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The Science of Happiness: 5 Ways Nature Makes You Happier

“Deviation from nature is deviation from happiness.” Samuel Johnson

Who doesn’t want to be happy?

We all could use more happiness in our lives, so I’ve compiled some of the scientific research on what makes us happy.

In the video below, I share insights from studies in the fields of positive psychology, medicine, and behavioral economics on the important role that nature plays in our happiness.

From these studies we learn that:

  • Deepening our connection to nature improves our happiness
  • Spending time in nature lowers our stress levels and makes us happier
  • Exposure to nature increases our happiness and helpfulness

Watch to discover how you can use nature to boost your happiness and improve your health. For more easy ways to increase your happiness, download our daily happiness half-dozen. This is a pdf of 6 activities you can do in a few minutes each day that are scientifically proven to increase happiness.

How would you describe your connection with nature? Email me your thoughts on how you . interact with nature to boost your happiness.

Change Your Environment, Change Your Life

Woman seeking positive life change.

Your life deserves a perfectly, stunning change for the best.

Your environment has a tremendous impact on how you feel and what you are able to accomplish in your life. Your environment is an external reflection of your internal state. What does your environment say about you? Is your desk cluttered and disorganized? Is your house filled with projects left undone? These environmental cues suggest a difficulty with prioritization and focus. To achieve your goals, you must structure your environment to support your efforts.

Your current environment supports your current life. To create new possibilities for yourself, you must create a new environment. The good news is that you have the ability to recreate your environment. You can choose to create an environment that supports your life purpose and goals. Discover valuable tools to help your restructure your environment to support your goals.

Restructure Your Physical Environment to Support Your Life Goals

There is a strong connection between our external environment and our internal state. Here are some improvements you can make to your physical environment to improve your productivity.

1.     Broadcast your goals. Create a vision board.

Companies spend such much money on marketing and advertising because they know it works. We respond to subtle cues in our environment that bypass our conscious mind. Yet these sub-concious cues still influence our behavior.

You can use this information to your advantage by programming your subconscious mind through visual cues. These visual cues are a constant reminder to focus on your goals. They speak directly to your subconscious and motivate your behavior. Broadcasting intentional messages to yourself, engages your unconscious mind in producing your goals.

A vision board is a great way to communicate your life goals to your subconscious mind. When you have a clear picture of what you want in life, then you can start to attract it. A vision board is a collection of images, words and photos that represent the things you want to have, be, or do in life.

If you don’t already have a vision board, create one immediately. It’s quite simple. Grab a poster board, glue, pictures, old magazines, cut-out pictures, drawings, writing, and any arts & craft supplies you enjoy. Paste them to your board in any order that is appealing to you. It’s fun to do this activity with friends, so invite a few over and create your vision boards together.

Once you have your vision board, make sure to prominently display it where you will see it often. I display my vision board on my bedroom wall. It is the first thing that I see in the morning and the last thing that I see at night. When these images enter your mind regularly, you’ll be amazed how quickly they will become your reality. Our dreams and goals change often, so update your board often!

2.     Breathe life into your environment. Add plants.

Affirming our connection to nature is an easy way to improve our health, well-being, and productivity. As I “city girl” , I enjoy the fast-paced energy of densely packed streets with tall concrete buildings. Yet, I know that we all need some greenery to promote reconnection and restoration.

The physical and emotional benefits of spending time in nature are well documented. In my article on sensory walks, I review some of the cutting edge research on nature’s impact on our health. Spending time in nature increases our immune functioning, productivity, and creativity. You can bring these benefits into your home by adding potted plants to your home and office spaces.

Make life easier for yourself, add greenery to your work environment and watch your performance improve.

Besides providing us with clean, fresh air, potted plants also help us to be more motivated and productive. Research in the UK and Netherlands showed that adding potted plants to offices increased workers’ productivity by fifteen percent. Other research shows that working around potted plants helps to improve concentration and memory by twenty percent.  Thus, adding potted plants to your regular working locations improves the quantity and quality of your work. Also, consider working outside in nature as much as possible.

 

3.     Give your mind (and your eyes) a place to rest. Clean your desktop.

Can clearing off your desk, really clear your mind? Yes. My mind can not rest when I am bombarded with all the visual reminders of everything that need to be completed. Productivity author and coach, David Allen refers to these as “open loops” and suggests that they are major source of stress in our life.

