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Heartfelt Thanksgiving can’t be undercooked

iStock_000027702828XSmall“Action expresses more gratitude than speech.”

A favorite Thanksgiving story of mine involves a good friend and a turkey. It’s a good recipe for genuine gratitude sharing/giving and the peace of mind it instills.

Awhile back (I’m talking several decades ago) my friend Maureen was an assistant to Ruth Collier Frank, a Hollywood talent agent.  Ruth hired her to answer the phone at the office and assist in anyway needed at home.

Maureen had very humble beginnings. She would have been considered poor by most standards, but she never felt poor. Her new job was a blessing, though she felt ill-equipped, and she gave thanks to God every day for it. In fact, throughout her long life, Maureen never failed to acknowledge each day her God-given blessings, especially when challenged by thoughts of personal inadequacy.

Around Thanksgiving Day, Ruth was to have a dinner party.  Her guest list included movie legends Rex Harrison, Doris Day, Isabel Elsom, and other notables.  Read more…

Need a boost? Take these tips

iStock_000000089464XSmallI needed a breather, but the Starbucks was crammed.  All I wanted was a smoothie, but I was weary about the long wait.  I live just a couple of blocks from the coffee house which does a booming business, especially in the morning when everyone is looking for that quick jolt to rev them up to speed.

Leave or stay?  It took me a few seconds, but I succumbed to my desire and got in line.  I couldn’t help but hear the conversations around me, which comprised of sharing doubts about the demanding work week, retirement, and numerous health worries.

The intricacies of daily living, including the periods of ill health we experience seem an unavoidable consequence of the human experience – and can get us down.  Unfortunately, there is nothing on the menu board that permanently sweetens life’s burdens.

But did you ever stop to think that it isn’t the caffeine imbibed or the sugar consumed that gives you the push you feel. It turns out that the spark provided by a cup of coffee might have less to do with its chemical properties and more to do with our own expectations.  Read more…

Nocebos: the Murphy’s law of medicine

iStock photo
iStock photo

“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Law or not, the old adage points to the negative expectations we sometime fall victim to whether merited or not. In medicine it might be called the nocebo effect.

We’ve all heard about the positive influence of placebos: take a pill with no active ingredients whatsoever and a healing response ensues anyway.  A nocebo is an ill effect caused by the suggestion or belief that something is harmful.  Think of it as the placebo’s sinister counterpart.

Researching the influence of nocebos on an individual’s health has lagged behind the study of placebos. Experts are just beginning to understand their importance through clinical studies.  These investigations point to a robust mental component when taking into account health maintenance and outcomes.

“For better or worse, our minds are as much a part of treatment as the pills and therapies we receive,” according to Matthew D. Erlich, M.D. and Lloyd I. Sederer, M.D. in, Should HealthCare Providers Be Afraid of the ‘Nocebo’ Effect?, published in the Huffington Post.

Expecting the worst after a treatment (which seems to be a common response) can actually make the patient feel worse.  Thus, doctors, nurses and other hospital staff are increasing their commitment to helping patients avoid the nocebo effect.

Case in point: the findings of researchers from Oxford University studying pain levels in patients.  Simply telling a patient the painkiller he had been given had worn off increased the person’s pain to the same levels before the drug was administered, according to a study by Irene Tracey and her associates.

Penny Sarchet discusses these findings in her winning essay, The nocebo effect: Wellcome Trust science writing prize.  From these results she concludes, “That a patient’s negative expectations have the power to undermine the effectiveness of a treatment, and suggests that doctors would do well to treat the beliefs of their patients, not just their physical symptoms.”

Sarchet points out an interesting dichotomy.  Doctors have a moral and legal responsibility to disclose the numerous side effects of the treatments they prescribe.  However, in doing so, they could be negating the very benefits they hope to confer due to the negative expectations brought on by divulging the side effects to the patient.  It’s a catch-22.

With the proliferation of sickly symptoms and so many new illnesses coming to the attention of the public, one has to wonder to what extent nocebo-induced conditions are swaying an individual’s health.

I recall once being told I looked tired.  Although I felt fine the comment bothered me to the point I soon began to feel limp and listless.

Looking back at that experience, I see the effect my thinking had over how I was feeling.  My expectation – and how I felt – changed due to the negative comment.  But other experiences and my own spiritual practice tell me we don’t have to submit to “Murphy’s law” thinking.

“I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse,” says Paul, Bible hero and healer.

That’s how I start my prayer – which helps to improve my mental outlook and my physical health.

Attitude, expectation and anxiety: these mental qualities do have sway over how you feel. When worry, dread, and apprehension are troubling you it’s time to eliminate “Murphy’s law” of negatives from your thinking.


Love delivers healthy makeover

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Would you stand in a glass booth on a crowded city sidewalk and let passersby judge how old you are before engaging experts to give you a new look?  How about compete with other contestants to win a dream wedding and plastic surgery? That’s makeover TV.

Makeovers fascinate us and TV has exploited our insecurities over self-image cranking out shows that often highlight a superficiality the viewer might accept as bona fide change. Modern fashion and an up-to-date hair cut might provide the reboot you need to feel better and put a smile on your face. But do these changes contribute to a better you, to a longer and healthier life in both mind and body?  It’s doubtful.

What is it that creates lasting change in us and provides that spark allowing for authentic transformation?   Consider love, in this case a deep, Godly love. That has been the focus of a four year initiative called the Flame of Love Project.

