Laughter Provides Benefits for a Healthy Life


It's a funny thing. Research continues to prove that humor can help to improve our physical health. America's most famous humorist, Mark Twain, said it a little differently when he remarked that "The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter." Among the examples of how that weapon works are the amazing stories of soldiers' ability to endure starvation, tropical diseases and torture in prison camps during World War II, as told in Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides. Humor was about the only weapon the soldiers had, and it was often effective in helping them manage fear and maintain their health against fearsome odds. Some of them actually found ways to laugh at their absurd circumstances and sadistic captors. Humor had the power to break the despotic control of fear, disease and despair. This, in turn, allowed many of them to endure an otherwise unendurable horror . . . and survive. The PBS show This Emotional Life aired a "Benefits of Humor" segment last year Continue Reading

Posttraumatic growth is ‘surprisingly positive flip side’ of PTSD

Author feeding Winter

Shakespeare may have said it best in As You Like It: "Sweet are the uses of adversity, Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, Wears yet a precious jewel in his head." Science is now helping to explain the Bard's positive spin on adversity by researching what the New York Times recently called posttraumatic stress disorder's "surprisingly positive flip side": posttraumatic growth, or PTG. According to Richard Tedeschi, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina who studies PTG, people are routinely reporting positive changes from trauma in five areas: • A renewed appreciation for life • New possibilities for themselves • More personal strength • Improved relationships • More spiritual satisfaction Tedeschi's research and other similar studies should sound a positive note and offer some hope for people with PTSD. So why don't we hear more about this? In a recent interview with Harvard Business Review, Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Continue Reading

Love heals: A dog’s view


On a recent domestic flight I was happy to find that my bulkhead seat neighbor was a black Lab. He had been trained to anticipate and respond to his owner's seizures. The response part seemed natural, but the anticipate part was new to me. I asked the owner how that works. She had no idea but confirmed that her dog always knew before she did and would faithfully let her know if a seizure was imminent and then help her through it. Amazing. Reminds me of a Bible passage that I've sometimes wondered about: "Ask now the beasts and they shall teach thee" (Job 12:7). Is it possible that there is a lot more about health that doesn't have to be invented as much as discovered? Researchers are still asking questions about how dogs can anticipate seizures and how reliable the ability is. But there was no question in the owner's mind. If she were headed toward a seizure her dog was on it and fearlessly led her through it. Dogs are getting a lot of attention these days for their ability to Continue Reading

Happiness and health often go hand in hand

There's a reason Pharrell's hit song Happy is the first ever to top six different Billboard charts, with 4.5 million downloads. Happiness is contagiously healthy and research is now confirming and explaining why that's true. A recent CNN story, "Why happiness is healthy," mentions a 2012 review of more than 200 studies that found a connection between positive attributes (happiness, optimism, life satisfaction) and healthy outcomes (lowered risk of cardiovascular problems, lower blood pressure, normal body weight, lower levels of inflammation, a better sense of well-being). Laura Kubzansky of the Harvard School of Public Health found that optimism halves the risk of coronary heart disease. Wisdom and common sense have always told us that happiness isn't just a function of genetics or environment. Money can't buy you happiness, and difficult circumstances can't keep you from it. Studies proving the correlation between happiness and good health go way beyond a "Don't worry; be Continue Reading

Don’t manage anger — get rid of it

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I have mixed feelings about the popular movie Anger Management (2003) and its current TV spinoff. I do think humor is an effective anecdote to toxic anger (more on that below), but I take issue with the idea that we have to negotiate with anger through efforts to "manage" it. Why not just banish it? Anger has no place in a healthy lifestyle. None. Even annoyance, or "anger lite," can and should be eliminated. Studies show that somewhere between 75 and 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians result from stress-related disorders. So each well-aimed, well-timed effort to eliminate anger from our thought and experience creates a healthier, more stress-free environment for everybody. We can defeat anger; we don't have to just manage it. And it may be more important to all of us than some of us think. Health care is everybody's business, and preventive health care is proving to be the least expensive and most effective kind of health care reform. Here are some ways to Continue Reading

