Mind Matters — Strategies for Power: Brain Power, That Is

I’m avoiding writing about our capacity for denial in the face of facts. I’m also avoiding any discussion of violence right at the moment.

Bracketing the deeper issues of our day, I give you instead a review of a book on the brain. If you’re getting old (we’re all getting older, if not old), Brain Power: Improve Your Mind as You Age by Michael Gelb and Kelly Howell is of special interest.

It appears to be a well-researched read and gives credit to where credit is due: so instead of working through various journals, research articles, and the internet, this winter, sit by the fire with a glass of resveratrol (red wine) and enjoy the fruits of Gelb’s and Howell’s integrative labors.

While I am not a positive psychology adherent who eschews encounters with the dark emotions of sadness, depression, grief, I do see the value in attending to healthy antidotes to such feelings once the feelings themselves are honored and accepted as part of life. As a psychologist, I perceive that we must own all our feelings as authentic human experiences not to be dismissed or avoided.

Sometimes pop culture, self-help books seem to demean or diminish the shadow side of life that is so difficult to face. I facilitate a grief group for survivors of accident and murder. The last thing these mourners want from society is to be told, “get over it,” “what’s taking you so long?” They also don’t want their feelings to be dismissed with a flick of the wrist to the wonders of optimism.

Optimism is overrated. It is shallow and superficial when not understood as the other side of the coin of the reality of suffering.

With the caveat of “take optimism with a grain of salt,” I do recommend Brain Power and its optimistic findings. There is hope for the aging brain, the authors note, because mental abilities can improve throughout life. Neuroplasticity is the game changer. And to boot, although some brain cells die with age, new cells can be generated.

Gelb and Howell note that what helps keep the brain healthy is GFH: Gratitude, Forgiveness, and Humor. To find something each day to be grateful for; to forgive and let go of bitterness (The authors note that Oscar Wilde “quipped that you should always forgive your enemies because that annoys them more.”); to meet the day with humor (I recall another quote of Oscar Wilde: “Life is too important to take seriously.”).

Beyond GFH, Gelb and Howell recommend new learning (novelty of experience); the usual (exercise and healthy eating); and the beautiful (nature and a stimulus-rich environment).

So perhaps this book can help us cope with all those daily news events without denial after all.

For more information see www.brainsync.com or www.michaelgelb.com.