MattAndJojang's Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Health

What Makes a Good Life: Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness

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What makes a good life? What truly makes us happy? Is it wealth? Is it fame?

The psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, director of a 75-year-old study on adult development, who has an unprecedented access on data about what makes people happy, reveals that money and popularity doesn’t enter at all in the equation.

He says that what makes us truly happy and healthy is the quality of our relationships.

If you’re interested in what matters most in life,  listen to his talk.

–Matt

Written by MattAndJojang

July 13, 2016 at 6:28 pm

Does Money Buy Happiness?

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Photo: Flickr/RoBeRtO!!!

A key assumption in consumer societies has been the idea that “money buys happiness.” Historically, there is a good reason for this assumption—until the last few generations, a majority of people have lived close to subsistence, so an increase in income brought genuine increases in material well-being (e.g., food, shelter, health care) and this has produced more happiness. However, in a number of developed nations, levels of material well-being have moved beyond subsistence to unprecedented abundance. Developed nations have had several generations of unparalleled material prosperity, and a clear understanding is emerging: More money does bring more happiness when we are living on a very low income. However, as a global average, when per capita income reaches the range of $13,000 per year, additional income adds relatively little to our happiness, while other factors such as personal freedom, meaningful work, and social tolerance add much more. Often, a doubling or tripling of income in developed nations has not led to an increase in perceived well-being.

In his book The High Price of Materialism, Tim Kasser assembles considerable research showing “the more materialistic values are at the center of our lives, the more our quality of life is diminished.” He found that people who placed a relatively high importance on consumer goals such as financial success and material acquisition “reported lower levels of happiness and self-actualization and higher levels of depression, anxiety, narcissism, antisocial behavior, and physical problems such as headaches.”

The bottom line is that there is a weak connection between income and happiness once a basic level of economic well-being is reached—roughly $13,000 per year per person. To illustrate this point, the World Values Survey of 2007 revealed that people in Vietnam, with a per capita income of less than $5,000, are just as happy as people in France, with its per capita income of about $22,000. The cattle-herding Masai of Kenya and the Inuit of northern Greenland expressed levels of happiness equal to that of American multimillionaires.

Once a person or family reaches a moderate level of income, here are the factors that research has shown contribute most to happiness:

  • GOOD HEALTH  Physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
  • PERSONAL GROWTH  Opportunities for learning, both inner and outer, and giving creative expression to one’s true gifts.
  • STRONG SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS  Close personal relationships with family, friends, and community in the context of a tolerant and democratic society that values freedom.
  • SERVICE TO OTHERS  Feeling that our lives contribute to the well-being of others.
  • CONNECTION WITH NATURE  Communion with the wildness of nature brings perspective, freshness, and gratitude into our lives.

When we look over this list, it is clear that happiness does not have to cost a lot of money. A tolerant society does not cost a lot in material terms, but the rewards to the social atmosphere in civility, congeniality, and happiness are enormous. Feelings of communion with nature and the cosmos come free with being alive. The quality of relationships with family and community grow from the quality of the time and attention we give to them. Personal growth requires nothing more than paying attention to the experience of moving through life. Feelings of gratitude for life are free.

Happiness is a nonmaterial gift that can spread like a contagion among family, friends, and neighbors—rippling out to touch people who do not even know one another. This is the striking conclusion of a study of more than forty-seven hundred people over a twenty-year period. The study found that one person’s happiness can affect another’s for as much as a year. Researchers also found that, while unhappiness can spread from person to person like an infection, that emotion appears to be far weaker, and does not spread as far or as powerfully, as happiness. The study also explored the importance of friends and social networks as a source of happiness as compared with the importance of money. The study’s coauthor states, “Our work shows that whether a friend’s friend is happy has more influence than a $5,000 raise.” In the face of economic difficulties, his message is “You still have your friends and family, and these are the people to rely on to be happy.” Happiness is a social network phenomenon and can reach up to three degrees of separation (the friend of a friend of a friend), which means that your happiness can involve persons you have not even met.

Happiness is largely a networked social phenomenon once a sustaining level of material well-being is reached. If we worried less about material appearances and thought more about soulful connections with others, we could put our life-energy into creating robust, healthy, and rewarding relationships. The more we learn about the “science of happiness,” the more we see that focusing on material acquisition and status is not serving us well and that it would be enormously helpful to redefine progress.

