Healing Attitudes In The News

Your Attitude Builds Your Child's Brain by Don Joseph Gowey

Children model everything, especially a parent’s attitude, and attitude is extremely neuroplastic. Neuroplasticity is the capacity of the brain to shape brain structure and set brain chemistry. When it comes to the brain -- as with most things in life -- attitude is everything. Read More.

Researchers Break Down Benefits Of Forgiveness by Elizabeth Large,
the (Baltimore) Sun

To forgive is human. It's just very hard. People are wired to respond with anger, hold grudges and seek revenge; and in spite of the teachings of Christianity and other religions, victims of wrongdoing usually do all three. Why should you forgive? Researchers and academics may have an answer. Read More.

Positive Emotions May Buffer Stress, Aging from the United Press International

An optimistic outlook has been shown to combat stress -- a known risk factor for heart disease and other illnesses. Anthony Ong of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., conducted a review of researchers to determine if it is really true that feeling good may be good for health. Read More.

Why You Need To Laugh Like a 5-Year-Old by Pamela Gerloff

The average 4-year-old laughs 300 times a day; a 40-year-old, only four. When I first read that statistic, on a blog called Ageing Healthily, Happily, and Youthfully, I found the 300 times a day number a bit high. But then I thought about my 5-year-old nephew, Bob. Read More.

Your Attitude Builds Your Child's Brain

Your Attitude Builds Your Child's Brain
By Don Joseph Gowey

To view this article in its original context, please click here.

Children model everything, especially a parent’s attitude, and attitude is extremely neuroplastic. Neuroplasticity is the capacity of the brain to shape brain structure and set brain chemistry. A positive or negative attitude literally wires the brain for success or failure, health or disease, confidence or insecurity, happiness or anxiety. When it comes to the brain -- as with most things in life -- attitude is everything.

First the bad news: If a parent's attitude is chronically stressed and anxious, as it is with four in ten Americans, it is likely the child’s attitude will be as well. Their little brains will be dominated by the amygdala, the fear center located deep in the primitive brain, and unhealthy amounts of stress hormones will enter their bloodstream.  This can cause higher brain networks to shrink and more primitive networks to expand. Cognitive functions will dampen and the emotional set point will default to negative. As a result, their performance in school is likely to suffer.  Additionally,  they are more likely to get sick and for colds and flu to hit them harder. That’s because stress reactions dampen the immune system. Stress also inhibits the production of growth hormones.  This is a picture we can change.

Now to the good news: The profoundly happy news about neuroplasticity is that, if our brain is wired for stress, we can rewire it at any point along our life span. The algorithm for rewiring, simply put, is this:  A change of attitude that changes your experience changes your brain. It’s a change that can change your life. Here is what science has discovered:  A dynamically peaceful attitude builds a great brain, not just for your child but for you too.  It stops the flow of stress hormones and shifts control from the primitive brain to the prefrontal cortex. The brain lights up with creative problem solving and the emotional meter resets to positive. The absence of stress hormones allow the immune and growth systems to function at optimum. In short, your shift in attitude grows and strengthens neural networks that can make both you and your child healthier, happier and smarter, all through a little inner work on your part.

Stress-Free Is What Kids Want Most
Children seem to understand the importance of a stress free attitude better than parents. It is what they want most for their parents, according to a national study of over a thousand children. In the study, interviewers gave children one wish to make for a change in their parents. Their parents were then asked to guess what their child wished for. More than half of parents guessed it was for more quality time together. It was the wrong answer. Most of the children wished for their parents to be free of stress. The research found that kids are very good at reading signs of stress. They are good at detecting subtle cues about a parent’s mood, such as their down-turned expression or heavy footsteps.

If our parents were less tired and stressed, said one of the children interviewed, I think that the kids would be less tired and stressed.

I know when my mom has a bad day because when she picks me up from after school she doesn’t smile, one young girl told interviewers. She has a really frustrated look on her face.

Every good parent wants their children to be happy. Every good parent also wants to empower their child to excel. The most effective thing a parent can do in achieving both is to teach kids to transcend stress by making the shift themselves.

It’s Simpler Than You Might Think. Here’s How You Do It
There are four things parents can do right now to shift their attitude in ways that, neurologically, can wire their child’s brain for success. All four are so simple you might think they could not possibly produce a dramatic shift in your attitude, let alone your child’s brain function. They can and results are profound, accruing rapidly. Put it to the test for two weeks and see what changes in you and your child.

