Your Beliefs Make You Healthy. You Just Need to Believe in Them.
I would encourage everyone to sit down in the morning before you really do anything and for a few moments write down your core values.
Dr. Andrew Newberg is the director of research at the Jefferson Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine and a physician at Jefferson University Hospital. He is board certified in internal medicine and nuclear medicine. Andrew has been asking questions about reality, truth, and God since he was very young, and he has long been fascinated by the human mind and its complex workings. While a medical student, he met Dr. Eugene d’Aquili, who was studying religious experiences. Combining their interests with Andrew’s background in neuroscience and brain imaging, they were able to break new theoretical and empirical ground on the relationship between the brain and religion.
Andrew’s research now largely focuses on how brain function is associated with various mental states—in particular, religious and mystical experiences. His research has included brain scans of people in prayer, meditation, rituals, and trance states, as well as surveys of people's spiritual experiences and attitudes. He has also evaluated the relationship between religious or spiritual phenomena and health, and the effect of meditation on memory. He believes that it is important to keep science rigorous and religion religious. Andrew has also used neuroimaging research projects to study aging and dementia, Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, depression, and other neurological and psychiatric disorders.
Dr. Newberg has published over 100 research articles, essays and book chapters, and is the co-author of the best selling books, Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief (Ballantine, 2001) and How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist (Ballantine, 2009). He has presented his research throughout the world in both scientific and public forums. He appeared on Nightline, 20/20, Good Morning America, ABC's World News Tonight, National Public Radio, London Talk Radio and over fifteen nationally syndicated radio programs. His work has been featured in Time, Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and many other newspapers and magazines.
His newest work is How Enlightenment Changes Your Brain: The New Science of Transformation.
Research that has shown the potential benefit of being a religious or spiritual person is a population-based answer. In other words, the overall population does a little bit better, but that has no implication for each individual.
There are plenty of atheists who live to 104 and there are plenty of religious people who die young. There are plenty of religious people who have all kinds of problems psychologically and physically and there are plenty of atheists who are very healthy and vice versa.
But one of the important pieces of information that comes out of this research shows that you can't falsely believe something. Even if you come to the conclusion scientifically that being a religious person may be better for your mental health, you can't force an atheist to start praying.
That doesn't make sense and that will cause increased anxiety and stress. So it's not just having a belief or trying to go in a particular direction as far as your beliefs go, it's about finding beliefs and ideals that work for you.
So I think the information that we get from the religious perspective is that part of why religion works for people is it gives them a sense of meaning. It gives them a sense of direction. It gives them a sense of understanding about the world.
For the atheist there is no reason that they can't get to that same kind of perspective. There are values and ideals that an atheist will hold about how to treat other people well, about the ways in which we should be compassionate toward other people and they don't necessarily need a religious basis for that. But they need to find what they're core inner values are reflect on those values. In fact, I would encourage everyone to spend some time over the next week to sit down in the morning before you really do anything and kind of relax yourself for a few moments and write down your core values.
Think about what word or phrase pops into your head when you say "What is my core value, what is my innermost value in life?" People may feel that it's family or respect. It could be God if you're a religious person. Think about what those values are and make sure you're incorporating those values into your life. That's what the research really shows is of benefit.
So if trust and love and family is the value that you have in your life, then make sure that you're doing it regardless of whether you're a religious person or not. And so for the atheists there is certainly plenty of opportunity to derive meaning and to create an approach to life which is beneficial to their brain and can make their brain work every bit as well as somebody who has a belief system rooted in religion or spirituality. So there is no reason that anybody is excluded from the process. It's just a matter of how they go about doing it.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
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