programs are effective in helping employees lose weight, a research review shows.
Some programs offered a health risk assessment and lab work; others provided one-on-one and email counseling. Only one included on-site
exercise sessions, and another added healthy menu items in the cafeteria, along with nutritional information.
The work-site intervention programs lasted a minimum of eight weeks and involved workers aged 32 to 52.
Workplace Weight Loss
On average participants lost 2-14 pounds compared to employees not involved in the work-site weight loss intervention programs.
The workers that did not participate either lost an average of 1 and 1/2 pounds, or gained an average of 1 pound.
So do on-the-job weight loss programs work? "For people who participate in them, work-site-based programs do tend to result in weight loss," researcher Michael Benedict, MD, from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, says in a news release.
What seems to matter most when it comes to dropping the pounds? The in-your-face approach, according to Benedict. "Programs that incorporated face-to-face contact more than once a month appeared to be more effective than other programs."
However, since the follow-up was slim it was hard to draw conclusions about whether the weight would stay off, Benedict says. From 56% to 100% of the participants finished the studies, which ranged from two to 18 months. "People who participate in these programs can lose weight, but we aren't really sure what happens after that."
In an article that runs alongside the review, authors point out that "65% of adults in the U.S. are classified as overweight or obese."
The researchers add that work-site weight loss programs can provide "unique opportunities for decreasing adult obesity."
- Emotional support from colleagues.
- A structured program can offer opportunities to learn about nutrition and exercise.
The researchers write that employees have been offering more work wellness programs.
According to the researchers, a separate 2003 study showed that "approximately 6% of all U.S. health care costs ($75 billion dollars) were related to excess body weight."
It's not clear how much money employers could save if they offered weight loss programs. "Employers want to know that what they're doing will have a positive return on investment," Benedict says.
Benedict writes that efforts to curb obesity at work can look for success to similar workplace programs, including a drive to help people quit smoking and lower their blood pressure, a win-win for employers.
The researchers admit the data have limits; they call for "vigorous, controlled studies of work-site-based interventions that integrate educational, behavioral, environmental and economic supports."
The research is published in the July-August issue of American Journal of Health Promotion.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Women: Eat Well, Live Longer?
A new study suggests a link between what women eat and whether they die from certain diseases.
72,000 women, 30 to 55 years old, who had no history of health problems at the beginning of the study. The study spanned 18 years, from 1984 to 2002; every two to four years, the women answered questionnaires about what they ate.
Researchers led by Christin Heidemann from Harvard's School of Public Health and the German Institute of Human Nutrition tracked more than
Two distinct dietary patterns emerged.
The other dietary pattern, dubbed "Western," included more red and processed meat, refined grains, french fries, sugary foods, and desserts.
It Pays to Be 'Prudent'
During 18 years of tracking, 6,011 of the participants died.
Women with the most "prudent diet" had a 28% lower risk of dying from heart disease. They also had a 17% lower risk of death from all the diseases studied, including cancer, diabetes, and stroke.
Women who followed a diet highest in meats, processed and refined foods, and sweets had a 22% higher risk of dying from heart disease. They also had a 21% increased risk of dying from all causes combined.
"These results highlight the importance of intensifying public health efforts to promote the adoption of a healthy overall diet including high intakes of vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, fish and poultry and low intakes of red and processed meat, refined grains, French fries and sweets," says Heidemann in a prepared statement.
"Traditionally, there has been a focus on single nutrients or foods, but in terms of longevity a greater focus on dietary patterns can take into account the complexity of the overall diet," Heidemann says.
Healthy Diet, Lifestyle Tips
Here are some lifestyle and diet guidelines from the American Heart Association, which are in line with following a "prudent" diet:
- Limit saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium.
- Minimize sugary foods and beverages.
- Eat lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain and high-fiber foods.
- Eat fat-free and low-fat dairy products.
- Eat fish at least twice a week.
- Be physically active and keep weight at healthy levels.
- Avoid using or breathing tobacco smoke.
- Achieve and maintain healthy cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels.
The study is published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Most of us don't need to hear it or read it ... we have felt it in our wallets every time we've gone to the grocery store. But just because food prices are rising doesn't mean you can't make healthy food choices.
