Essential mental nutrients for a healthier, happier you
Eric Nelson has been published and featured in numerous...
LOS ALTOS, CA, July 29, 2013 – There is certainly no shortage of health advice these days, much of it contradictory. Today we are told that aspirin, coffee, and nuts are good for us. Next week? Maybe not so much. There is little doubt, however, and plenty of evidence to suggest, that a diet that includes the following mental nutrients will always produce a healthier and happier mind and body.
Ask Dr. James Doty, a world-class neurosurgeon and director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE), what the secret is to better health and he’ll tell you it’s compassion. “While survival of the fittest may lead to short-term gain,” he wrote in a column last year, “research clearly shows it is survival of the kindest that leads to the long-term survival of a species.”
Not only is compassion a predictor of longer life and faster recovery from disease, it also provides a greater sense of happiness, purpose, and meaning – and that’s just for the one who is being compassionate. There is also ample evidence to indicate that patients who feel genuinely cared for by their doctor respond more positively, suggesting that it’s not just drugs and surgery, but also a supportive mental environment that leads to healing.
Last year the John Templeton Foundation gave Dr. Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis $5.6 million to fund a three-year project to promote evidence-based practices of gratitude in schools, offices, homes, and communities. As Emmons himself would likely say, though, the real payoff isn’t in the number of dollars his research is attracting, but in the impact that gratitude is having on people’s lives. Perhaps most importantly on their health.
In one of his earlier studies, Emmons divided research participants into three groups. At the end of each week, one group wrote down five things they were grateful for, another group kept track of daily hassles, and a control group listed five events that had made some impression on them. In the end, Emmons discovered that those in the gratitude group generally felt better about their lives, were more optimistic about the future, and reported fewer health problems than the other participants.
A few years ago Dr. Elizabeth Dunn, along with two of her colleagues from the University of British Columbia and one from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, conducted a study to determine the mental and physical impact of generosity. A game was played in which each participant was given ten dollars and told that they could either keep the money themselves or give any portion of it away.
“What we found, was that the more money people gave away, the happier they felt,” said Dunn in a podcast interview for Scientific American. “Conversely though, the more money people kept for themselves, the more shame they experienced.”
More than a mere imposition on one’s psyche, shame is thought to be a precursor to increased stress, which alone accounts for anywhere between 60 and 90 percent of all visits to the doctor.
According to a study presented to the American Psychological Association last summer, Dr. Anita Kelly confirmed what most of us have likely suspected all along – that telling the truth can have a positive impact on our mental and physical well being.
“Recent evidence indicates that Americans average about 11 lies per week,” said Kelly. “We wanted to find out if living more honestly can actually cause better health.”
During a 10-week experiment, Kelly observed 110 adults between the ages of 18 and 71. About half were told to stop telling lies. The other half received no special instructions.
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