Tag Spirituality

Is being spiritual healthy?

girl smelling a flowerIn last week blog’s entry I reviewed a recent study suggesting that religiosity and altruistic behavior are negatively associated in children. In that study, the findings were weak and there were important questions left unaddressed. In this week’s blog entry I would like to quote from two comprehensive reviews of the literature regarding associations with spirituality and religiosity that have appeared in two flagship journals: The American Psychologist and Pediatrics.

The review article in The American Psychologist, by researchers Peter Hill and Kenneth Pargament, can be found here. These are some key quotes:

“…religion and spirituality have been surprisingly robust variables in predicting health-related outcomes.” These include “…heart disease, cholesterol, hypertension, cancer, (and) mortality…”

“…even simplistic religion and spirituality measures…are glorioussignificant predictors of health outcome variables.”

Citing a meta-analytic review (i.e., a study of studies) of nearly 126,000 participants: “…people who scored higher on measures of religious involvement…had 29% higher odds of survival…than people lower in religious involvement.”

“…people who report a closer connection to God experience…less depression and higher self-esteem…less loneliness…greater relational maturity…and greater psychosocial competence…better self-rated health…and better psychological adjustment among people facing a variety of major life stressors, including transplant surgery…medical illness…and natural disasters…”

The review in Pediatrics by researchers Linda L. Barnes, Gregory A. Plotnikoff, Kenneth Fox, and Sara Pendleton can be found here. Here are some key quotes from that article:

diverse happy woman on floor2Regarding youth: “A number of studies suggest that spiritual/religious beliefs and practices may contribute to decreased stress and increased sense of well-being, decreased depressive symptoms, decreased substance abuse…improved recovery from myocardial infarction and enhanced immune system functioning.”

“Instances in which spirituality and coping may intersect for children include nighttime fear, psychiatric problems, suffering, hospitalization, disability, cancer and terminal illness.”

“Spirituality and religious involvement can also help children withstand the emotional assaults of sexual abuse, racism, cultural destruction, and the trauma generated by refugee experience and life in the disenfranchised urban neighborhoods.”

“Low religiosity also tends to be related to higher rates of smoking, drinking, drug use, and adolescent pregnancy.”

Other correlates or religiosity cited in the latter study included baby in shades, good for dev jeopardyless male aggressive sexual behavior, lower delinquency, higher life satisfaction, lower suicidality & increased academic & social competence.

Keep in mind that a correlation tells one nothing about cause and effect (e.g., click here for a demonstration of that truth). However, when study after study, across decades, finds similar positive associations, we can start drawing conclusions. What causes the positive associations is an open discussion (e.g, see Chapter Four of my parenting book), but we are on firm ground to assert that scientific findings indicate that engagement with a spirituality promotes resilience across the lifespan.




The Serenity Prayer and Parenting

prayingThis is a well-known version of the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Let me make my points through six questions:

1. Are you suggesting that one need be religious to be a good parent?

No, I’m not suggesting that. While practicing a religion is correlated with a wide array of good health outcomes, one can be an atheist and still benefit from adhering to the psychological principle imbued within this prayer.

2. What is the psychological principle?

Want to burn a person out? The formula is simple: give that person a sense of responsibility for an important outcome; then make sure s/he doesn’t have the power to achieve it. As the importance of the outcome rises, and control goes down, burnout rises. Sounds silly for someone to allow himself or herself to fall prey to this doesn’t it? Yet, we cooperate with this sort of an agenda all the time. We do this in our vocations (e.g., serving more people with fewer resources) and in our personal lives (e.g., trying to get another human to stop a self-destructive habit). There’s a reason why so many recovery programs lean heavily on this prayer.

3. How is this related to parenting?

As I’ve routinely noted in this blog, we parents love our kids so much it makes black mom with kids, white backgroundus crazy people. When our kids hurt we hurt worse. We also are very focused on procuring the best outcomes for our kids. This great love of ours, in combination with our mighty concern for our kids’ outcomes, can cause us to try to control things that are either outside of our control or which would be better left to the control of our kids or those serving them (e.g., teachers, coaches), especially as they age.

