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HOW YOUR MIND CAN HEAL YOUR BODY
By David R. Hamilton
HAY HOUSE, INC.Copyright © 2010 David R. Hamilton
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING
"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." - Winston Churchill
Optimists live longer than pessimists do! That's the conclusion of a 30-year study involving 447 people that was conducted by scientists at the Mayo Clinic. They found that those with a more positive outlook had around a 50 percent lower risk of early death than negative thinkers and wrote that "mind and body are linked and attitude has an impact on the final outcome, death." This is a startling statistic! Optimists also had fewer physical and emotional health problems; had less pain and increased energy; and were generally more peaceful, happy, and calm than pessimists.
A 2004 study published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry found something similar: it concluded that there's a "protective relationship between ... optimism and all-cause mortality in old age"-that optimism protects you from illness.
The scientists studied the responses given by 999 Dutch men and women between the ages of 65 and 85 to a range of statements thatincluded the following:
"I often feel that life is full of promise."
"I still have positive expectations concerning my future."
"There are many moments of happiness in my life."
"I do not make any more future plans."
"Happy laughter often occurs."
"I still have many goals to strive for."
"Most of the time I am in good spirits."
The results were startling. Those who showed high levels of optimism, who would perhaps respond affirmatively to the first statement, had a 45 percent lower risk of death from any cause, and a 77 percent lower risk of death from heart disease in particular, than people who reported high levels of pessimism.
Another study examined the autobiographies of 180 Catholic nuns that were written when the nuns first entered a convent. Scientists examined what they had written 60 years later and discovered that the nuns whose stories were more positive lived much longer than their colleagues who had been more negative.
One of the reasons why a positive attitude is so important is because it boosts our immune systems and therefore our ability to fight illness. In a 2006 study conducted at Carnegie Mellon University, scientists analyzed the effects of common cold and influenza viruses on people with different attitudes. One hundred and ninety-three healthy volunteers were interviewed to determine the levels of positive or negative feelings that they felt in their lives. They were then exposed to either of the viruses using nasal drops, and it turned out that the subjects with a brighter disposition were much more resistant to the sickness than those who had a bleaker outlook.
As we go through our lives, our attitudes affect how we react to viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens. A positive, optimistic perspective is ultimately best for our overall health and longevity.
We also deal with situations differently depending upon our attitude to them. A positive approach helps us cope with challenges and even see them as opportunities, which ultimately benefits our health.
A University of Chicago study examined the attitude and health of 200 telecommunications executives who had been affected by corporate downsizing. It found that the employees who saw the cutbacks as an opportunity for growth were healthier than those who saw it as a threat. Of those with the positive attitude, less than one-third developed an illness during or shortly after the downsizing. But of those with a negative attitude, more than 90 percent became ill. In other words, looking at the same event as positive or negative has a hugely different effect upon health.
Some of the best-studied effects of attitude show that it powerfully affects the heart. One such study, involving 586 people that was conducted by scientists at Johns Hopkins University, found that a positive attitude was the best prevention against heart disease.
In 2003, scientists at the Duke University Medical Center, upon examining 866 heart patients, discovered that the subjects who routinely felt more positive emotions (happiness, joy, and optimism) had about a 20 percent greater chance of being alive 11 years later than those who experienced more negative sentiments.
And in a 2007 study, Harvard scientists studied the effects of "emotional vitality," which was defined as "a sense of energy and positive well-being in addition to being able to regulate emotions effectively." The study involved 6,025 volunteers and found that those who had high levels of emotional vitality were 19 percent less likely to develop coronary heart disease than those with lower levels.
Hard Marriage, Hard Heart
The above subhead is taken from a scientific review paper that discussed a 2006 study by scientists at the University of Utah, which found that the attitudes of married couples profoundly impacted their hearts.
The scientists videotaped 150 married couples discussing marital topics and categorized them according to how they related to each other. They found that the couples who were most supportive of each other had healthier hearts, and the couples who were most hostile toward each other had more hardening of their arteries. Hard marriage, hard heart! As you can see, being supportive of another person is much better for health than holding anger and bitterness and constantly criticizing him or her.
In some research, hostility is defined as evading a question, irritation, or direct or indirect challenges to a person asking a question. Other research labels it as an attitude of cynical beliefs and lack of trust in other people, and it's also been described as being aggressive and challenging. In one 25-year study that used these types of definitions as a criterion to determine hostility levels, the people who were most hostile had five times more incidents of coronary heart disease than those who were least hostile and more trusting, accepting, and gentle.
The connection between attitude and the heart is so reliable that a 30-year study published in 2003 in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that "hostility is the one most reliably associated with increased CHD [coronary heart disease] risk."
Scientists can quite accurately calculate individuals' risk of heart disease by examining their diet and lifestyle-what kinds of foods they eat, how much exercise they get, or whether they smoke cigarettes or drink lots of alcohol-and as you might guess, people with unhealthy lifestyles are usually most at risk. But scientists can just as accurately calculate the risk based upon attitude-whether people have a positive or negative attitude or how hostile they are toward others. The good news is that just as you can change your diet and lifestyle, you can change your attitude. It's up to you.
Of course, circumstances in life might be so challenging that it's inevitable that we become hardened to some extent, but we still have a choice no matter what. I'm deeply inspired by the story of Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz. In his nine-million-copy best-selling book, Man's Search for Meaning, he writes:
We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms-to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.
Frankl's words are a message of hope that no matter what, our attitude is our choice. If we search deep within ourselves, we can always make the highest choice, the one from the softest heart, the one that helps other people to find comfort and happiness; and, in so doing, the one that makes us healthier.