Here is all you have to practice:

1. Make Time For A Little Physical Activity. You don’t have to go to the gym and spend an hour on the tread mill and another hour pumping iron to change brain chemistry. A mellow thirty-minute walk around the neighborhood, five days a week, goes a long way toward flushing stress hormones from your system. These hormones build up to put the emotional brain in charge of your experience, making you chronically anxious and reactive. Your children will model your behavior. A walking routine helps mitigate the problem. After a particularly stressful event, it also helps to take a walk around the block to de-stress. As you walk, quiet your thoughts.

2. Bust Negative, Stressful Thinking: The mind makes up emergencies that the brain believes are real. The vast majority of these are false alarms, but the brain’s fear center, the amygdala, can’t tell the difference between a real and imagined threat. We can’t always stop ourselves from thinking this way. But we can stop ourselves from believing these thoughts. You can have ten thousand stressful thoughts a minute and if you don’t believe them, your heart remains at peace.

Let your negative thinking come into awareness and each time tell yourself, this thought is in me, not in reality. Then follow three breaths, and in the space that opens, choose to be at peace.

3. Inspire Yourself Regularly: This too does not require a major effort. Starting each day in quiet, affirming the power and beauty of a peaceful attitude can set a positive day in motion. During the day, every couple of hours, take a spiritual break. Look out the window for a minute and let your mind go completely. Watch the wind blow, the sun shine, or the rain fall. End the day in gratitude, counting your blessings.

4. Master The Small Stuff: You don’t have to be Gandhi to find peace. Peace is in the small stuff. A brain under stress wants to elbow its way to the head of every line or pass the car in front. It always feels late, pressured and victimized. You can actually rewire those brain reactions away. How? Assert peace. Choose the longest line at a store and stand in it. Use the time to slow your motor and quiet your mind until you are at peace. In a traffic jam, listen to soft music or an interesting interview. Tell yourself, my peace does not depend on my car moving faster.

Do these every day and your children will begin to model your new attitude. As they do, their prefrontal cortex will light up with intelligence, and so will yours.

Use Peace To Facilitate Brain Power During Homework. Given the mountain of research that has established the role of a peaceful attitude in building a powerful brain, it makes sense to build peace into homework time. Make a ritual that commences homework time by evoking a peaceful feeling in your child. An easy way to do this is to gather together and use a bell, gong or Tibetan singing bowl to chime in homework time. Sit quietly for one minute. If the kids giggle, let them, and then motion them back to being peaceful. You can signal this by simply putting your hands together, prayer fashion. Do it with a smile, not disapproval. At the end of the minute remind the children that there is nothing the brain cannot do when it's peaceful. Tell them if they become agitated by an assignment during homework time to come and talk to you.

Keep practicing and never give up on peace. Peace is our most powerful human asset. "No matter what is going on, never give up," counsels His Holiness the Dalai Lama. "Work for peace, in your heart and in the world. And I say again, never give up.”

Researchers Break Down Benefits Of Forgiveness

Researchers Break Down Benefits Of Forgiveness
By Elizabeth Large, the (Baltimore) Sun

To view this article in its original context, please click here.

To forgive is human. It's just very hard. People are wired to respond with anger, hold grudges and seek revenge; and in spite of the teachings of Christianity and other religions, victims of wrongdoing usually do all three.

The brother who tormented you when you were little. The spouse who cheated. The terrorists who changed our country forever on 9-11. Why should you forgive them?

Researchers and academics may have an answer. In recent years, scientists have studied the health benefits of forgiveness. Their studies have shown the serious mental, emotional and physical consequences of an unforgiving heart.
The lowest common denominator of this research is the flood of self-help and pop psychology books promoting forgiveness as a cure-all. At the other end of the spectrum, psychotherapists have found forgiveness to be a useful tool in reconciling couples and families. In some studies, it's been linked to a lessening of chronic back pain and depression; in others, to reduced levels of stress hormones. And scientists have found that forgiveness is one of several coping mechanisms that help people with HIV/AIDS live longer, or at least more satisfying, lives.

In 1997, research consisted of only 58 empirical studies. Since then, more than 1,200 scientific papers have been published on the subject.

"The topic of forgiveness is hot right now," says psychologist Janis Abrahms Spring, author of How Can I Forgive You?: The Courage to Forgive, the Freedom Not To (HarperCollins, 2004). "Conferences are being held. Articles are being written. Forgiveness is being plucked out of the spiritual and theological realm and put into the psychological and physical."


Like acupuncture, meditation and other alternative healing strategies, forgiveness has only recently become a respectable topic of scientific studies. In 1990, psychologist Fred DiBlasio, a professor at the University of Maryland, submitted an article to an international scientific journal on his research. The journal was willing to publish it if he would agree to change the word "forgiveness" to "forgetting."

