The Science of Happiness

According to recent studies, having two copies of a particular gene are the reason some of us tend to look on the bright side. Those of us who have a long variant of a gene called 5-HTLLPR (or the SERT gene), which helps to recycle serotonin faster and more efficiently than the short variant, tend to be the happiest.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays an intricate role in our behavior. Lower levels of serotonin in the brain can lead to depression. If you are a 23andMe member, you can view the single nucleotide polyporphism (SNP) data for rs4251417 where ‘C’ would indicate the short variant.

Given how well I know myself and my family history, I was not surprised to learn that I had two copies of the short variant. Some people are very discouraged to learn this about themselves. I look at it this way — knowledge is power. So I’m not hard-wired for happiness… so what? It just means that I have to try a little harder.

I always find that starting the day off with exercise leaves me feeling more positive throughout the day. It may be the LAST thing I want to do when I wake up in the morning, but I know how much better I feel after a workout.

Other ways to boost your serotonin levels include a good hearty meal (yep, that’s why they call it comfort food!) as well as good times with friends or family. Try choosing what suits you best on a given day.

Stay positive! Your genes do play a role in how you feel, but ultimately YOU are in control of your reactions.

Drug Sensitivity and Genetics: What You Need to Know and Share with Your Doctor


At some point in our lives, we are all more than likely going to be prescribed medications to treat an acute or chronic illness.  The way each of our bodies responds to drugs is different, and our genes play a role in this.  The science that predicts a response to drugs based on genetics is pharmacogenomics.

If you have ever read the labeling information about a new or existing drug that you or a family member have been prescribed, you have likely read about possible adverse events (side effects).  Pharmaceutical companies are starting to include pharmacogenomic data in their products’ labeling.  If you have had genetic testing done, the results can help your health care provider choose an appropriate drug therapy for you, as well as determine what an appropriate starting dose would be for those with sensitivities.

If you haven’t had genetic testing done, drug response information from your immediate family
members can be helpful for your doctor to know as well.  Talk to your siblings and parents about their health history. Tell you health care providers if you are discussing drug treatment and you have had personal genetic testing done. Likewise if you are aware of a certain drug sensitivity or positive response to a drug of a sibling or parent.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, there is an ongoing need for physicians to  educate themselves about pharmacogenomics.  If your physician is dismissive when you attempt to share this important information, you may need to look for a doctor who values informed patients who want to take an active role in their health care decisions.



The Science of Gratitude

gratitude and appreciation

Numerous studies over the years have confirmed a link between a positive attitude and a healthy body. A leading researcher in the field of the psychology of gratitude, Robert A. Emmons, along with Michael E. McCullough have conducted experimental studies in the field. Their research has shown that grateful people report:

  • Improvements in mood and lower levels of depression and stress
  • Better physiological health, including enhanced quality of sleep
  • Increased energy
  • A sense of connectedness with others
  • Greater satisfaction with life in general

Who knew that “Thank You” could be so powerful! Want to see what gratitude can do for you?
Here are a few tips to start benefiting from the effects of gratitude right now:

1) Start a Gratitude journal. Your goal is to find five things to be grateful for every day. At the end of the day, write the five things down in your journal. It can be as simple as being grateful that you have a job or that your family is healthy. Don’t compare yourself to others; when you do this, negative thoughts start to creep in. Focus on YOUR life!
2) Experience what life has to offer without a price tag attached, such as a sunrise or sunset. If you are lucky enough to live near the mountains or the ocean, take a walk and be grateful for the beautiful scenery around you.
3) Make a commitment to being more grateful. Start each day saying “I am grateful”. Before long, you will realize that you are looking for things to write down in your gratitude journal!

For more thoughts on gratitude, I strongly suggest reading Thanks: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier by Dr. Emmons.

The Science of Self-Care

You start off with good intentions every Sunday evening — with plans to eat healthier and get to the gym a couple of times during the week. Before you know it, your alarm is going off & it is Friday morning. Self-defeating thoughts start to creep in of what you should have done and didn’t manage to do — AGAIN! Sound familiar?

Stop with the “should haves” and the defeating self-talk! Did you know that the average person has about 50,000 thoughts per day? Negative thoughts create stress. Stress causes the adrenal glands to release cortisol, which affects the brain and the body. Chronic stress impairs memory, creativity, the ability to problem-solve. It can cause you to have difficulty sorting out what is important from what isn’t. Your immune system and self-esteem become compromised which can lead to feelings of helplessness. Helplessness can make you anxious, depressed, and afraid of change.

Imagine how much better you would feel if you could replace the negative thoughts you have with thoughts that improve your self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. It’s time for a change, and it’s time to make self-care a top priority.

This is how to do it:

1) Make a list of your strengths: List all the things that you like about yourself – include your successes, achievements, positive traits, and qualities for which others have recognized you. Accepting yourself is one of the most important steps you can take.

2) Give yourself the attention you deserve: Are you surrounded by negative or positive influences? It helps to surround yourself with people who are positive and accepting instead of negative and resistant. Pay attention to your physical health. Don’t put off starting to exercise until next week or next month — start today. Fifteen to twenty minutes of a physical activity (such as walking) per day is a great start. If you need a break from work-related stress, take a mental health day. Listen to your body and the signals it gives you. If you have been putting off a physical or a check-up with your doctor, stop procrastinating and make the appointment today.

3) Ask yourself questions: Do you have what you truly want in life? Are you happy with your relationships, your community, and your career? Find a way to thrive doing what you love using all of your strengths and talents.
Do this exercise, and I promise it will give you the tools you need to start living a happier and healthier life today.

Wishing you wellness,