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Praying Helps, But Whom?
by Dr. Arnie Gotfryd

One single prayer can heal a relationship, according to a new study released by Florida State University.
At least ninety per cent of Americans pray every day[1], asking and thanking their Maker for blessings of health, wealth and peace of mind. But what would happen, asked Psychologist Nathaniel Lambert of Florida State University, if we focused our prayers on the people that make us mad?
Experimental subjects were asked to pray just once for the welfare of their spouse or partner, someone they feel hostility towards at least part of the time. The results were dramatic. That one prayer was normally enough to take away vengeful thoughts and emotions, create forgiveness and get rocky relationships back on track.[2]
In a followup study, people were asked to pray for one friend, once a day for a month. By the end of that period, the one praying became less self-centered and more forgiving overall. This is a remarkable discovery, but it was already written about 200 years ago in the Tanya, the foundational text of chassidic thought. It explains[3] how pity cancels hatred thereby creating love.
Above and beyond the character enhancements and social benefits, the forgiveness factor associated with prayer has plenty of health perks of its own. Mayo Clinic researchers have determined that bearing a grudge appears to affect the cardiovascular and nervous systems. In one study, people who focused on a personal grudge had elevated blood pressure and heart rates, as well as increased muscle tension and feelings of being less in control. When asked to imagine forgiving the person who had hurt them, the participants said they felt more positive and relaxed and thus, the changes dissipated.[4] 
But how can we learn to let go of our feelings of indignation over some nasty remark or those socks on the floor for the umpteenth time? After all, is it really that easy to exercise prayer and forgiveness for that inconsiderate jerk who thinks s/he runs your life? The answer, in Chassidic terms, is to exercise your mind along the lines of downplaying material concerns so you can accentuate spiritual values in your life. The Tanya[3] explains how to achieve this too.
This doctrine is corroborated by brain research as well. The part of the brain responsible for bodily awareness and self-care is the right parietal lobe. Prayer causes a decrease in brain activity there, and the flip side of this fact is that people with damage to this part of the brain are much more spiritually attuned.[5]
The Tanya, written centuries ago, advises that if you want to be a kinder and more loving person, the first step is back off from your materialistic and self-centered perspective. That makes it easier to take the next step and do something nice for your friend (or enemy), like pray for him or her. On the other hand, if you are having trouble becoming less selfish and materialistic, you can take a behaviorist approach and start with a good deed. The very act of praying tones down self-centeredness, which melts away negative feelings and the bad health they create, making way for forgiveness and better health in body, mind and spirit.
And lest we forget the purpose of our prayer, that person that we are praying for - s/he is benefiting too! A thorough meta-analysis of 17 intercessory prayer studies shows that on the whole, prayer offered on behalf of another yields positive results.[6]
This convergence of modern medicine and psychology on the one hand and the timeless teachings of Torah and chassidus on the other, is one more sign that Moshiach is coming very soon, and who knows - if we pray just once more for that, we might generate a lot more good than we bargained for.

Dr. Aryeh (Arnie) Gotfryd, PhD is a chassid, environmental scientist, author and educator living near Toronto, Canada. To read more or to book him for a talk, visit his website at




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