"It was too spiritual for them," says DiBlasio.

But forgiveness, of course, isn't the same thing as forgetting. He didn't make the change.

In his clinical practice, DiBlasio has found that using forgiveness can speed up therapy. Shanae and Fred Murray had one three-hour session with him, and three years later the Pikesville, Md., couple still characterize it as life-changing.
The Murrays came to him with a 13-year-old problem, the sort of problem that doesn't seem so serious unless you're caught in the middle of it. Shanae was constantly inviting guests over without telling her husband about it. Fred hated not being consulted, and he didn't want to be a good host. The underlying conflict was quietly destroying their marriage.
"It was eating at me," says Fred, who is an only child. As he talked in the session, he realized his feelings could in part be traced to the time he served in Vietnam. "I had seen so much death, I wanted to be alone. At home, I would close the doors. I didn't realize what I was doing."

As the session progressed, Fred came to understand why Shanae continually put him in unwanted social situations. When she was growing up, there were always lots of people around. After church every Sunday, her mother would invite friends over.

"As a little girl in a large, poor family, [Shanae, one of seven children,] took care of the whole family. When her husband saw she was the person who brought people together, he could see it wasn't just against him," explains DiBlasio.

"Talking it through releases you," says Fred. "When you forgive someone, you forgive yourself. You release some baggage."

"Everything is forgivable," adds Shanae. "It doesn't mean you have to forget."


Some patients might not be comfortable with the concept of a forgiveness session, of working toward one person saying the words "I forgive you."

Most studies show that people who don't have profound faith have a more difficult time forgiving, says Everett Worthington, executive director of the Virginia foundation A Campaign for Forgiveness Research. The author of many books and articles on the subject, Worthington found his own faith tested on New Year's Eve in 1995 when an intruder murdered his mother.

"I'm not an uber-forgiver," he says. "I once held a grudge against a professor who gave me a B for 10 years."

But to start the process, he tried to empathize with the assailant: the fear he must have felt when Worthington's mother walked in on him during the robbery; the fact that all the mirrors in the house had been smashed after the attack, suggesting to the psychologist that the murderer couldn't bear his own reflection.

Still, it wasn't until later when Worthington was talking to his brother that he had an epiphany. He had pointed to a baseball bat nearby and raged, "I wish he were here right now."

"Whose heart was darker?" he says now. "I was a 48-year-old forgiveness expert and a Christian. I knew I could be forgiven. Who am I to hold this grudge against this kid?"

Even though the assailant was never caught, Worthington says he has been able to move on.

But isn't moving on possible without forgiveness, simply by letting go of your anger? Based on her research, Lydia Temoshok, director of the Behavioral Medicine Program at the Institute of Human Virology, University of Maryland, says no. "It's letting go, and I forgive you. It's something about that added component. Then you close the circle. It's not just stopping something, but starting a new pattern."

She works with HIV/AIDS patients, which, she says, can involve a lot of forgiveness. Do they forgive people for not accepting them? Do they forgive the person who infected them? Do they forgive God? Do they forgive themselves? Do they forgive science for not having a cure?

The program's preliminary work suggests that forgiveness lowered the stress hormones that, in turn, affect the immune system, but only when the patients genuinely forgave the ones they blamed.

However, Jeffrie Murphy, author of Getting Even: Forgiveness and Its Limits (Oxford University Press, 2003), argues we shouldn't condemn those who choose not to forgive. He worries, for instance, about the abused wife who forgives and then gets beaten up again.

"Forgiveness can be a great blessing, but it should be used selectively," he says. "There's a kind of messianic pro-forgiveness movement out there. The forgiveness crowd is always saying that forgiveness will give you closure. But also seeing [offenders] get what they deserve can bring closure."

Positive Emotions May Buffer Stress And Aging

Positive Emotions May Buffer Stress, Aging
From the United Press International, 2011

To view this article in its original format, please click here.

An optimistic outlook has been shown to combat stress -- a known risk factor for heart disease and other illnesses, U.S. researchers say.

Anthony Ong of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., conducted a review of researchers to determine if it is really true that feeling good may be good for health.

"We all age. It is how we age, however, that determines the quality of our lives," Ong says in a statement.

The review, published in the Current Directions in Psychological Science, suggests positive emotions may be a powerful antidote to stress, pain and illness.

Ong speculates that happier people might take a proactive approach to aging by regularly exercising and budgeting time for a good night's sleep, or people who have positive emotions may avoid unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking and risky sex.