~ Duane Elgin

Written by MattAndJojang

August 6, 2012 at 4:43 pm

A Serving of Gratitude May Save the Day

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Photo: moel1/Flickr

The most psychologically correct holiday of the year is upon us.

Thanksgiving may be the holiday from hell for nutritionists, and it produces plenty of war stories for psychiatrists dealing with drunken family meltdowns. But it has recently become the favorite feast of psychologists studying the consequences of giving thanks. Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners. A new study shows that feeling grateful makes people less likely to turn aggressive when provoked, which helps explain why so many brothers-in-law survive Thanksgiving without serious injury.

But what if you’re not the grateful sort? I sought guidance from the psychologists who have made gratitude a hot research topic. Here’s their advice for getting into the holiday spirit — or at least getting through dinner Thursday:

Start with “gratitude lite.” That’s the term used by Robert A. Emmons, of the University of California, Davis, for the technique used in his pioneering experiments he conducted along with Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami. They instructed people to keep a journal listing five things for which they felt grateful, like a friend’s generosity, something they’d learned, a sunset they’d enjoyed.

The gratitude journal was brief — just one sentence for each of the five things — and done only once a week, but after two months there were significant effects. Compared with a control group, the people keeping the gratitude journal were more optimistic and felt happier. They reported fewer physical problems and spent more time working out.

Further benefits were observed in a study of polio survivors and other people with neuromuscular problems. The ones who kept a gratitude journal reported feeling happier and more optimistic than those in a control group, and these reports were corroborated by observations from their spouses. These grateful people also fell asleep more quickly at night, slept longer and woke up feeling more refreshed.

“If you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep,” Dr. Emmons advises in “Thanks!” his book on gratitude research.

Don’t confuse gratitude with indebtedness. Sure, you may feel obliged to return a favor, but that’s not gratitude, at least not the way psychologists define it. Indebtedness is more of a negative feeling and doesn’t yield the same benefits as gratitude, which inclines you to be nice to anyone, not just a benefactor.

In an experiment at Northeastern University, Monica Bartlett and David DeSteno sabotaged each participant’s computer and arranged for another student to fix it. Afterward, the students who had been helped were likelier to volunteer to help someone else — a complete stranger — with an unrelated task. Gratitude promoted good karma. And if it works with strangers ….

Try it on your family. No matter how dysfunctional your family, gratitude can still work, says Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California, Riverside.

“Do one small and unobtrusive thoughtful or generous thing for each member of your family on Thanksgiving,” she advises. “Say thank you for every thoughtful or kind gesture. Express your admiration for someone’s skills or talents — wielding that kitchen knife so masterfully, for example. And truly listen, even when your grandfather is boring you again with the same World War II story.”

Don’t counterattack. If you’re bracing for insults on Thursday, consider a recent experiment at the University of Kentucky. After turning in a piece of writing, some students received praise for it while others got a scathing evaluation: “This is one of the worst essays I’ve ever read!”

Then each student played a computer game against the person who’d done the evaluation. The winner of the game could administer a blast of white noise to the loser. Not surprisingly, the insulted essayists retaliated against their critics by subjecting them to especially loud blasts — much louder than the noise administered by the students who’d gotten positive evaluations.

But there was an exception to this trend among a subgroup of the students: the ones who had been instructed to write essays about things for which they were grateful. After that exercise in counting their blessings, they weren’t bothered by the nasty criticism — or at least they didn’t feel compelled to amp up the noise against their critics.

“Gratitude is more than just feeling good,” says Nathan DeWall, who led the study at Kentucky. “It helps people become less aggressive by enhancing their empathy. “It’s an equal-opportunity emotion. Anyone can experience it and benefit from it, even the most crotchety uncle at the Thanksgiving dinner table.”

Share the feeling. Why does gratitude do so much good? “More than other emotion, gratitude is the emotion of friendship,” Dr. McCullough says. “It is part of a psychological system that causes people to raise their estimates of how much value they hold in the eyes of another person. Gratitude is what happens when someone does something that causes you to realize that you matter more to that person than you thought you did.”

Try a gratitude visit. This exercise, recommended by Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, begins with writing a 300-word letter to someone who changed your life for the better. Be specific about what the person did and how it affected you. Deliver it in person, preferably without telling the person in advance what the visit is about. When you get there, read the whole thing slowly to your benefactor. “You will be happier and less depressed one month from now,” Dr. Seligman guarantees in his book “Flourish.”

