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Are Attitudes and Health Linked?

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photo by Brian Hammond

Recently my wife and I ended a Disneyland visit without our usual family around us – and I can’t remember that ever happening before. Because we weren’t preoccupied with entertaining the kids, we could relax and observe everyone. Even though there were crushing shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, I noticed something interesting. There was no foul language, and no real pushing or shoving. When bumping did occur, there was an immediate apology. Although there was excitement in the air, people treated each other with respect.

Later that evening, I turned on the TV and heard lots of conflict, hate, and violence. It got me thinking about attitudes and behavior. What made the difference between my time at Disneyland and what was being shown on TV? This leads me to ask: Where are our present attitudes taking us socially, physically, and mentally? This dichotomy of behavior encouraged me to look at a few studies. I was impressed by how happy and joyous I felt at Disneyland, and thought about how attitude and environment affect us.

In a recent lecture, noted expert in integrative medicine, Dr. Andrew Weil, described the term “infectious happiness” as an emotion that can spread from person to person. Weil said, “that there is no question that who you choose to associate with can raise or lower your spirits, make you happy or sad, calm or anxious, comfortable or uncomfortable.” These transferable qualities can be quantified. A study published in the British Medical Journal, found that a person who lives less than ½ mile from a happy friend has a 42% greater chance of being happy. This same infectious happiness can ripple through groups and organizations, having a profound effect.

So even in a theme park where people are shoulder to shoulder and baby strollers are skinning ankles, people exemplify a happiness and tolerance not exhibited by individuals on TV. As someone who practices prayer-based healing, I’ve found the qualities expressed by the people at Disneyland to be the same qualities which allow me to feel happy and healthy; while I’ve found the negative qualities like those I saw on TV to be toxic, creating feelings of frustration, anger, and tension.

How can these types of conflicting, angry thoughts affect people physically and mentally? According to Monitor on Psychology staff writer Deborah Smith in “Angry thoughts, at-risk hearts,” “Research findings indicate a clear pattern — being an angry or hostile person is bad for your heart.” Ms. Smith goes on to cite several studies that prove the point.

What is the antidote for this poisonous toxin that not only affects attitudes but health? Certainly any antidote needs to affect the inner self. For me, it would be prayer, and the premise that health is enhanced through prayer is supported by many studies. The comprehensive National Prayer in Medicine Survey, found that across multiple studies and polls most Americans report a belief in a higher power (90-96%). The 2006 World Values Survey also showed the importance of prayer with a report that 84% of Americans pray. Among those who pray, the belief that prayers are answered is also high.

According to the many research studies, there appears to be little doubt that attitudes and behavior affect health, and many individuals have found prayer to be a means of improving both of them. Future studies will help us determine the real value of this knowledge.

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About Don Ingwerson

Previously in the education sector as Superintendent of Schools, Don Ingwerson now serves as the media and legislative liaison for Christian Science in Southern California and corrects misconceptions about Christian Science. Don is a frequent blogger about health and spirituality.