Deepak Chopra to give insights on well-being in Tampa

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The timing of Deepak Chopra's new book, What Are You Hungry For?, is just about perfect. The American Medical Association has declared obesity to be a disease, and the Centers for Disease Control says it's more common (affecting more than a third of us) and costly ($190 billion a year in added medical costs) than ever. But Chopra's take on the epidemic is as thought provoking and unconventional as his views of health and health care are. "The story of overweight in America is the story of missed fulfillment," Chopra tells us in the book, and then explains, "People turn to overeating to substitute for what they really want." He goes on to say, "Once you turn desire in the right direction, real transformation can take place." Chopra, who will offer his vision of "The Future of Wellbeing" Sunday at the Straz Center in Tampa, gives readers practical steps for finding answers to the incisive question posed by the book's title. These answers may prove pivotal in our collective struggle Continue Reading

5 steps to better health and harmony


Here's a truly transformational goal: Take greater control of your own health. Learning to assert more authority over how we care for ourselves could be the key to real health care reform. I've found that taking time in the early morning to pray and study gives me a healthy perspective from which to launch my day. My primary source of inspiration is always the Bible and one of my favorite verses is "Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it." I like to think of that door as opening to a greater sense of peace and freedom, a deeper understanding of the spiritual source of health and harmony. And I love the idea that nobody can shut that door. Here are five ways to take action on that idea and step through the door to greater spiritual and physical health: 1   Be grateful. Scientific research has verified long-held wisdom: Gratitude is good for your emotional and physical health. Among the proven benefits are greater mental alertness, greater Continue Reading

Making resolutions? Expand their scope and your impact


Resolving to be or do better is a healthy practice any time of year. But a new calendar always holds an added promise of renewal and progress. It's a great time for change. Sometimes when I've made resolutions, they've been what I call "short radius" resolutions — get more exercise, eat less, sleep more, spend less, work harder. Nothing wrong with those, but even if successful their effective radius is somewhat limited. Resolutions that reach beyond ourselves and focus on blessing others can be very powerful, longer lasting … and healthy. As spiritual healer and author Mary Baker Eddy wrote more than 100 years ago, "Spiritualize human thought, and our convictions change." One way to do that is to start with concepts that are important to us and look for ways to make them regular features of our lives. This can be potentially transformative, not just for us but for all those within the radius of our thought and activity. A few examples: •   Justice. Find ways to treat other Continue Reading

Volunteering benefits both community and personal health


The holiday season is a natural time for reaching out to those around us who are in need. We volunteer for different reasons, but almost always experience the same benefit: We feel good. But does this benefit go beyond the "feel-good" phenomenon to proven health benefits? Absolutely, according to Stephen G. Post, director of the Center for Medical Humanities at Stony Brook University School of Medicine in New York. "If the benefits of volunteering or altruism could be put into a pill, it would be a bestseller overnight," said Post, who reviewed more than 50 studies showing that people who act sincerely for the benefit of others enjoy happiness, health and even increased longevity. "Engagement and volunteering is the new hybrid health club for the 21st century that's free to join,'' enthuses Harvard's Thomas H. Sander. "Research shows it miraculously improves both your health and the community's through the work performed and the social ties built." Giving to others can Continue Reading

Top 5 Ways to Challenge Holiday Depression

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For many, the holiday season is a joyous time, but for some folks it can be a hard season to get through. If you Google "holiday depression" or better still "beating holiday depression" you'll find lots of top 10 lists. Most of the ideas on my list below appear on one or more of the lists you'll find online. But they've also appeared in my life. They're tried and proven. They're real. They work. 1. Be grateful. Research at Harvard, and at major universities in Florida, Texas and California is beginning to prove the mental, emotional and even physical benefits of taking some time each day to be grateful. Keep a gratitude journal. Write a thank you note. Thanks someone mentally. It's a great way to protect your natural joy. 2. Serve. Choose one of the many service opportunities all communities offer. Volunteer at your church. Ring a Salvation Army bell. Volunteer at a Veterans Hospital. Be a story reader at your local library or elementary school. Serving others is a sure fire Continue Reading