Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fresh Hope for Sexual Addictions

As most of us know, the crazy numbers of men caught in the trap of internet porn has sent more than ripple of pain through marriages and ministries and men's own inability to escape its tangled and alluring web. Statistics of Christian guys -- even pastors who were allowed to respond anonymously -- getting caught and addicted are staggering.

And more discouraging is that traditional therapy and even ultra-specialized ministries to men who desperately want to break free, report that the recovery rate for these men is slow ( often 3 years or more), arduous (meaning they need weekly support groups) with a high rate of return to the addiction in spite of all that effort.

My heart aches for the men who cannot break the guilt-addiction-shame cycle and who have all but lost their hope that God can help them, and who cannot look into the eyes of the women and children they love so much because of the secret shame they carry. I also ache for the wives who feel so betrayed, their hearts torn assunder when they discover their husband is looking elsewhere for satisfaction. (And ladies, trust me, most often this has nothing to do with your attractiveness or your sensuality. )

Men & Women: I bring you good tidings of GREAT joy! Looking into a brain imbalance and correcting that first, can speed recovery from any addiction (including all kinds of sex addictions) and allow access to the "self-control" center that continues to allude many men caught in a trap. Once the brain is balanced, programs like Sexaholics Anonymous or Every Man's Battle have more than a fighting chance to work!

Here's an excerpt from This is Your Brain on Joy about one man's journey from bondage to freedom. I hope it suprises and infuses you with new hope, as it did me when I read it. Dr. Henslin has had wonderful success helping men to recover from sexual addiction. In our second book, This is Your Brain in Love, he will spend a full chapter on sharing what he's learned about how to heal a porn-addicted brain so that freedom and healing can reign.

(Excerpt from section "Toward a More Compassionate Church")

A forty-five-year-old man was referred to me by his couples’ Bible study class. He was the leader of the study, and the class members were concerned for him because of an ongoing battle with depression. The heavy cloud of gloom caused him to have trouble just getting up in the morning to go to work. In the initial session I asked, “Have you suffered any trauma to your brain as a child, teen, or adult?” Dr. Amen and I often have to ask this question in a variety of ways because people tend to forget head injuries from long ago or don’t consider them all that serious or significant. And yet, we’ve learned that even a minor head injury can damage brain tissue and affect behavior.
He shared that when he was in elementary school he was climbing on a jungle gym and fell. The impact of the fall resulted in his being hospitalized for four days as the doctors monitored the severe concussion. “How did that trauma impact your school performance?” I asked, but before he could fully answer, he began to sob.
He had not made the connection between the concussion and the change in school performance. Prior to the concussion he loved to read, and after the concussion it was a struggle to concentrate on pages full of words. Then he shared how he had felt such spiritual guilt, along with a general sense of shame, when he had to force himself to read Scripture or to keep his mind from wandering when he prayed.
I referred him for a SPECT scan, and the report showed that there was trauma to the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain involved in attention and concentration. Dr. Amen prescribed 10 mg of Adderall—a medication that improves perfusion, or blood flow, in the prefrontal cortex—for him to take twice a day. (Some background to blog readers: when blood isn't flowing to the PFC, the conscious is basically off-line. This, coupled with too much activity in the cingulate gyrus -- an area of over-focus or obessiveness -- is often the combination we see in men who get compulsively addicted to porn. During the time they are viewing sexual images, they feel no guilt, no stop sign that says, "Whoa, Buddy. Knock it off!")

I saw this man for a grand total of three sessions because, as his brain began to balance out, most of his other problems began to fade as well. He was especially excited about the joy he was discovering in his spiritual journey now that he could focus more easily. He was able to read without struggle for the first time in decades. He was able to enter into worship and prayer in a deeper manner.
Perhaps even more personally significant to him was that since puberty he had masturbated every night to calm himself in order to fall asleep—in spite of having a satisfying and fulfilling sexual relationship with his wife. This had been a burdensome secret that he had carried alone, for decades. Once he got his brain back in balance, there was no need to self-soothe or calm himself in that manner.

What a precious moment it was for me, as his therapist, to watch decades of sexual shame lift away. Talk about joy! To be able to help someone enter into a deeper relationship with the Lord he loved, to find freedom from an unwanted sexual impulse, and to see him smile, relax, and engage with life was such a privilege. It always is, no matter how many times I watch lives transform when they are accurately diagnosed and treated, whether it be through therapy, prayer, supplements, or medication.

What helped this good-hearted man get free?

