Raise Your Mood With Your Hands

>> Saturday

* Rates of depression have risen in recent decades, at the same time that people are enjoying time-saving conveniences such as microwave ovens, e-mail, prepared meals, and machines for washing clothes and mowing lawns.

* People of earlier generations, whose lives were characterized by greater efforts just to survive, para­dox­ically, were mentally healthier. Human ancestors also evolved in conditions where hard physical work was nece­ssary to thrive.

* By denying our brains the rewards that come from ­anticipating and executing complex tasks with our hands, we undercut our mental well-being.

The above is a description of an article called Depressingly Easy, written by Kelly Lambert, whose book, Lifting Depression: A Neuroscientist's Hands-On Approach to Activating Your Brain's Healing Power, turns many of the prevalent ideas about what improves your mood upside down. If you have difficulty maintaining a good mood, even when you try mental techniques, I urge you to read her book.

The basic premise is that when you use your hands to make things, it stimulates the motor circuits of your brain, and it stimulates them far more than using any other part of your body. The motor circuits of your brain, when you stimulate them like this, automatically cause your brain to produce hormones that raise your mood.

The amount of your motor circuits devoted to your hands is far more than the circuits dedicated to the entire rest of your body. If you want to stimulate the brain hormones most responsible for feeling good, use your hands to make things. Read more about it here: Depressingly Easy.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.

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The Mountains Are Calling

>> Friday

From ScienceDaily.com comes a study about what the Japanese call "Forest Bathing:"

A new report published today reveals that exposure to greenspace reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress, and high blood pressure.

Populations with higher levels of greenspace exposure are also more likely to report good overall health — according to global data involving more than 290 million people.

Lead author Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett, from UEA's Norwich Medical School, said: "Spending time in nature certainly makes us feel healthier, but until now the impact on our long-term wellbeing hasn't been fully understood.

"We gathered evidence from over 140 studies involving more than 290 million people to see whether nature really does provide a health boost."

Read the rest of the ScienceDaily article here: It's Official, Spending Time Outside Is Good For You.

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Mistakes Are What You Make Of Them

>> Saturday

A mistake might not be a mistake. You might think you should have done this or shouldn't have done that. But it would be better to ask what advantages your already-done deeds give you and exploit them in the present.

The architect Bonano erected a freestanding bell tower for a cathedral, but he made it on soft subsoil — a bad mistake which made the tower lean over. That mistake created a large tourist industry and put the town on the map. Almost everyone in the world has heard of the leaning tower of Pisa. Galileo conducted his famous gravity experiments from the tower. He was able to use that tower because it was leaning.

The compass and its use in navigation was developed in the Mediterranean because the sailors had several disadvantages: the water was very deep, the winds varied a lot in the winter, and the skies were usually overcast. So you couldn't reliably navigate by sounding, by the wind, or by the stars. Those were the three ways sailors all over the world used to navigate.

In the Indian oceans, they have the monsoon winds which are so regular (they change directions with the seasons) you could tell where you were headed by noticing which way the wind was blowing. And they had clear tropical skies so they could usually navigate by the stars.

In Northern Europe, they are on one of the continental shelves of the Atlantic so the water is shallow enough sailors could drop a lead weight attached to a rope to the sea floor to find their depth, and thus could tell where they were by how deep the water was. This was called "making a sounding," and it was a fairly accurate method of locating one's position in charted waters.

But the sailors of the Mediterranean had to develop some way to navigate without shallow waters, clear skies, or predictable winds. And because they had to develop navigation by compass, Spain, which borders both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, was the first to find and colonize the New World. Without having the know-how to navigate by compass, nobody in their right mind would have sailed across the Atlantic. There would have been no guarantee they'd be able to find their way back without a compass. They'd have no familiar landmarks, no soundings would work, wind directions would of course be unknown, and whether or not they'd have clear skies was unknown.

The disadvantage of having to sail the waters of the Mediterranean turned out to be quite an advantage for Spain.

But of course, given the mind's natural negative bias, I'm sure most people of Spain assumed their sailing conditions were only a disadvantage.

So what are you going to do with what you think is a disadvantage? What are you doing now? Aren't there things in your life right now that you consider a disadvantage? Aren't there conditions you "know" are bad? That you wish would go away?

