An abundance of joy - it is your birthright - but sometimes it needs to be cultivated with gratitude practices. I've set up 'gratitude triggers' so that when they appear, I pause momentarily, and take a quick inventory of all the things I am grateful for. I have quite a few gratitude triggers, for example, when I see 11.11 on my phone I pause and evoke gratitude (yep, cheesy but it works for me). The trick is to pick a trigger and firmly anchor it by immersing yourself into deep gratitude while holding that trigger in mind. Try it and let me know how you get on. Jayney xx
By Jayney Goddard MSc, FCMA, FRSPH, Lic.LCCH, Dip.ACH. President: The Complementary Medical Association
There is a wealth of academic research in the field of ‘compassion’ – particularly in the nursing arena and now spreading to other conventional medical fields too and it is becoming firmly established that love, kindness, compassion and altruism are all associated with positive health benefits for those giving and receiving these beautiful acts. These benefits impact us on every level; mentally, emotionally, physically and of course spiritually.
Of course, those of us working in the complementary medical and natural healthcare fields intuitively know all of this and more. Speaking very personally, I have to say that I am constantly and consistently astonished by the profound kindness and compassion I witness every day by observing the work of our wonderful Members at The Complementary Medical Association – I know that I am deeply privileged to be able to interact with these incredible selfless people – and I am eternally grateful.
What follows is a collection of just some of the research that I have come across over the years - and which I believe speaks deeply to the effects of love, kindness, compassion and altruism on us all. This is my Valentine to you – given with love and best wishes for your health and well-being in every respect.
Positive emotions and well-being.
In the 1990s researchers (Danner et al.) revisited the famous study conducted among nuns who had written short personal essays. It was found that the nuns who expressed the most positive emotions lived 10 years longer and were also somewhat protected from dementia.
Furthermore, when we are able to embrace positive emotions – when we feel good, our thinking becomes more creative, integrative, flexible, and we are so much more open to information. To illustrate this, a study conducted in 2003 by Fredrickson demonstrated that positive emotions dramatically enhanced psychological and physical resistance
Health benefits for recipients (those who receive compassionate love)
Most of us innately sense that compassion, love, and social support have health benefits for recipients and research bears this out too (Ainsworth et al., 1978; Harlow, 1958). There is the famous “Bunny Love Study” (my name for it – do forgive me!). In this study, researchers in the late 1970s were studying the effects of a diet high in fat and cholesterol in rabbits. During the study a rather strange anomaly became apparent: One subgroup of rabbits had 60% less atherosclerosis than the group as a whole, even though they ate the same diet. It was eventually discovered that the lab assistant who fed and cared for this particular group of rabbits took them out of their cages, petted them, and talked to them before feeding. The study was repeated twice with the same results and was reported in Science (Nerem, Levesque, & Cornhill, 1980).
Love, closeness and caring in families is incredibly important for health and well-being: In a remarkable study, reported by Stephen G Post – (Director, Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University and President of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love) 126 healthy young men were randomly selected in the early 1950s from the Harvard classes of 1952 and 1954 and given questionnaires about their perceptions of the love they felt from their parents.
Thirty-five years later, the men were followed up and 91% of participants who reported that they did not perceive themselves to have had warm relationships with their mothers had medically diagnosed midlife diseases (including coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, duodenal ulcer, and alcoholism), as compared to only 45% of those who reported a warm relationship with their mothers. In addition, 82% of those indicated low warmth and closeness to their fathers had these diagnoses too, compared with 50% who reported high warmth and closeness.
Astoundingly, 100% of those who reported low warmth and closeness from both parents had diseases diagnosed in midlife, whereas only 47% who reported both parents as being warm and close had midlife diagnoses. Post states: “Although this Harvard study needs corroboration, it points to the now widely accepted biopsychosocial model that being loved, cared for, and supported by others is critically important to health and treatment efficacy (Goodkin & Visser, 2000).”
