Book Review: This Is Your Brain on Joy

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a book review. I finished reading “This Is Your Brain on Joy” several weeks ago, but I haven’t had a chance to get the review put together yet. I guess like most amateur writers, I go through ups and downs. I’ve heard that the difference between an amateur writer and a professional writer is that the professional writes when he (or she) doesn’t want to. I also assume that the professional writer also writes when he (or she) doesn’t have time to either. Of course, a professional writer probably doesn’t have pesky interruptions like a non-professional writing job getting in the way either.

This book was a real sleeper surprise. At the time, Thomas Nelson didn’t have any books available for bloggers to review that interested me. This one sounded like it could be interesting in the right context. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a book with a product page that starts “What does the latest research in brain science and brain imaging say about our ability (or inability) to experience joy and happiness?” Honestly, I was expecting a bunch of psycho-babble. I was wrong.

Dr. Earl Henslin is a neuroscientist. I’m not sure what his exact designation is. He’s not a neurologist. In any case, he’s a counselor who focuses specifically on the brain. He attended a seminar put on by Dr. Daniel Amen, became fascinated with Dr. Amen’s work, and spent many years working with Dr. Amen, opening up a clinic in southern California.

This book deals with 5 specific regions of the brain and the problems that can be caused by trouble in each area. Dr. Henslin also speaks of various treatments that can be applied for brain problems, from simple nutritional adjustments to movies and books for those particular issues to Scriptures and music and finally medication.

Dr. Henslin begins the book with his own story, followed by explanations of the concepts that you’ll be reading about soon. Although this is brain science, Dr. Henslin does what I consider to be a very good job of reducing all of the concepts to layman’s terms. Some of them I consider silly. He uses a character, Noggin, on a tour of the brain to describe the reasons. I found that silly in an annoying way. I know one of the channels my kids watch has something to do with “Noggin”. At first I didn’t like the names he uses for the regions of the brain until I realized that they helped me to remember them.

He starts in the Pre-Frontal Cortex. This chapter, out of all of the chapters, is where I saw myself most clearly. Most imbalances in this area seem to manifest as some form or another of ADD. For some reason, I always score very high on ADD assessment tests. Dr. Henslin provides a test in the book that he gives to visitors to his clinic. I skipped over the test at first.

When I got to the second part of the brain, I saw my wife as clearly as I saw myself in the Pre-Frontal Cortex section. I then decided that we needed to take the test. After the kids went to bed, we sat at the table with the book. We each took the test, then took the test for each other. As we rated each other, we both learned new things. It was very interesting to find some of the fears and insecurities that my wife has, and I think she learned a lot about me that night.

I found myself again in the Temporal Lobe section, which Dr. Henslin calls the “Temper Lofts”. I think it contains a fairly accurate description of me at times.

In each chapter, Dr. Henslin begins with an account of a real person. Often it’s a patient of his, sometimes it’s a celebrity. He used General George Patton as a classic example of somebody with a temporal lobe problem. Each chapter also includes a brain scan showing what a brain looks like with problems in that area under Dr. Amen’s brain scan.

The chapters also include success stories of patients who have been able to come to grips with their brain problems through Dr. Henslin’s treatment. He provides case studies.

The end of the book contains appendices. One is an account of an assistant of Dr. Henslin’s who went through the brain scan in his clinic to help her understand as she helped him write the book. He also includes an appendix on helping you see if you need to be scanned, and another appendix specifically dealing with PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which affects just about the entire brain.

One potential objection to this book that kept coming back to me as I read it, is that some might think Dr. Henslin is using neuroscience to cover up personal responsibility, or, since this is a Christian book, sin. I did not see that at all. What Dr. Henslin seems to be saying is that sometimes, a problem goes beyond what can be explained by sin, irresponsibility, demon possession, or any of the usual causes. Sometime people are prevented from experiencing true joy in their lives because of a problem in their brain, either because of an injury, a bad experience, or an imbalance. Dr. Henslin and Dr. Amen and hopefully many others seek to minister to those people with their treatments.

This Is Your Brain on Joy is hardcover, 240 pages, and suggested retail is $22.99. You can currently buy it on Amazon new for $15.63.

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