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Friday, March 18, 2011

Attitude, Well-Being & Health

We know how important our attitude can be for the ultimate outcomes of our health and well-being, but I wanted to point out some empirical evidence.

Dr. Norm Shealy states in the excellent audio CD program he produced with Caroline Myss The Science of Medical Intuition: Self-Diagnosis and Healing with Your Body's Energy Systems that early childhood difficulties and life trauma may produce noxious attitudes and belief systems, but these can be changed.

Shealy makes reference to several physicians and psychologists who have studied the effect of mood, attitude and belief systems - whether prouced by childhood situations or adult behavior and events - upon illness, and I include a few others as well:
  • Dr. Caroline Thomas (Johns Hopkins) began a long-term study of Johns Hopkins medical students in 1946 who were regularly followed throughout their lives. Shealy points out that within 20 years she was seeing that some people came in with psychological traits that would create diseases later on in their lives. In retrospect she could see who would tend to develop heart disease, cancer, and who might tend to commit suicide or die in old age of natural causes. Thomas eventually published several books from this study, showing the influence of personality and daily habits as factors in the prediction of heart disease, suicide, cancer, and longevity. Read more here
  • Dr. David Graham (University of Wisconsin), an early trailblazer of psychophysiology (a field of study which focuses on the mind-body interface, and which was the precursor for what we now call psychoneuroimmunology or PNI) was a pioneer in the development of psychosomatic medicine whose research demonstrated a relationship between particular diseases and associated attitudes toward life events.
  • A case in point is the well-known story told by Norman Cousins in his book Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing and Regeneration about fighting his cancer and putting himself into a positive mood when thinking about his disease. He watched movies that would make him laugh and cured himself.
  • Hans Eysenck, an influential psychologist in the field of theories of personality, referred to persons who regarded happiness as coming from an internal source, rather than the external circumstances as autonomous.
  • Abraham Maslow, the father of humanistic psychology, referred to this same concept in terms of self-actualization. Click here for more posts on this blog about Maslow and self-actualization.
  • Candace Pert, neuroscientist, molecular biologist, and author of The Molecules of Emotion, demonstrated (in the lab) that thoughts and feelings produce molecules, hence the title of her fascinating book. Essentially what she said was that every feeling you have, and every thought you have that produces a feeling, creates a molecule. Think about that: what kind of molecules are good for your body? And what kind of thoughts and feelings do you suppose are going to produce such molecules? And finally: what kind of molecules are you producing right now? Yesterday? Tonight? And in all your tomorrows?
In a future article I'll post more information about the relative ease with which we can continually bring ourselves to a positive state of mind in order to promote our inner well-being and physical health.

Photo: Terra Nostra Park, San Miguel Island, Azores

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