Over 80% of Americans directly feel God’s love according to a survey conducted by the organization funded by the John Templeton Foundation.  The findings also report a similar number “feel that God’s love increases their compassion for others.”

Now, three of the project’s co-directors, Matthew T. Lee and Margaret M. Poloma from the University of Akron and Stephen Post, from the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, have collaborated on a new bookThe Heart of Religion: spiritual empowerment, benevolence, and the experience of God’s love, published by Oxford University Press.

Detailed interviews in the book “shed new light on how Americans wake up to the reality of divine love and how that transformative experience expresses itself in concrete acts of benevolence.”

We innately sense that altruism is good for the other guy, but there are benefits for the giver too; healthy paybacks.   Volunteerism is good medicine. That’s according to UnitedHealthcare, a division of UnitedHealth Group, the largest single health carrier in the United States. On their “do good. live well.” website, they have amassed health info from a variety of sources that should not be ignored.

Through the research compiled they conclude that volunteering:

  • Improves physical well-being

The social activities associated with volunteering have been shown to decrease heart rate and blood pressure, improve the immune system and safeguard from the effects of stress.

  • Raises self-confidence and self-esteem

Volunteering has a positive influence on social psychological factors. Confidence, self-assurance, and worth are heightened when participating in the act of helping others.

  • Encourages friendships that buffer against stress and illness 

New opportunities and a fresh start come from activities like volunteering where you meet new people and get to know them.  These connections can help guard against despair and hopelessness and their

associated illnesses – such as chronic pain and eating disorders.

  •  Volunteering may help you live longer

Life expectancy has been shown in studies to increase through volunteer involvement.  Quality of life is improved too.


All this sounds very helpful and certainly healthful.  Link here to for more information and research sources.

Love is a trending topic this time of year when our attention and intentions are drawn to others. Affection, forgiveness, volunteerism and other hallmarks of love have lasting impact.  It was Jesus who long ago admonished us to, “Love others as well as you love yourself.” And this counsel is found in some form in many other sacred teachings.

Brotherly love delivers a real makeover with healthy benefits.


This column was originally published at the Cleveland Plain Dealer


Health care game changers: smartphones and doctoring and empathy


A do-it-yourself healthcare revolution is underway. Go to the mobile app store and you can shop thousands of health related applications for your smartphone and tablet, including calorie counters, weight trackers, virtual trainers and meditation guides.

Juxtaposed against this exponential growth in health technology reliance comes an increased awareness by consumers and health professionals of the innate power of empathy – person to person – and its application in feeling good physically and mentally.  It’s an intriguing dynamic: faith in a software gadget and trust in the natural quality of compassion both used to boost one’s well-being.

An estimated 44 million health apps were downloaded in the past year. And everyone is in on it, including health professionals.  One study reports that 70% of doctors with a smartphone have downloaded anywhere from 26 to over 50 apps so far and use 29 of them on a monthly basis.  And it’s not just for their personal use. Doctors are prescribing apps for their patients too.

Increased use of health apps coincides with a growing number of people going to the internet for health information.  According to the latest research from the 2013 Pew Internet & American Life Project, 72% of internet users have looked for health information online within the past year.

The impact of health Googling and smartphone doctoring remains unclear.  Not all information available on the web is reliable or useable to the average Joe.  Meanwhile, there is concern over the fact that some health apps don’t work.  Is anyone surprised?

Coinciding with all the tech novelty is another groundswell of sorts: the growing influence empathy plays in healthcare and its reported upshot on wellbeing. It’s the real deal and a growing priority as surveys indicate patients want and demand more of a doctor’s attention, expressed in more time with the patient and concerted listening to his needs.

Journalist, Nathaneal Johnson, writes in a piece for the February 2013 edition of Wired Magazine about the “care effect”.  He has been studying research results focusing on medical and alternative medicine and the placebo effect.  He sees a correlation between the empathy of a practitioner and the reduction of symptoms in a patient.

“Whether we acknowledge it or not,” Johnson writes, “we all yearn for care when we suffer. When we can’t get genuine caring, we seek out the medical version: spendy and sometimes even counterproductive treatments.”

To stop the problem he suggests we “stop thinking of care as just another word for treatment and instead accept it as a separate, legitimate part of medicine to be studied and delivered.”

Empathy of course is not new to healthcare. But, its actual impact on wellness may have been underappreciated in our focus on developing the latest, greatest technologies to fix or mitigate health problems.  Nurses have exhibited the caring quality since the beginning of the profession. My first recollection of how important it was for people to care for the sick or hurt (other than mom and dad) was the Bible account of the Good Samaritan, the man who went out of his way to help someone in distress. His caring impulse – turning his compassion into action – was a lifesaver for the unfortunate victim.

Health facilities like the Cleveland Clinic and other hospitals are noticing the benefits of an empathetic mentality. Delos M. Cosgrove MD, Cleveland Clinic CEO and President, writes in a recent post that the clinic has gone from a doctor-centered organization to a patient-centered structure.  He says, “Yes we do teach empathy. We’ve made it part of our culture. There’s still a long way to go. But we’re on our way.”  Obviously he knows it will have an impact on patient outcomes and satisfaction.

Where health care transformation is headed is anybody’s guess. The trend of consumers taking action on their own behalf to better their health outcomes looks like a positive development. Valuing and incorporating empathy and understanding in the drive to better health is a low tech, high touch app we can all get behind.