4. What are some signs that a parent might be trying to control things not within his or her control?

Tension and frustration are often experienced. Of course, experiences of tension and frustration are not exclusive to these moments. But, if I’m trying to control things not within my control, I can get myself pretty worked up. My kids will also either tremble in my wake or storm the gates of my authority. Others trying to serve my kids will also often manifest some combination of finding me odd, trying to avoid me, or joining the charging of the gates.

5. How do you distinguish between not trying to control uncontrollable things and disengagement or laziness?

The prayer indicates that this can be tricky, which is why there is the request for wisdom. For my part, I find that those parents who are at risk to be over controlling don’t often have it within them to be disengaged or lazy.

spiritual man As a professor, I see some students who over study. Sometimes this causes them to fret needlessly. As I try to get them to throttle back a little, I’ll say things like “y’know, someone like you is never going to just dial it in. You may burn out but you’re never going to rust out.” I think it’s the same thing with we parents. There are those of us who are disposed towards micromanaging (the burn out crowd) and those of us who are disposed to dialing it in (the rust out crowd). (By the way, does the rust out crowd even read parenting blogs?). So, if you’re in the former group, I don’t really think you have to worry too much about being disengaged and lazy when it comes to parenting. It’s just not in ya 😉

6. Any closing advice?

Just ask yourself if this thing you’re fretting over is really within your control. And, if it is, might it better to relinquish it to someone else? If the control is yours and it’s best to have at it, go forth and do well young lady/man! If it isn’t, try letting go. In my experience, if you let go of something that warrants it, there’s often an  internal confirmation you feel that you’re doing the right thing; this may or may not be accompanied with a feeling of peace (as your child’s outcome is still at issue), but it’ll often feel, somehow, someway, like it’s the right thing to do (and I speak as someone who owns a t-shirt that says “micromanager”).

Popes, Gay Marriage & The Bible: Talking To Your Kid About Spirituality and Values

spiritual manBetween the new Pope, the Supreme Court case on gay marriage and attention being garnered by the TV series, The Bible, there is an abundance of media attention being given to stories that reflect on values and spirituality. This entry is meant to offer a few suggestions for engaging your child on these issues. (By the way, when I say “spirituality” I mean the entire spectrum, including atheism.)

• As is a theme in this blog, set aside regular time with your child to see if s/he has any thoughts or perspectives on any of these issues (s/he may not, especially if s/he is young, but it’s always good to check). Allow your child to say his or her piece first, providing doses of empathy, before sharing your perspective.

• Let your child know what your spirituality is, using the principle of selective truth telling, to guide the breath and depth of your coverage (i.e., you share more or less based on your child’s age and wellness; see this blog entry for an elaboration on that principle).

• Empower your child to see the definition of a personal spirituality and personal values as a life-long journey that often includes confusing and mysterious segments, and that doubt is often sprinkled along the way (e.g., Mother Teresa’s cheerful familydiary included expressions of doubt about God’s existence).

• Keep in mind that the active practice of a spirituality can be associated with many important psychological and health benefits. The research supporting this assertion is compelling. (See Chapter Four, on rituals, in my parenting book for a review.)

• Ask your child to always consider some guiding principles:

√ That which is loving should always be prioritized over that which is not.

√ All people deserve to have their spirituality and values respected, as long as they do not hurt others, no matter how much we may personally look at things differently.

child hand cuts out adult hand sky√ One group’s spirituality should not be codified into laws that infringe on the civil rights of another group.

√ Learning about other people’s spirituality and values can be a fascinating and enriching enterprise, no matter how much we may personally look at things differently. (For my blog entry on talking about diversity with kids, click here.)

√ Using a spiritual model to hurt people is always wrong.

√ Humility in the quest for truth can leave one open to developing a spirituality that is beautiful, wise, uplifting and meaningful.

In closing I’d like to thank my wife Lia for her help with this entry 😉

51 Truths (as I see things anyway)

I recently saw a blogger use the occasion of his birthday to write a list of tips that equaled his years. I thought that such a good idea that I didn’t want to wait until my birthday to do something similar. So, this is my top 51 truths. One caveat–which I feel somewhat apologetic for and which will be obvious as you read on: while the large majority of these statements are supported by research findings, others are merely personal beliefs that are not testable by science.