It’s significant that his rather fast track to emotional health all began with a few close friends who cared enough to recommend he get some help. Without a brain scan, he might have gone to a general practitioner for his low moods and missed that his depression was stemming from a focus problem, not a mood disorder. The doctor would have begun the normal hit-and-miss prescribing of antidepressants, which in this case wouldn’t have helped much with his core brain issues.

Thankfully, someone in his Bible study had heard about our clinic and pointed the way to a door that held solid answers. When the couples saw the change in this man after he’d received our help, it sent a ripple effect through them all. Their compassion increased even more; their understanding grew in spades. Their love for one another expanded. They bonded more deeply as a group and thus became a living portrait of God’s love on earth.

It is my dream to see pockets of God’s children, all over the world, experience more compassion and more joy based on a solid understanding of the Bible integrated with what we now know about brain science.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Joy Diet, Part 2: Brain Fuel

A hearty appetite for brain healthy foods is a great place to begin elevating our general level of happiness!

Lean Protein

Salmon, especially Alaskan salmon caught in the wild (farmed fish is not as rich in Omega-3 fatty acids), tuna, mackerel, and herring (which are “oilier” fishes), and all fish—mahi-mahi, cod, orange roughy, and tilapia—is nutritious, full of protein, and easy to digest. Once you find a few recipes you like, you’ll get hooked on the way you feel after you eat fish.

Fish tacos are a great place to start if fish has never been your favorite food! Or just pat any kind of spices you love, with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, into fish filets and sauté on medium high in olive oil (finish in the microwave or oven if the outside gets crispy before the insides are done). Make fish nuggets by rolling small fish chunks in a thick teriyaki sauce, and then again in nuts or sesame seeds, and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. Or roll filets in egg whites, then in seasoned bread crumbs (Japanese panko crumbs are incredibly light and crunchy), and sauté . . . delicious!
(To purchase the safest most toxin and mercury free fish, of particular concern for pregnant and nursing women and children, you can download a handy wallet-sized “safest fish” list

Chicken and turkey. A little skin (crisped!) is okay for you, especially if you are suffering from a low mood; it will help the uptake of nutrients that calm your brain. (See books, The Mood Cure and Real Food for the science behind this.) One of the worst things about no-fat and low-fat diets is that they are terrible for moods and disastrous for the brain. Every brain cell in your body needs fat to function. The best fats? Olive oil (keep it on your counter near where you cook; it is a very stable oil that doesn’t go rancid easily), a little real butter now and again, and coconut oil is proving to have some wonderful healing qualities. Avoid trans fat, which, thankfully, has become easier to do. With increased awareness of trans fat dangers, groceries, restaurants, and even fast-food eateries are making changes toward using healthier oils.


Lean beef and pork


Enriched DHA eggs are best.

Tofu and soy products (Whenever possible, choose organically raised.) Don’t overdo soy because of how it affects hormones, but one-half cup to one cup a day is good for you.
Dairy products Low-fat, but not no-fat dairy, particularly when you are trying to balance low moods. It’s easier to be satisfied on a half-cup of dairy with some fat in it than on one cup without any fat. If you are feeling happy, it’s okay to use no-fat dairy again, as long as you are getting olive oil and fish oil in your diet.


Especially garbanzo beans (hummus is a good way to get these) and lentils (also a good carbohydrate source)

Nuts and seeds

Especially walnuts (also listed under fats). Toasting them just a minute or two and sprinkling with a pinch of sea salt really brings out their flavors. Great in salads!

Complex Carbohydrates—Fruits, Veggies, and Grains—Oh My!
Try getting four cups of fruits and veggies (one quart!) a day, and if you manage to do that plus get your protein, a little fat, and some grains—you can’t gain weight and will probably lose weight if needed. All that fiber fills you up, and there’s just not room for donuts. (If you can slowly work your way up to consuming 35 grams of fiber per day, from a variety of sources, you’ll not only feel great, you’ll find it easy to lose or maintain your weight.) And soon, the desire for donuts will fade anyway. Two tricks: Make a smoothie out of your fruit requirement; eat salad or veggie-based soup to help with your daily veggie consumption.

Eat from the Rainbow!

