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Asian J Psychiatr. 2013 Dec;6(6):590-4. doi: 10.1016/j.ajp.2013.08.073. Epub 2013 Aug 30.

Psychiatry, religion, positive emotions and spirituality.

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Harvard Medical School, The Study of Adult Development Massachusetts General Hospital, 151 Merrimac Street, 2nd floor, Boston, MA 02114, United States. Electronic address:


This paper proposes that eight positive emotions: awe, love/attachment, trust/faith, compassion, gratitude, forgiveness, joy and hope constitute what we mean by spirituality. These emotions have been grossly ignored by psychiatry. The two sciences that I shall employ to demonstrate this definition of spirituality will be ethology and neuroscience. They are both very new. I will argue that spirituality is not about ideas, sacred texts and theology. Rather, spirituality is all about emotion and social connection that are more dependent on the limbic system than the cortex. Specific religions, for all their limitations, are often the portal through which positive emotions are brought into conscious attention. Neither Freud nor psychiatric textbooks ever mention emotions like joy and gratitude. Hymns and psalms give these emotions pride of place. Our whole concept of psychotherapy might change, if clinicians set about enhancing positive emotions, rather than focusing only on the negative ones.


Positive emotions, Positive psychology, Alcoholics Anonymous, Religion, Spirituality

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