Religion and spirituality have different and complementary influences on our health, according to new research from Oregon State University.
Formal religious affiliation and regular service attendance are linked to better health habits, such as lower smoking rates and less alcohol consumption. Spirituality, including meditation and prayer, aids in regulation of emotions, which improves physiological symptoms such as blood pressure.
“Religion helps regulate behavior and health habits, while spirituality regulates your emotions, how you feel,” stated Carolyn Aldwin, a professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU.
Aldwin and colleagues have been working to understand and differentiate the links between health, religion and spirituality. The outcome is a new theoretical model that defines two unique pathways.
“No one has ever reviewed all of the different models of how religion affects health,” reported Aldwin, the Jo Anne Leonard endowed director of OSU’s Center for Healthy Aging Research. “We’re trying to impose a structure on a very messy field.”
There can be some overlap of the influences of religion and spirituality on health, Aldwin said. More research is needed to test the theory and examine contrasts between the two pathways. The goal is to help researchers develop better measures for analyzing the connections between religion, spirituality and health and then explore possible clinical interventions, she said.
Carolyn M. Aldwin, Crystal L. Park, Yu-Jin Jeong, Ritwik Nath. Differing pathways between religiousness, spirituality, and health: A self-regulation perspective.. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 2014; 6 (1): 9 DOI: 10.1037/a0034416
I’ve been working on developing an online positive psychology course (The Path to Happier which will go live in April 2014 at HowICanBeHappy.com). While doing my reading, I came across some great quotes on meaning in life that I thought I’d share…
Meaning is specific to humans. Dogs don’t worry about meaning in life…
My dog doesn’t worry about the meaning of life. She may worry if she doesn’t get her breakfast, but she doesn’t sit around worrying about whether she will get fulfilled or liberated or enlightened. As long as she gets some food and a little affection, her life is fine.
The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.
For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.
Viktor E. Frankl
The meaning of life is not to be discovered only after death in some hidden, mysterious realm; on the contrary, it can be found by eating the succulent fruit of the Tree of Life and by living in the here and now as fully and creatively as we can.
And this one is simply a favorite of mine from Thoreau…
As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.
Henry David Thoreau
Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.
Henry David Thoreau
And my own thought…
I believe that the meaning of life and the right thing to do are the same thing.
All the best,
Dr. John Schinnerer
Positive Psychology Coach
Anger Management Specialist
We’ve known for some time that romantic love activates the same reward areas in the brain as cocaine. And it’s equally addictive for many of us.
Recently, Yale School of Medicine researchers have discovered a more selfless variety of love — a deep and genuine desire for the happiness of others without any expectation of reward — actually turns off the same areas in the brain that light up when lovers see each other. This phenomenon has now been documented in the minds of experienced meditators.
“When we truly, selflessly wish for the well-being of others, we’re not getting that same rush of excitement that comes with, say, a tweet from our romantic love interest, because it’s not about us at all,” reported Judson Brewer, adjunct professor of psychiatry at Yale now at the University of Massachusetts.
Brewer and Kathleen Garrison, postdoctoral researcher in Yale’s Department of Psychiatry, share their discoveries in a paper to be published Feb. 12 in the journal Brain and Behavior.
The neurological boundaries between these two types of love become clear in fMRI scans of experienced meditators. The reward centers of the brain that are strongly activated by a lover’s face (or a picture of cocaine) are almost completely turned off when a meditator is instructed to silently repeat sayings such as “May all beings be happy.” These sayings are most commonly encountered in a particular type of meditation known as loving-kindness meditation.
Such mindfulness meditations are a staple of Buddhism and are now commonly practiced in Western stress reduction programs, Brewer notes. The tranquility of this selfless love for others — exemplified in such religious figures such as Mother Theresa or the Dalai Llama — is diametrically opposed to the anxiety caused by a lovers’ quarrel or extended separation. And it carries its own rewards.
“The intent of this practice is to specifically foster selfless love — just putting it out there and not looking for or wanting anything in return,” Brewer said. “If you’re wondering where the reward is in being selfless, just reflect on how it feels when you see people out there helping others, or even when you hold the door for somebody the next time you are at Starbucks.”
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Dr. John Schinnerer
Positive Psychology Coach
Anger Management Specialist
All parents want the best for their children. However, not every parent knows how to provide their children with the tools to be successful, happy, or how to help them avoid the biggest teenage behavior issues: substance use, delinquency, school dropout, peer pressure, social isolation, pregnancy and violence.
These problems can affect children for the rest of their lives. University of Washington researchers looked at 20 parenting programs and found five that are particularly effective at helping parents to teach their kids to avoid typical adolescent behavior problems that affect not only individuals, but entire communities.
“With these programs, you see marked decreases in drug use, reduced aggression, reduced depression and anxiety, and better mental health,” said Kevin Haggerty, assistant director of the UW’s Social Development Research Group in the School of Social Work.
“You see the impact of when parents get on the same page and work together to provide an environment that promotes wellbeing. You can make long-term impacts.”
Haggerty said it’s ironic that parents spend hours taking birthing classes to prepare for something that will happen naturally, yet there is no training on how to actually parent a child. He took a parenting workshop years ago and said learning how to deal with conflict changed his family’s dynamic.
