Turning a page on a year includes multiple lists looking back at the best of. One interesting list I saw was the 4 Greatest Psychological Discoveries of 2014. While this is one person’s list, I was most fascinated by the commonality of all 4 topics. They all speak to the need to be more conscious of who we are and what we are doing at any given moment. As people continue to focus on resolutions for change, perhaps there is something to how we cultivate the focus needed to strive to fulfill our goals.
Every day of every year, scientists toil away in their efforts to understand the workings of the human mind. What makes us happy? How do our emotions work? What should we be doing differently in our lives to make ourselves healthier, happier and stronger?
Each year, a few studies stand out as particularly helpful by outlining a clear path to accomplish a better and healthier life; studies that everyone should know about. Here are four such studies from the year 2014. I hope they will help you to shape your coming year.
- We look for happiness in all the wrong places: We typically think of major life events, raises, large purchases, and success as the main sources of happiness in our lives.
But a Harvard University study by Zhang, et al., 2014 shows that we are overlooking a powerful and readily available font of happiness: the small things that happen from day to day. In this study, students were asked to place 5 mundane items that represented their daily lives in a time capsule, and to predict how much happiness it would bring them to see these items 3 months later. The students drastically under-predicted the joy they actually felt when the time capsules were opened.
The Implication: Pay more attention to the small things that happen in your daily life. Small sources of joy are powerful.
- The mind/body connection: 2014 was the Year for Mindfulness. The concept of mindfulness has gradually morphed from simply “being in the moment” to a more complex definition: “being aware of your own thoughts and feelings in the moment.” This new way of viewing mindfulness has opened doors to new areas of research.
In 2014, study after study has shown that mindful people are better off in a variety of different ways. In fact, higher emotional self-awareness has been found to improve your overall health. A Brown University Study by Loucks, et al., 2014 showed that people who are more aware of what they are thinking and feeling in the moment have lower BMI (body mass index), lower fasting glucose, less smoking and higher levels of physical activity.
The Implication: We should all work on being more aware of what we are thinking and feeling in the moment, and why.
- There is a simple way to fight your own negativity and anxiety: Negative, obsessive thinking is a common part of many emotional and psychological problems. A new study byNota & Coles, 2014 offers an option to try if you would like to reduce your own negative thinking patterns. These researchers found a clear connection between going to bed late at night, inadequate sleep, and excessive negative thinking/worrying. More studies are planned, but in the meantime, it makes sense to try this relatively easy fix.
The Implication: Try going to bed earlier and work toward getting 8 hours of sleep per night, and see if it helps reduce your negative, anxiety-driven thinking patterns.
- People who treat themselves with compassion feel better about themselves and their bodies: A 2014 study byKelly et al., 2014 found that women who treat themselves with more kindness and compassion are better able to cope with disappointments and setbacks in life. They were also less reactive to other people’s judgments or criticisms of their body shape and size.
The Implication: If you are kind to yourself in the face of your own mistakes and flaws, you will be a stronger and more resilient person overall.
In a nutshell, here are my wishes for you in 2015:
That you will take joy from the small things in your daily life
That you will be aware of what you are feeling in the moment
That you will take care of yourself by getting enough sleep
That you will treat yourself with the same kindness and compassion that you offer others
Happy New Year!!
Jonice Webb has a PhD in clinical psychology, and is author of the book Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. Webb has been licensed to practice since 1991. She has been interviewed on NPR and over thirty radio shows across the United States and Canada about the topic of her book, and has been quoted as a psychologist expert in the Chicago Tribune. Prior to joining PsychCentral, she was the Mental Health Editor for BellaOnline, the second largest women’s website in the world. She currently has a private psychotherapy practice in Lexington, MA, where she specializes in the treatment of couples and families. Webb currently resides in the Boston area with her husband and two children. To read more about Dr. Webb, her book and Childhood Emotional Neglect, you can visit her website, Emotionalneglect.com; or view her short videos on YouTube.