This is Your Brain on Joy

joy

“Brain science is no longer just a hot topic among nerds without girlfriends; its now cool to be into the brain!”

- Dr. Earl Henslin

Do cyclical negative thoughts keep you up at night and kidnap your joy? Are your moods unpredictable? Do you avoid deep relationships with others?  Do you constantly forget where you put your keys, your check book, your glasses or your mind?  If so, you should pick up a copy of Dr. Earl Henslin’s “This is Your Brain on Joy.”(Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2008)

Beyond the books eye-appealing cover art, Dr. Henslin tackles the complicated subject matter of brain science and communicates, in layman’s terms and with a sense of humor, how to understand the different sections, or “Mood Centers”, of the brain and explains how experiences and chemical imbalances in those Mood Centers impact the brain’s ability to experience joy.

The good news in this book is that no one is “stuck” with the brain they have today.  Brain scientists have discovered that the communication systems in our brains are pliable and able to grow, stretch and change by stimulating our internal, external and physical conditions.  Dr. Henslin explains this in great detail and gives specific examples of how and when to modify the internal, external and physical experiences, that we can control, to create conditions optimal for joy to bloom.  Our brain is literally shaped and changed by our experiences.  We have more control than we think.  As Dr. Henslin says, “What you choose to do, think about, surround yourself with, and put in your gullet make a difference.”

Founded in the discoveries of brain scan pioneer Dr. Daniel G. Amen, and rooted in the author’s spiritual depth and belief in God, the content of this book helps the reader understand the scientific sources of joy, identify joy blockers, and apply joy boosters to create good conditions for joy to blossom and bloom in its full glory.   Additionally, Dr. Henslin incorporates his understanding of science with his faith in God and helps the reader understand how science and spirituality work hand in hand in our pursuit of joy.

While much of the science discussed in “This is Your Brain on Joy” is based on results of research conducted in conjunction with actual brain scans, Dr. Henslin lists a series of questions he calls the Brain System Checklist to help the reader identify areas of their own brain that may or may not be out of balance.  The Brain System Checklist is typically used in conjunction with actual brain scans, so over time, Dr. Henslin and associates have successfully concluded that the answers to these questions reveal a fairly accurate picture of whats happening in the brain.  Basically the answers to these questions tell us whats going on in the brain without having an actual brain scan.

Dr. Henslin suggests that you answer the questions on the checklist and then have someone close to you answer the questions, without seeing your own answers, to give you a more realistic result.  I completed the checklist, then had my husband complete it with his answers about me, and I did find that our answers were very different.  I was a much tougher critic of myself than my husband, but that could be for any number of reasons.  In any event, seeing his answers juxtaposed with my own helped me to identify and prioritize the Mood Centers in my own brain that needed the most attention.   After reviewing the Brain System Checklist, Dr. Henslin takes each section and breaks down potential causes for imbalance and offers suggestions for achieving balance.  These suggestions range from aromatherapy and music therapy, to prayer and meditation on scripture, to diet changes and supplemental vitamins.  In some cases, medication may be necessary depending on the degree of trauma experienced and in need of healing.  In this case, Dr. Henslin always directs the reader to their physician and offers resources for identifying local therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists.

Don’t be intimidated by all the “science talk” in this review.  Dr. Henslin does an excellent job of breaking down the complicated material and giving examples that anyone can understand.  I enjoy his approach in describing the 5 major areas of the brain by listing their proper scientific name, and then giving the area a nick-name based on its scientific definition to help the reader remember and understand the details of that specific area.  For example, he nick-names the Prefrontal Cortex as the “Presidential Control Center” and the Basal Ganglia as “The Basement of Giant Fears.”  In other sections he uses characters such as the OCD detective Adrian Monk from the USA television comedy and Jack Nicholson’s academy award-winning performance of the character, Melvin, from movie “As Good As it Gets” to make the connection between whats happening in the brain and whats happening in some one’s behavior.  I commend Dr. Henslin on his authenticity and his humor.  He keeps you learning and laughing at the same time.

