Those who enjoyed and learned from Dr. Dean Ornish's fine book, Love and Survival, will be glad they read Feeling Good Is Good for You. Drs. Charnetski and Brennan report on fascinating scientific research in human studies concerning the positive influence that various pleasurable experiences and influences can have on the body's immune system. "The human drive for pleasure, if satisfied in moderation, can assist us on the pathway to good health." The authors make it clear that pleasurable experiences and environments are not the only ways that the immune system can be supported.
The book provides a basic overview of how your immune system operates, and how various diseases are encouraged or repelled by strengthening or weakening immune responses.
The starting point for all kinds of mind-body research (psychoneuroimmunology or PNI, in this case) is the well-known placebo effect. Many people get better if they think they are receiving medications, even when they are not. The placebo effect works best when the evidence of receiving medication is strongest (such as through an IV in a hospital). This effect is a real one because the brain can calm stress-based hormonal and chemical turbulence, trigger feel-good chemicals, and cause chemicals to be released that stimulate the effectiveness of the immune system.
The book goes on to take a detailed look at how optimism versus pessimism, hostility, stress, music, friends, love, touching, pets, laughing, light, visualization, religious practices, eating and drinking habits, and the degrees of these factors influence specific parts of the immune system. At the end of each subject, you are given suggestions for ways to apply the lessons to your own life. In several sections (such as the one about stress on pages 76 and 77) you will find tests you can take to measure how this factor affects your life now.
The key lessons of these practices are summarized on page 181 as a 13 point pleasure formula.
One impressive part of the book was that the authors look at the implications of following these practices if these scientific studies are later overturned by newer research. Their argument that following this advice will do no harm seems persuasive.
Although I was aware of much of this kind of research from reading other books, I found many studies here that I had not read about before. Of particularly interest was the new research that the immune system can be conditioned to become stronger.
The big surprise for me was to see that one quiz showed my stress level to be apparently much greater than I would have subjectively described it as being. I wonder if you can build up an immunity to feeling stressed, even as potentially stress-inducing situations occur. Also, I wonder if different factors affect individuals differently. I find considerable pleasure in some of the "stressful" events on the list.
After you finish enjoying applying this book's "pleasure in moderation" lessons for a few days, I suggest that you think back to other things you have done in the past that have brought you stress reduction, contentment, moderate pleasure, or peace. How can you also incorporate those activities and elements into your life now?
Give a boost to the moderate enjoyment instincts of those you meet!