By Teresa Liccardi, M.D.
So here we are at the beginning of another New Year and many of us have made wonderful resolutions for a fresh beginning this 2013.
At www.usa.gov one can find a list of the most popular New Year’s resolutions. At www.time.com one can find the 10 most commonly broken New Year’s resolutions. Interestingly they are the same list: drink less alcohol; eat healthy; lose weight; manage stress; quit smoking; volunteer to help others; reduce, reuse and recycle; and get fit.
Most of these resolutions are about our health and our well-being. They are an attempt at better health as a means to enjoying life and longevity.
Why then are we so unsuccessful? By Jan. 2 most resolutions are long lost in the pile of good but unachievable intentions. So much for the New Year and a healthy beginning.
Why? Which of these goals exudes fun and happiness? They do imply sacrifice, denial and hard work. Well, doesn’t that sound like fun? Jan. 1, the morning after New Year’s Eve, we’re all on board to stop over indulging and get in shape. At least for 24 hours they sound not only feasible but like terrific ideas.
I’m not implying that we should not attempt goals to improve our health, but maybe we want to look for simpler more attainable and palatable goals for our New Year’s resolutions. We all know that you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Maybe this adage applies to ourselves.
Let’s look forward to our resolutions, not have them weigh on us like a guilt trip. Why create and struggle for these muscle-aching large limitless goals with no achievable defined success in sight? Especially after the tragedies that have stricken our communities in the last several months, we need to treat ourselves well and help each other continue to think positively.
Why aren’t our resolutions about creating fun and happiness for ourselves? Why not focus on positive emotions as a goal for our resolutions rather than sacrifice and denial?
Focusing on positive emotions would be more fun, less stressful and an achievable goal toward improving our health. A growing body of evidence demonstrates how important positive emotions are for psychological health, well-being and longevity. Positive emotions stimulate the immune system and benefit those with cardiovascular disease. Positive emotional disclosure may lengthen longevity, buffer against stress and strengthen coping mechanisms.
And yes, as a corollary, laughter just might be the best medicine.
The American Journal of Cardiology published an article in 2010 entitled the Effect of Mirthful Laughter on Vascular Function. Without attempting to draw global conclusions from this study, it supported the idea that laughter improves arterial compliance in blood vessels in young healthy adults.
We would not be alone in considering the pursuit of happiness and well-being as a goal for the New Year. The Happy Planet Index (HPI) defines happiness at a national level with a calculation based on individual well-being, life expectancy and ecological footprint. Interestingly, the Gross National Product (GNP) is not involved in the calculation.
The New Economic Foundation describes the HPI as an efficiency measure that “ranks countries on how many long and happy lives they produce per unit of environmental input.” The country of Bhutan decides national policy based on its Gross National Happiness Index (HPI), for real! They have nine domains of happiness with four indicators in each domain to measure happiness nationally. These include material, psychological and mental measures of well-being.
From individual experience to scientific research to national policy, it appears that focusing on positive emotions, happiness and well-being may be a more productive theme to develop as our foundation for health rather than starting with sacrifice, denial and material changes.
All of the resolutions described earlier are good for our health but how we attain them is just as important. We want to be successful. By first developing a positive frame of mind we will open our minds and spirits to more creative, focused determination with flexible thoughts and behaviors.
I propose a new resolution to add to the top 10: Each day count three blessings, find one thing to laugh about out loud, and place a vision in your mind of something that makes you happy.
“Frame your mind to mirth and merriment which bars a thousand harms and lengthens life.”
– William Shakespeare
Dr. Teresa Liccardi, who is board certified in internal medicine and nephrology, maintains a clinic for hypertension and chronic kidney disease at the Parker Family Health Center in Red Bank.