A recent study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University and presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience seemed to prove that friendship has benefits beyond the emotional. In studying treatments for peripheral neuropathy, a pain and numbness of the hands and feet that’s a side effect of diabetes and one of the most common chronic diseases in the United States, researchers found that lab mice paired with a cage-mate experienced far less pain from nerve damage than those who were caged alone. Mice who had “friends” had higher thresholds for pain; they also experienced reductions in inflammation. The lonely mice were just lonely.
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The fields of Positive Psychology, mind-body medicine, yoga, and the spiritual disciplines offer wisdom—culled from research and centuries of experience—that can sustain our unique over-40 needs. Here are five of these wisdom teachings.
1. Remember that change is possible at any time. Not only is our brain plastic (able to be “remapped” toward greater health, calm, memory, and reduction of pain) but also our thoughts and feelings can be reshaped on a daily basis. We can begin to experience positive transformation within days—a transformation that can be sustained over a lifetime.
“Who knows what will arise when we watch ourselves?” asks Kripalu Yoga teacher and life coach Michelle Dalbec in her R&R retreat workshop Reflections on Your Inner World. By opening up to the richness of our interior life through meditation and journaling, she elaborates, we can invite deeper self-reflection and self-expression into our daily existence.
Both meditation and journaling create an “open-hearted space of discovery,” Michelle says, by letting things be as they are—not changing, not critiquing, but simply observing and noting our thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise. “If we look at a situation long enough through the lens of meditation and journaling, we might be able to shift our perspective on it,” she says.
Ever wonder why it’s easy to call forth self-discipline one moment, but difficult in another? Several years ago, researcher Dr. Roy Baumeister, a professor of psychology at the University of Florida, pondered the same question. To understand why self-discipline can be elusive, Dr. Baumeister and his team ran an experiment: they wanted to know whether or not self-discipline was like a muscle—something that could be weakened with overuse. To test this question, they brought a group of hungry subjects into their lab and had each subject enter into a room with a bowl of cookies and a bowl of radishes on a table. They told half of the group not to eat the cookies, but instead to eat the radishes. The other group could eat whatever they wanted. (They all ate the cookies.) Then, immediately following this experience, the subjects were brought into another room, where they were asked to complete a complex math problem. In actuality, the math problem was insolvable—the researchers were actually measuring how long the subjects persevered in trying to complete it.
How meditation can help you be a better friend.
Meditation has long been celebrated for all it can do for us, among the benefits: lower blood pressure, reduce stress, help us sleep, and even possibly help us lose weight. But a recent study also found that meditation might help us be better friends and partners. Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta found that many participants who had practiced eight weeks of meditation showed significant improvement in their ability to identify the emotions of people in photos based on their expressions. That is, they were more in tune with the feelings of others.
Rubin Naiman, PhD, is the sleep and dream specialist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Arizona’s Center for Integrative Medicine, directed by Dr. Andrew Weil. He maintains a private practice and provides consultation and training internationally. He is author of Healing Night and, with Dr. Andrew Weil, Healthy Sleep, and creator of The Sleep Advisor, a software program addressing sleep disorders. www.drnaiman.com
Q Describe what you do in 15 words or less.
A I teach about the tree of daily life being rooted in the ground of nightly sleep.
Though there are, of course, exceptions, research (and Hollywood) have shown that we tend to surround ourselves with people with whom our financial standing is comparable. There are some simple reasons for this, including the logistical fact that as adults, many of our friends are work colleagues or neighbors. On an emotional level, surrounding ourselves with those who do about as well as we do reduces the probability of experiencing envy and jealousy.
A recent study published in the journal Science, however, questions the notion that being the least advantaged people we know leads to dissatisfaction. For more than 20 years, a research collaborative that included economists and sociologists from the University of Chicago and Harvard tracked 5,000 families in five major American cities—including New York, Chicago, and Boston—that had moved out of poor neighborhoods to more affluent ones. The researchers’ hope was that living in the more well-off areas would lead to better jobs and higher incomes for the families. Though that didn’t happen, researchers did find that these families reported being much happier than those who had stayed within their original community—even when they didn’t make more money themselves.