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Home » All, Health, Mindfulness, Strengths

Three Stones between Health and Illness

By on March 8, 2009 – 7:00 am  13 Comments

Denise Quinlan, MAPP '08, is a trainer with the Penn Resiliency Program and Strath Haven Positive Psychology Curriculum and is currently a PhD student focusing on strengths and subjective well being. She has over twenty years experience in management consulting. Helping people discover strengths and what makes life worth living is what Denise enjoys most, that and the joy of a good theory. Full bio. Denise's articles are here.



Editor’s Note:  This is the first article by Denise Quinlan on PPND.  We are delighted you’re here, Denise!

We take in new information all the time. We assess it, make sense of it and move on, often without literally more than a moment’s thought. Then there are other pieces of information that once filed away, keep coming back for further attention. We turn them over like smooth stones in our hands, hoping that through time and attention they will reveal their meaning and significance. Over the past year, I’ve been turning over three such smooth stones and wondering what they might add up to. I’d like to share them with you this week and then discuss them each in turn over the coming months.

Stone One: The Dark Side of Strengths

The first is Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman’s table of the 24 Values-In-Action character strengths along with the opposite, lack of, and too much of each strength. Peterson has said he thinks that these “disorders” (opposite, absence, and excess) of character strengths may be “the real DSM” (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) (Peterson & Seligman, 2004; Peterson, 2008). The absence of a naturally occurring strength or its “abnormal” development may be what causes pathology. In other words, what really goes wrong with us may be a failure of things to go right with us.

Imagine in 50 years’ time having a DSM based on a theory of strengths where illness stems from disorders of these strengths. It’s perhaps even harder to imagine the sheer volume of work and the sea change in thinking that would go hand-in-hand for that to happen. How can I use this Peterson prediction to develop practical interventions that will help keep me or my clients on the strength path rather than the disorder one?

Stone Two: Mindfulness in Managing Pain

The second relates to the role of mindfulness and acceptance in managing chronic pain. Lance McCracken works with chronic pain patients and believes that “In many cases of human suffering, at least some of the time, control is not the solution; it’s the problem” (2008). Trying to control the uncontrollable only increases suffering; instead McCracken and his colleagues at the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases focus on mindfulness, acceptance of pain, and helping patients carry on with the life they want, despite the pain (McCracken, Gauntlett-Gilbert, & Vowles, 2006).

Mindful of Wilbert Fordyce’s observation that “those who have something better to do don’t suffer as much,” they ask patients to identify what’s most important to them and to commit to acting in alignment with those values, an approach based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (McCracken, Vowles, & Eccleston, 2005). Knowing what’s most important to you and acting in alignment with those values sunds similar to identifying your strengths and using them on a daily basis. Perhaps we can learn from our clinical colleagues and explore how mindfulness and values-based action could benefit the healthy as much those in pain.

Stone Three: Our Bodies and Our World

The third stone I’ve been turning over is Peter Gluckman’s theory of “mismatch” between our bodies and our world. He describes “maturational mismatch” as the interaction of biological plasticity and environmental differences. The reality of this mismatch was apparent to anyone who saw recent international media reports of a thirteen year old boy in England who has fathered a child with a fifteen year old girl. When asked if he would be financially responsible for the child he had to ask his father what “financially” meant.

In his book with Mark Hanson, Gluckman argues that our gene-environment interactions have, for a variety of reasons, resulted in mismatches which are producing the epidemic of metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity, and a maturational mismatch.  “The coincidence of reproductive and psychosocial maturation which existed for most of our history has been lost” (Gluckman & Hanson, 2006). As children have become healthier and our society has become more complex, the age of puberty has fallen while the age of psychosocial maturity has risen.

Gluckman’s advice to those working with adolescents was that the culture of blame is not appropriate, that we need to re-think how we address biological maturity with younger adolescents, and consider how we can help them develop psychosocial maturity at an earlier stage. Five hundred years ago when no maturational mismatch existed, eighteen year olds were full members of their communities — connected and contributing — with a sense of belonging and perhaps even purpose. Positive psychology has highlighted the importance of these factors for well-being. Perhaps they are also candidates for reducing the maturational mismatch.

