Friday, March 19, 2010

Outside In

Simply touching something warm may make you feel warmly toward others, finds a study in the Oct 24 issue of Science (Vol. 322, No. 5,091). Yale researchers asked undergraduate study participants to hold a cup of coffee- either hot or iced- and then to rate the personality traits of a fictitious person. Those who had held the hot coffee saw the person as more generous, sociable and good-natured than those who had held the cold cup. Lead author Lawrence Williams, PhD, now at the University of Colorado at Boulder, says the findings suggest that people may be more sensitive to cues in their physical environments than we often think. “We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of our surroundings in shaping our thoughts, feelings and actions,” he says.

- Monitor on Psychology, January 2009 Vol.40, No.1

I never thought too much about my morning cup of coffee- until I stumbled upon this excerpt. I know, like most people, a little bit about the mind-body connection- sufficient sleep is crucial for mental performance, a good workout can produce endorphins which contribute to a positive mood, adequate food is necessary to keep the mind functioning optimally.

But “simply touching something warm may make you feel warmly toward others”? Wow. I sure could use that piece of information the next time I’m feeling crabby toward my husband.

I was fascinated by what the Yale researchers found because their study demonstrated just how impactful the environment is on not only our inner thoughts and feelings toward ourselves, but also toward others. It seems to me that that warm cuppa joe made the holder of the cup feel warm inside (feel good about themselves) so that the holder could feel warm toward others (feel good about everyone else).

It is pretty obvious that we can’t really feel good toward others without taking care of ourselves first, but many people in today’s modern hustle and bustle neglect to put self-care on the top of their to-do list. So many of us (me included) run around with crazy schedules, trying to take care of others in our lives without taking the time to rest or re-charge.

If this study is true, then one significant step that we can take toward self-care is changing the negative influencers in our surroundings. Is your cubicle at work cluttered and uninspiring? Are your walls at home a gloomy shade of gray? Do you spend a lot of time watching sad movies? Do you take the time to make hot, home-cooked dinners, or are most of your meals eaten cold, out of a plastic box?

Taking care of yourself and your relationships could be as simple as surrounding yourself with things you love, consuming foods that warm your heart, and listening to music that can bring you to lovely faraway places. If we can change the outside, then maybe how we feel inside can also change.

As for me, the next time I feel irritation and impatience arising toward my loved ones, I’m going to fix myself a nice mug of hot tea, breathe, and turn on the radio to the jazz channel.

Jolene Hwee

Jolene is a Master's level intern at TAC. She co-leads the Tuesday night ANAD support group.

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