The Effect of Sugar on Your Mood

>> Sunday

I've seen studies showing that sugar doesn't produce hyperactivity in children, but it does something to us all. Eating refined sugar — table sugar and corn syrup in particular — raises your blood sugar level (glucose) very quickly.

In one study, some people had panic attacks merely from an infusion of glucose (blood sugar). In another study, people were given 100 milligrams of glucose as a drink. In anxiety-prone people the lactate level in their blood was considerably higher than in the other participants, and it stayed higher for five hours! (Lactate all by itself can produce feelings of anxiety. Lactate is the byproduct of burning blood sugar.)

In several studies on people with anxiety problems, a simple injection of glucose into the blood stream caused symptoms of anxiety. It does not cause that result with most people. But everyone is different, and some people tend to produce more lactate than others, or they clear it out of their system slower than others, and this makes them prone to anxiety.

If lactate produces anxiety, and if lactate is produced by burning glucose, then it makes sense that a rise in blood sugar would tend to produce anxiety.

Around the world, people consume far more carbohydrates than our bodies evolved to deal with. Why? Because it's cheap, it's filling, and it tastes great. But it has side-effects. Especially for people who are prone to stress or anxiety.

So if you have more anxiety or worry than you want, this is something to think about. Try lowering your blood sugar by eating significantly less sugar and see what happens.

Adam Khan is the author of Slotralogy and co-author with Klassy Evans of What Difference Does It Make?: How the Sexes Differ and What You Can Do About It.

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To Make an Enjoyable Experience More Enjoyable, Share It With Someone

>> Thursday

In the journal, Psychological Science, a new study from Yale University was published in August on the amplification effects of sharing an experience, either good or bad. Here's the abstract of the study:

In two studies, we found that sharing an experience with another person, without communicating, amplifies one’s experience. Both pleasant and unpleasant experiences were more intense when shared. In Study 1, participants tasted pleasant chocolate. They judged the chocolate to be more likeable and flavorful when they tasted it at the same time that another person did than when that other person was present but engaged in a different activity. Although these results were consistent with our hypothesis that shared experiences are amplified compared with unshared experiences, it could also be the case that shared experiences are more enjoyable in general. We designed Study 2 to distinguish between these two explanations. In this study, participants tasted unpleasantly bitter chocolate and judged it to be less likeable when they tasted it simultaneously with another person than when that other person was present but doing something else. These results support the amplification hypothesis. 

We might be better off trying to do enjoyable things with someone if we can, and try to do unpleasant things alone wherever possible. That should amplify the pleasure and reduce the displeasure in our lives. What do you think?

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How You Walk Alters Your Mood

>> Monday

A new study points to an important principle of moodraising: You can physically change the way you move and you will alter your mood. An article in ScienceDaily says:

"Subjects who were prompted to walk in a more depressed style, with less arm movement and their shoulders rolled forward, experienced worse moods than those who were induced to walk in a happier style, according to the study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry."

Read more about the study here.

Read more about the principle here.

Find out why your mood is important here.

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Do NOT Maximize Your Full Potential

>> Sunday

You use only 10 percent of your brain. Have you ever heard that? It’s nonsense. You and I use our whole brains. Ask any neurologist. There are no idle parts of the brain, no brain cells sitting around unused. For example, there are neurons in your brain stem whose job is to immobilize your body while you’re dreaming so you don’t physically act out your dreams and get up and run into a wall. Every part has its function.

Idiot-savants can be a genius at one thing, like mathematical calculations or music, but they pay for it with a corresponding deficit in other useful attributes, like getting along with others. What happens is that one function, like mathematical ability, takes over a larger percentage of brain tissue — commandeers it, so to speak, usually as a result of a brain injury at birth — but whatever other ability that part of the brain is normally used for goes wanting. What you often get are geniuses that can’t have a decent relationship or tie their shoes or control their emotions.