The good news is that many foods that are good for you are also cheap. Here is our list of the top healthy foods you can find in your grocery store for under a dollar.
Prices may vary based on the store, location, and time of year.
Great for: Snacks, green salads, main dish salads, and fruit salads.
What's a serving? 1 large apple.
Price per serving: About $1. Apples sell for about $1.99 per pound, and an extra large crisp apple weighs about 1/2 pound.
Nutrition Info per serving: 117 calories, 5 grams fiber, 17% Daily Value for vitamin C, and 7% Daily Value for potassium.
Great for: Snacks and fruit salads, yogurt parfaits, and smoothies.
What's a serving? 1 banana.
Price per serving: About 45 cents. Bananas sell for about $0.89 per pound, and a large banana weighs about 1/2 pound
Nutrition Info per serving: 121 calories, 3.5 grams fiber, 14% Daily Value for potassium (487 mg), 20% Daily Value for vitamin C.
3. Baby Carrots (in bags)
Great for: Snacks, casseroles, stews, veggie platters, and side dishes.
What's a serving? About 1/2 cup or 2 ounces raw.
Price per serving: 19 cents. A 16-ounce bag costs about $1 on sale and contains about 8 servings (2 ounces each).
Nutrition Info per serving: 27 calories, 2 grams of fiber, 200% Daily Value for vitamin A, and 7% Daily Value for vitamin C.
4. Canned Beans
Great for: Green salads, casseroles, stews, and chili. Types of beans range from 50% less sodium kidney beans and black beans to white beans and garbanzo beans.
What's a serving? Each can contains about 3.5 (1/2-cup) servings.
Price per serving: About 28 cents. You can buy a 15-ounce can for about $1 on sale.
Nutrition Info per serving: About 120 calories (for kidney beans), 7 grams protein, 6 grams fiber, and 6% Daily Value for calcium, and 10% Daily Value for iron.
5. Canned Tomatoes
Great for: Italian and Mexican recipes, chili, stew, and casseroles. Flavor options range from no-salt-added sliced stewed tomatoes to diced tomatoes with garlic and olive oil.
What's a serving? One can contains about 3.5 (1/2-cup) servings.
Price per serving: About 28 cents. You can buy a 14.5-ounce can for about $1 on sale (often less for store brands).
Nutrition Info per serving: About 25 calories, 1 gram fiber, 10% Daily Value of vitamin A, and 15% Daily Value of vitamin C.
6. Oranges (extra large navel oranges)
Great for: Snacks, green salads, and fruit salads.
What's a serving? 1 large or extra large orange.
Price per serving: 40 cents for a large orange and 79 cents for an extra large orange. Oranges sell for around $0.79 per pound, and a large orange is about 1/2 pound, whereas an extra large orange is about 1 pound.
Nutrition Info per serving: (for an 8 ounce orange): 106 calories, 5.5 grams fiber, 10% Daily Value for vitamin A, 200% Daily Value vitamin C, 17% Daily Value for folate, 9% Daily Value for calcium, and 12% potassium.
Great for: Snacks, as an appetizer with cheese, green salads, and fruit salads.
What's a serving? 1 large pear
Price per serving: about 45 cents for a large pear. Pears sell for about $0.90 per pound, and a large pear weighs about 1/2 pound.
Nutrition Info per serving: 133 calories, 7 grams of fiber, 16% Daily Value for vitamin C, and 8% for potassium.
8. Lentils (dry)
Great for: Soups and stews, cold bean salads, and casseroles.
What's a serving? 2 ounces (dry)
Price per serving: 14 cents. A 16 ounce bag sells for $1.12 (on sale) and contains eight servings.
Nutrition Info per serving: 195 calories, 14 grams protein, 6 grams fiber, 24% Daily Value for Iron, 10% Daily Value for magnesium and potassium.
9. Pearl Barley (dry)
Great for: Soups and stews, cold salads, and casseroles.
What's a serving? 2 ounces (dry)
Price per serving: About 12 cents. A 16 ounce bag of dry pearl barley sells for about $0.94 and contains about 8 servings.