Mixing colors is a good way to think about healthy fruits and vegetables. Strive to eat red things (strawberries, raspberries, cherries, red peppers, and tomatoes), yellow things (squash, yellow peppers, small portions of bananas and peaches), blue things (blueberries), purple things (plums), orange things (oranges, tangerines, and yams), green things (peas, spinach, and broccoli), etc.
Here are some of the best brain-healthy fruits and veggies and whole grains:
Berries Especially blueberries (Dr. Amen calls them “brain berries”), raspberries, strawberries, blackberries. (Use one cup of frozen mixed berries in a smoothie as a base for a fabulous-tasting, nutrition-dense shake. Use one to three tablespoons of protein powder—non-flavored whey is great; you can’t taste it—and you’ve got breakfast or lunch in a cup. Or just leave berries whole and defrost just slightly, add a little drizzle of pure maple syrup and a tablespoon of half n’ half. Delicious.)

Oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit (Get an orange “juicer”—a cheap plastic hand juicer will do—and squeeze up your fresh juice in the morning. You’ll get hooked!) Citrus peel is loaded with antioxidants, so investing in a good citrus “zester” will not only add punch to your cooking but nutrition to your meals.

Cherries (Good for arthritis too—100 percent cherry juice is a common aid to those who suffer with joint pain.)

Peaches, plums
Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage

Oats, whole wheat, wheat germ (Oatmeal needs to be the slower-cooking kind, as instant has a higher glycemic index since the manufacturer has broken down the fiber to speed cooking time and basically made it a refined carbohydrate. I don’t leave the long-cooking oatmeal on for very long because I like it less mushy! Same goes for bread. Look for at least three grams of fiber. Try the new “double fiber” breads! )

Red or yellow peppers (Much higher in Vitamin C than green peppers—green peppers are simply “unripe” red peppers.) Try roasting red peppers yourself; just put them over the open flame of your gas burner until they are black all over. Put in a plastic baggie to let the skin loosen in the steam. Then rub off the skin and there you go—roasted red peppers ready to add flavor to any meal or soup!

Pumpkin or squash/carrots

Spinach Works wonderfully as a salad or a cooked vegetable; adds fiber and nutrients.
Tomatoes Both fresh and canned are great. Actually, tomato paste and sauce are richer in some cancer-fighting nutrients than fresh tomatoes!
Yams/sweet potatoes
Kale or any deep-green leafy veggie Kale is one of the most nutrient-dense veggies in the produce section, but how many of us have even tried it? (Hint: Try removing the stems first. And if you cook kale in water, toss out the water and you’ll eliminate any bitterness. But it is delicious sautéed, without the stems, in a little olive oil with mushrooms, salt and pepper, and a dash of nutmeg. Deglaze the pan when it’s done with a little dash of wine, cook a few more minutes, and serve.)

Brown rice and other whole grain

Leftover brown rice with dried fruit, nuts, and a little cinnamon or honey and a little milk makes a tasty hot cereal. Bulgur or brown rice can make a wonderful pilaf—toss in toasted nuts, some dried cranberries, and any herbs you like, and you’ve got a tasty, nutritious side dish. Don’t forget to use grains in cold, summer salads. Tabouli (bulgur with cucumbers, parsley, tomatoes, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil) is always refreshing, but you can create any number of grain-based salads by mixing equal parts grain and chopped fresh veggies or beans, a handful of herbs, and your favorite olive oil-based salad dressing.

Note: Almost any veggie tastes amazing steamed and then tossed with a little bit of butter, a squeeze of fresh citrus (orange, lemon, or lime), and a dash of salt and pepper. Also, try tossing a bowl of cut-up veggies in Italian dressing and olive oil, then spread on a cookie sheet and slow-roast for 30 minutes at 300-350 degrees or until tender and almost caramelized. (Try roasting sweet potato wedges or rounds like this. Yummmm!)
Avocados (Guacamole!)
Extra-virgin cold-pressed olive oil
**Salmon (Also listed under protein.)
**Nuts and nut butter Especially walnuts, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, pecans, and almonds. (Also listed under protein.)
Real butter in reasonable amounts Just a tad will go a long way to make food taste better. Clarifed butter, or ghee, can also be used in cooking and won’t burn easily.
Green or black tea

Calcium is good for your bones, and studies show that dairy is also an aid in weight loss. (The no- or low-fat versions will help keep calories down, but you need to make sure you are getting enough fat in your system through olive oil and nuts and other good sources to optimize mood and brain function. If not, go ahead and enjoy the full-fat versions of milk products. And if you need to gain a little weight, by all means enjoy whole milk products, especially if you don’t have any dairy allergies.)

Used in small amounts, unsweetened fruit juice can make a good base for smoothies. But there’s so much sugar in most juices that I would not recommend them without the fiber included to slow down the absorption of sugar. So go ahead and squeeze juice from an orange, but scrape in the pulp as well. Or enjoy whole fruit smoothies instead.

