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The Secret of Happiness

The greatest gift of all this festive season might just be you, suggests Jeremy Ball 

All sentient beings want to be happy, all behaviours are a call for love and affection, however convoluted some may seem.

As His Holiness the Dalai Lama recently put it when asked to tweet the essence of his philosophy: “More compassionate mind, more sense of concern for other's well being, is source of happiness. Too much self centered attitude brings isolation. Result: loneliness, fear, anger. The extreme self centered attitude is the source of suffering.” 

So with the festive season soon upon us, a time of caring and sharing with family and loved ones and often a time of material excess, I am turning my mind to how we can use this opportunity to do something of lasting benefit in the world and truly give a gift worth giving by helping struggling people get a lift up in life.

A few Christmases ago I asked that my only presents be donations through Oxfam and you cannot believe the joy I got from receiving cards and emails saying that auntie Mildred had gifted a family in Sierra Leone a goat (much better than the dodgy tie she would have bought me for $20) and that cousin Gladys had gifted a box of seeds to a struggling farmer in Bogota on my behalf.

You could not wipe the smile off my face and I received a genuine warm feeling in my heart to boot, much better than pretending to like the obscure gift I had been given.

Let’s face it - the vast majority of us in Australia have more books than we are ever going to read, perfectly good clothes that will never festoon our bodies and all manner of utensils and gadgets that will never see the light of day.

So why clutter up our homes and the houses of friends and family with any more? Ignore the best cajoling of the season’s commercials and billboards and put your hard earned dollars into a steadfast investment; a smile on the face and a hope in the heart of somebody who really needs it. Someone not concerned with being fashionable nor cool but just clothed and safe and fed.

While you are settling down in front of the TV this Christmas thinking about whether you should pay thousands to redecorate the hall in the New Year...

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Nova View:
Spread a little Christmas joy

As we gear ourselves up for the festive season ahead, I thought I’d share this little story to help keep your life on an even keel.

It’s a sad truth that what should be the happiest time of the year is often anything but! Maybe, though, we can each go a long way towards keeping that balance.

I read an online blog recently where a young woman lamented her rude treatment on the New York subway.

She readily admitted she was overweight but nothing justified the verbal spray she received when she dared to squeeze into a vacant, highly prized space in the morning rush hour, lightly touching legs with the man sitting next to her. To rub salt into the wound, he then leapt up to offer his seat to a slimmer young woman!

Among the responses to her story, ranging from supportive (most) to criticism of her daring to think she could occupy the space (sadly more than a few), one stood out, a cab driver’s description of “the garbage dump response”. His reasoning - and who is wiser than a taxi driver? - was that so many people carry so much garbage within them that all they need is someone to press the lever and out it all comes.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we know exactly what he means - the pressures of modern life with such rapid change and uncertainty are making us increasingly stressed and fearful. Ask yourself how many times a day you lose your temper or at least come close.

Going back to that wise taxi driver, his advice was to take it with a smile and wish that unhappy person, whoever they may be, a good day.

Another incident in India where I was travelling with my husband and son proved the wisdom of that advice. After a long day driving across the country to reach Goa for the night, we saw a single light coming towards us on the road. Then, as the motorbike roared by, an expletive yelled at us in a distinct American accent, shattered the evening calm. The effect was so discordant that we all, including our gentle Keralan driver who had very few words of English but understood this one, looked at each other and simultaneously burst out laughing...

Margaret EvansRead the Nova View
by Nova Editor
Margaret Evans

Margaret Evans
NOVA Editor
December 2014

The Burden of Stress

Peter Dingle PhD says the evidence is overwhelming that high stress levels lead to chronic disease including cancer

At both a personal and professional level, I have no doubt that stress is one of the major contributing factors to cancer and other forms of chronic illness. Without any doubt it is one of our major killers. But we don’t die from stress - we just die from other illnesses caused by stress. 

Stress can either enhance or suppress immune functions, depending on a variety of factors such as duration of a stressful condition.

While acute stress can have immune benefits, chronic stress (distress) has been demonstrated to exert a significant suppressive effect on immune function (1) and gradual degradation of the immune system. This results in a range of illnesses including cancer, and increasing vulnerability to viruses, from herpes to the common cold. 

Impaired immune response 

As early as 1977, studies showed that immunosuppression, measured by a drop in proliferation of lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell in the immune system), occurred to a significant extent among people who were mourning the loss of a loved one (2,3), and that the number of lymphocytes in medical students dropped significantly during stressful periods such as exams (4). 

Stress has been shown to: decrease the number of leukocytes; impair immune response to immunisations; affect T-cell response and antibody production; and diminish cytotoxity of natural killer (NK) cells, the rapid response to viruses and cancer cells (5,6,7).

An extensive body of experimental and clinical evidence documents the negative impact of chronic psychological stress and depression on the immune system and health. One study found that stress, and stress-related depression, could result in a lowering of lymphocyte activity (including NK cells) by up to 50%. The significant finding of this study, however, was that this diminished lymphocyte activity could be prevented to a large extent by a diet high in antioxidants (8). Natural killer (NK) cell impairment is associated with the increased likelihood of contracting infectious diseases, susceptibility to autoimmune diseases and cancer (9).

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