Nutrition Info per serving: 199 calories, 9 grams fiber, 2.5 grams soluble fiber, 6 grams protein, 8% Daily Value for iron, and 11% Daily Value for magnesium.
10. Yogurt (plain, lowfat, or fat-free)
Great for: Smoothies, yogurt parfait, dips, and dressings.
What's a serving? An 8-ounce or 6-ounce container is usually a serving.
Price per serving: 60 cents. This is usually the price for an 8-ounce container of plain yogurt.
Nutrition Info per serving: (for 8 ounces of fat-free plain yogurt): 130 calories, 13 grams of protein, 45% Daily Value for calcium, plus active cultures such as acidophilus and bifidus.
Friday, May 9, 2008
from "Men's Health" Magazine
Want to do your body a world of good? It's as easy as expanding your grocery list
Although some guys aren't opposed to smoking some weed, most wouldn't think of eating one. It's a shame, really, since a succulent weed named purslane is not only delicious but also among the world's healthiest foods.
Of course, there are many superfoods that never see the inside of a shopping cart. Some you've never heard of, and others you've simply forgotten about. That's why we've rounded up the best of the bunch. Make a place for them on your table and you'll instantly upgrade your health -- without a prescription.
These grungy-looking roots are naturally sweeter than any other vegetable, which means they pack tons of flavor underneath their rugged exterior.
Why they're healthy: Think of beets as red spinach. Just like Popeye's powerfood, this crimson vegetable is one of the best sources of both folate and betaine. These two nutrients work together to lower your blood levels of homocysteine, an inflammatory compound that can damage your arteries and increase your risk of heart disease. Plus, the natural pigments -- called betacyanins -- that give beets their color have been proved to be potent cancer fighters in laboratory mice.
How to eat them: Fresh and raw, not from a jar. Heating beets actually decreases their antioxidant power. For a simple single-serving salad, wash and peel one beet, and then grate it on the widest blade of a box grater. Toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the juice of half a lemon.
You can eat the leaves and stems, which are also packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Simply cut off the stems just below the point where the leaves start, and wash thoroughly. They're now ready to be used in a salad. Or, for a side dish, sauté the leaves, along with a minced clove of garlic and a tablespoon of olive oil, in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Cook until the leaves are wilted and the stems are tender. Season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice, and sprinkle with fresh Parmesan cheese.
Absent from most American kitchens, this cruciferous vegetable is a major player in European and Asian diets.
Why it's healthy: One cup of chopped cabbage has just 22 calories, and it's loaded with valuable nutrients. At the top of the list is sulforaphane, a chemical that increases your body's production of enzymes that disarm cell-damaging free radicals and reduce your risk of cancer. In fact, Stanford University scientists determined that sulforaphane boosts your levels of these cancer-fighting enzymes higher than any other plant chemical.
How to eat it: Put cabbage on your burgers to add a satisfying crunch. Or, for an even better sandwich topping or side salad, try an Asian-style slaw. Here's what you'll need.
4 Tbsp peanut or canola oil
Juice of two limes
1 Tbsp sriracha, an Asian chili sauce you can find in the international section of your grocery store
1 head napa cabbage, finely chopped or shredded
1/4 cup toasted peanuts
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Whisk together the oil, lime juice, and sriracha. Combine the remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl and toss with the dressing to coat. Refrigerate for 20 minutes before serving. The slaw will keep in your fridge for 2 days.
Guava is an obscure tropical fruit that's subtly acidic, with sweetness that intensifies as you eat your way to the center.
Why it's healthy: Guava has a higher concentration of lycopene -- an antioxidant that fights prostate cancer -- than any other plant food, including tomatoes and watermelon. In addition, 1 cup of the stuff provides 688 milligrams (mg) of potassium, which is 63 percent more than you'll find in a medium banana. And guava may be the ultimate high-fiber food: There's almost 9 grams (g) of fiber in every cup.
How to eat it: Down the entire fruit, from the rind to the seeds. It's all edible -- and nutritious. The rind alone has more vitamin C than you'd find in the flesh of an orange. You can score guava in the produce section of higher-end supermarkets or in Latin grocery stores.
4. Swiss chard
Hidden in the leafy-greens cooler of your market, you'll find this slightly bitter, salty vegetable, which is actually native to the Mediterranean.
