From hugging eight times a day to spending your money on others, we look at the eight things you can do to feel better and be good to yourself, as advised by the scientists. Incorporating any of these into your day is a meaningful act of self-compassion.
1. Fit in one more hour of sleep
A 2003 study by The University of Surrey’s Sleep Research Centre found that just one more hour of sleep can make people happier and healthier. Those tested with an hour of less sleep at night had an increase in activity of those genes that are associated with processes such as inflammation, immune response, diabetes, and cancer risk. When the group had an hour of extra sleep, the reverse happened.
Another study by the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard Medical School found the following: “While a good night’s rest can regulate your mood and help you cope with the next day’s emotional challenges, sleep deprivation does the opposite by excessively boosting the part of the brain most closely connected to depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders.” Getting proper sleep is an act of self-compassion for the body and the mind.
2. Exercise for 20 minutes in the morning
Gretchen Reynolds, columnist for The New York Times and author of The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer says the first 20 minutes of moving around provide most of the health benefits. “You get prolonged life and reduced disease risk. All of those things come in the first 20 minutes of being active,” says Reynolds.
Similarly, a 2012 study which tested memory levels with fitness by researchers in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire found that out of 54 adults, ages 18 to 36, those who had exercised during the preceding month but not on the day of testing generally did better on the memory test than those who had been sedentary. However, they did not perform nearly as well as those who had worked out that morning.
3. Spend your money on others
In the book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, Michael Norton, an Associate Professor of Marketing at Harvard Business School, and Elizabeth Dunn, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia, spent years collecting quantitative and qualitative research to explain how money can buy happiness, but only if we spend it in certain ways. One of their biggest findings was that giving money to others actually makes people happier. “One of the reasons is that it creates social connections,” says Norton. “If you have a nice car and a big house on an island by yourself, you’re not going to be happy, because we need people to be happy. By giving to another person, you’re creating a connection and a conversation with that person, and those things are really good for happiness.”
4. Surround yourself with happy people
Dr. Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, researchers at Harvard and University of San Diego, found that each additional ‘happy’ friend increases a person’s probability of being happy by about 9%. They studied 4,739 people from 1983 to 2003, assessing their happiness every few years using a standard measure. Their research showed that happy people tend to be located in the centre of their social networks and in large clusters of other happy people. (To put the 9% into perspective, earning an extra $5,000 (£2972) of income in 1984 increased the probability of being happy by about 2%).
5. Meditate for 15 minutes daily
A 2005 study by the The National Center for Biotechnology Information demonstrated that those who meditated have a stronger, and thicker cortex– the part of the brain that processes emotions, attention and sensory awareness. The more the test group meditated, the thicker the cortex grew.
Rebecca Gladding, a clinical instructor and attending psychiatrist at UCLA also claims that meditation helps decrease anxiety. “It’s because the neural paths that link those upsetting sensations to the ‘Me Center’ (the part of the brain that constantly references back to you, your perspective and experiences) are decreasing,” said Gladding.
6. Don’t delay trying new things
Psychologist Rich Walker of Winston-Salem State University looked at 30,000 event memories and over 500 diaries, ranging from durations of 3 months to 4 years, and says that people who engage in a variety of experiences are more likely to retain positive emotions and minimize negative ones than people who have fewer experiences.
7. Hug at least eight times a day
Paul Zak, a pioneer in the field of neuroeconomics, has found that at least eight hugs per day can make you feel happier and more connected. When we hug, the levels of neurotransmitter oxytocin, which is commonly referred to as the ‘love’ or ‘trust’ hormone, rises significantly. In a Ted talk in 2011, Zak explained that after only 20 seconds of hugging a romantic partner, one can achieve a spike in oxytocin levels, as well as a decrease in blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels.
Other findings have shown a hug, pat on the back, and even a friendly handshake are processed by the ‘reward center’ in the central nervous system. “They can have a powerful impact on the human psyche, making us feel happiness and joy,” said neurologist Shekar Raman, based in Virginia. “And it doesn’t matter if you’re the toucher or touchee. The more you connect with others on even the smallest physical level— the happier you’ll be.”
Reprinted with revisions from The Stylist.