An open loop is “anything pulling at your attention that doesn’t belong where it is, the way it is”. This could be an unfinished craft project covering the dining room table. It could be a pile of papers on the desk because they are important and you don’t want to forget. Stress comes from having too many of these open loops and not having an effective system to capture and manage them. Clutter is a crude way of reminding ourselves because we don’t have an effective system that we trust.

The secret to managing our energy and productivity is to eradicate the unfinished loops. We either commit to completing the task right then or we plan a time when we will complete the task. This allows us to put the visual reminder away and removes the stress and energy drain. If you need help creating an effective system of capturing and planning all the personal and work tasks you have, I recommend reading David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. It’s a comprehensive system that will allow your mind to rest because you now can manage all your necessary tasks. It will also help you make and keep your environment clutter free.

Change Your Human Environment

Environment is not limited to our physical environment. It also includes our human environment, the people we interact with on a regular basis as well. Your human environment plays a huge role in your behavior and expectations for yourself.

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn said that we are a product of the five people we spend the most time with. Our weight is the average of these five close friends. Our level of happiness is the average o these five close friends. Daniel Goleman’s book Social Intelligence presents research documenting people’s influence on us. The people we are emotionally closest to and interact with on a regular basis have a tremendous impact on our neurological wiring and health.

Consider your current human environment and assess how well it supports your life purpose and goals?

Here are two simple steps you can take to improve your human environment.

 

Expand your circle. Invite a new person to lunch

One easy way to improve your life, is to become closer to people who reflect the kind of life you want to live. If you value travel and see yourself traveling all over the world, you need friends with an active passport as well. They will reinforce and support your goal of international travel.

As you mature, you will develop new goals and dreams for yourself. You may notice that some of those values and habits are not in your current circle of friends. By being open to making new friends, you increase your stream of new information and habits.

Of course, you need to be selective of who you invite into your friendship circle. Make sure they are congruent with your life purpose and core values. But, they do not need to be like your current group of friends. In fact, they may be quite different. This is great because interacting with them will allow you to develop new parts of yourself and see yourself in new ways.

Upgrade your conversations. Ask new questions.

Improving your human environment does not mean totally replacing the current people you spend time with. You can improve the quality of your current relationships by upgrading the quality of your conversations.

What do you and your friends spend most of your time talking about? Your problems? Other people? Celebrities? It’s fine to spend some time discussing these topics, but they shouldn’t be the mainstay of your conversations. Remember, what you focus on gets magnified.

Reshape your human environment to better support your dreams, by changing your conversations with close friends and family. Use these times to talk about your life purpose and how you are putting that into action in your daily life. Ask them about their goals and how they are fulfilling their life purpose. Ask how you might be able to support them in the process.

The quality of your conversations determines the quality of your relationships. By upgrading your conversations with your close friends and family, it’s easier for you (and them) to take action on your life goals.

How are you going to restructure your environment to support your dreams? Share your thoughts below as well as other strategies that have worked for you. Support yourself and your dreams today!

 

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3 Simple Ways to Naturally Boost Your Immune System

natural way to boost your immune system

We can improve the functioning of our immune system by cultivating these three emotional states.

We often look for ways to improve their immune systems; protecting ourselves from being bed-ridden during flu season or or catching every bug that travels through our workplace.. Health food stores sell millions of dollars’ worth of supplements of Vitamin C and other vitamins known to improve your immune functioning. Yet, there’s an overlooked way to strengthen your immune system that is research proven to be effective and it’s FREE.

 

Emotions play a critical role in the functioning of our immune system in both positive and negative ways. Emotions has a significant impact on both our production of antibodies and our natural killer blood cells (NK cells) that serve as our first line of immune strength. Antibodies help to identify and attack foreign germs in our bodies. NK cells work to destroy tumor cells, disease tissue, bacteria as well as to help antibodies fight against infections in their early stages. In this article, I identify emotions that are known to impact our body’s production and operation of antibodies and/or NK cells. We can clearly see the dangerous emotions that weaken the immune system as well as 3 emotions we can practice as a daily boost to our immune system, naturally.

 

Emotions that Destroy the Immune System

Anger

Anger raises our blood pressure, increases our heart beat, gives us headaches and compromises our cognitive function. But did you know that anger can also make it easier for you to get the flu? In a study published by the Journal of Advancement in Medicine, researchers asked people to recall either an angry situation or a loving situation. The participants who recalled an angry situation experienced significantly lower immune antibodies. Moreover, the decrease in antibodies cause by anger lasted for six hours. Anger suppresses the immune functioning long beyond the situation that made us angry has passed.