1. Self-care is an act of love towards one’s children.

2. Effective discipline = effective teaching.

3. Self-entitlement has many faces, but two common ones are expecting others to protect one from the consequences of one’s choices and expecting that others, if they are fair, will give one the outcome that one wants because one is a good person who tried hard.

4. Behind just about any action of abuse or neglect is pain.

5. At the end of everything, how well we love is what matters the most.

6. Avoiding avoidance is generally advisable when the avoided thing, person or situation is not truly dangerous.

7. More determinative of mood is what we think about what has happened, not what has actually happened.

8. Being kind to others is a great mood enhancer.

9. We loose IQ points when we get angry.

10. Show me someone who is not engaged in an internal battle and I will show you someone whose life is in shambles.

11. Being in a successful long-term marriage is one of the most difficult things a human can try to do.

12. The greatest pain is having one’s child die.

13. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s fear.

14. We get use to just about anything. One of the many things this teaches us is that we need to mix things up lest our sex life become mundane.

15. Single parenting in a two-parent household is a symptom.

16. Becoming physiologically and psychologically calm on a daily basis promotes many health and psychological benefits.

17. “Physical activity” is a much more effective term than “exercise.”

18. Fast food is generally poisonous, though it may take a long time for the effects to become obvious.

19. We are suffering from an epidemic of sleep deprivation, across the lifespan.

20. The large majority of kids, teens and adults who could benefit from evidence-based mental health services do not get it. This truth is even harsher for minorities and the poor.

21. We parents love our kids so much it makes us lunatics some of the time.

22. The practice of a spirituality correlates strongly (and positively) with multiple physical and psychological benefits.

23. If Heaven exists (and I believe it does), there are no institutions there.

24. When we don’t know what is motivating another person’s irritating behavior, our own mental health is nurtured when we assume she or he has good cause.

25. Adaptive rituals produce positive illusions.

26. Men are generally simpler creatures than women.

27. There are many more ways to promote misery than there are to promote happiness.

28. Corporal punishment can usually be aptly labelled “undisciplined discipline.”

29. Willpower, when used in isolation, is not a very reliable tool for changing harmful habits.

30. The more we learn the more nuanced we become.

31. Understanding how well a person can do things when he or she doesn’t feel like it can tell you a great deal about his or her success in both vocational and personal arenas. This is why teaching such skills to our children is a top parenting activity.

32. Heaven exists outside of space and time, which makes it very difficult for us to think and talk about what it is like.

33. Crisis = (pain/2) + (≥ opportunity/2).

34. Using addiction to deal with pain is like drinking ocean water when on a life raft: certainly understandable but it makes things worse.

35. We parents are shepherds, not sculptors.

36. Having kids quadruples the importance of having a good maintenance schedule for a committed relationship. (I’d write something higher than quadruples but I had a hard enough time spelling quadruples.)

37. If swimming is the activity that uses the most physical muscles forgiveness is the activity that uses the most psychological muscles.

38. What an apple is to a pediatrician, positive one-on-one attention is to a child psychologist.

39. Simultaneously pursuing self-interest and effective political service is like trying to iron clothing underwater.

40. Addiction is a jealous, cunning and harsh mistress that isn’t satisfied until its victim is left with nothing else.

41. An important mistake we make in thinking about race is to suppose that being impacted by someone’s race is the same thing as being racist.

42. Show me someone who is critical and unloving towards others and I will show you someone who is critical and unloving towards himself or herself.

43. Though they vary, we all have our limitations and when we exceed them we break.

44. No engaged parent can be generally happier than his or her least happy child.

45. Improving someone else’s life, without them knowing one did so, is glorious.

46. Well-conceived mission statements can help one to make many decisions about how to spend one’s time and resources.

47. Considering a difficult decision from the context of one’s deathbed can promote clarity.

48. That which is loving is of God. That which is not loving is not of God.

49. Empathy tends to soften anger.

50. Going through an effective psychotherapy is like being reborn.

51. Show me a spiritual person who is generally physically active, getting enough sleep, eating a good diet, executing his or her top talents in service to others, and being loving in his or her personal relationships and I will show you someone who is wise.

I enjoy receiving all comments, but would especially  welcome others sharing truths I have left out. Also, if anyone would like me to do a subsequent blog post on any of these assertions, I’d enjoy hearing about that as well.

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