By now, everybody knows about "emotional intelligence" and the EQ (the social and emotional equivalent of IQ) movement among school psychologists and managers. The concept was made popular by Daniel Goleman in his best-selling book "Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ." A Harvard Ph.D. in research psychology and one-time science writer for The New York Times, Goleman is a Buddhist and a mind-body pioneer who blends Oriental practice with Western knowledge of the brain. Success in school or work, he shows, depends less on cold intellect than upon warm emotional qualities such as empathy.
Goleman's EQ crusade set the stage for work in "spiritual intelligence," or SQ, and several dozen young psychologists are now working in this growing field, researching topics such as forgiveness, humility, gratitude, and hope. In fact, SQ has turned out to be the most exciting branch of "positive psychology," with its attempt to liberate the trade from decades of one-eyed obsession with mental disease: frustration, aggression, anger, paranoia, neurosis, and other pathologies.
SQ clearly belongs with seven other forms of intelligence defined by Harvard's Howard Gardner: linguistic skill, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, musical, kinesthetic (athletic talent), interpersonal (mainly EQ), intrapersonal. Gardner used tough criteria to show that each intelligence is used to solve problems and fashion products in particular cultures and communities.
The SQ field earned its charter two years ago when Robert A. Emmons, research psychologist at the University of California at Davis, used experiments to show exactly how SQ fulfills the Gardner criteria. For example, it has an identifiable core or set of operations, an evolutionary history and plausibility, characteristic patterns of development, and support from psychometric findings. One could add that it's also good for you and improves with practice.
Here are a few lines of SQ research reported to a panel organized by the National Institute of Healthcare Research (NIHR):
Forgiveness: Rx for Hypertension
Long after psychologists found how the stress of anger--especially anger over unjust treatment--drives up blood pressure, a series of experiments at the University of Wisconsin found that the capacity to forgive may be the first line of defense against anger's boomerang. Another experiment reported at the last American Psychological Association (APA) convention found that just being reminded of unfair treatment drove up blood pressure in four seconds. Those able to forgive brought down their blood pressure much faster than those who remained angry.
The Dalai Lama once told me how he generates forgiveness for the Chinese, who invaded and deliberately destroyed people, property, and cultural and religious institutions in Tibet. In his mind, he raises an image of the most pathetic figure he knows, one truly worthy of pity, then replaces it with an image of the Chinese aggressor. His Holiness was delighted when I told him that there is medical evidence showing that his acts of forgiveness help him keep the blood pressure of a 6-year-old. "Ah, you see, only way to defeat your enemy is forgive him," he said, the irony of the statement driving him into a gale of giggles.
Rather than cite more studies, suffice it to say that the data in the area of forgiveness are robust, replicated many times over, and spelled out in detail by Southern Methodist University psychologist Michael E. McCullough in his new book, "Forgiveness: Theory, Research, and Practice" (The Guilford Press 2000), co-authored with Kenneth I. Pargament and Carl E. Thorensen.
Gratitude of the Twice-Blessed
Funded largely by Sir John Templeton's foundation, a rich body of gratitude research explores this complex emotion. In one well-designed experiment, Emmons confirmed that students who feel blessed by life report fewer physical complaints and significantly higher well-being. Emmons and co-researcher Cheryl A. Crumpler were puzzled to discover, however, that the grateful also tended to exercise more than the ungrateful--on average about an hour and a quarter each week.
There's a lovely irony in this growing body of research. Most of the virtues look, under traditional morality, like civilized behaviors that communities impose upon their members against their selfish interest. But new data show that truly moral behaviors such as forgiveness actually serve the forgiving person's self-interest. And there are provocative hints that the Samaritans in our midst get at least as much as they give because helping others is good for your health (see "The Healing Power of Doing Good" by Alan Luks, Ballantine Books, 1992).
The same kind of irony turns up in research on religious practices such as prayer: Harvard's Herbert Benson, M.D., has robust proof that prayers are healthy for those who pray, but there's much less proof that prayers help those prayed for. So we don't get to feel self-righteous any more about a moment of forgiveness or gratitude or charity because in our gut we know we're getting paid back in the coin of vitality.