Choose one of these bad things and ponder this question about it: Could this be an advantage in disguise? Or could I make an advantage out of it? If you don't want to ponder this for weeks, do a little concentrated pondering. Use the problem solving method. Write the question at the top of a piece of paper, "What is good about this?" And force yourself to come up with 15 answers. Write them all out.

Then take another piece of paper. At the top write, "How could I turn this into an advantage?" Make yourself come up with 15 more answers. At the end of this exercise, which will only take you an hour or two, your perspective on the "problem" will be tremendously altered. The "problem" will have lost most of its power to bring you down. This process can undemoralize you. It can give you strength and effectiveness and even good feelings.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English).

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Can Posture Make You Feel Better?

>> Tuesday

When you change your posture, you can change your mood. Someone who feels down tends to slump. Someone who is happy tends to sit up straighter, walk more upright with the head held up, looking forward instead of down.

If you have been paying attention, you know this already. Posture tends to be a reflection of mood.

What you might not have realized is that it goes the other way too: You can change your posture and it will influence your mood. Experiment today and find out for yourself.

One thing you'll discover is that when you slouch or slump, it is harder to take a deep breath. And the way you breathe influences your mood, too.

When you change anything physical, it might potentially change your mood. A researcher told his volunteers to rate how funny a series of cartoons was in their opinion. They looked at a cartoon, and marked its score, picked up another cartoon, and marked its score, etc. Half of them were told to keep a pen between their lips. The other half was told to keep the pen between their teeth.

The ones with the pen between their teeth rated most of the cartoons as funnier than the other group. Their mouth was in a sort of smile and it changed how amusing the cartoons were to them. Interesting, eh? When you want to raise your mood, your body posture, the look on your face, and how you breathe, are easy things to change without having to even stop what you're doing.

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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What If

>> Wednesday

What if what we believe about the violent nature of humans and "man's inhumanity to man" is mostly wrong? What if it is caused by a very small percentage of the population who have a specific disorder (and those they manipulate into helping them) that causes most (or all) of the war and violent madness in the world?

And what if people are manipulated into cooperating and participating only because they don't know this very small percentage exist, or even if they know, they wouldn't know how to identify one?

And what if a simple grassroots educational campaign could end "the bloody history of man" once and for all?

Read more: A Practical Way YOU Can Help Create Peace on Earth.

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You Think YOU'VE Got Problems!

>> Sunday

Three Years Among the Comanches is an amazing book. I was just reading it tonight. The story is a first-hand account, published in 1859 by Nelson Lee, who was captured by the Comanches on his way from Texas to California.

The part I read tonight was how two of his companions died. Most of the people he was traveling with were killed on the spot, but four were taken prisoner (Lee and three other men). One day, all four of the prisoners were tied to poles, facing each other. Two prisoners were side by side, and Lee and another prisoner were tied up facing the first two, who were then slowly tortured for two hours.

It was too painful to watch their friends suffering like that, so Lee and the other prisoner-witness tried to look away, but the Comanches forced them to watch as one by one, warriors came up to the two tortured prisoners to slash them with an arrowhead or take a small piece of their scalp. They sliced deep enough to bleed but not enough to kill the prisoners. One warrior after another came up and sliced in a different place. The prisoners screamed, moaned, begged, and bled for two hours. Finally they were put out of their misery with a hatchet through the head.

As I was reading this horrible, graphic account by someone who witnessed it, I was struck by the pettiness of my own problems. I said out loud, "I think I have problems!" The comparison made me feel that my unhappiness at my own little problems was pathetic.

And it occurred to me that this perspective is true. It is not only true, but it is valuable. Pessimism is a violation of your own integrity, and the perspective here that things could almost always be a lot worse is the honest truth and a powerful insight.

The truth is, your circumstances are only really bad in comparison to something better. And the truth is, you have a choice about what you compare your circumstances to. If you choose to always compare your circumstances to something more ideal, it will prevent you from being as happy as you could be or as satisfied with your life as you could be. Read more about that.

And think about this: Any unhappiness caused that way is directly attributable to your deliberate refusal to see an obvious truth: That things could be worse. For many people, now and in the past, it is a plain fact that things have been much much worse.

If you ever want a reality-check, remember those tortured prisoners. Compared to circumstances like that, your problems are petty. In fact, compared to circumstances like that, your problems probably seem laughable.

It's also true that you would like better circumstance. But if you're going to tell the truth, tell the whole truth, and that includes the facts that puts your problems into perspective.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English).

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