Probiotics = Healthier Gut, Healthier Brain
In his book The Brain Diet, author Alan C. Logan advocates using probiotics to help keep the gut healthy, improve immunity, and ultimately boost brain health. There are many good products to help “reseed” the gut with friendly bacteria, but one of the best researched and most easily accessible is the DanActive yogurt drinks. They are small, tasty, and may help keep inflammation in your body down, resulting in fewer illnesses, fewer digestive problems, and yes, ultimately even a healthier brain. (For the peer-reviewed research on this helpful new product, see

"Thank you, thankyouverymuch "

(This is Becky's youngest son Gabe, with his brain on Elvis. And his wig, askew.)

It is so fun to receive comments from those of you who've read, This is Your Brain on Joy. And as the King of Rock n' Roll would say, "Thank you. Thankyouverymuch." Here's a little sampling of responses that put a big smile in my head:

A teacher (whose mother was MY favorite teacher in 6th grade) said she was fascinated, especially, about possible implications for the field of education. As a former teacher this fires me up as well. Understanding why a kid is moody or misbehaving or struggling with attention increases teacher compassion and opens up resources for helping them cope

From a top editor, who has "read it all" -- "Becky, I just feel like EVERYBODY needs a copy of this book. Not only is it a fascinating read, it's an essential one for anyone who has ever wondered "What's going on in that head of mine?!" Dr Henslin clearly explains brain function and the integral part it plays in every area of life. What used to seem like an impossibility, to know the inner processes of our brain and how it affects why we feel and respond as we do, is now made plain. And there's even pictures! " I think it is the pictures of the brain in a varietyof mood states that first fascinated me the most as well. Why we take x rays of broken bones before setting them, but don't think of taking scans of brains in severe pain before dispensing medication, boggles the mind. Thankfully, Dr. Amen and Dr. Henslin and others like them are educating the public and the medical world

And this, from a reader who had a scan in her "golden years" (it is never too late to upsize your brain's joy) "Of course I am talking about the book at every opportunity. People in the "frozen tundra" need better understanding about the brain. Thanks to Earl I learned how injuries to the brain affect my mood. The food and drink we put in our body is important. We plan to put a book in our local Library....Thanks for the updates." Even an injury as simple as falling off of the monkey bars in third grade can cause a change in mood that lasts to adulthood. Dr. Henlsin always asks about every single possible trauma to the brain, starting from childhood . Ex-high school football players almost always have some "ding" to their head and if these dings are in certain spots, can affect their moods negatively. Thankfully, there is help!

Next up, as promised..... the rest of the Joy Diet!!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Joy Diet

Taken from a chapter in This is Your Brain on Joy, the following information is truly worth the price of this blog. Okay, well, yeah... the blog is free. So let me rephrase that: its worth whatever amount of money you'd place on your brain health. There's more information in the book (which is REALLY worth the $15.99 price on Amazon) but this should give you good news and a great start!
(This is Becky's grandson, Georgie, joyfully chomping down on his first ear of fresh corn!)
Now heeeeeeeeeeeeeeere's Earl, with some suprisingly great news about brain food.

Joy Food!

The good news is that what is good for your mood is good for your brain, good for your heart, and good for your weight!

Fat Heads
One of the surprising, and perhaps most delightful, bits of brand-new research is that two kinds of “saturated fat”—from whole milk products and butter, and also coconut oil—do not impact your body negatively like some of the other saturated fats (corn oil, vegetable oil, etc.) in normal doses. And in fact, they add just the yummy touch of comfort and taste in small portions to calm, soothe, and lubricate your brain. (See The Mood Cure and Real Food—both excellent books that speak to the subject of healthy fats, with news that may surprise and delight you. Another fascinating book on the physiology of eating quality food with mindful, relaxed, pleasure is The Slow-Down Diet by Marc David.)

When our nation went fat-free for a decade (remember the T-Factor Diet Fad of the ’80s and ’90s?), not only did we get fatter but we got more depressed . . . in droves. We were feeding our bodies more sugar and less healthy fat and creating one giant brain crisis. Your brain is largely made up of fat, and therefore needs regular amounts of it in small doses to keep the membranes nourished and healthy, and for you to remain calm and clear.