Why it's healthy: A half cup of cooked Swiss chard provides a huge amount of both lutein and zeaxanthin, supplying 10 mg each. These plant chemicals, known as carotenoids, protect your retinas from the damage of aging, according to Harvard researchers. That's because both nutrients, which are actually pigments, appear to accumulate in your retinas, where they absorb the type of shortwave light rays that can damage your eyes.
So the more lutein and zeaxanthin you eat, the better your internal eye protection will be.
How to eat it: Chard goes great with grilled steaks and chicken, and it also works well as a bed for pan-seared fish. Wash and dry a bunch of Swiss chard, and then chop the leaves and stems into 1-inch pieces. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large sauté pan or wok, and add two garlic cloves that you've peeled and lightly crushed. When the oil smokes lightly, add the chard. Sauté for 5 to 7 minutes, until the leaves wilt and the stems are tender. Remove the garlic cloves and season the chard with salt and pepper.
This old-world spice usually reaches most men's stomachs only when it's mixed with sugar and stuck to a roll.
Why it's healthy: Cinnamon helps control your blood sugar, which influences your risk of heart disease. In fact, USDA researchers found that people with type-2 diabetes who consumed 1 g of cinnamon a day for 6 weeks (about 1/4 teaspoon each day) significantly reduced not only their blood sugar but also their triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol. Credit the spice's active ingredients, methylhydroxychalcone polymers, which increase your cells' ability to metabolize sugar by up to 20 times.
How to eat it: You don't need the fancy oils and extracts sold at vitamin stores; just sprinkle the stuff that's in your spice rack (or in the shaker at Starbucks) into your coffee or on your oatmeal.
Although the FDA classifies purslane as a broad-leaved weed, it's a popular vegetable and herb in many other countries, including China, Mexico, and Greece.
Why it's healthy: Purslane has the highest amount of heart-healthy omega-3 fats of any edible plant, according to researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio. The scientists also report that this herb has 10 to 20 times more melatonin -- an antioxidant that may inhibit cancer growth -- than any other fruit or vegetable tested.
How to eat it: In a salad. Think of purslane as a great alternative or addition to lettuce: The leaves and stems are crisp, chewy, and succulent, and they have a mild lemony taste. Look for it at your local farmer's market, or Chinese or Mexican market. It's also available at some Whole Foods stores, as an individual leafy green or in premade salad mixes.
7. Pomegranate juice
A popular drink for decades in the Middle East, pomegranate juice has become widely available only recently in the United States.
Why it's healthy: Israeli scientists discovered that men who downed just 2 ounces of pomegranate juice daily for a year decreased their systolic (top number) blood pressure by 21 percent and significantly improved bloodflow to their hearts. What's more, 4 ounces provides 50 percent of your daily vitamin C needs.
How to drink it: Try 100 percent pomegranate juice from Pom Wonderful. It contains no added sugars, and because it's so powerful, a small glassful is all you need. (For a list of retailers, go to www.pomwonderful.com.)
8. Goji berries
These raisin-size fruits are chewy and taste like a cross between a cranberry and a cherry. More important, these potent berries have been used as a medicinal food in Tibet for over 1,700 years.
Why they're healthy: Goji berries have one of the highest ORAC ratings -- a method of gauging antioxidant power -- of any fruit, according to Tufts University researchers. And although modern scientists began to study this ancient berry only recently, they've found that the sugars that make goji berries sweet reduce insulin resistance -- a risk factor of diabetes -- in rats.
How to eat them: Mix dried or fresh goji berries with a cup of plain yogurt, sprinkle them on your oatmeal or cold cereal, or enjoy a handful by themselves. You can find them at specialty supermarkets or at gojiberries.us.
9. Dried plums
You may know these better by the moniker "prunes," which are indelibly linked with nursing homes and bathroom habits. And that explains why, in an effort to revive this delicious fruit's image, producers now market them under another name.
Why they're healthy: Prunes contain high amounts of neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acids, antioxidants that are particularly effective at combating the "superoxide anion radical." This nasty free radical causes structural damage to your cells, and such damage is thought to be one of the primary causes of cancer.