Contemplate a higher power. Religious individuals don’t necessarily act with more gratitude in a specific situation, but thinking about religion can cause people to feel and act more gratefully, as demonstrated in experiments by Jo-Ann Tsang and colleagues at Baylor University. Other research shows that praying can increase gratitude.

Go for deep gratitude. Once you’ve learned to count your blessings, Dr. Emmons says, you can think bigger.

“As a culture, we have lost a deep sense of gratefulness about the freedoms we enjoy, a lack of gratitude toward those who lost their lives in the fight for freedom, a lack of gratitude for all the material advantages we have,” he says. “The focus of Thanksgiving should be a reflection of how our lives have been made so much more comfortable by the sacrifices of those who have come before us.”

And if that seems too daunting, you can least tell yourself —

Hey, it could always be worse. When your relatives force you to look at photos on their phones, be thankful they no longer have access to a slide projector. When your aunt expounds on politics, rejoice inwardly that she does not hold elected office. Instead of focusing on the dry, tasteless turkey on your plate, be grateful the six-hour roasting process killed any toxic bacteria.

Is that too much of a stretch? When all else fails, remember the Monty Python mantra of the Black Plague victim: “I’m not dead.” It’s all a matter of perspective.

~ John Tierney

Written by MattAndJojang

November 22, 2011 at 7:50 pm

The Folly Of Our Concerns

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Photo: doug88888/Flickr

[Man] sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.

~ The Dalai Lama

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August 6, 2011 at 11:03 am

The Paradox Of Our Age

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Photo: Kurtis Billard/Flickr

We have bigger houses but smaller families;
more conveniences, but less time;
We have more degrees, but less sense;
more knowledge, but less judgement;
more experts, but more problems;
more medicines, but less healthiness;
We’ve been all the way to the moon and back,
but have trouble crossing the street to meet
the new neighbor.
We build more computers to hold more
information to produce more copies then ever,
but have less communication;
We have become long on quantity,
but short on quality.
These are times of fast foods
but slow digestion;
Tall men but short character;
Steep profits but shallow relationships.
It’s a time when there is much in the window,
but nothing in the room.

~ The 14th Dalai Lama

Written by MattAndJojang

January 13, 2011 at 12:34 pm

The Fight Within Us – Amanda Wang’s Story

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I have learned that even in our darkest hour of despair we can never be thrown away. And once we realize that, we lead remarkable lives.

Amanda Wang

Amanda Wang is Matt’s cousin. In this video clip from The Fight Within Us: A Documentary ( which, by the way, she created) she courageously shares how she copes with Borderline Personality Disorder (which she struggles with). Borderline Personality Disorder (aka BPD) is a disease which begins with chemical imbalances in the brain and ends with the sufferer struggling to feel worthwhile, fighting depression, and a very poor sense of self. She decided to share her story to help those are suffering from this disease.

Watch the video by clicking this link:

The Fight Within Us: A Documentary by RethinkBPD from Amanda Wang on Vimeo.

Written by MattAndJojang

July 2, 2010 at 1:18 pm

2009 Christmas Letter

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Matt and Jojang

Dear Family and Friends,

I would like to think that this year is an encouraging one for us.

True, we started the year with our continuous struggle with Matthew’s asthma since he had to be brought numerous times to the emergency again. And one time, he had to be confined. However during the latter part of the year, Matthew’s health was gaining ground. In fact, just a few weeks ago, it was exhilarating for us when Matthew was able to walk around SM, a mall here at Baguio City. Something he has never done in years. Slowly but surely his health is taking great strides. I know that sooner than we think, Matthew’s full recovery is on its way.

What seems to be a source of great excitement for both of us this year, is our blog. We never realized that in a span of a little over a year, we were going to get more than 18,000 hits! We both thought of coming out with one, as a sort of “therapy” for Matthew’s illness. We also wanted to have a venue where we could share inspirational quotes, excerpts, stories, and our writings. The blog was quite helpful for Matthew ‘coz even if he spends most of his time at home, he is able to be positively busy. However, little did we know that we were going to touch so many lives as well.

We look forward to the year ahead with so much promise. And we can hardly wait for life’s events to unfold.

Here’s wishing you all reading this blog, A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year.

May the good Lord bless you and keep you. May He make His face shine on you and give you peace!

Jojang

Written by MattAndJojang

December 23, 2009 at 9:08 am