“All of us need a little help parenting,” Haggerty said. “It’s a tough job and we didn’t get the instruction manual when our kids were born.”
The programs recommended by Haggerty and his co-authors are effective with a wide variety of families in diverse settings. All five programs are consistent with the Social Development Model, which focuses on fostering opportunities, skills, rewards for positive social behaviors, bonding and clear expectations for behavior.
The programs include changing known risk factors such as poor parental supervision and high family conflict, and show children what “normal” family behavior looks like. The programs also have scientific evidence showing that they work.
Nurse-Family Partnership sends registered nurses to visit young, first-time, single mothers at least once every two weeks during their first pregnancy and until their child is 2 years old. Nurses help expecting moms reduce smoking, drinking and drug use. After the child is born, nurses help mothers create safe environments for their children and develop strategies for dealing with difficult behaviors.
Positive Parenting Program is a flexible system of programs that focuses on five main goals: promoting safe and engaging environments, creating positive learning environments, using effective discipline, creating clear and reasonable expectations, and self-care for parents.
The Incredible Years teaches children ages 3-6, their parents and teachers skills and strategies for handling difficult situations. Parents participate in group sessions; children take part in therapist-led group sessions, which help children develop skills such as problem solving, making friends, and cooperating with others. (This program was developed by Carolyn Webster-Stratton, now director of UW’s Parenting Research Clinic.)
In Strengthening Families Program: For Parents and Youth 10-14, parents learn about risk factors for substance use, parent-child bonding, consequences for not following parental guidelines, and how to manage anger and family conflict. Their children learn effective communication, problem solving, and how to resist peer pressure.
Staying Connected with Your Teen helps children 12-17 years old avoid risky sexual activity, drug use, and violent behavior. The program helps parents set strong norms with their teen against antisocial behavior by increasing parental monitoring, reducing harsh parenting, and rewarding teens to promote family bonding.
Haggerty and his fellow researchers hope local policymakers will pay attention to these and other scientifically-tested programs as they discuss investments in child and adolescent resources. He said it’s critical to invest in children NOW, before negative outcomes cost society more in the form of law enforcement, prisons, and physical and mental treatment programs.
Psychology of Music and Healing Effects of the Human Brain
I was recently included on an album of positive music (www.PositiveMusicImperative.com). I was speaking on the importance of positive music, lyrics in particular, as a critical means to offset the natural negativity bias of the human mind. The negative is more powerful than the positive by a factor of 3 to 1. Honestly, I’m pretty excited about this. I never dreamt I would be on an album. Of course, I’m speaking not singing. I can’t sing to save my life. And music has always been a passion of mine. I use it to connect with teenage clients. I use it as a healthy ‘drug’ to alter my moods, thoughts and to call up memories.
Today, a new study came out demonstrating, once again, the power of music. In a novel study, Amee Baird and Séverine Samson used top 40 music to spark lost memories in individuals with acquired brain injury (ABI).
While the sample size is small, this is the very first study to look at the effectiveness of ‘music-evoked autobiographical memories’ (MEAMs) in patients with ABIs, rather than ‘normals’ or those who grapple with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Baird and Samson played pieces of Billboard’s number 1 songs to five patients in random order. The songs were pulled from across the lifespan of each patient starting from the year they were five years old and continuing to present day. The performance of those with ABI was compared to individuals with no brain injury. All participants reported to what extent they knew a given song, the extent to which they liked it, and what memories, if any, the song brought up.
Results showed that the number of recorded MEAMs was nearly identical for ABI patients (38%-71%) and ‘normals’ (48%-71%). Only one of the five ABI patients recorded no music assisted memories. Surprisingly, the highest frequency of MEAMs out of all the participants was recorded by an ABI patients.
Across all participants, the majority of music assisted memories were of people or a life event and were most fequently positive in nature. There was a strong connection between songs that sparked a memory and reported familiarity and enjoyment of those same songs.
While the sample size was small, early indicators seem to show the strength of using music as a tool for helping patients reclaim recollections. Baird and Samson state that: “Music was more efficient at evoking autobiographical memories than verbal prompts of the Autobiographical Memory Interview (AMI) across each life period, with a higher percentage of MEAMs for each life period compared with AMI scores.”
“The findings suggest that music is an effective stimulus for eliciting autobiographical memories and may be beneficial in the rehabilitation of autobiographical amnesia, but only in patients without a fundamental deficit in autobiographical recall memory and intact pitch perception.”
As we learn more and more about the power of music, one thing seems clear…there exists a powerful relationship between attention, mood, memory, and music. We are beginning to understand the direct relationship between attention and emotion.
What we attend to affects what we feel.
How we feel influences that to which we pay attention.
How we feel impacts our memories.
What we recall affects the degree to which we judge life as satisfying.
Music powerfully influences our attention, our memory, as well as emotion. It may even impact our self-worth and our judgments of how satisfying life is. These all seem to be inextricably intertwined. So pay attention to what music you use to fill your head. It may have a larger impact than you ever dreamed!
A. Baird, S. Samson. Music evoked autobiographical memory after severe acquired brain injury: Preliminary findings from a case series. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 2013; : 1 DOI: 10.1080/09602011.2013.858642
Taylor & Francis (2013, December 10). Music brings memories back to the injured brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 11, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2013/12/131210072030.htm