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10 Things That'll Make You Happier

By Dr Andrew Weil

Human bodies are designed for regular physical activity. The sedentary nature of much of modern life probably plays a significant role in the epidemic incidence of depression today. Many studies show that depressed patients who stick to a regimen of aerobic exercise improve as much as those treated with medication. Exercise also appears to prevent depression and improve mood in healthy people.

Normally, inflammation occurs in response to injury and attack by germs. It is marked by local heat, redness, swelling and pain, and is the body's way of getting more nourishment and more immune activity to the affected area. But inflammation also has destructive potential. We see this when the immune system mistakenly attacks normal tissues in such autoimmune diseases as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Excessive inflammation also plays a causative role in heart disease, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, as well as other age-related disorders, including cancer. More recent research indicates that inappropriate inflammation may also underlie depression -- so controlling it is key to both physical and mental health.Perhaps the most powerful way to control inflammation is via diet. An anti-inflammatory diet consists of whole, unprocessed foods that are especially selected to reduce inappropriate inflammation, as well as provide abundant vitamins, minerals and fiber. It consists of fruits and vegetables, fatty cold-water fish, healthy whole grains, olive oil and other foods that have been shown to help keep inflammation in check.

Adequate blood levels of these nutrients has been strongly tied to emotional health. They are so necessary and deficiencies are so common in the developed world that I believe everyone, depressed or not, should take them. Take up to three grams of a quality, molecularly distilled fish oil supplement daily -- look for one that provides both EPA and DHA in a ratio of about three or four to one.  Vegetarian sources of Omega 3's include Chia Seed and Flax Seed.  Salmon and other cold water fish (and fish oil) are non-vegetarian sources.  And get at least 15 minutes of sunshine per day for your body to make all the Vitamin D you need (the Happiness Vitamin) - if you can't get 15 minutes of sun per day, then take a supplement.

Specifically for those with mild to moderate depression, I suggest trying:

St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum): This European plant appears to work well for those affected by low mood. Look for tablets or capsules standardized to 0.3 percent hypericin that also list content of hyperforin.  The usual dose is 300 milligrams three times a day.  You may have to wait two months to get the full benefit of this treatment.

SAMe (S-adenosy-L-methionine): A naturally-occurring molecule found throughout the body, SAMe  (pronounced "sammy") has been extensively studied as an antidepressant and treatment for the pain of osteoarthritis.  Look for products that provide the butanedisulfonate form in enteric-coated tablets.  The usual dosage is 400 to 1,600 milligrams a day, taken on an empty stomach.  Take lower doses (under 800 milligrams) once a day, a half hour before the morning meal; split higher doses, taking the second a half hour before lunch.

Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea): A relative of the jade plant native to the high northern latitudes, it appears to improve mood and memory. Look for 100-milligram tablets or capsules containing extracts standardized to three percent rosavins and one percent salidroside.  The dosage is one or two tablets or capsules a day, one in the morning or one in the morning and another in early afternoon.  This can be increased to 200 milligrams up to three times a day if needed.

5. Breath Deeply:

Conscious breath control is a useful tool for achieving a relaxed, clear state of mind.  Several times a day, take a breath break.  Sit up straight and breath in deeply, allowing your diaphragm and belly to expand.  Then exhale deeply.  Repeat several times.  This exercise will fill your cells full of oxygen and lift your overall mood.

Coffee causes your body to release more dopamine which enters the bloodstream every time you drink coffee -- dopamine is the natural chemical responsible for keeping us happy.  Additionally, coffee speeds up neurotransmission, which raises your serotonin levels, which elevates mood.  Chocolate contains anadamine, a brain chemical that helps brighten our mood. Scientists believe that other chemicals in chocolate cause anadamide to stay longer in the brain, thus enhancing its positive effect.

Smiling and, especially, laughing, are potent mood boosters. 

Today, many of us are choking on "data smog," a dense cloud of trivial, irrelevant, or otherwise low-value information made possible by the internet's power to disseminate vast amounts of media virtually free. The result is fractured attention spans and attenuated human relationships. Monitor the time you spend with digital media (television, the web, email, text messaging and so on) in a given week, and cut that amount at least 25 percent in the following week. Use the time you free up for outings in nature, exercise, or face-to-face communication with friends.  If you like the result, keep restricting virtual life "surfing" and expanding real-life, connected, human experiences.

Forgiveness is almost universally held by philosophers and saints to be a key to happiness - and modern research confirms that those who can quickly and easily forgive when appropriate enjoy better emotional health. Conversely, resentment is the fuel that feeds depressive rumination, and can quickly spiral into a self-reinforcing low mood. 

Author G.K. Chesterton wrote: "You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink." I suspect Chesterton didn't do this automatically. He knew that, like forgiveness, gratitude can and should be cultivated through diligent practice.

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