This time of year we hear a lot about reflecting. Reflecting on the year that has passed as it comes to a close. Reflecting on accomplishments, both personal and professional, reflecting on losses or obstacles that we have encountered. Chances are, your year had ups and downs.
If you were to look back today of your life, would you say that it has been happy? What makes a happy life? I once heard that a happy life consists of many happy years. Happy years consist of happy months. Happy months consist of happy weeks, happy weeks consist of happy days, and happy days consist of happy moments. And for the most part, we get to choose if we have happy moments. Positive and negative encounters and events happen to all of us, but we can control the meaning we assign to those events. Meaning, which we choose and assign to things all day every day, dictates our emotional state.
2018 may have brought health challenges for your or your family. This year you or a loved one may have received a diagnosis or started experiencing symptoms, or perhaps just learned that you have genetic risk for a chronic illness. Health problems such as this can be debilitatingly frightening. But you choose the meaning you assign to it. You can either wallow in the fear, or you can hide from it, or you can move forward by taking control of your health in every way you can in the coming year. Not every health problem can be solved by nutrition and lifestyle intervention, but setting an intention for health and taking action to maximize your health in the new year can have an exemplary impact.
In fact, we know from research that our intention and even the intention of those around us can impact our perceived health. One study investigated whether drinking tea that had been ‘treated’ with good intentions would improve mood more than drinking ordinary tea. In this randomized, double blind trial, participants drank the same amount of oolong tea in the morning and afternoon on three consecutive days. One group received tea that had been treated by three Buddhist monks who performed a prolonged meditation during which they set on the tea an intention of wellness for the drinker. The control group drank an equal amount of oolong tea from the same batch, but it was not set with the intention. Before, during, and after the tea drinking days, the participants of both groups rated their perceived mood using validated questionnaires. The individuals who drank the treated tea showed a significantly higher increase in mood. In other words, tea treated with good intentions improved people’s mood significantly more than ordinary tea of the same variety. This result alone is pretty incredible. It means that intention has some kind of metaphysical effect- that our intentions are in some way tangible. But what’s even more staggering is that they also asked participants whether or not they thought they were drinking the treated tea. They found that belief that one was drinking the treated tea produced an even larger improvement in mood, but only if the individual was actually drinking the treated tea, indicating that belief and intentional enhancement interact (1).
While we may only be looking at one study here, the results are remarkable. We don’t understand how the power of the mind and the power of thought or how they really intertwine with our physiology. What we do know is that many studies have shown results similar to the one discussed above. And my guess is, you’ve also experienced this in some way in your own life.
So the takeaway here is, as the year comes to a close and you reflect on all that has transpired in your life, take some time to set an intention for the year to come. And then as events transpire in the coming year, assign meaning to them that upholds that intention. Your intention is powerful and it has a huge impact on your life- positive or negative. Start this new year with an intention of wellness, of health, and of gratitude. Then, follow up your intention with action and make 2019 the year you find your best health.