All those abilities require brain space, and there’s just barely enough with none to spare. Nature did not equip us with a bunch of extra brain cells. As it is, the brain is as big as it can get and still (barely) make it through the birth canal. If it were any bigger, normal births would be impossible.

You could learn more, do more, be more, for sure. But there is always a trade-off. You could use every spare moment, for example, listening to language tapes, and thereby learn ten more languages in your lifetime. But it would have consequences. You’d have less time to socialize, for one. And that would have other, possibly negative, consequences.

You could work all the time, always improving yourself at every moment of the day, but no play makes Johnny a dull boy. It’s a trade-off. Balance is the key.

So don’t feel bad that you’re not “maximizing your full potential.” Devote some time to your betterment, but also relax and enjoy the ride. You’re alive on the planet, breathing air and capable of communicating with other fellow travelers. Enjoy it.

This is a chapter from the book, Self-Help Stuff That Works.

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One Important Key to a Positive Attitude

>> Monday

Henry Ford had lots of "trouble" in his career, but he was a master at finding the seeds of good fortune in his troubles. For example, on their lunch hour, some of his employees used the scrap wood left over from making dashboards and burned it as firewood. They cooked their lunches with it. The problem was all the charcoal left over. Ford needed to get rid of it. But how?

His first idea was to make his dealers take it. He said for every train-car load of his cars they bought, they had to take a carload of charred wood with it. How they disposed of it would be their problem. As you can guess, this didn't go over very well with the dealers.

Eventually, Ford's "problem" was solved — in a very profitable way. A friend of Ford's, Mr. E.G. Kingsford, bought the charcoal and packaged it with a little grill and some lighter fluid and sold it in supermarkets. Kingsford briquettes have been earning a healthy profit ever since.

One way to look at the art of reframing is to think of it as seeing what you expect to see. If you expect a problem is just going to be trouble, you're not very likely to look any further. But if you expect to find the seeds of good fortune within a problem, your creativity is aroused.

In many ways, your mind tends to see what you expect to see, unless it is really obvious that what you expect is wrong. When you open your front door, you expect to see what you have always seen, but if you opened your door and saw a Giant Panda sitting there, you would probably see it. The reality of the Panda sitting there is obvious, and regardless of what you expect to see, you'll see the Panda.

But we're talking about whether something is "bad" or not. When you make up your mind something is bad, there's nothing obvious that will tell you you're wrong. Whether something is bad or good is just an opinion. It's not a reality in the same way a Panda is a reality. Since there is no obvious reality to confirm or contradict your opinion, your mind is free to see what's bad about the situation, and equally free to ignore what might be good about it. And that's exactly what your mind will do unless you deliberately do something different.

If you think it's just plain bad and you throw up your arms in helplessness, you might miss what you could do to solve the problem or turn it to your advantage. And by not doing anything, sometimes the problem can get worse.

This idea makes you open your eyes and see what "seeds" you might be able to cultivate. It turns your attention to the future, to doing something about it. It changes your attitude from one of avoidance and rejection to one of acceptance and alertness and creativity. It puts you in a better frame of mind for dealing with the "trouble."

When something "bad" happens (like the accumulation of half-burned scrap wood), you can accept that it's bad or you can try to concentrate on what is good about it, or you can make something good out of it (like a new charcoal business).

If you take this idea and make it an ingrained part of your thinking, you can take many of the circumstances that in the past would have just been unfortunate, and you can change them into something that benefits you. At the very least, it will change your attitude about it for the better.

Say to yourself: Trouble brings the seeds of good fortune. And commit yourself to making it so. Your commitment to the statement allows the statement to come true. Because you think that thought, the thought can become a true statement (and if you hadn't thought it, it wouldn't have been true).

Use the statement like your personal motto. This motto can help you get out of the habit of automatically being against anything that happens that is apparently bad.

