The Surgeon General Links Present Happiness With Future Health: The Role of Neurofeedback
Dr. Jon Cowan - Friday, January 15, 2016
The authoritative American Medical Association
Wire recently (12/28/15) ran an important story which you may not have seen due to
the holiday. Titled "The Simple Way to Boost Your Health You May Have
Overlooked", it clearly stated that there is a link between present-day
happiness and future health, echoing the thoughts and research of many positive
psychologists over the past few years. The article is particularly noteworthy
because it is based on the conclusions of none other than the U.S. Surgeon
General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, and quotes his TEDMED presentation quite
It has me thinking about adding to our Peak
BrainHappiness Trainer labeling: "Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined
That Increasing Your Happiness Is Beneficial to Your Health"
Dr. Murthy said he has traveled to various
communities throughout the country and has witnessed the unexpected benefits
happiness can have on public health.
“Happiness affects us on a biological level.
Happy people have lower levels of cortisol, a key stress hormone,” he said
during a presentation at TEDMED 2015. Happy people “have more favorable heart
rates and blood pressure levels. They have strong immune systems … and lower
levels of inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein that is linked to
coronary heart disease. It turns out that even when you control for smoking,
physical activity and other health behaviors, happy people live longer. There’s
something about happiness that seems to be protective.”
“Now you may ask yourself, ‘Does happiness really lead to
better health? Isn’t it the other way around—doesn’t happiness result from good
health and favorable circumstance?’” Dr. Murthy said, noting that people often
think their happiness hinges upon contingencies, such as losing 15 more pounds,
getting a better job or earning more money.
However, “the truth is that while circumstances can and do
impact our short-term happiness, our long-term happiness is far more driven by
how we process life events than by the events themselves,” he
The Surgeon General is backing a lot of research performed
by positive psychologists, and particularly a meta-analysis performed by Dr. Ed
Diener and Rita Chan, which reported that 157 of 160 studies indicated that
better health followed increased happiness. Dr. Diener is Senior Scientist at
the Gallup Organization and a Professor at the University of Virginia.
An Erroneous Contrary
Unfortunately, almost at the same time, the British
Journal Lancet published a very large epidemiological study by Bette Liu and colleagues
claiming exactly the opposite--that happiness did not affect future death rates.
This was reported on CBS Sunday Morning and
elsewhere. The study contained a number of methodological errors and poor
assumptions, and was soon called into question by an OpEd piece in the LA Times, authored by
Dr. Diener and his colleagues. I spotted one of the major problems that they
referred to and wrote to the author. It seems that those British women who were
unhappiest--those that went to a doctor with complaints and were labelled as
depressed or anxious--were considered as having a health problem from the onset
of the prospective study, which then examined death rates, and corrected
statistically for these health problems. I wrote to Dr. Liu, who finally
pointed me to a Table (#2) in the Appendix in which you can "see effects",
according to her. There is at least a 14% improvement in death rate if you are
"happy most of the time" rather than unhappy. So the original finding that
enhanced happiness leads to future improved health stands.
A Psychobiological Approach to a
From my perspective, the Surgeon General added his
emphasis on a very important part of the puzzle--the relationships between
biological and psychological changes that form a very complex web in the
relationships between happiness and health. It is unfortunate that the article
did not mention anything about the key role of brain systems involving
neuromodulators, particularly dopamine and phenethylamine. [Perhaps it is in
the TEDMED tape, yet to be released.] It has become clear that increasing the
levels of dopamine, which decline with age, increases longevity.
We believe that one key place to intervene
positively in the functioning of this complex web is to enhance the functioning
of the Neureka! brain system via the Neureka! neurofeedback training included in our Peak BrainHappiness Trainer. The
Neureka! brain system includes the interaction between a high frequency (40 Hz.)
brain rhythm, which increases learning by searching for new connections between
aspects of our experiences, and the dopamine reward system's extension into the
prefrontal cortex, which rewards you for your efforts to learn. Our data, which has been presented at
ISNR, indicates that when you train this system to put out larger
Neureka! brain rhythms, this is associated with better memory and long-lasting
enhanced happiness. This can be done in as few as twelve 25-minute sessions
once a week, and probably even fewer with more frequent training. We have also presented data
which shows an association between positive feelings and higher amplitude
Neureka! rhythms, with as little as 10 seconds of EEG.
Improving Appreciation, Attitude Towards Life, and
The experience of Neureka! training improves
your attitude towards life, changing the way you process life events, which the
the Surgeon General regards as a key. When you enhance your Neureka! rhythm,
you feel an increased appreciation of the videos being shown on the screen, and
the picture responds by enlarging, as shown in the video. Within a few sessions, this begins to carry over to your overall
life experience. This should produce a
stronger effect than many of the positive psychology exercises that the Surgeon
General advocates because it works at a deeper, more neurophysiological level.
You can feel your happiness increase within the first few minutes, as you
activate the Neureka! system with the help of our biofeedback.
research has also shown that happiness also enhances future success in a number
of areas. People like to be around happy people and and tend to reward them
more to maintain the relationship.
clearly a major new frontier for neurofeedback, with the new ability to train
clients to improve happiness, health, and even success. We suggest that a wide variety of practitioners consider including this in their offerings and their
marketing. Please call us at 800-886-4228 or 502-228-0605 or inquire if you are interested in this new possibility.
D. Cowan, Ph.D., BCN
President and CTO, NeuroTek, LLC.
Manufacturer of the Peak BrainHappiness Trainer and the Peak Achievement
Trainer, called "The Victor Within: The Coach Who Will Put You in the Zone" by
the New York Times Magazine's special issue on important new technology,
1103 Hollendale Way, Goshen, KY 40026
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