Saturday, October 6, 2012

Happiness!

Health experts have long been aware of a strong mind-body connection between people's emotional state and their physical health.

Research shows that happy people tend to be more active and burn more calories than their depressed or unhappy counterparts.

Of course, there's also considerable research that suggests depression contributes to obesity.  Many people eat more unhealthy foods when confronted with anxiety or depression.

The Happiness Institute

Professor Timothy Sharp from The Happiness Institute (can you believe there's an entire institute dedicated to happiness study? That's pretty cool!) believes that happy people lose more weight.  He points out the growing scientific literature also supports his belief. Positive emotions can help your body be in a slightly alkaline state, which aids in weight loss. Positivity, according to Dr. Sharp, can reprogram the automatic negative food messages that your brain gives your body. It can also minimize chronic diseases and improve the function of your immune system.

Happiness and Weight Loss

Happiness can aid weight loss more significantly than dieting, according to Dr. Joe Vitale.  Vitale believes that a happy state is the key to losing weight. "The truth is happy people tend to take more actions in the direction of their goals," Vitale maintains. He states that weight gain is part of a vicious cycle and people must improve their emotional state to lose weight.  Makes sense.

Obesity and Depression

There is a strong correlation between obesity and depression that has been well-documented in numerous studies. According to a study published in the journal "Clinical Psychology," people suffering from depression have changes in their hormones that contribute to obesity. Their symptoms also make it more difficult to exercise and eat right. A study conducted in 2002 at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center found that adolescents in the Cincinnati area with depression symptoms were more likely to become obese in the next year.

Stress and Unhealthy Eating

Stressed out children and adults will eat more unhealthy foods, according to research. The journal "Health Psychology" published a study that reviewed the eating habits of 11-year-olds. Stressed out kids eat more unhealthy food than their less-stressed out peers. "Children in the most stressed category ate more fatty foods and more unhealthy snacks, but they were also less likely to consume the recommended five or more fruits and vegetables or eat a daily breakfast," says Jane Wardle, director of Cancer Research UK's Health Behaviour Unit, who led the study. Similar results have been found in studies with adults.

So, how do we be happier?

Well, I'd be preaching to the choir to announce that working out first thing in the morning improves your mental, emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing, all leading to enhanced happiness.  You already know that through first-hand experience.

Exercising daily is a big contributor to happiness.  But I think there's even more to it.

Here's a formula that explains happiness:  Your Reality minus Your Expectations = Your Happiness.

Let me explain.

We all have certain expectations about how our lives "should be".  I remember in January 1980, laying in my bed trying to fall asleep, thinking how cool starting a new decade was.  I starting thinking about next decade and how by the 90's we'll all be flying personal spaceships in lieu of driving cars.  And then I thought about the year 2000 and thought that I would be REALLY old by then, at age 31.  I'd have that perfect house that I was supposed to have, be married, and have 2 kids.  I have no idea where this expectation came from, but I was pretty certain that by year 2000, those things would be my reality.

Well, I struck out on all of it.  Life was sure harder at age 31 than I imaged it back when I was 11. 

I got to spend some time with a good friend recently in Austin.  He was telling me (and 7 other guys) about his life, and his business.  We were all stunned by how incredible the past 2 years have been for him.  By every measure, his growth was unbelievable.  Yet, he was in a HUGE funk, borderline depressed.  Simply put, although his reality was AWESOME, it didn't match his UNBELIEVABLE expectations - he'd "only" achieved 97% of his goal.  It took about 90 minutes of intense dialogue to get him to actually SEE how phenomenal his progress has been.  Crazy!

I also remember my 25th birthday.  I "celebrated" by working 12 hours at a restaurant.  At 3am I was checking out servers, and closing the business down.  I had this overwhelming sense of depression - it wasn't just the restaurant work, it was a horrible place to work.  Meanwhile, many of my friends had "great" corporate jobs, were either married or engaged, were driving the cool car, etc.  I was working EVERY weekend, and every holiday, driving a crummy car, and living in a tiny condo, and trying to get along in a horrendous, backstabbing, cover my butt, work culture.  My reality again didn't match my expectations for where I was "supposed" to be at age 25, and I was very unhappy. 

So, if our reality doesn't match the expectations we hold, we're going to be pretty unhappy.  And sometimes we create some pretty CRAZY expectations.  Maybe the expectations came from our parents.  Maybe from our culture.  If you're like me and your expectations are that you should have 2.3 kids, be married, live in the dream house, drive the nice car, have the "perfect" job, weigh X number of pounds, etc, etc ... maybe it's time to re-evaluate those expectations, especially if they make you feel bad or unhappy.  Sometimes it's simply the time frame on the expectations that is out of whack.  Sometimes we may not get what we think we should.

The fastest way to feel happy is to feel grateful.  Have gratitude for what you do have.  Some may think that's some silly pie in the sky, esoteric exercise.  Maybe so.  But when you TRULY appreciate all the great things around you, I can guarantee you will feel intensely happy!  Why not feel that every day?

Your friend in fitness,

Brian Calkins
NSCA-CPT, ACE

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