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Elemental
Your life, sourced by science. A publication from Medium about health and wellness.

Happiness

In Elemental. More on Medium.

In the Before Times, I wrote a column called Optimize Me, about the most bizarre things people did to their bodies in the name of health. Occasionally, these “wellness hacks” were scientifically backed, but more often they were misguided and even concerning at times. Some of them were efficiency tricks to get more time out of the day — using electric shocks to fast-track a workout or accelerated listening settings to consume more content. Others involved injecting substances into people’s bloodstreams and, ahem, backdoors.

Looking back on these articles now, after a year of hardship and suffering, some of these…


An inside look from scientists working to quantify feelings

Photo: Peter Finch/Getty Images

Co-authored with Jocelyn Harmon

How are you doing these days?

Take a moment, and really think about it. Is your answer emotional, like “I’m feeling stressed,” or physical, like “I’m feeling worn down”? Or maybe your response falls somewhere on a scale from “abysmal,” let’s say, to “outstanding.”

For most people, there are many ways to assess well-being, and the way you introspect on it might even change from day-to-day. But from a scientific perspective, well-being can only be understood with a shared, theory- and evidence-based definition that implies reliable and valid ways of measuring it.

As we all navigate…


Illustration: Kieran Blakey

The Nuance

Engaging with the unfamiliar can keep mind and body fit. So how to pump up one’s levels of curiosity?

Anyone who has spent time around kids knows that their young minds are powered by curiosity. The average child probably asks more questions in 10 minutes than the average adult does in 10 days. Kids are curiosity personified.

But as people age, their reservoirs of curiosity tend to dry up. Studies have found that, on average, a person’s openness to new experiences and new sensations declines steadily with age. At the same time, apathy increases. …


Illustration: Kieran Blakey

The Nuance

The mysterious nerve network that quiets pain and stress — and may defeat disease

Take a deep breath. Hug a friend. Reach for the ceiling and stretch your limbs. Each of these simple acts bestows a sense of calm and comfort. And each works its soothing magic in part by activating a complicated system of nerves that connects the brain to the heart, the gut, the immune system, and many of the organs. That system is known collectively as the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve is one of the twelve cranial nerves, which sprawl out from the brain and into the body like an intricate network of roots. These nerve networks act as lines…


A psychologist explains how self-compassion can help you manage chronic worry

Photo: Hero Images/Getty Images

Chronic anxiety is a persistent pattern of elevated worry and excessive fear, and it can feel insurmountable to those struggling with it. But if you adopt a new mindset about your anxiety itself, it’s possible to break this cycle. Here are three mind-shifts I’ve developed in my years as a psychologist to help free people from the grip of chronic anxiety for good.

1. Approach your anxiety with compassion, not aggression

Here’s a basic fact of human psychology everyone should know: You can’t control your emotions directly. You can only influence them indirectly via changes to your thinking and behavior.

There’s no anxiety dial you can turn down…


The Nuance

Scientists untangle the relationship between effort and emotional payoff

Credit: simonkr/Getty Images

In his 2004 book Authentic Happiness, the University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman tells the story of a lizard that won’t eat.

The lizard belonged to one of Seligman’s colleagues. No matter what it was offered — fruit, ground pork, dead flies — the lizard refused to eat. But then one day its owner tossed a newspaper down on top of a ham sandwich. The lizard pounced on the newspaper, shredded it to pieces, and devoured the sandwich beneath it.

“Lizards have evolved to stalk and pounce and shred before they eat,” Seligman writes in his book. “So essential was…


Go ahead and cancel your membership, you already have the tools you need

Photo by Arturo Castaneyra on Unsplash

If you want to be as healthy as possible, there are no treadmills or weight machines required.

Don’t just take my word for it — look to the longest-lived people in the world for proof.

People in the world’s Blue Zones— the places around the world with the highest life expectancy — don’t pump iron, run marathons or join gyms.

Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without even thinking about it. This means that they grow gardens, walk throughout the day, and minimize mechanical conveniences for house and yard work.

In fact, Blue Zones researchers…


It’s true for all ages and stages — even for recent college graduates, according to a new study

People who value time over money tend to be happier, according to multiple studies. And new research in the journal Science Advances shows that this is particularly true as a person leaves college, facing weighty career choices while perhaps saddled with debt. Graduates who value time over money are more likely to pursue things they enjoy, including hobbies, social relationships, internships, and careers that provide intrinsic satisfaction rather than merely seeking compensation, the study suggests.

Researchers asked 1,000 graduating students at the University of British Columbia to rate how satisfied they felt with their lives overall, and the extent to…


The Health Diaries

‘I really don’t think we can do everything.’

There are many ways to live a healthy life. The Health Diaries is a weekly series about the habits that keep notable people living well.

In year 2009, Gretchen Rubin became one of the most influential voices in self-help with The Happiness Project, a bestselling book that chronicled her year of dedicating every waking moment to finding happiness. She sang in the morning, cleaned her closets, read Aristotle, and tried to embrace the idea of “fun,” in addition to interviewing dozens of experts on the topic of life satisfaction. …

Elemental

Your life, sourced by science. A publication from Medium about health and wellness.

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