Women too are deeply affected by emotional stress. In the now very well-known 2004 study by Epel, Blackburn et al., two groups of women were studied: the first set were mums looking after healthy children and the second set were mums looking after chronically ill children. The researchers were keen to find out whether emotional stress can be correlated with premature ageing – as frequently people who are chronically stressed often look ‘haggard’. The researchers were particularly interested in whether stress has an effect on telomere length. Telomeres are DNA–protein complexes that cap chromosomal ends, promoting chromosomal stability. Think of them as being a bit like the plastic bits on the ends of your shoelaces – that stop your laces from unraveling. When cells divide, the telomere is not fully replicated because of limitations of the DNA polymerases in completing the replication of the ends of the linear molecules, leading to telomere shortening with every replication. Think of it as taking a photocopy of a photocopy – an how an image degrades with repeated copying.
It was found that the women with highest levels of perceived stress caring for their chronically ill children had telomeres that were, on average, shortened by one decade.
Altruism, happiness and health
Selflessness and altruism lead to happiness and health. Retired people over the age of 65 Retires older than 65 who volunteered to help others rated significantly higher on life satisfaction and will to live and demonstrated far fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, and somatization.
Study after study shows that adult altruistic behaviour is associated with enhanced well-being, improved morale, self-esteem, and positive emotions. Furthermore, studies show that there is also a reduction in depressive symptoms among people who help others and higher levels of happiness, and evidence of enhanced overall wellness.
There is a phenomenon called the “Helper’s High”: In fact, research by Luks shows that two thirds of helpers reported a distinct physical sensation associated with helping:
About half report a “high” feeling
43% felt stronger and more energetic
28% felt warm
22% felt calmer and less depressed
21% felt greater self-worth
13% experienced fewer aches and pains
The effects of doing kind and compassionate actions can be measure physiologically: Older adults massaging infants had measurably lowerl levels of stress hormones, including salivary cortisol and plasma norepinephrine and epinephrine.
And finally, even just watching kindness and compassion in action makes you physically more resilient – as does thinking about love. Students were asked to watch a film about about Mother Teresa’s work, or they were given the task (!) of “dwelling on love”. After the two tasks were undertaken it was found that there was a significant increase in the protective salivary immunoglobin A (S-IgA).
 Danner, D. D., Snowdon, D. A., & Friesen, W. V. (2001). Positive emotions in early life and longevity: Findings from the nun study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 804–813.
 Fredrickson, B. L. (2003). The value of positive emotions: The emerging science of positive psychology is coming to under- stand why it’s good to feel good. American Scientist, 91, 330–335..
 Nerem, R. M., Levesque, M. J., & Cornhill, J. F. (1980). Social envi- ronment as a factor in diet-induced atherosclerosis. Science, 208, 1475–1476.
 Russek, L. G., & Schwartz, G. E. (1997). Feelings of parental caring predict health status in midlife: A 35 year follow-up of the Harvard Mastery of Stress Study. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 20, 1–13.
 Epel, S. E., Blackburn, E. S., Lin, J., Dhabhar, F. S., Adler, N. E., Morrow, J. D., & Cawthorn, R. M. (2004). “Accelerated telomere shortening in response to life stress.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101, 17312–17315.
 Hunter, K. I., & Linn, M. W. (1980–1981). Psychosocial differences between elderly volunteers and non-volunteers. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 12, 205–213.
 Midlarsky, E., & Kahana, E. (1994). Altruism in later life. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
 Musick, M. A., Herzog, A. R., & House, J. S. (1999). Volunteering and mortality among older adults: Findings from a national sample. Journals of Gerontology Series B-Psychological Sci- ences Social Sciences, 54(3), S173–S180.
 Krueger, R. F., Hicks, B. M., & McGue, M. (2001). Altruism and an- tisocial behavior: Independent tendencies, unique personality correlates, distinct etiologies. Psychological Science, 12, 397–402.
 Luks, A. (1988, October). Helper’s high: Volunteering makes people feel good, physically and emotionally. And like “runner’s calm,” it’s probably good for your health. Psychology Today, 22(10), 34–42.