A study of 22,461 people by scientists from the University of Kuopio in Finland found that the people who were most satisfied with their lives lived longer. They defined life satisfaction as an "interest in life, happiness ... and general ease of living." Reporting in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2000, they found that the men who were most dissatisfied with their lives were more than three times as likely to die of disease than those who were most satisfied.
It's not so much what happens to us in life that determines our health and happiness-it's what we do with what happens that matters most. If you live in a nice house but see someone with a nicer one, do you feel dissatisfied that your home isn't good enough? Or do you give more thought to what you love about your own house and the people who share it with you?
It's said that the grass is always greener on the other side, but if you notice your own grass and don't pay so much attention to other lawns, then you'll experience more happiness and better health. It's what you focus on that matters most. It's your attitude that counts.
To Complain or Not to Complain
How often do you complain? In his inspiring book A Complaint Free World, Will Bowen encourages us to take up the challenge to go 21 days without complaining. That means to refrain from whining, criticizing, or unfairly judging. He urges us to wear a purple wristband and to change it to the other wrist every time we fuss.
It's an eye-opener. Most people initially have to move the wristband more than 20 times a day, but it's great for making them aware of how they behave. After a short time, people find it quite easy to go four or five days without making a single complaint. That's a huge difference and, as far as I'm concerned, a great boost to their health.
Grumbling about things and criticizing people has become a way of life for so many of us that we don't even notice how often we do it-it's become a habit. Yet we rarely complain about the truth of things, only how they seem to us, which may mean something completely different to someone else.
For instance, say a delivery you were expecting didn't arrive. You moan that this has ruined your day, setting back your entire schedule, and the stress you create brings untold negative effects on your body. Someone else who's waiting for a late delivery might decide that there's something else they can be getting on with and (from personal experience) could find that the delay turns out to be for the best. Is the situation actually a good or a bad thing? That's up to you. But what you decide matters to your health.
Complaining even affects the people around us. We rarely notice this, but we're like tuning forks. When we hit the fork, other things nearby resonate with it. This is also what happens when we consistently gripe around people-we trigger their bellyaching, too, and all of a sudden they're also inspired to find fault with life and the world. Nagging becomes a bacterium that we carry around with us, infecting most people we encounter.
Our thoughts and attitudes inspire our actions, and our actions create our world; so our thoughts and attitudes create our world. What kind of world do we choose? This is Will Bowen's message in his book: if we stop complaining, then we can get to work on creating a better world. And we're doing something positive for the health of our bodies at the same time.
Instead of getting upset, try to focus on what you're grateful for. Gratitude begets gratitude. The more things you focus on that you can appreciate, the more things you notice and experience that you can be grateful for. And that's good for your heart.
"Money Buys Happiness When You Spend on Others"
This was the title of a press release issued on March 20, 2008, by the University of British Columbia in Canada. It describes research showing that people who give money away are happier than those who spend it all on themselves.
The research, conducted by Elizabeth Dunn and other scientists from the University of British Columbia, was published in 2008 in the journal Science. The results showed that people who spent some of their money "pro-socially"-as in donating to charities or spending it on gifts for others rather than on themselves-were happier. According to an article on the university's Website:
The researchers looked at a nationally representative sample of more than 630 Americans, of whom 55 per cent were female. They asked participants to: rate their general happiness; report their annual income; and provide a breakdown of their monthly spending, including bills, gifts for themselves, gifts for others and donations to charities.
"Regardless of how much income each person made," says Dunn, "those who spent money on others reported greater happiness, while those who spent more on themselves did not."
The happiest people were the ones who gave money away. This is contrary to what most people think: that we need to keep all of our money for ourselves "just in case," and that the more we accumulate, the happier we'll be. But it needn't be large sums that we give away. According to the article, Dunn and her team conducted another experiment to test this theory:
... [T]he researchers gave participants a $5 or $20 bill, asking them to spend the money by 5 p.m. that day. Half the participants were instructed to spend the money on themselves, and half were assigned to spend the money on others. Participants who spent the windfall on others reported feeling happier at the end of the day than those who spent the money on themselves.
"These findings suggest that very minor alterations in spending allocations-as little as $5-may be enough to produce real gains in happiness on a given day," says Dunn.
Why not decide to give something away today-to whomever and in whatever way you wish?
Many other studies have found that, even though incomes are higher than they were for our grandparents 50 years ago, we aren't any happier. In fact, some polls have found that people nowadays are less happy than people were during that time.
The British Columbia research shows that the level of income isn't as important as what you do with it. Earning a small salary but showing generosity with it leads to greater happiness than earning millions and spending it all on yourself. Money is not the issue. You can be rich and happy, and you can be poor and happy. Happiness lies in what you do with what you have. It's up to you!
Indeed, in another study mentioned in the same article, Dunn and her colleagues did a study that "measured the happiness levels of employees at a firm in Boston before and after they received their profit-sharing bonuses, which ranged between $3,000 and $8,000." The researchers found that happiness was independent of the size of the bonus, and that was a product of what the recipients did with it: "The employees who devoted more of their bonus to gifts for others or toward charity consistently reported greater benefits than employees who simply spent money on their own needs."
Being Positive about Getting Older
Attitude affects how fast we age. In fact, positive people live longer! That's the conclusion of research conducted by scientists at Yale University who studied the responses of 660 people to a series of questions about attitude, such as: "As you get older, you are less useful. Agree or disagree?" People who generally disagreed with these types of statements, and therefore had the most positive attitudes about aging, lived about seven and a half years longer than those who found truth in them. As attitude affects the heart, the Yale researchers even concluded that it was more influential than blood pressure, cholesterol levels, smoking, body weight, and exercise levels in how long a person lived.
Excerpted from HOW YOUR MIND CAN HEAL YOUR BODY by David R. Hamilton Copyright © 2010 by David R. Hamilton. Excerpted by permission.
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