These benefits of a healthy lifestyle may become more important as adults age and their bodies become more susceptible to disease, Ong says.

In any event, the study says people with stronger positive emotions have lower levels of chemicals associated with inflammation related to stress.

Why You Need To Laugh Like A 5 Year Old

Why You Need To Laugh Like a 5-Year-Old
By Pamela Gerloff, writer, educator, consultant for transformational change

To view the article in its original context, please click here.

The average 4-year-old laughs 300 times a day; a 40-year-old, only four.

When I first read that statistic, on a blog called Ageing Healthily, Happily, and Youthfully, I found the 300 times a day number a bit high. But then I thought about my 5-year-old nephew, Bob. The other day I was sitting on a doorstep with his brother Joe perched on my lap, warming up after a run through the sprinkler. I asked Joe, "Do you know where Bob is? Is he in the sandbox?" [out of sight around the corner]

There was a silent pause then an explosion of laughter behind, then around me, as Bob popped into view, grinning and beaming, his whole body filled with delight. "You thought I was in the sandbox!" he exclaimed, giggling, "but I was right behind you!"

Why that was so hilarious probably only a 5-year-old really knows, but it made me laugh too, just experiencing the delight of his joie de vivre. So we three -- Bob and me, with Joe chiming in -- laughed and laughed and laughed.

I suppose it could be an urban legend that 4 to 6-year-olds laugh 300 times a day; I tried to verify the numbers but found no actual research citations. Some online bloggers cited 15-20 times as the average number of daily laughs for adults. No matter, really. The point is that children laugh way more than adults do. And that ought to tell us something.

Laughter enlivens us. Both literally and figuratively. Journalist Norman Cousins famously chronicled the effects of his self-prescribed "laughing cure" in his book "Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient" (W.W. Norton, 1979, 2001, 2005). Cousins, who suffered from inflammatory arthritis, claimed that 10 minutes of hearty guffawing while watching Marx Brothers movies brought him two hours of pain-free sleep. Both inflammation and pain were significantly reduced. Research since then has shown laughter reduces levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, epinephrine and dopamine, increases health-enhancing hormones -- such as endorphins -- beneficial neurotransmitters and infection-fighting antibodies and also improves blood flow to the heart --all resulting in greater relaxation and resistance to disease as well as improved mood and positive outlook.

Laughter changes us in the loveliest ways. When we lighten up we feel more positive and optimistic, more hopeful and engaged. We're friendlier, more resourceful, more attractive, more radiantly alive.

The day after I read the blog on laughing, I decided to laugh more. I upped my "laugh quota." Hardly had I made that intention than I participated in a conference call in which two other people spontaneously broke into extended laughter. Experiencing a sense of unity and connection with them, it occurred to me that, hey, if we're all One (an experiential insight shared laughter sometimes leads to) then maybe I can count other people's laughter as filling part of my own laugh quota.

Think about it. If others around you are laughing, you're absorbing their upbeat vibes. It's kind of like second-hand smoke. You get almost the same effect as if you were the one laughing. And of course, since laughing is contagious, someone else's laughter tends to trigger yours -- so that gives you extra laugh points toward your quota, too. I also count long laughs as multiple points, because as of now that seems to me about the only way to get to 300 laughs per day. Perhaps I'll grow out of this limited-possibility mindset?

Here's an example: On my own, I would have probably just chuckled at little Bob's surprise appearance from behind me. Count = 1 laugh. But Bob's laughter continued for at least 25 or 30 points worth, I'd say. So, according to my quota counting system, I would add an extra 30 points to my tab, because "We Are One," remember? Moreover, since Bob's long, exuberant laughter triggered the same response in me, I laughed and laughed along with him -- which gives me an additional 30 laugh points, not just the one chuckle point I would have gotten on my own. Out of that joint laugh experience, I now have 60 points. And since Joe laughed delightedly too, that's another 30 points. So in just one laugh episode, with my own long hearty laugh, enjoyed with two additional laughers also riffing in blissful Oneness, I get a full 90 points toward my daily laugh quota! Counting like this, I think to myself: I can do this.

So how about you? Want to up your laugh quota? What if, just for today, you were to throw in at least a few extra laughs? Maybe even a couple of real happy long ones, so hale and hearty that someone else starts laughing too. (Tip: Try it around a 4 to 6-year-old.)

What would you feel like if you laughed like a 5-year-old today, and tomorrow and the next? What would we all feel like? What would the world be like if laughter became, once again, our natural state?