 

Loneliness

Social isolation and the feelings of loneliness that it produces also works to weaken the functioning of our immune systems. A research study found that infant monkeys caged alone and separate from their mothers generate fewer antibodies in response to viruses. The act of physical and social separate suppresses the power of the immune system, making us vulnerable to a host of minor and major diseases.

 

Fear/Anxiety

Anxiety also known as stress is a primary driver of many health problems, often operating by weakening the immune system. While a short dose of fear can produce a healthy, enhanced physical performance, sustained states of fear for one’s safety a security dramatically reduce the health of the immune system. In fact, the negative impact of social fear is even greater than the impact of physical deprivation on our immune system.

 

In a study reviewed by the Harvard School of Medicine, mice were put into a cage with a highly aggressive mouse two hours a day for six days and repeatedly threatened (but not injured) were twice as likely to die as other mice that were kept in tiny cages without food and water for long periods. The social stressor of fear is a even more powerful impact on immune functioning that the stressor of physical deprivation.

 

Emotions that Naturally Boost Your Immune System

Emotions are produced by thoughts, but they are not isolated in your mind. Your emotional state triggers a cascade of physical reactions in your body. Every time you operate from feelings of anger, loneliness, and fear you are pouring waves of toxicity through your body, damaging your immune system and compromising your overall health. The good news is that the impact of our emotional state on the functioning of body goes in both the positive and negative direction.

 

We have the power to choose our emotional state. Much of our emotional state is a product not of what happens to us, but rather how we think about what happens to us. In a previous article, I review how we can replace the negative thinking that produces unhealthy responses with more positive thoughts that promote our physical and psychological well-being.  As we practice creating positive, healthy emotional states for ourselves, we remove and repair the damage created by anxiety, loneliness, and fear. We can literally make ourselves healthier by intentionally cultivating the following emotional states in our daily lives.

 

Humor

Humor can be a great way to combat the damage created by created by anger and other negative emotions. Humor dramatically improves not only our psychological sense of well-being but our immune system as well. Humor curbs stress hormones and boost our NK cell production.

 

Injecting humor into our lives significantly improves the functioning of our immune system hours after the humorous event and days leading up to a humorous event.  In a research study where men were told three days in advance that they were going to watch a funny video, they experienced a significantly lower drop in stress hormones (as compared to those men who were not anticipating the funny video). Moreover, 12 hours after watching a funny video, the research participants still had higher biological indicators of immunity than those who did not watch the video. Laughter is truly (long-acting) medicine.

 

You can significantly improve your immune system functioning and your overall physical health by injecting more humor into your day. Allow yourself “indulgences” of humor, like a funny 5min youtube clip or a funny movie. Too often when we are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, we remove these activities out of our lives because we “don’t have time” for such frivolous play. But there is nothing frivolous about humor. It is an essential part of a healthy life and will provide you with immediate and long-term benefits to your productivity and physical health. So go ahead and tell a funny joke. Improve your and someone else’s immune system today.

 

Connection

Humans are social creatures and have an inherent need for connection to maintain health and overall well-being. This positive impact of connection includes three dimensions: connection to self, connection to others, and connection to nature. While these three dimensions of connection are distinctive they are interrelated and connection in one area enhances and expands the capacity for connection in the others. Promoting our connectedness strengthens the functioning of our immune system.

 

Research shows a positive correlation between social connectedness and immune functioning. Individuals who have a network of social support produce more disease fighting NK cells than those who don’t. Scholars conclude that increasing social support might provide a “high natural immunity” to disease and infection.  So take the time to connect with your family and friends and visit loved ones who are sick. These emotional bonds strengthen both your and their immune systems.

 

A number of other research studies have shown connecting with nature also enhances your immune functioning. A study that compared men taking 2 hour walks in parks or forest to men walking for the same amount of time in the city found that that visiting parks and forests raised the production of NK cells by 50%.  Another study focused on women found the same effect and noted that the increase in NK cells lasted a week for those women who walked in nature.  Practicing sensory walks in nature is a great way to boost our immune system and become more aware of our connections to the larger world.

 

Happiness

Steven Cole, a UCLA professor of medicine and a member of the UCLA Cousins Center, and his colleagues have spent years studying the impact of happiness and other emotions on gene expression and physical health. They distinguish between two types of happiness: happiness resulting from a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life and happiness focused only on pleasure seeking and self-gratification.  In their report to the National Academy of Sciences, they found that happiness resulting from a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life promotes the gene expression of antiviral and antibody genes. Happiness focused only on self-gratification had the opposite effect, suppressing the health of the immune system.

