Gluten-free diets are indeed making people feel and perform better. But it likely has little to do with gluten. Instead, researchers from Australia believe they’ve found the true culprit in the form of fermentable sugar components, otherwise known as FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-di-monosaccharides and polyols, in case you were wondering). One of the most potent kinds, fructans, are poorly absorbed in the gut—and they just happen to be found in the same culprit foods that contain gluten: wheat, rye and barley.
So positive emotions can clearly carry some profound benefits. But how much positivity do we need in our lives to reap these benefits—how much is enough? We’ve concluded that a ratio of at least three-to-one—three positive emotions for every negative emotion—serves as a tipping point, which will help determine whether you languish in life, barely holding on, or flourish, living a life ripe with possibility, remarkably resilient to hard times.
Without going into all the math behind this ratio, I want to stress that this isn’t an arbitrary number. It emerges from a wide ranging analysis we conducted, including analysis of flourishing business teams that we then tested in flourishing individuals and compared to family researcher John Gottman’s work on flourishing marriages. In each case, we found that positivity ratios above three-to-one are associated with doing extraordinary well.
Ratios of about two-to-one are what most of us experience on a daily basis; people who suffer from depression and other emotional disorders are down near one-to-one or lower.
One of the more surprising findings from the study was that giving to others was associated with meaning, rather than happiness, while taking from others was related to happiness and not meaning. Though many researchers have found a connection between giving and happiness, Baumeister argues that this connection is due to how one assigns meaning to the act of giving. “If we just look at helping others, the simple effect is that people who help others are happier,” says Baumeister. But when you eliminate the effects of meaning on happiness and vice versa, he says, “then helping makes people less happy, so that all the effect of helping on happiness comes by way of increasing meaningfulness.”
How parasites control their hosts remains mysterious. But it looks as if they release molecules that directly or indirectly can influence their brains. Our microbiome has the biochemical potential to do the same thing. In our guts, bacteria make some of the same chemicals that our neurons use to communicate with one another, such as dopamine and serotonin. And the microbes can deliver these neurological molecules to the dense web of nerve endings that line the gastrointestinal tract. A number of recent studies have shown that gut bacteria can use these signals to alter the biochemistry of the brain. Compared with ordinary mice, those raised free of germs behave differently in a number of ways. They are more anxious, for example, and have impaired memory. Adding certain species of bacteria to a normal mouse’s microbiome can reveal other ways in which they can influence behavior. Some bacteria lower stress levels in the mouse. When scientists sever the nerve relaying signals from the gut to the brain, this stress-reducing effect disappears.