There are some things that "everyone knows" are bad: a home burnt to the ground, a divorce, a lost job, a sick child, and there are millions of smaller inconveniences that if you asked 100 people, 99 of them would all agree that yes, those are definitely bad and there is nothing good about them.

But what everyone agrees about isn't necessarily true.

There are plenty of people who got a serious illness and almost died who say it was the best thing that ever happened to them because they rearranged their lives to reflect what is truly important. The rest of their lives they really lived — because they almost died.

When something bad happens and you find an advantage in it, that doesn't make the bad thing good. But since the event has already happened, even if it's bad, you can at least make the future better because of it.


SUPPRESSING THOUGHTS

You may already know that thinking negatively is bad for your life, but maybe you don't know how to stop yourself from doing it. The negative assumptions come automatically and once you think that way, it's difficult to make the thoughts go away.

But now you have a way to do it. Don't try to stop thinking negatively. Simply think trouble brings seeds of good fortune. And keep thinking it over and over. Not forcing. Not with any frustration. Not trying to stop yourself from thinking anything else. Just calmly repeat that thought to yourself. Keep looking at your life through this point of view, and the idea will gather evidence to it.

Keep doing it when troubles come your way and after awhile — a month, a year — you'll start thinking that way automatically. You'll believe it. It will become a natural part of your thinking. Trouble will happen and you'll think, "Here are some seeds of good fortune." Can you imagine what that will do to your calm during a crisis? Can you imagine how much better you will be at keeping your wits about you? Can you imagine how could you will become at making the best of how things turn out?

Hold the thought trouble brings seeds of good fortune and think it often. Repeat it to yourself over and over. Make that thought strong in your mind. All by itself, it can transform your attitude, your expressions, and it can alter the actions you take, and through those, actually change the world in which you live, and benefit others. Think the thought. Focus on it. Repeat it.

You might as well think this way because the "trouble" has already happened. There's no sense in resisting it or wishing it didn't happen. It doesn't do you any good. If you know of another way to think about trouble that's even more practical than this, by all means, go for it (and please let me know what it is). But if not, any time and every time trouble comes your way, you might as well think about it as something that carries a gift with it, a seed of some good fortune. You might as well.


PAST AND ALSO FUTURE

You can use this motto to deal with trouble that has happened already, but you can also use it for trouble that might happen in the future. You can use the motto to end useless worry.

Let me be clear here that not all worry is useless. If you're thinking about how to avoid a disaster in the future, and if — and this is an extremely important if — there is something you can do about it, then worry is useful. Go ahead and think about it. Then take the actions you can take to avert disaster.

Anytime you are worrying about something that you can't do anything about, worry is worse than useless; it's downright damaging. It's not only bad for your health, it has a negative effect on your relationships, and besides that, it's no damn fun.

And if you ever find yourself with that kind of worry — the useless kind — this motto can put a dead stop to it, because you can say, "Well, if the bad thing I'm worried about does happen, that future trouble will bring seeds of good fortune."

Whether that statement is true or not, it is a good thing to think. And in truth, there is no way you'll ever be able to prove it true or false. Even if ten years later nothing good has come out of that misfortune, your life isn't over yet. You never know what will happen. You never know when those seeds of good fortune will sprout. You never know when you'll come up with the idea that will change everything.

But true or false, it is a good way to think because feeling bad is itself self-defeating and counterproductive. This motto turns your mind in a useful direction.

Convince yourself that trouble
brings the seeds of good fortune.

When misfortune comes your way,
train yourself to say, "That's good!"
And then make it true.

Make up your mind you will turn
every disadvantage to your advantage.


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The Simple Secret to Good Moods

>> Wednesday

In an experiment, people were asked to do a simple task: Complete the sentence, "I'm glad I'm not a..." They completed the sentence five times.

After doing this simple exercise, they were happier with their lives. Their "life satisfaction" was improved after the exercise.

Another group of volunteers were asked to complete a different sentence: "I wish I were a..." After this exercise, they were less satisfied with their lives.

