Friday, April 15, 2005

As Good as Chocolate

Did you know that a genuine smile has the ability to stimulate your body with the positive force of 2000 chocolate bars? These results were determined by the British Dental Health Foundation after they measured brain and heart activity in volunteers after they were given money and chocolate. Not only that, smiles produce the "halo" effect whereby you not only benefit from it yourself, but those who are in close proximity to you and are the recipient of your smiles. It causes you to remember other happy events more vividly, makes you more optimistic, more positive, and more motivated.

Those who cultivate the attitude that produces genuine smiles are more likely to live longer as well. "The research is very clear," says Christopher Peterson, Ph.D, a University of Michigan professor who's been studying optimism's link to health for over two decades, "This is not some social science generalization. There is a link between optimistic attitudes and good health. It has been measured in a variety of ways. Overall, we have found that optimistic people are healthier. Their biological makeup is different. They have a more robust immune system."

But those of us who actually read our Bibles already knew this, right? "A joyful heart is like good medicine" according to Solomon the kingly sage.

Something I intend to blog about in the coming weeks is the connection between the psychological/emotional aspects of our lives and how it impacts our physical well-being. There is a whole new branch of discipline out there that studies these connections called Psychoneuroendocrinology that, in part, deals with the links between chronic stress, mental health, and immune and endocrine imbalances in the body. When it comes to illness, it can truly be a case of mind over matter.

Most Christians have, unknowingly, adopted the Cartesian model of human health which dissects the human experience into a bunch of different parts and examines each in isolation from the other. If, for example, you get a diagnosis of heart disease, you are likely to be put on a bunch of pharmacological agents and told to change your diet and exercise more, as though this is a purely mechanical problem. However, humans are integrated beings and what you do on the physical impacts the mental/emotional and even the spiritual life and vice versa.

In some respects it all comes down to the question of the chicken and the egg -- which came first? Do mental/emotional conditions and thoughts start the process of ill health, or are they the result of ill health? I tend to lean towards the former (though it can flow in both directions) and I hope to show you why in coming blog posts.

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