How to Put “Happy” Into Your New Year

Healthy Living, Mental Health Steward Health Care

Yun Xia, MD, a Steward Health Care internal medicine specialist located in Taunton, Massachusetts, is on a mission to help her patients and the community put the “Happy” in their New Year.

For the past several months, Dr. Xia has been teaching community seminars on “In Pursuit of Happiness – An Introduction to Positive Psychology” – to her patients, community members, and other physicians. The sessions look at the science behind what makes people happy, as well as specific ways of thinking and acting that can increase a person’s happiness and peace of mind.

“A lot of times we’re looking for a quick fix,” says Dr. Xia. “There are no quick fixes.”

There are, however, ways of thinking, acting, and communicating that can help people achieve a greater level of happiness in their lives, she explains. A saying, attributed to Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, the founder of philosophical Taoism, serves as a North Star for the lessons: “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”

Among the ingredients in achieving a more positive life, Dr. Xia says are learning to communicate better, forgiving others, giving thanks, being mindful, being empathetic, and living a meaningful life, as well as staying healthy. One way to communicate better is to be a “constructive” communicator, meaning you are an enthusiastic supporter in conversations, you make eye contact, and you are authentic. To develop gratitude, people are advised to say three positive things aloud, keep a gratitude journal, write a thank you card, ask yourself “What went well?” and to count your blessings. Learning to listen to others and truly hear what they are saying as they express themselves is also important.

In preparing to teach Positive Psychology to her patients, Dr. Xia has studied it extensively, including attending seminars at Harvard University as well as a conference of American Chinese Physicians, and implementing the ideas behind the approach to work in her own life, and for her two children. She has also received positive feedback from patients she is teaching about this approach. A patient who learned mindfulness and meditation no longer has to take anti-anxiety medication. Another lost 100 pounds over the last year and no longer has diabetes, sleep apnea, or depression, she says.

Dr. Xia looks to a 98-year-old patient who knits hats for infants at Boston Children’s Hospital as an inspiration of someone leading a meaningful life. Every day the nonagenarian works at what she refers to as “her calling” and to date has made more than 1,000 baby hats, in addition to hats and blankets for homeless shelters.

“A whole lot of issues can be prevented by changing our thinking pattern,” Dr. Xia says. “I teach my patients and the community to have a goal and meaning in life.”

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