LiveWell®

Wellness and prevention information from the experts at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing


Leave a comment

Nurturing happiness and health

Nurturing happiness

“Those who study happiness recognize that it is associated with states of satisfaction and good self esteem, and also with the traits of gratitude and compassion.” – Mark Roa, integrative health psychologist

This article originally ran in the LiveWell newsletter of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

How can we nurture our innate ability to experience happiness? How do we define this elusive emotional state for ourselves? These are questions that many of us have considered, especially when we face situations like chronic stress, serious illness or loss.

“Just as pain serves as an alert for our bodies, we can be guided by being aware of commonly learned but ‘painful’ ways of thinking – or being with our feelings – that lead to unhappiness,” said Mark Roa, MA, LP, CBC, an integrative health psychologist at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

In his work, Roa helps people who are facing health challenges, a disability, or significant anxiety or stress regain a sense of wholeness and happiness. “Those who study happiness recognize that it is associated with states of satisfaction and good self esteem, and also with the traits of gratitude and compassion,” Roa noted.

For Roa, happiness is strongly connected to our thoughts and our views of self. He has observed that all of us have learned thoughts and beliefs about ourselves, others and the world around us. Some of these are helpful and deserve our reinforcement, like maintaining the view that we are loveable. But others are very unhelpful, especially self-criticism or fear-based assumptions like, “I’ll never be good enough,” “They think I am weak and foolish,” or “I don’t fit in.”

“These seemingly automatic negative thoughts and beliefs require our gentle rethinking,” said Roa. This is the basis of cognitive therapy, but Roa believes that we can each incorporate some self-nurturing practices (see below) into our daily lives that can help foster feelings of happiness.

Nurturing happiness

  • Be aware of self-talk. Frequently ask yourself: What am I thinking? What am I feeling? Are these thoughts or feelings helpful to me or to others?
  • Strive to adopt an intentionally compassionate, gentle and understanding view of yourself. This influences every aspect of your life positively.
  • Practice mindfulness or being in the present moment. Learn how to let go of processing the past or anticipating the future.
  • Consider, as needed, which is more detrimental to yourself: resentment or forgiveness.
  • Don’t try to manage difficulties alone. Reach out to friends, loved ones and readily available supportive community resources. People truly want to help.
  • In times of great distress, know that anxious and fear-based thinking increase the intensity of feelings, and intensity always passes.

Mark Roa, MA, LP, CBC, sees patients at the Penny George InstituteAbbott Northwestern Outpatient Clinic and the Allina Health Mental Health Clinic. Call 612-863-3333 for an appointment.


1 Comment

How can measuring quality of life lead to better health?

CoupleOnBikesBy Jeffery Dusek, director of research, Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

In medicine, we’re very focused on measurements – blood pressure, weight, cholesterol levels – values that are easily understood by the medical community. One thing that we have not focused on as much is how quality of life affects health.

A person’s quality of life is influenced by a variety of factors including their physical, mental, and social well-being. Numerous studies have shown that low quality of life is related to increased rates of illness, chronic disease and death.

In June 2012, a team at Allina Health began implementing a tool called the PROMIS-10 questionnaire developed by the National Institutes of Health to assess quality of life in Piper Breast Center patients. Since then, this initiative has expanded across other Allina Health patient groups – touching 1,500 patients.

Our goal is to engage patients and help them achieve their health objectives. Questionnaires like PROMIS-10 have been found to:

  • improve patient satisfaction and communication between patients and their health care providers
  • support efficient patient visits, guiding visits without lengthening overall visit time.

Allina Health is in good company as our colleagues at major health systems such as Partners HealthCare (Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital) and Cleveland Clinic are also using PROMIS-10 to measure patients’ quality of life.

Specifically within Allina Health’s Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, clinicians use this questionnaire as part of every visit at the outpatient clinic. I asked Courntey Baechler, MD, at the Penny George Institute about using the tool with her patients. She said, “It really helps me understand how they gauge their own quality of life. It’s easy as a physician to quickly tie medical numbers to a patient and arbitrarily rate their quality of life. With the questionnaire, I can quickly see how the patient rates their own indicators of health. This is yet one more way to hear the patient’s voice.”

Other areas of Allina Health that are using the questionnaire include the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute®, the cardiac rehabilitation program, Healthy Communities Partnership, and others.

Knowing that quality of life is important to health, you can take some simple steps to improve yours:

  • Take time to focus on what brings you joy.
  • Talk to your clinician about what’s most important in your quality of life. Perhaps being able to play with your kids or grandkids in the park is what brings you joy each week.
  • Ensure that during each visit with your clinician, there is time to concentrate on aspects of your health that are affecting your quality of life. An example would be poor sleep hindering your ability to be active.
  • Take time to speak to family or friends about what affects your quality of life. This could be physical and emotional pain, stress, being rushed, or having limited time to sit and connect with them.

Check out our previous blogs for information on how to improve stress management, sleep, nutrition, social connection, spiritual connection, and physical activity. All are key to improving quality of life.

Jeffrey Dusek, PhD, is the director of research for the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. Prior to that he was with Harvard Medical System at Harvard Medical School as the director of Behavioral Sciences Research of the Benson Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine of Massachusetts General Hospital.