Farm-raised Folks
The old-fashioned, natural way of eating—a lean protein, a glass of milk, some veggies and whole grains, with fruit as snacks and dessert—was pretty much the best “diet” our country ever had for nourishing the brain. Basically, anything that brings us “back to the farm” the way a family would eat if they had to grow their own food, milk their own cows, churn their own butter, and kill their own chickens seems to be best diet for the brain after all. And of course, adding in the exercise of plowing and harvesting and milking and churning to your daily routine couldn’t hurt.
Looking back on my childhood, I was basically raised on a “Minnesota Farm Diet” where we grew and ate our own veggies and always had a large freezer full of what would now be called organic beef. Our neighbors, who had time to go fishing in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, would bring us fresh fish. Milk came straight from the cow each day. (We did pasteurize it first.) Actually, there was very little purchased at the store.

How we can improve today on that classic Happy Days diet is to emphasize even more fish than beef and get really creative with fruits and veggies until we are eating a quart of them a day. Also, by adopting the Mediterranean’s heart-healthy use of olive oil in our cooking, we are protecting our brains and hearts.

For those who can tolerate milk and milk products, raise your frosty mug and enjoy that milk mustache again! In studies where people ate the same amount of calories, but half the group had a good amount of dairy in their diet, the dairy eaters lost more weight and were healthier and felt more satisfied overall. If you can’t tolerate milk, you can try the lactose tablets, yogurt, or substitute soy products, or try the organic, hormone-free milk products. You may be surprised that it wasn’t the milk, but the hormones in them, that caused negative reactions.

A word on organic: I know it is expensive! However, the fewer toxins your body has to process, the happier your liver will be and the more vitamins you’ll be getting. By shopping for what’s on sale and stocking up if you can, it isn’t hard these days to eat organic, or at least partially organic, on a budget. Trader Joe’s and Sunflower Market often offer great deals on organic produce, dairy, and meat. And most major grocery chains have jumped into the organic pond, cutting costs for all of us. It is safer to eat the non-organic produce if it is “thick skinned”—like bananas or navel oranges or pineapples. In fact, most tropical fruits are generally less exposed to toxic chemicals. So use your budget to buy organic berries, peaches, apples, and other thin-skinned produce.

Also, if you are consuming a lot of one product—like milk or hamburger—try to use the organic or antibiotic-free brands. Sam’s Club carries milk products that are hormone-free (though not organic) . . . and at a very reasonable cost.

Buy bags of frozen organic berries in bulk when they go on sale, because they’ll last a long time and can be used to make ice cream-like frozen desserts in seconds with the addition of a little yogurt and honey in a blender. Sprinkle with toasted nuts or wheat germ and you’ll never know you aren’t eating Italian gelato! When you do decide to sweeten a sauce, smoothie, hot tea, or other recipe, try real maple syrup, honey, agave nectar (90% fructose but low glycemic), stevia, or a spoonful of frozen apple juice or white grape juice concentrate instead of refined white sugar or artificial sweeteners. A little goes a long way and does less harm to your blood/brain balance. The absolute worst (and commonly used) sugar you can put in your body is corn syrup—it gets to your blood even faster than table sugar. Try to avoid buying products that use this as an ingredient whenever you can.

(To be continued: next up -- More Brain Food!)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What Does a Happy Brain Look Like?

“My own brain is to me the most unaccountable of machinery—always buzzing, humming, soaring, roaring, diving, and then buried in mud. And why? What's this passion for?”
Virginia Woolf

Can you actually see happiness? Are there real pictures of people’s brains . . . on joy? Amazingly, yes. Through the miracle of modern science, we can actually see joy on the brain.

(Read on for where you can view actual scans of both unhappy and happy brains!)

One of the most fascinating outcomes of clinical studies on happiness, joy, and well-being is that scientists are now able to observe brains in a state of relaxed joy. A couple of the most interesting studies involved Tibetan monks and Franciscan nuns, both during their time of meditation and prayer, and also when they went about their normal, daily routines. Since the nuns used mental words to form a prayer (a technique called “centering” or “contemplative prayer”), a part of their brain (the part that forms verbal thought) lit up that didn’t light up in the monks, who try to empty their minds of all conscious thought.

However, both groups showed familiar brain imaging patterns: the area of the brain that was most lit up was an area at the front, mostly on the left side—the region associated with clarity and happiness. Areas that were subdued were in the lower back part of the brain—an area that is involved in fear memory, often called the “reptilian brain,” which activates an automatic flight-or-fight response. It is also an area that helps us orient ourselves in space, showing that while in prayer or deep meditation, we are able to let go of our need to control and simply relax and go with the flow.