 Field, M. F., Hernandez-Reif, M., Quintino, O., Schanberg, S., & Kuhn C. (1998). Elder retired volunteers benefit from giving message therapy to infants. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 17,
 McClelland, D., McClelland, D. C., & Kirchnit, C. (1988). The ef- fect of motivational arousal through films on salivary immuno- globulin A. Psychology and Health, 2, 31–52.
Many people believe that they are completely defined, limited and even imprisoned by the deck of genetic cards they were
dealt at birth. You often hear people exclaim that because their parents or grandparents had diabetes, heart disease or some form of cancer, they would be likely to develop the same problems. It’s even worse when people discover that they have some genetic predisposition, like the ‘BRCA’ gene in women that may possibly cause them to develop breast cancer. This makes these women feel like they have no choice but to opt for some medical intervention that can compromise their health or be they may even be coerced into surrendering their vital body parts to surgical mutilation for fear of what “may” happen.
The study of how our diet, stress management abilities and exercise levels affect our genetic expression is called epigenetics. It is this relatively new field of science that clearly demonstrates that we are most definitely NOT at the mercy of our genetic inheritance and we can take steps – easily, simply and sustainably - to protect our health.
Diet and Epigenetics
Routine, healthy lifestyle choices - especially plant-based, whole-food nutrition, stress management techniques and physical activity can dramatically alter how genes function and may reduce our physical deterioration, and morbidity from heart disease, cancer, immune disorders, and depression while even slowing down the aging process. Conversely, risky lifestyle choices can ultimately promote similar disease and breakdown in different people regardless of their genetic backgrounds. Examples of this are the growing pandemics of obesity, heart disease, colon and reproductive cancers in Japan, China and other parts of Asia, which did not exist when those people were eating more of their ancestral, plant-based diets. However as these people continue to saturate their diets with more animal protein, saturated fat, dairy products and refined sugar - similar to people in Western nations - they continue to develop the same devastating chronic diseases despite their obvious genetic differences from non-Asians living in the West.
Remember: Research is showing time and again that a plant-based whole-foods diet is the safest, most health-promoting way to eat. There are plenty of resources on the internet that you can refer to if you’d like to know more about transitioning to this way to eating.
Stress and Epigenetics
Stress management techniques promote well-established epigenetic effects on genes associated with disease and aging. There are repeating units of DNA (telomeres) at the ends of chromosomes that protect and stabilise chromosomes and genes during the process of cell division and growth. These telomeres are like the hard cap (aglet) at the end of shoelaces that protect the shoelace from fraying and falling apart. However, these telomere caps shorten and are worn away by the cumulative effects of cell division as a cell ages and moves toward death. A good way of conceptualising this is if you imagine taking a photocopy of a photocopy – repeatedly - and how the image degrades over time. The enzyme ‘telomerase’ is responsible for the lengthening of telomeres when our DNA is replicated during the growth and repair of cells. And, the shortening of telomeres and a reduction in telomerase are associated with ageing.
Chronic stress promotes shortening of telomeres and a decrease in the activity of the enzyme telomerase. Telomere length and telomerase activity were measured in white blood cells of mothers taking care of chronically ill children and compared to mothers of healthy children. The longer a woman spent looking after a sick child the more stressed she was and the shorter were her telomeres. In the most stressed out women, their telomere shortening and decreased telomerase activity suggested that they had aged at least ten years more than the least stressed women of similar chronological age.
The good news is that the practice of even short periods of routine meditation and stress management activity can dramatically reduce the impact of stress, improve mental health, and reduce the genetic aging process. In one recent experiment, caregivers of dementia patients suffering with symptoms of depression had significant increases in telomerase activity following just 12 minutes of daily meditation for 8 weeks. This increase in telomerase activity was accompanied by improvement of mental and cognitive function as well as a decrease in the symptoms of depression.
Take home message: Visit RelaxationResponse.org/steps for complete (and free) instructions for how to do Dr Herbert Benson’s “Relaxation Response” meditation. It is the most thoroughly scientifically studied form of meditation that has been shown time and again to improve health on all levels, mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually – and reverse ageing in various ways including the lengthening of our telomeres.
