Embrace Joy Chapter 12

Community & Compassion

Connections to others, caring for them and contributing to their well-being are much more than our responsibilities. They are the best course of action for our own health and well-being.


Upstanding Citizens

Being part of a safe, close-knit community is hard to do in some parts of the world. In the developed world, where many people can find a community where they will be safe and well cared for, we may take being a member of a community for granted. But the benefits of contributing to the success of others in your community is tangible. Not only do the people who volunteer and make donations to others in the community report feeling happier, their brains show evidence of why. The same parts of the brain that are more active when we receive a reward (such as money) also show an increase in activity when we give our time or material goods to someone else.


Your Brain Shows Compassion

Some Buddhist monks practice a form of meditation called nonreferential compassion. The focus of this kind of meditation is unlimited compassion and kindness. For the purposes of a study of the effects of compassion on the brain, a group of these monks and a group of volunteers who had quickly learned nonreferential compassion meditation agreed to have their brains scanned while they meditated. Richard Davidson, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison led the study. READ MORE

Researchers watched the brain response when the meditators heard certain sounds, some neutral and some negative (such as a distressed woman or noise). When the monks heard the negative sounds, they had a significant increase in activity in the brain's insula. The insula plays a key role in detecting emotions and orchestrating bodily responses associated with them. They also showed increases in the areas of the brain important in processing empathy. The new meditators did not show as strong an effect on the brain scans, but it built as they perfected their practice. Furthermore, some of the empathy-related brain changes remained constant in the monks even when they weren't engaged in their meditation practice. LESS


Religious Devotion

Some religious communities involve practices that are known to promote better health, such as forbidding the use of alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea. At least partially because of such rules, members of the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) and Seventh Day Adventists live nearly 10 years longer than the rest of the population. In many religions, the members of a congregation engage in quiet, contemplative reflection as a group and alone, with focus and clear purpose. Such meditation, whether focused around religious beliefs or not, is known to bring down blood pressure and heart rate, which is beneficial to health. READ MORE

While some studies of the effectiveness of prayer on healing sick patients have claimed positive results, their methodology has been called into question. At present, no legitimate medical study has proven a positive correlation between prayer and health or recovery. However, nearly half of all Americans pray for their own health and more than 25% report that they pray for others' health. Social scientists believe that one reason the members of religiously devoted group may have better health is because they are part of a community. The fact that others who share their beliefs are praying for their recovery has a positive psychological effect, just as being part of a family or any tight-knit community does. LESS

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