What was most interesting was that both groups of daily supplicants experienced a deep sense of well-being, peace, and joy during meditation and—most interestingly—this feeling of serenity followed them throughout the routines of their days, and even through their lives. You’ve heard the expression that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Well, it may also turn out to be true that a few minutes of positive, prayerful meditation a day will help keep the blues at bay.
This time of quieting the mind of its typical worries, and basically “letting go and letting God,” allowed the study participants to handle negative circumstances with grace; to slow down automatic reactions of anger or frustration by using their thinking brain (or the prefrontal cortex) to talk their fearful brain centers (namely, the basal ganglia and amygdala) down from the ledges.

Other studies on the healing effects of prayer, both to the person praying them and to someone who is being prayed for (even if they are unaware of the fact), are fascinating and encouraging. In short, doctors, scientists, and researchers have been so impressed by how prayer changes brain and body chemistry for the better that many hospitals are incorporating and encouraging prayer for their patients as an adjunct to traditional healing therapies.

Want to see something fascinating? Zip around the photo image gallery of brains in a variety of states on the website below, from The Amen Clinics. Check out the brains "before gratitude" and "after gratitude"... the underside, active view of a happy brain looks a bit like a smiley face.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

"My Name is Earl, and I Need a Hug!"

I have always believed it is true that people do not care what you know, until they know you care. I love this story below, taken from the introduction of This is Your Brain on Joy by Dr. Earl Henslin because it reveals so much about his compassionate and curious nature. Enjoy this little "snippet" from chapter one. Meet Dr. Henslin, or as most people (even his clients) come to call him, Earl.

My First Hug and Other Joyful Brain Matters

Thank you, God, for this good life and forgive us if we do not love it enough. Garrison Keillor

I come from a family of Minnesota dairy farmers, the population that served as fodder for Garrison Keillor’s hilariously stoic Lutheran characters in the famed Prairie Home Companion skits. Just in case you originate from another, more animated part of the country and wonder if such stiff-upper-lipped (albeit, well-meaning) people actually exist in real life, let me assure you, they do. Though at midlife I embrace the basic tenants of my childhood faith, I have to say—with great relief, some good therapy, and the discovery that God is all for being happy—I’ve gladly dropped the stone-faced expressions that accompanied my religious experience. But my upbringing was straight out of a Lake Wobegon novel, where the citizens feel a sense of unease at potentially emotional moments. Keillor could have been describing my own understated kin when he wrote,”Left to our own devices we Wobegonians go straight for the small potatoes. Majestic doesn’t appeal to us; we like the Grand Canyon better with Clarence and Arlene parked in front of it, smiling..”

