In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

December 1, 2016

Doctor Offers Practical Tips for Unwrapping the Gift of Happiness Any Time of Year

By In the Loop

Dr. Amit Sood devoted himself to understanding the root of human unhappiness -- and how we can use the power of our minds to change it.

While attending medical school in India, Amit Sood, M.D., saw firsthand the effects poverty, malnutrition and disease had on his patients. He also witnessed the aftereffects of a chemical spill that claimed the lives of nearly 4,000 residents of his hometown.

When he moved to the United States to continue his medical training, Dr. Sood expected to leave that kind of human suffering behind. Instead, he "was surprised to find nearly as much suffering" as he’d witnessed in India, according a story in Minnesota Medicine. "The extent of stress made no sense to me," Dr. Sood, an internal medicine physician at Mayo Clinic, writes on his website. "I had naively assumed that the entire U.S. would be nothing but Disneyland."

Discovering the universal nature of human unhappiness piqued Dr. Sood's curiosity. Why did people experience suffering and stress, even without a seemingly obvious cause? Extensive research pointed him to one primary culprit: the human brain, which he notes, "evolved for safety and survival, not peace and happiness." As a result, our minds are primed to focus on fears, worries and shortcomings. Which for most of us, are all too easy to find. "We get stuck there because as we use a certain network, it gets stronger," Dr. Sood tells Minnesota Medicine. "And the research shows that the more stressed we are, the more time we spend in this mode, and the more we are at risk for depression, anxiety, attention deficit, perhaps even dementia."

He has some thoughts about a solution, too, thankfully. According to Dr. Sood, we need "to take control of our brain and what we're thinking," reports Minnesota Medicine. And he's spent years developing resiliency courses to help people learn to do just that. About half a million people have completed the training so far, and the magazine reports that 20 clinical trials have shown that course participants experience "a statistically significant improvement in measures of resiliency, stress, anxiety and overall quality of life." That translates to better health outcomes, says Dr. Sood, who notes that "happiness is associated with better cellular health, lower blood pressure, a lower risk of heart attack, longevity and better relationships." (Sounds like a no-brainer to us.)

To learn more about Dr. Sood's research or to get a quick resiliency hit (hello, holidays and seasonal affective disorder), check out some of the short videos on his website, Among our favorites are “Happier: Six Ideas,” “The 5-3-2 Plan,” and “Love yourself, like your pet does.”

And if you'd like to dig a little deeper (or take care of some holiday shopping), consider reading or giving one of Dr. Sood's books: The Mayo Clinic Handbook for Happiness, The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living, or Immerse: A 52-Week Course in Resilient Living: A Commitment to Live With Intentionality, Deeper Presence, Contentment, and Kindness. You can also tune in to Mayo Clinic Radio Saturday, Dec. 3, at 9:05 a.m. CST, to hear Dr. Sood share tools to help manage stress and improve resiliency.

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Tags: Dr. Amit Sood, Employee Stories

Great read. Thank you Dr. Sood…stress, depression & suffering come in all forms and it doesn’t have to come in an obvious visual form. The way we manage it, now that’s where it sometimes may become obvious through withdrawing, rage, over sensitivity, erratic behavior, just to name a few. Ever wonder why when someone does something terribly bad, others will most always say something like, ‘They were always so… quiet or nice or I can’t believe they would ever do such a thing, she was a good mother, or my son was a good boy, he would never be in a gang or have a gun, or how could that happen on my street or neighborhood…’
Poverty, job loss, chemical imbalance, death of a loved one, being different, abuse, jealousy, (just to name a few) can be and are part of sudden outbursts where once ‘normal’ people become so overwhelmed with what they are going through that they actually cannot think rationally anymore and react negatively. I’m so glad there are Doctors like you that actually care and are doing something to help.

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