Exercise and Epigenetics
Exercise creates an epigenetic effect with respect to our metabolism. This can improve both muscle growth and stamina. Exercise has also been shown to promote the genetic production of chemicals that stabilise telomeres and slow down the aging process. Therefore, people who exercise more consistently are more likely to decrease the shortening of their telomeres and have telomeres that are less ravaged by time and aging compared to people who are more sedentary.
In a 2013 study, women who participated in 129 minutes of exercise a week for 6 months, compared to women doing just 21 minutes per week, had 43 genes that showed significant changes. Three of these genes were directly correlated with an increased survival from breast cancer. Patients who exercised longer had a greater expression of tumor suppressor genes, resulting in more than a 60% reduction in the risk of breast cancer death compared to the limited exercise group.
Take home message:
Exercise regularly and mix it up: weight and resistance training, walking and mind/body work – including yoga, tai chi, qigong are all wonderful genetic manipulators!
Finally - Your genetic blueprint can predispose you to any number of positive and negative conditions and changes. But what you choose to do, and the environment that you create on a routine basis in your life, goes a long way to determining how your genetic background expresses itself and whether any of your negative predispositions become concrete outcomes. You don’t have to drown in your own gene pool!
Visit the British Society for Lifestyle Medicine (BSLM.info) for great information on all aspects of healthy living and holistic anti-ageing, and information about how to train to become a BSLM Lifestyle Medicine Consultant.
Meditation - one of the few PROVEN ways to protect and even repair & lengthen your telomeres (those caps on the end of your chromosomes that stop them 'unraveling').
Longer telomeres are associated with being younger - biologically.
There are many different types of meditation - and I do a mixture of these depending upon my mood - and what I feel I need on any given day.
I tend to gravitate towards Loving Kindness (Metta) Meditations most of all, although Yoga Nidra is excellent - especially of I'm having trouble falling asleep.
I also love to practice the Relaxation Response - created by the Grand-Daddy of Mind/Body Medicine, Dr Herbert Benson. I had the huge privilege of training under him at Harvard Medical School's Benson Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine.
Watch for meditation downloads coming to this site very soon!
How do you meditate? I'd love to hear what works for you.
Happiness takes practice - it doesn't just happen - as if by magic. Practice gratitude, be mindful, even do my 'fake it 'til you make it' trick (where you put a pencil horizontally between your teeth - which engages the smile muscles and tricks your neural pathways into thinking you are happy - and then you feel happy!) All of these are proven to work happiness growth strategies. How do you grow your happiness levels?
Choosing to be happy - or even joyful - is vitally important to your health.
Here's why . . . Our brains rewire themselves constantly to reflect our most frequent thoughts and emotions - it makes it easier and quicker for us to access those states in future. So, if, for example, you dwell on sad, dark and depressing thoughts, your brain will wire itself to be better at accessing those thoughts faster and more easily - obviously, we don't want this! It is also true that if you associate with depressed or negative-thinking people, your brain will 'mirror' these states - again, allowing you to be able to access these down states more easily. Allowed to continue, this becomes your default brain state.
So, it is extremely important to take responsibility for accessing positive brain states, such as happiness and joy - and the more you practice these states, this will become your default - so that you just become naturally happier overall - more easily and more sustainably.
Jayney's top happiness tip: I use Metta Meditation for example to help me in my happiness practice. It is a form of meditation in which you send loving kindness to yourself, others and to our beautiful planet. There are many free to access Metta Meditations all over the internet and please check back as I will be posting a Metta download here later for you. With love and happiness! Jayney xx
The original text of the poem Ode to Joy by Friedrich Schiller - 1785 which was later used by Beethoven for his 9th Symphony.
Jayney Goddard is one of the world's leading experts in the field of complementary medicine and natural healthcare. Her passion is natural anti-ageing; Jayney teaches people how to rewind their biological clocks so that they are more resilient to the diseases of ageing. The strategies Jayney uses are grounded in excellent science and have been shown to halt and even reverse those conditions we associate with ageing.