In my family, unbridled feelings of joy and open emotion were momentous events: full of danger and potential for sin, and to be avoided at all costs. That’s why I’ll never forget the moment I received my first open-armed, enthusiastic hug.
I was in my early teens, standing in the front yard with my grandfather, grandmother, mom, and dad. About thirty yards from our white clapboard two-story home stood a picturesque red barn on a field of green. We were all gathered together (except for my three younger siblings, whose whereabouts I’ve forgotten) under shade of a beautiful maple tree with a trunk about the size of a loveseat, its giant umbrella-like branches providing shade on that hot, humid Minnesota day. The whole scene looked like a Norman Rockwell still life. We were lined up in anticipation of meeting my uncle’s fiancé. My uncle came driving into the yard in a light blue Thunderbird, and as the dust settled he jumped out and did something I’d never seen before. Truly, it was like watching some bizarre tribal custom play out before our widening eyes. He walked around to his betrothed’s side of the car . . . and opened the door. She stepped out, and the world as I knew it was suspended in time.
She was beautiful—a vision of loveliness with brunette hair, sparkling eyes, and something I’d not seen often in my family or church: she was smiling! She strode forward with confidence, introduced herself to my grandfather, and did something absolutely unheard of except on Father Knows Best or Leave It to Beaver.
She hugged my grandfather.
My grandfather, who I felt sure had been born with a King James Bible embedded in his side, had quite the impressive Christian pedigree: Sunday School superintendent, Sunday School teacher, and rich bass voice for hymn singing. None of his religious training, however, prepared him for this unbidden display of affection, and his whole body went rigid—with shock, I assume. This newcomer had no idea how many centuries-old family rules she had just violated. Topping the list was the blatant sin of a beautiful young woman embracing a man to whom she was not married. Though I know it sounds odd now, I do not recall ever seeing any couples around me hug in public, and hardly ever in private.
Undaunted, this vision of loveliness moved ahead to my grandmother, another hard-working, devout, dependable pillar of the faith. My grandmother suffered from severe asthma and emphysema, and in the horror of being hugged, not only went stiff from head to toe, but also began to wheeze and cough. She frantically searched in her purse, brought out her inhaler, and began drawing breaths from it in an effort to recover her dignity.
Next up, my mother, who is the product of these two. Same song, third verse—only as I watched her brow wrinkle in physical pain as a result of the unprovoked hug, I knew she was getting a migraine that would probably put her out of commission for the next day or two. Bless her heart, the persistent fiancé walked over to embrace my dad next. I had seen my dad try to hug my mom, but she always moved quickly away, dismissing him with, “Oh, Richard!” His knees stiff from years of milking cows, he rarely, if ever, caught her. (Though by the sheer existence of me and my three siblings, there’s proof he must have caught her at least four times.)
The young woman hugged my father, and I was expecting the same wooden reaction from him, but to my surprise, he did not let go! In fact, he wrapped his arms around her and held on as if for his life, like a camel that had just walked 2,000 miles across the desert, found an oasis, and was determined to quench his thirst until the well ran dry!
Next, the still-smiling lady hugged me. I was, at this point, in the heat of puberty. I had seen girls like her only in my dreams, and now felt as though I’d just been transported to heaven on the wings of her soft embrace. After she and my uncle wed, I always looked forward to my aunt’s arrival, knowing I would get a warm, tender hug. She did not know or ask about any of my faults, no prodding into sins of omission or commission of which I may have been guilty. She just hugged me.
It was for me, my first real taste of God’s unconditional love on earth in human form.
Over the years she’d encourage me to reach out to my warm-on-the-inside, fully concealed-from-the-outside family. “Earl, hug your family, even if they act awkward or withdrawn. You can’t hug them when they’re dead.” It took almost a decade of one-sided hugging, but, believe it or not, eventually the folks caught on, and hugs are now a routine part of our family’s life.
This is not meant to be a negative comment on my family. They’re the salt of the earth—good folks with generous hearts. But they struggled so with verbalizing affection, demonstrating physical love, and showing open-faced, smiling joy!

So, you may be asking, what’s a guy from a long line of stoics doing writing a book on happiness? Perhaps it’s because of my background of sensory deprivation (at least in terms of hugs and smiles); where my family looked upon deeply happy people with a good measure of suspicion, I developed an almost insatiable curiosity, even fascination, with the subject of joy.
On the one hand, there is the researcher-therapist in me who loves discovering what makes people tick, and tick with a good measure of glee. Deeply joyful people are not terribly commonplace, particularly in my profession where folks usually knock on my door as a last resort for their depressions, obsessions, and traumas. Therefore, when I happen upon a person who radiates happiness from the core of their being, it is almost like observing aborigines, a foreign tribe from an altogether other culture. What if I could bottle whatever it is that they have, and share it with the world? It would be perhaps the most meaningful contribution I could make in my earthly existence as a mental health professional and a researcher involved with all things neurological, psychological, and spiritual.
On the other hand, my reasons for writing this book could be, I’ll admit it, a bit selfish. For it is said that if we really want something, we should teach or write about it. Embarking on the serious subject of happiness and all its applications and implications has already given me some wonderful personal payoffs. It is impossible to apply your mind to the study of joy without experiencing some surges of insight and all the positive feelings that go along with it. So there, I’ve said it. Writing this book is just plain fun.
What I’ve discovered in my research, through reading the latest scientific breakthroughs, in my experiences with clients in search of happiness, and specifically in studying the brain through SPECT images (more on that later), has been both personally and professionally life-altering. I cannot keep to myself what I’ve learned about joy: what it is, what it is composed of, how to find, measure, and keep it. When a man finds a fountain of living water, he doesn’t horde it; he shouts about it, shares it.
Jesus spoke of a joy that no man could take away. And it is that joy, that depth of happiness, that we’ll be uncovering in the coming pages. What is especially sad to me is how many Christians believe that their lack of joy is due to some spiritual or personal failing or character flaw. “God made some people happy, and some people Eeyores.” “There are glass half-full folks, and glass half-empty folks.”
Is that true? If so, even partially so, how much of our natural disposition determines our potential to approach life from the best possible angle? How much can be changed by our thoughts? By spiritual intervention? By medication, foods, supplements, or exercise?
Are you reaching, on a daily basis, your absolute highest potential for happiness? Are you bringing your best, most joyful self to the table of your relationships?
And while we’re asking questions, by the way, what IS happiness or joy? (And is there a difference between the two words?) Is a joyful outlook sustainable during crisis or grief? Do we get it from nature or nurture or supernatural intervention?
Wonderful questions. Questions of the ages posed by centuries of sages. And in time, I’ll do my best—by the end of this book—to give you some thoughtful answers gleaned from my study of the scriptures, of living life, being a listening ear to friends, and a professional therapist to clients. And perhaps, most uniquely of all, what I’ve learned from my study of and experience with brain science.

