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Dr. Ayala

Dr. Ayala
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
V.P. Product Development
Herbal Water
I’m a physician (Pediatrics and Medical Genetics), artist, and mother of 3 school age active kids. I recently co-founded Herbal Water Inc. (www.herbalwater.com) with my husband, Albert. I am a serious home cook, and love to entertain. My expertise is vegetarian food (I have been a vegetarian all my life). I strongly believe that eating healthy and enjoying good food go hand in hand. My main interests are science, nutrition and art, and I am overall a very curious person that tries to learn something new every day. Dr. Ayala (Ayala Laufer-Cahana M.D.)


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DECEMBER 21, 2011 9:39AM

Choosing Happiness for the Holidays

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This is the season to grab every bit of happiness and living in the moment is one suggested way to increase bliss.

A brief article in Science provides evidence: The authors, Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University, developed an iPhone app to sample people's ongoing thoughts, feelings, and actions. This reported study included 2250 people, who were asked, at random times, three questions:

• How happy are you now? (sliding scale from 0-100)

• What are you doing right now? (22 categories)

• Is your mind on something other than what you're doing now? (4 choices: no, and if yes, is what you're thinking positive, neutral or negative) 

Killingsworth and Gilbert found that people were thinking about what is not happening almost as often as they were thinking about what is - a whopping 46.9 percent of people admitted they were miles away - and surprisingly, mind travel occurred during every type of activity besides making love (or maybe admitting it at that moment was difficult).

They also found that mind wandering typically made people less happy. People reported less happiness when their minds were wandering to a neutral or a negative place. If the mind wandered to a positive place people were no happier than if their mind stayed put on task.

And their third intriguing finding: Where your mind is seems to predict happiness better that what you're doing. If you're right here, right now, you're more likely to be happy, whether in a traffic jam or listening to music.

We can't be sure what animals think, but if dogs are indeed absorbed in the moment, and this study is correct, a dog's life (any non-suffering animal's for that matter) might be more blissful than ours. 

But on the other hand, it's because we live in our head that we're able to expand beyond our mere existence, and escape prison cells and physical disability with the power of mental travel. William Ernest Henley's poem, Invictus inspired so many with the words: "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul."

A few thoughts

Is a sample of people willing to be disturbed by an app anytime, anyplace representative? I'd argue that the study participant sample may be skewed towards the always-on-grid hyper-connected wired-to-distraction types. I wonder how many apps, email pushes, messages and other distracters the study subjects allow, and would suggest that more serene, Zen types wouldn't dream responding to a prompt during love-making or a conversation to report on current happiness levels.

I find it very hard to believe that staying in the moment matters more than where the mind is going and where it's going from. I find it hard to believe that if you're hopeful in times of adversity it's as useless as being burdened by pointless worries when all is right.

But I do believe that our mind's always going, is almost impossible to shut off, a fact that may interfere with our ability to enjoy the moment.

How to keep in the moment

I learned from Barbara Strauch's The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain that as we age our brain tends to go into daydreaming mode more readily.

I consider myself young, but I find my mind travels a lot. I enjoy it, for the most part. I also do it on purpose, especially when I'm doing something that doesn't require a lot of thought. I drift to nature trails, paintings, vacations, food, people I love.

I try to stay away from idle worry. It's no use wondering if the flight you're already on will land safely. I try not to be awake at night, the well-known time for idle cyclical anxiety. (Best way to scare away stray thoughts for me is to read a book.)

Here are my two bits about being present:

Spend time with kids. No one's better at being present than a kid. No one appreciates your total presence as much as they do. 

Eat something that gives you pleasure. Yes, it may be dessert. Nothing speaks of living in the moment as much as an indulgent dessert.

Turn off the electronics, especially the smart-phone.

Laugh out loud (can anyone laugh and be elsewhere?)

 Make love. And that's directly from Killingsworth and Gilbert's study.

 Do you have any tricks?

I hope this holiday season brings you much happiness.

Dr. Ayala

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One thing we disagree on. I love the night. I would miss the silences, the stars, the phases of the moon and the reflection time. No surprises here, but a nice reminder.
@Rita, I don't disagree, I love the night, but at 4pm, when the world's asleep I want to be asleep and dreaming. Happy holidays, Rita, and all the best for the new year.