In my search for what science has discovered that we can use to improve our day, I have read many, many academic studies and research projects. Along the line, I have discovered one particular conclusion which might surprise you. Yet the research is broad and overwhelming that it significantly improves one’s life. Praying.
Great Day Suggestion #5: Take a minute to thank God in prayer.
Surveys tell us 7 of 10 adults “pray” regularly. So, does it really help? What does the science lab teach us?
In many studies, researchers found that praying sets a tone for a sense of well-being as the day starts. For example, Dr. B. L. Fredrickson (2001) found that people who meditated or prayed daily showed significantly more positive emotions throughout the day than those who did not. As well, three months after the experiment was over, the people who meditated or prayed daily continued to display increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, and decreased illness symptoms.
Dr. Lisa Miller, director of Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, found that MRI’s of people who regularly prayed had thicker cerebral cortices when compared to those who did not. The thinning of the cortice is an indicator of impending ill health. Thicker cortices indicated a lesser chance of suffering from emotional issues and depression. Praying influences your state of mind, helps you relax, and reduces mental and physical stress. This seems to improve the health of various body organs.
This well-being is not just about the benefits of “relaxation” or calm, either. Prayer reminds us we are not alone in this universe. It turns out that acknowledging a real God is good for us. Dr. Ken Pargement of Bowling Green University conducted a study where he instructed one group of people who suffer migraines to meditate 20 minutes each day repeating a God-focused prayer, such as “God is good. God is peace. God is love.” The other group used a nonspiritual mantra: “Grass is green. Sand is soft.” The spiritual prayer group had fewer headaches and more tolerance of pain than those who meditated on the neutral phrases. Those who acknowledged God’s presence did significantly better than those who did not.
Over and over, secular studies prove what they cannot really explain: thankfulness and praying to God makes one healthier. Recent studies at the National Institute of Health, Berkeley, Dartmouth Medical School, the University of Cincinnati, Thomas Jefferson Medical School, and the Journal of Gerontology agree: prayer boosts the immune system, aids in recovery from heart attacks, lessens the severity and frequency of a wide range of illnesses, and leads to longer lives. It makes us happier and more optimistic. Several NIH studies show blood supply to critical brain areas increases with expressed or prayed gratefulness, especially in the hypothalamus — the brain key for eating, sleeping, and energy levels. (PsychologyToday.com: “The Greatful Brain”; GreaterGood.berkeley.edu: “How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain”; Christianpost.com: “studies find that prayer has physical healing effects on the brain.”)
Benjamin Franklin wrote this prayer to start each day:
“O Powerful Goodness! Bountiful Father! Merciful Guide! Increase in me that wisdom which discovers my truest interest. Strengthen my resolutions to perform what that wisdom dictates. Accept my kind offices to Thy other children as the only return in my power for Thy continual favors to me.”
The bottom line: while science doesn’t understand exactly how it works, it is clear that seeking a God who hears and understands us in prayer does help us live better each day. Hmmm. Could it be that Someone out there really is listening?
Great day suggestions so far:
1. Start the morning the night before: mis-en-place. More on that here.
2. Get up when the alarm rings the first time. More on that here.
3. Skip the electronic media in the morning. Period. More here.
4. Live today! And do it with an intentional, positive attitude. More here.
5. Thank God in prayer each day.
Tomorrow (really): Eat something good (with a surprise, I think)!