The Three Stones

Part of what these three stones add up to is further evidence that how we think about health and illness is changing. Strengths and their dark side, mindfulness and pain, our bodies and our world.  The old dichotomies are blurring. The line between the body and mind is increasingly shown to be of our making and not a reflection of how we function. We may pursue control when acceptance may be more effective. And acceptance involves sitting with what we don’t yet understand and turning it over in our hands. I’m turning these stones over to you and look forward to hearing what other meaning or significance you may find here.
 


 

References:

Gluckman, P. & Hanson, M. (2006). Mismatch: The Lifestyle Diseases Timebomb. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McCracken, L. (2008). Presentation to the International Congress of Behavioural Medicine, August 2008, Tokyo, Japan.

McCracken, L., Gauntlett-Gilbert, & Vowles, (2006). The role of mindfulness in a contextual cognitive-behavioral analysis of chronic pain-related suffering and disability. Pain, 131 63–69.

McCracken, L., Vowles, K., & Eccleston, C. (2005). Acceptance-based treatment for persons with complex, long standing chronic pain: a preliminary analysis of treatment outcome in comparison to a waiting phase. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 43, 1335–1346.

Peterson, C. (2008). Lecture comments. MAPP program, University of Pennsylvania, February 2008.

Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Images: Creative Commons 2.0
“Wallpaper Zen Spirit 1400×900 edition 2006” by CyboRoZ
Two stones courtesy of keepps
“Zen” by cheesy42
“White Balance” by chefranden

13 Comments »

  • WJ says:

    Denise,

    There is much more to mindfulness than treating pain. See a summary of some of the research at http://www.innate-intelligence.com.au/blog/?cat=33

    I work in corporate enviornments in oz teaching resilience – a part of the program involves teaching mindfulness (as distinct from meditation). Outinely participnats say “This should be taught in Schools”.

    Given your PhD what are your perspectives on teaching mindfulness in Schools?

  • Louis Alloro says:

    Welcome to PPND, Denise. Looking forward to your explication in the months to come. You’ve wet my appetite.

    Louis

  • Denise Quinlan says:

    Louis – thanks for that.
    Wayne, I agree wholeheartedly that there is more to mindfulness than pain. I find it interesting that mindfulness has gained traction in the medical field to help deal with pain, but less so among ‘the well’ to enhance our lives. I hope your training is part of changing all that.

    I love the comment ‘this should be taught in schools’ – I would like to use it in satisfaction surveys. Whenever a client says that I know they’ve found what I’m doing useful. Your clients obviously value your training.

    I’m not an expert on mindfulness and that’s not the focus of my Phd, however I can see potential benefits of teaching mindfulness in schools, or any approach/modality which can help increase acceptance and compassion for self and others. The emotional awareness and regulation aspect of resilience training in schools is arguably already teaching students to become more mindful of their situation, beliefs and their consequences.
    Cheers
    Denise

  • Nikki says:

    So great to hear your words again! I really enjoyed your article, great stones to turn over!

  • Senia Maymin says:

    Denise Quinlan!

    Some of my favorite discussions with people in positive psychology come when we toss a handful of ideas into the air and see how they mesh.

    Thank you. Am totally looking forward to seeing and hearing more about these three stones.

    What a meditatively written piece too.

    Best,
    Senia

  • Hi, Denise-
    Thanks for this piece. You’ve got me thinking! I am intrigued by this:

    “The line between the body and mind is increasingly shown to be of our making and not a reflection of how we function.”

    Have you read The Mind and the Brain, by Jeffrey Schwartz and Sharon Begley? They say, quite directly,

    “It is the life we lead that creates the brain we have.”

    Then there is evolutionary psych which says we have evolved our bodies and brains over time and much of our response to the world is transparent to us (e.g.: moral intuition)but socially valuable.

