Would you like to improve your working memory and decision making? Put on a happy face!
Researchers Stephanie Carpenter, of the University of Michigan; David Västfjäll, of Linköping University in Sweden; and the late Alice Isen, of Cornell University have concluded that a positive mood can boost brain power. The results of their study appear in the current issue of the journal Cognition & Emotion.
As part of a strategy to elevate mood, 23 seniors, ages 63 to 85, were greeted with a thank-you card and bags of candy when they arrived at the laboratory for the study. Other steps were taken to ensure the good mood of the participants, such as giving them computers that featured a background with a blue sky and pretty clouds to use during testing.
A second group of 23 seniors received neither a card nor candy, and the background on their computer monitors was neutral.
The outcome was unequivocal. The older adults who were in a good mood made significantly better decisions. Moreover, “results showed that the older adults who were induced into a good mood scored better on this test of working memory.”
So what’s the takeaway from this research for seniors? How can we practice the gleanings from this study in our daily lives?
First, we can recognize that our emotions play a key role in our ability to make decisions and retain information. Second, we can make a conscious choice about the perspective we take. Our circumstances will not always include thank-you notes and bags of candy. Indeed, we may experience some or many of the losses associated with aging—for example, the loss of energy, the loss of a spouse, the loss of a friend or even the loss of our health.
Whatever our circumstances, however, we can practice mindfulness. We can focus on the present moment and find joy in simply being alive. Marty Cottler, Phd, encourages his clients to practice mindfulness: “When we open ourselves to what we are actually smelling, tasting, seeing and feeling, we become more alive. And research informs us that doing so will not only increase our enjoyment day in and day out but might actually contribute to our living longer and healthier.”
Dr. Cottler’s assurance of increased enjoyment on a day-to-day basis through the practice of mindfulness should be enough to put a smile on our faces.