Finally, with regard to the spiritual aspect of this book, Dr. Henslin ends with a devotional on the Apostle Paul and a close look at the teaching of the New Testament book Philippians.   He unpacks the Epistle by focusing on Paul’s ability to be content in any circumstance, pointing the reader toward what Dr. Henslin calls “six little secrets of joy” which he describes as:

1. Reframe Your Chains

2. Shrink Irritants

3. Letting Go, Looking Ahead

4. The Remedy for High Anxiety

5. A Richly Stored Mind

6. Be Deep Spirited Friends

I found Dr. Henslin’s spiritual insights to be  as helpful as his scientific conclusions and firmly believe that one is not complete without the other.  An understanding of scripture and science is a good place to start in any believer’s quest to become “transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

If you are experiencing anything that keeps you from experiencing joy; if you have panic attacks, unpredictable outbursts of anger or irritation, trouble focusing; if you feel that uncontrollable fear, anxiety, or depression are preventing you from experiencing the abundant life due every man and woman; then you may need to have your head checked.  Fortunately for the masses, a weekend with Dr. Earl Henslin’s “This is Your Brain on Joy” and a willingness to make some minor (and in some cases major) life changes is all you need to start down your path to joy.

12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 15All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16Only let us live up to what we have already attained. – Philippians 3:12-16

See review on amazon.com here

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2 Responses to This is Your Brain on Joy

  1. Jess says:

    Your blog is always so creative, refreshing and interesting! Thank you!!

  2. Robert Westafer says:

    Brain Identity

    Suppose we have all been misled by language invented by our predecessors and the simple truth turns out to be that we are not “human beings” or “persons” but rather human brains that are intimately connected to all the organs and other parts of the particular human body in which we reside.
    What if the word “person” and the “personal pronouns” we commonly use such as “I”, “me”, “we”, “you”, etc. are only linguistic inventions of human brains that for one reason or another were unable to identify themselves correctly as actually being human brains?
    It can be shown that a human brain has the ability to create and use spoken and written language through the use of certain areas of cerebral cortex located usually its left hemisphere. Strokes or other damage in these areas cause impairment or loss of a human brain’s ability to produce and understand spoken and written language. Precisely which linguistic abilities are impaired or lost in any given instance and to what degree depends upon the exact location and extent of the brain damage.
    We know that every human brain and body has been built from a new combination of parental DNA that resulted from the union of a particular egg and a particular sperm which formed a single new cell; and over about a nine month period the information stored in the DNA inside that first new cell allowed it to divide and grow into trillions of new cells of various types, all of which were organized into the complexity of nature that in our linguistic simplicity we refer to as a newborn baby.
    We also know that having been built by DNA, each brain and body – beginning even during the building process and continuing ever after – has been continually modified by an enormous amount of environmental variables and experience which includes the present moment.
    Suppose for the sake of argument that I actually am a human brain that is continuous with a spinal cord and connected through nerves to all the organs and other parts of the body in which I reside. Such an identity may take a bit of time getting used to. But if that is my true identity, does that fact automatically mean that it is impossible for anything else to exist that is not made of atoms and molecules like I am? Or is it possible that something might exist that may be many orders of magnitude more intelligent and powerful than I am? Is it possible that something might exist that is in some way related to the awesome complexity of nature that is evident in the cosmos and can be seen throughout the living world on our planet and of which I am a part? Is that something that human brains might choose to call a “Supernatural Power”, or perhaps “God”?
    I am thrilled to be able to understand the basics of what I am and how I came into existence. But having such an understanding does not somehow automatically enlighten me as to the nature of everything else that may or may not exist.
    If I am only linguistically a “human being” or a “person” – a fictional entity invented by my predecessors that does not exist except in language, and that can be theoretically thought of as perhaps “owning” a brain and a body – but in reality I am actually a particular human brain that has been built by my DNA and modified by a ton of experience and that is intimately connected to and living within a particular human body, my body, then the brain inside my head – the brain that thinks precisely what I think, feels exactly what I feel, remembers everything that I remember, knows what I know, and has experienced everything that I have experienced – that brain located behind my forehead and inside my skull cannot be called “my brain”, as if I am somehow a separate entity that “owns” that brain, because that brain is, in fact, “me”.

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