[BFJ1]Lake Wobegon Days, Garrison Keillor, 1990, Penguin, New York. Page 7

[K2](Healing the Hardware of the Soul, page 16)

Monday, January 5, 2009

A Book is Born!

For anyone who has ever labored over a book (and this is about my 30th project) -- you know the joy of seeing it birthed into the world. Today is the debut of a long anticipated collaborative effort with Dr. Henslin: This is Your Brain on Joy. To celebrate the book birthday, I've decided to create a blog for people who love God, want more joy in their lives, and find brain research fascinating.

Dr. Daniel Amen, who wrote the foreword for this book, gave me a brainscan to help with my own research in writing. In posts to come, I'll share those results! (But to inquiring minds: yes, I did have a brain. And yes, I was enormously relieved.) You may have seen Dr. Amen on PBS Specials in recent months speaking on his bestselling books, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life and lately, A Magnificant Mind at Any Age.

Today he graced us with this wonderful review, posted to Thank you, Dr. Amen.
As my 7 year old niece would say, "You TOTALLY rock." Without further fanfare, here it is:

Dr. Daniel Amen’s Review of This is Your Brain on Joy by Dr. Earl Henslin

Newly Released by Thomas Nelson Publishers January 6, 2008

Who’s Minding Your… Mind?

What does grey matter have to do with peace and joy?

A lot more than most of us realize.

Many of my clients who are very religious are both stunned and relieved when they find out that their behavior or mood issues may be physical rather than spiritual problems. So it is with great joy that I want to recommend a new book by dear friend and longtime colleague, Dr. Earl Henslin. Though the book will encourage people of any faith, it is written from a distinctly compassionate Christian viewpoint and may be especially helpful to the dazed and confused sitting in our church pews!

Be ready to have a few of your long-held assumptions challenged, and discover some “ah-ha” insights that will deepen your understanding and widen your compassion. In this breakthrough book, Dr. Earl Henslin reveals how the study of brain imaging turned his practice of psychotherapy upside down – with remarkably positive results. He shares answers to puzzling questions such as:

Why isn’t my faith in God enough to erase my blue moods?
Why haven’t I been able to conquer my anger? Pray away my fear and worry? Why can’t I find freedom from secret obsessions and addictions?

Using my Amen Brain System Checklist and the 5 Basic Mood Areas in the brain, Dr. Henslin reveals what happens to our minds when any of those areas are out of balance. And the fun part? He applies the latest brain research to our everyday lives in an entertaining, enjoyable and informative way. (You don’t have to be a neurosurgeon to love this book.)

This Is Your Brain on Joy offers a wide variety of practical, researched-based ways to nourish and balance your brain, including

· Up-to-date nutritional information
· Exercise as powerful as anti-depressants
· Corrective thinking techniques
· Supplements and/or medical recommendations
· Music, beauty, nature, aromatherapy
· Uplifting movies and books
· Scriptures and prayers to help soothe and nourish specific areas of the brain
· The healing power of community and charity
…… and more!

Finally, Dr. Henslin, an avid and lifelong student of scripture, includes a mini-study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians where the aging apostle unveils his “secrets” to lasting joy.

Read this book and you’ll know how exactly how to nourish your mind, balance your brain and help others do the same. After all, the capacity for joy is a terrible thing to waste.

“This Is Your Brain on Joy is a thoughtful, practical, life-changing book that will help you take advantage of the latest neuroscience research, combined with biblical insights, to bring more joy and love into your life.”
—Daniel G. Amen, MD
from the Foreword


Dr. Earl Henslin is licensed marriage and family child counselor, faculty member at Rosemead Graduate School of Psychology and Asuza Pacific University, and author of five books and numerous professional articles. He is a member of several professional organizations and helped found Overcomers Outreach to aid churches in establishing support groups. For the past eight years, working closely with the pioneer in brain imaging research, Daniel G. Amen, MD, Dr. Henslin has been integrating brain imaging into the treatment of psychological, physical, and spiritual problems at his counseling center, Henslin & Associates, Group Counseling Practice, in Brea, California.