How to eat them: As an appetizer. Wrap a paper-thin slice of prosciutto around each dried plum and secure with a toothpick. Bake in a 400°F oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until the plums are soft and the prosciutto is crispy. Most of the fat will cook off, and you'll be left with a decadent-tasting treat that's sweet, savory, and healthy.
10. Pumpkin seeds
These jack-o'-lantern waste products are the most nutritious part of the pumpkin.
Why they're healthy: Downing pumpkin seeds is the easiest way to consume more magnesium. That's important because French researchers recently determined that men with the highest levels of magnesium in their blood have a 40 percent lower risk of early death than those with the lowest levels. And on average, men consume 353 mg of the mineral daily, well under the 420 mg minimum recommended by the USDA.
How to eat them: Whole, shells and all. (The shells provide extra fiber.) Roasted pumpkin seeds contain 150 mg of magnesium per ounce; add them to your regular diet and you'll easily hit your daily target of 420 mg. Look for them in the snack or health-food section of your grocery store, next to the peanuts, almonds, and sunflower seeds.
The science is clear: Plant foods are good for you. And the credit often goes to chemicals they produce called antioxidants. Just as the name suggests, antioxidants help protect your cells against oxidation. Think of oxidation as rust. This rust is caused by free radicals, which are unstable oxygen atoms that attack your cells, inducing DNA damage that leads to cancer. Thankfully, antioxidants help stabilize free radicals, which keeps the rogue atoms from harming your cells.
So by eating more antioxidant-rich foods, you'll boost the amount of the disease-fighting chemicals floating in your bloodstream. The result: Every bite fortifies your body with all-natural preventive medicine.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
A popular greeting card attributes this quote to Henry David Thoreau: “Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”
With all due respect to the author of Walden, that just isn’t so, according to a growing number of psychologists. You can choose to be happy, they say. You can chase down that elusive butterfly and get it to sit on your shoulder. How? In part, by simply making the effort to monitor the workings of your mind.
Research has shown that your talent for happiness is, to a large degree, determined by your genes. Psychology professor David T. Lykken, author of Happiness: Its Nature and Nurture, says that “trying to be happier is like trying to be taller.” We each have a “happiness set point,” he argues, and move away from it only slightly.
And yet, psychologists who study happiness -- including Lykken -- believe we can pursue happiness. We can do this by thwarting negative emotions such as pessimism, resentment, and anger. And we can foster positive emotions, such as empathy, serenity, and especially gratitude.
Happiness Strategy # 1: Don't Worry, Choose Happy
The first step, however, is to make a conscious choice to boost your happiness. In his book, The Conquest of Happiness, published in 1930, the philosopher Bertrand Russell had this to say: “Happiness is not, except in very rare cases, something that drops into the mouth, like a ripe fruit. … Happiness must be, for most men and women, an achievement rather than a gift of the gods, and in this achievement, effort, both inward and outward, must play a great part.”
Today, psychologists who study happiness heartily agree. The intention to be happy is the first of The 9 Choices of Happy People listed by authors Rick Foster and Greg Hicks in their book of the same name.
“Intention is the active desire and commitment to be happy,” they write. “It’s the decision to consciously choose attitudes and behaviors that lead to happiness over unhappiness.”
Tom G. Stevens, PhD, titled his book with the bold assertion, You Can Choose to Be Happy. “Choose to make happiness a top goal,” Stevens tells WebMD. “Choose to take advantage of opportunities to learn how to be happy. For example, reprogram your beliefs and values. Learn good self-management skills, good interpersonal skills, and good career-related skills. Choose to be in environments and around people that increase your probability of happiness. The persons who become the happiest and grow the most are those who also make truth and their own personal growth primary values.”
In short, we may be born with a happiness “set point,” as Lykken calls it, but we are not stuck there. Happiness also depends on how we manage our emotions and our relationships with others.
Jon Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis, teaches positive psychology. He actually assigns his students to make themselves happier during the semester.
“They have to say exactly what technique they will use,” says Haidt, a professor at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville. “They may choose to be more forgiving or more grateful. They may learn to identify negative thoughts so they can challenge them. For example, when someone crosses you, in your mind you build a case against that person, but that’s very damaging to relationships. So they may learn to shut up their inner lawyer and stop building these cases against people.”