 

Happy people are healthier and live longer. Yet this relationship between happiness and positive health only exists for those individuals who cultivate happiness from a deep sense of meaning and purpose in life. These are people who are clear on their unique contribution to this world and have developed a life that reflects their personal truth.

 

Thankfully, we all can cultivate this kind of happiness. I’ve provided some free resources on my website (www.yourlifeinfocuscoach.com) to help you in cultivating a life of happiness that reflects and affirms your core values and life purpose. If you’d like more clarity on discovering your life purpose, sign up to receive my free Life Goals Planning Toolkit.

 

Wishing you a life filled with joy, connection, purpose, and health!

References:

Berk LS, Felten DL, Tan SA, Bittman BB, Westengard J, 2001. “Modulation of neuroimmune parameters during the eustress of humor-associated mirthful laughter.” Alternative Therapeutic Health Medicine 7(2).

Christie W. & C. Moore. 2005. “The impact of humor on patients with cancer.” Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing 9:211.

LiQ MK, Kobayashi M., Inagaki H., Katsumata M., Hirata Y., Shimizu T., Li YJ, Wakayama Y., Kawada T., Ohira T., Takayama N., Kagawa T., Mijazaki Y. 2008. “A forest bathing trip increase human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins in female subjects.” Journal of Biological Regulation Homeost Agents 22(1):44-55.

LiQ MK, Nakadai A., Inagaki H., Katsumata M., Shimiza T., Hirata Y., Hirata K., Miyazaki Y., Kagawa T., Koyama Y., Ohira T., Takayama N., Krensky AM, Kawada T. 2007. “Forest bathing enhances natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins.” International Journal of Pharmacology. 20(2):3-8.

Miyazaki T., Ishikawa T, Hirofumi I, Miki A, Wenner M, Fukunishi I, Kawamura N. 2003. “Relationship between perceived social support and immune function.” Stress and Health. 19(1):3-7.

Rein G., Atkinson M, and McCraty R. 1995. “The physiological effects of compassion and anger” Journal of Advancement in Medicine. 8(2).

Sensory Walk: A free gift from nature

Sensory walks improve your physical and emotional wellbeing.

A sensory walk improves your physical and emotional wellbeing.

A sensory walk optimizes one of the best forms of exercise: walking. Walking lowers blood pressure, improves blood circulation, strengthens bones and muscles, and improves sleep. Walking in nature has even more positive physical and emotional health benefits.

 

Research comparing walking in nature versus walking in urban areas showed that individuals who walked in nature experienced lower levels of stressincreased attention span, as well as improved creativity and problem solving. An easy way to optimize the physiological and psychological health benefits associated with walking is to take sensory walks.

 

Sensory walks are a mindfulness practice that enables you to have a whole body experience with nature while walking. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of University of Massachusetts Medical Center’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Sensory walks are an easy way to integrate mindfulness into your daily health and wellness routine.

 

How To Do A Sensory Walk

 

Sensory walks, like many other mindfulness practices, encourage you to use all five of your senses to connect with the natural world. It can be helpful at some points in the walk to stand still and close your eyes. Ending your reliance on sight can heighten your awareness of the other senses. Whether you are walking or standing still, the goal is to notice as much as possible the beauty of the world surrounding you.

 

Here are some questions to ask yourself that can guide your focus as you practice your sensory walk.

 

What are you hearing?

Sound is a powerful sense that activates our emotions, promotes visual imaginations, and strengthens our memory recall. As you engage in your sensory walk, pay attention to the distinctive types of sounds that you hear.

 

Can you hear your footsteps? Are there birds chirping? Can you hear running water? It’s important to take the time to really notice the sounds of your external environment rather than drowning them out with your internal dialogue.

 

What are you feeling?

No, I don’t mean identifying your emotional state. I mean paying attention to the largest organ in your body: your skin. Skin is a primary vehicle through which we experience the world, both sensations of pleasure and pain. Our skin has the most nerve endings that provide us with a fine tuned gradient measure of our environment. We can even sense very subtle changes in the environment with our skin and respond quickly with goose-bumps or having the hair on our necks stand up.

 

As you engage in your sensory walk, pay attention to your skin and the sensations it communicates to you. Depending on the weather, there may not be a lot of your skin exposed to the outside elements. However, even when covered with clothing and shoes your skin is still communicating important sensory information about your environment.

