A Healthier You – Savor Small Pleasures

By Sheila Kun RN, BSN, MS, CPN, FCCP

I always wonder if there is a scientific base for being happy and how it affects our body. My curiosity brought me to look up the topic and found these very interesting facts. How does our body react to joy? Without digging into complex research, these few simple sentences positively affirm the value of being happy. The benefits of feeling more joy:

  • promotes a healthier lifestyle
  • boosts immune system
  • fights stress and pain
  • supports longevity

We feel joy in our bodies because of the release of dopamine and serotonin, two types of neurotransmitters in the brain. Both of these chemicals are heavily associated with happiness (in fact, people with clinical depression often have lower levels of serotonin).

“Smiling can trick your brain by elevating your mood, lowering your heart rate, and reducing your stress. The smile doesn’t have to be based on real emotion because faking it works as well.”

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So what makes you happy? Should you wait for your anniversary, birthday, graduation to celebrate these milestone events and create happiness? As these events come at big time intervals, we are depriving ourselves of the health benefits of what joy could bring. Acacia Parks, PhD, chief scientist at Happify.com and associate editor at Journal of Positive Psychology remarked that when it comes to happiness, it is the everyday behaviors, such as hearing a song you like, finishing a good book or running into a friend on the street that improve feelings of well-being. In other words, you don’t have to wait for life’s “big events” like getting a promotion, or buying a new car to be super happy.

Small pleasures count! This is good news. Now I can practice improving my health by thinking of little things that make me happy (remember you can trick your brain into feeling happy?) This morning I was pleasantly surprised by two new orchid blooms from my backyard. They came out from nowhere! I did not expect, that being neglected all year round, they proved to be resistant and weathered the cold and hot climates. They’re beautiful bloom brought a big smile to my face.

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The small pleasures could come from a busy work place as well. Last Friday, I was able to get every stakeholder’s buy-in to a new quality improvement proposal. That was another happy moment. Then I got confirmation on the same day that I could join forces with Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia for a new research project. Hey, that was another opportunity to smile about. These happy moments can go on and go, giving positive credits to your brain.

Suddenly I am reminded by Don Bosco’s famous teaching: “Do ordinary things in an extra ordinary ways.” Can we celebrate little things in a big way too? The answer is a resounding “Yes”. Let us savor baby step gains, and celebrate the efforts that go into them. As I am writing, a patient story comes to mind. B. is a five year old Down syndrome kiddo. In spite of the developmental delays associated with Down syndrome, B. has taught me many life lessons. Her mom told me this story; B. was in a school Christmas play. At the end of the show, the curtain came down. B. started crying. Mom asked gently: “Are you okay? Are you too tired playing the Christmas tree? Are your arms hurting?” “No!” B. said in a very firm tone. “I don’t want the play to end.” Sobbing continued….

I hope that we can all emulate B. Let us not close our curtain of joy. Let us savor the positive responses from our audience and keep on smiling.

Your homework assignment from the Care Ministry this week: seek your small pleasures and see how many you have each day.

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