    What do you think? Thanks for stimulating my thinking!

    🙂 Sherri

  • Hi Denise!

    Welcome to PPND! Having been highly interested in your writing in the past, I’m looking forward to reading more from you!

    I’d like to pick up on what Sherri is saying. If you have read my past articles, you already know that I firmly believe that mind and body are related in many many ways. The books and studies I’ve come across point in that direction. However, I know you to be very analytical, thoughtful and convincing. So I’d love to hear more on what formed your conclusion that the line between mind and body is of our making. I’m thoroughly intrigued!

    I once read a quote that said “When everyone agrees, it’s because nobody thinks.” (I forget who the quote in from – shame on me – if anyone can help, please do!) Let’s put our heads together and see where we end up!

    Warmly,

    MarieJ

  • Denise C. says:

    Dear Denise,

    Thank you for this excellent post. Your piece reminds me of this quote by Santayana:

    “To be happy you must have taken the measure of your powers, tasted the fruits of your passion, and learned your place in the world.”

  • Margaret says:

    Denise – welcome to PPND! I look forward to reading more about your “stones” in future articles. I think what’s also changing is the language we use. When we talk about “interventions” it still sounds like something is wrong with the person, team, etc. I’d love to see us develop a new language that is more positive and strengths based. Welcome aboard!

  • Denise Quinlan says:

    Hi NIkki B! I was delighted to see you online – looking forward to seeing you in June and hearing how your work is going.
    All the best,D

  • Denise Quinlan says:

    Hi Sherri,
    in response to your comment – yes, to both! The life we lead [and the life our mother leads while we’re in utero] creates the brain we have, and yes, we have evolved over time in ways that we are only beginning to understand. For example, it’s only recently that we’ve understood how and why positive emotions might have evolved. And I agree, there will be lots of ways in which we display adaptive behaviours we’re not even aware of.

    I really believe that we can’t understand how we’re functioning if we keep looking for “either/or” answers.

    I think we’ve evolved to do certain things, but that’s not all the picture. Gene environment interactions mean that our genes respond – even before we’re born – to the environment they expect us to be born into. After that we’re still continually ‘evolving’ in interaction with our environment – and that includes with how we think and how we use our minds.

    Major caveat here, I am not an expert,and I’m sure there are more accurate and elegant ways of explaining this. Our evolution isn’t a one-off only event that happens when our genes are passed on to us, it’s a life-long event that happens as we live and interact with our environment.

    I think concepts of set points or set ranges may prove to be more elastic than we currently envisage them. What’s your thinking on those?
    Thanks for your comments – you’ve got me thinking 🙂
    Denise

  • Denise Quinlan says:

    Hi Marie-J and Margaret,
    thanks for your comments. I agree absolutely that the language we use is changing and needs to. We struggle to find lanaguage to describe our minds and bodies as other than separate. We’ve done such a good job being Cartesian dualists that it’s hard to get around it.
    When I say the line between mind and body is of our making, I mean the collective received wisdom we’ve inherited from the past hundreds of years has invented that line, while other traditions don’t make that separation.

    We say body and mind, but our mind is part of our body and our emotions arise in and change our bodies [Candice Pert’s ‘Molecules of Emotion provides good detail on this].

    For example, I am curious about Chris Peterson’s ‘head/heart’ distinction with the VIA strengths. We all know what he means, but does that distinction really hold true for all those strengths? And does that division actually obscure some things we might otherwise notice?

    Margaret, I’d love to hear your thoughts on positive changes to our language.

    Thanks to you both,
    Denise

  • Oh! I am now greatly reassured! I had misunderstood what you meant by “the line between mind and body is of our making”! You meant that there is no separating line – I thought you meant there was no connecting line! So in the end we are on the same page: mind and body are two parts of the same entity, or maybe they are one and the same.

    Totally agreed! That corresponds more the the Denise I know!

    Warmly,
    MarieJ

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