 

Can you feel the sun on your skin? What does the ground feel like under your feet? Is it firm, mushy, rocky? What does the temperature feel like on your skin? Again, stopping to closely your eyes briefly will help you better tune into all this lovely information your body is experiencing.

What can you smell?

Smell is often thought of as one of our most potent senses. It is closely connected to our memory and can quickly recreate feelings associated with a past experience. We are usually aware of smells at the extreme of the spectrum, either very pleasant or very offensive. But as we practice mindfulness we can become aware of all the varieties of smell around us.

 

Practice using your sense of smell to create a “map” of your sensory walk. What smells are associated with the various areas of your map? What smells can you identify? Can you distinguish the distinctive smells among the various flowers? What about the trees?

 

It’s useful to stop and get up close the the objects you are smelling. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Yes, I do want you to stop and smell the roses…and the daffodils….and the pine trees. Allow yourself to fully savor the sensations of the smells of nature.

What can you taste?

Our taste sensations are closely connected to our sense of smell. As you allow yourself to experience more fully the smells associated with nature, you may notice an activation of your taste buds. You may even begin to salivate. Great! Enjoy these tastes of nature.

 

Those of you who are more knowledgeable about the various edible flowers, nuts, and berries that grow freely in nature may want to partake in enjoying these delicious gifts during your sensory walk. My children and I love the smell and taste of wild growing honeysuckle and often snack on these sweet treats. Nature provides us with so many gifts and fully experiencing and enjoying these gifts is one way to say thank you.

How are you moving through space?

This is known as our proprioceptive sense and is often overlooked in our discussions of our sensory experiences. However, proprioception is responsible for our perceptions of our body position, motion, and balance.

 

Without proprioception we wouldn’t experience the excitement of our stomachs dropping when we ride on a roller coaster or the relaxation we feel when sitting in a swing or a rocking chair. Proprioception allows us to know where our body is positioned in space even when our eyes are closed. Our proprioceptive sense also helps us to be more alert when on an unstable or elevated surface.

 

As you practice your sensory walk, vary the surfaces you walk on and notice the changes in your body. Do you feel different walking on a gravel path than walking across a fallen tree? How does it feel when you cross a stream using the river rocks as your bridge? Vary the pace of your walk (fast then slow) and notice the differences in your body.

What do you see?

Sight can be a very pleasurable part of our experience of nature. Just looking at a beautiful nature scene can bring feelings of peace and relaxation. As you engage in your sensory walk, imagine that you are a cinematographer trying to capture footage for National Geographic.

 

Take the time to see what is likely a familiar environment for you with fresh new eyes. What are the “postcard moments” of your walk? What images bring you feelings of warmth, pleasure, relaxation, excitement, or awe?

 

As you notice these sights, stop and focus on them to intensify your experience of the moment. For at least 20 seconds, pause and focus on the image, breathing deeply and enjoying the feelings that are evoked by this sight within you.

 

Remember, what you focus on becomes magnified. As you focus on the pleasure of nature and wonderful feelings you are having at this moment, your joy and gratitude will be magnified. Moreover, these feelings will stay with you and can be brought back to mind long after you are physically removed from this experience.

 

Capture Your Sensory Walk

 

As you complete your sensory walk, reserve time at the end to sit quietly and capture the beauty of these moments. You may want to bring a sketchbook or a journal to record your reflections. Regardless of your artistic skill level, draw at least three items that you noticed on your sensory walk.

 

Although the drawing activity is visual, you do not want to rely only on the sights of your sensory walk. How might you be able to visually represent the smells or physical sensations that you experienced on the walk? What about the tastes and movement sensations?

 

After you’ve captured at least three sensory memories of this walk, write 1-2 sentences of gratitude for what you have just experienced.

 

As you focus on the sensations and emotions produced from the sensory walk, your awareness of the gifts of nature will abound. These gifts of nature are free and always available to you whenever you need them. Even when you can not physically return to the site of this walk, you can review your journal reflections and activate a full sensory recall of the memories of this experience.

 

As we celebrate the beginning of spring and Earth Day, I encourage you to add a 10-15min sensory walk into your routine. You will find that this practice greatly reduces your level of stress, expands your sense of joy and connection to a larger world, as well as increases your energy and feelings of well-being.

 

Today, give yourself a gift of vitality and joy! Take a sensory walk.

 

What are the benefits you received from your sensory walk? Leave a comment below or you can email me directly at [email protected]. If you have pictures from your walk, please share so we can expand the joy!

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