You have a lot of control over what you compare your life to, and if you would like to feel contentment, it behooves you to consciously exercise your control. Use the power you have and enjoy more of your life.

Another study, this time at the University of Milwaukee, looked at comparisons in a different way. A group of women were shown pictures of difficult living conditions from a hundred years ago. Another group were told to imagine and then write about what it would be like to experience a horrible tragedy like getting disfigured or terribly burned.

Doesn't this sound like a fun exercise? Afterwards the women filled out a rating scale to measure their satisfaction with the quality of their own lives.

They were more satisfied with their lives after the exercise. Why? Because it gave them something worse to compare their own lives to.

You can do a comparison experiment at home. Fill one bucket with ice cold water and another bucket with pretty hot water. Fill a third bucket with room-temperature water. Now soak one hand in the hot water and one in the cold water for a couple minutes. Then pull them both out and plunge them into the room temperature water. You'll get the strange sensation of a single bucket of water feeling both hot and cold at the same time.

Compared to the hot water, the room temperature water feels cold. Compared to the ice cold water, it feels hot. Comparison makes the difference. It effects your direct perception of reality.

In Nelson Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, he describes his time in prison. It was pretty bad. But, he says, sometimes he was put in isolation. When in isolation, the only food they got was rice water three times a day (rice water is the water rice has been boiled in). That's it. That's all they got to "eat."

And when isolation was over and he was put back in the normal prison, the tiny amount of horrible food they usually ate seemed like a feast. The comparison with something worse changed his direct perception.

You and I come upon examples like this all the time. We've seen it in so many ways. But if you're like me, you have missed the vital lesson for the most part. I like to read true-life survival or adventure stories, as you can probably tell. One of the reasons I like to read them is that I feel so fortunate when I'm done reading. I get up and go about my day, freshly aware that I am not starving or freezing or dying of thirst, and it makes me feel rich and lucky and happy.

I like it when an author uses examples to illustrate a point, and I hope you do too, because I have another one for you: After returning to base camp from an arduous, intense brush with death in another true survival story, K2, The Savage Mountain, the authors write about how relaxing and wonderful it was to be back in base camp:

At that moment we craved no delicacies, no entertainment, no luxuries. We felt like swimmers from a capsized boat who had just completed the long swim to shore. Merely being there was unspeakable luxury.

One thing interesting from studies on happiness is that after having enough money to supply yourself with the basic necessities, money doesn't have much of an impact on your happiness level. People who are very wealthy are only slightly happier than people living modestly.

But there is an exception to this rule: If someone with a low income comes in frequent contact with people with higher incomes, it can make the lower income person unhappier with his circumstances.

People who are very poor in, say, India, and everyone in their village is very poor, can still be pretty happy. But a poor person in Beverly Hills who actually would be rich compared to the person in the poor Indian village, might be miserable because he is comparing himself to all the people around him who have so much money.

This may explain what's called a "helper's high" (people who volunteer often feel happier) — they are getting a real-life, first-hand comparison between their own life (however bad they may have thought it was) and someone else's life (which is much worse).

I have another example for you to illustrate what happens when you transfer a person from one circumstance to an entirely different one. A man named Sichan Siv escaped Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge blood bath. He had to escape because the government was trying to execute anyone with an education.

His escape was very difficult and took a long time. He eventually made it to the United States and got a job at the Friendly Ice Cream restaurant, washing dishes, mopping floors, and taking out the trash for 16 hours a day — and he was very happy. He felt like the luckiest man in the world. "I'm free!" he thought, "Nobody's trying to kill me!"

Those of us who grew up in the United States would find his situation — working at such a hard job 16 hours a day and making so little money — almost intolerable. But that's because we are comparing it to our own lives.

But we're not stuck only making comparisons that come naturally. You can deliberately make any kind of comparison you want, and this is one place where your thoughts really make a difference.

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