Once you’ve decided to be happier, you can choose strategies for achieving happiness. Psychologists who study happiness tend to agree on ones like these.
Happiness Strategy #2: Cultivate Gratitude
In his book, Authentic Happiness, University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman encourages readers to perform a daily “gratitude exercise.” It involves listing a few things that make them grateful. This shifts people away from bitterness and despair, he says, and promotes happiness.
Happiness Strategy #3: Foster Forgiveness
Holding a grudge and nursing grievances can affect physical as well as mental health, according to a rapidly growing body of research. One way to curtail these kinds of feelings is to foster forgiveness. This reduces the power of bad events to create bitterness and resentment, say Michael McCullough and Robert Emmons, happiness researchers who edited The Psychology of Happiness.
In his book, Five Steps to Forgiveness, clinical psychologist Everett Worthington Jr. offers a 5-step process he calls REACH. First, recall the hurt. Then empathize and try to understand the act from the perpetrator’s point of view. Be altruistic by recalling a time in your life when you were forgiven. Commit to putting your forgiveness into words. You can do this either in a letter to the person you’re forgiving or in your journal. Finally, try to hold on to the forgiveness. Don’t dwell on your anger, hurt, and desire for vengeance.
The alternative to forgiveness is mulling over a transgression. This is a form of chronic stress, says Worthington.
“Rumination is the mental health bad boy,” Worthington tells WebMD. “It’s associated with almost everything bad in the mental health field -- obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety -- probably hives, too.”
Happiness Strategy #4: Counteract Negative Thoughts and Feelings
As Jon Haidt puts it, improve your mental hygiene. In The Happiness Hypothesis, Haidt compares the mind to a man riding an elephant. The elephant represents the powerful thoughts and feelings -- mostly unconscious -- that drive your behavior. The man, although much weaker, can exert control over the elephant, just as you can exert control over negative thoughts and feelings.
“The key is a commitment to doing the things necessary to retrain the elephant,” Haidt says. “And the evidence suggests there’s a lot you can do. It just takes work.”
For example, you can practice meditation, rhythmic breathing, yoga, or relaxation techniques to quell anxiety and promote serenity. You can learn to recognize and challenge thoughts you have about being inadequate and helpless.
“If you learn techniques for identifying negative thoughts, then it’s easier to challenge them,” Haidt said. “Sometimes just reading David Burns’ book, Feeling Good, can have a positive effect.”
Happiness Strategy #5: Remember, Money Can’t Buy Happiness
Research shows that once income climbs above the poverty level, more money brings very little extra happiness. Yet, “we keep assuming that because things aren’t bringing us happiness, they’re the wrong things, rather than recognizing that the pursuit itself is futile,” writes Daniel Gilbert in his book, Stumbling on Happiness. “Regardless of what we achieve in the pursuit of stuff, it’s never going to bring about an enduring state of happiness.”
Happiness Strategy #6: Foster Friendship
There are few better antidotes to unhappiness than close friendships with people who care about you, says David G. Myers, author of The Pursuit of Happiness. One Australian study found that people over 70 who had the strongest network of friends lived much longer.
“Sadly, our increasingly individualistic society suffers from impoverished social connections, which some psychologists believe is a cause of today’s epidemic levels of depression,” Myers writes. “The social ties that bind also provide support in difficult times.”
Happiness Strategy #7: Engage in Meaningful Activities
People are seldom happier, says psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, than when they’re in the “flow.” This is a state in which your mind becomes thoroughly absorbed in a meaningful task that challenges your abilities. Yet, he has found that the most common leisure time activity -- watching TV -- produces some of the lowest levels of happiness.
To get more out of life, we need to put more into it, says Csikszentmihalyi. “Active leisure that helps a person grow does not come easily,” he writes in Finding Flow. “Each of the flow-producing activities requires an initial investment of attention before it begins to be enjoyable.”
So it turns out that happiness can be a matter of choice -- not just luck. Some people are lucky enough to possess genes that foster happiness. However, certain thought patterns and interpersonal skills definitely help people become an “epicure of experience,” says David Lykken, whose name, in Norwegian, means “the happiness.”