Brute Force vs Patience + Consistency

 

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In our younger years when we wanted to open a jar ASAP we would muscle off the lid in a matter of seconds. Now we know we can avoid a sprained hand by dragging out the old -fashioned bottle opener and easing the pointed end under the jar lid at different spots until we hear the air seal break. Voila’—it eventually opens just fine.

In the past, you may have subjected yourself to numerous fad diets that promised dramatic results in short amounts of time. Now you realize that if you consistently just eat foods that are good for you while cutting out useless calories–over time your body will gravitate almost effortlessly to a healthy normal weight.

There is a certain lightness that comes with realizing there is no need to power through insurmountable obstacles in order to achieve your goals.  Instead we can float through most obstacles with peace and calm –knowing that success is rarely a byproduct of brute force; but rather the result of consistent moderate intensity actions, and having the patience to let the process take its course.

At one time I had so many workout devices in my home that almost every room seemed to guilt-trip me into jumping on a treadmill, hopping on a skier, hoisting myself over a stepper, or raising and lowering a barbell instead of just enjoying some much-needed down time. Today the rooms in my home beckon me to enjoy reading, writing, sharing a meal with family or friends, or just watching a movie.  With the wisdom of age, it dawned on me that I hardly had to hammer my body into shape in every available free minute.  To the contrary, a brisk lunchtime walk most days of the week, and some light hand-weights here and there keep me in shape just fine.

Whether you are trying to get fit, learn a new musical instrument, write a book, launch a business, feel the effects of a new vitamin, experiment with an unfamiliar dinner recipe, or even expand your social life— forget about knocking yourself out to the point of exhaustion by pressuring yourself to get to the finish line ASAP. Instead, just take a few deep breaths, smile, and note how the process of slow and steady will help you to enjoy your life more—and make you a winner every time. In time.

———–

Coming in November: Ageing Happy: How to Knock Out the Nonsense and Make These the Best Years of Your Life.

For speaking inquiries: RaeleenMautner@gmail.com

 

The Beauty of Age

Autumn trees

I wasn’t able to watch the Grammys last night, although I will catch a glimpse of some of the performances this evening on the Internet. Admittedly, I don’t know all of the newer artists, but of course I remember with fondness the performers of yesteryear—the musical geniuses who provided the backdrop to all of the special moments in my life. I loved them then; I love them now. In many cases, their talent just keeps getting better.

Today, I ran into a friend who asked me if I saw the Grammy Awards. She told me she always loves to see what outfits people will wear, and experience the old and new talents—some of which were pretty outstanding. This was a long time friend of mine—a very good friend; someone with whom I can discuss anything. But as she talked about the Grammys, there seemed to be no energetic vibe, no glint of excitement, no glimmer of joy.  Finally, she revealed how saddened she was to see a few of the older entertainers, who, instead of proudly representing their age, apparently felt the pressure of having to puff up, cut up, or chemically stiffen their faces so many times,  they had practically become caricatures of themselves. She felt badly about the pressure these major talents must have felt that prompted them to change their appearance—and this had even started to make my friend feel badly about herself, knowing full well that if that is what an older person must do to stay in the game, what a dismal state of affairs.

I am all about doing whatever anyone wishes to do in order to feel and look better. What I question, however is feeling we must cave to the pressure that our youth-oriented culture puts on older adults; causing many of us to desperately try to stay looking twenty in order to feel attractive and valued.

Has anyone ever denied the beauty of an autumn tree? Not long ago, I lived on a road lined with stately old trees from which long graceful branches on either side, reached out to touch each other, forming an endless lush arc of foliage. In autumn this arc took on the brilliance of sunlit gold, orange, red, and rust. People who drove on my street experienced a breathtaking—almost blinding work of Nature; a droplet of spiritual beauty to the eye of the observer.

And while no one thinks of autumn trees as unsightly just because they no longer have the tender blossoms of spring—we humans haven’t fared so well when it comes to perspectives on aging in our society. We are bombarded with anti-aging messages that in essence tell us to keep trying, keep hoping, keep chasing the pipedream of being twenty once again, instead of honoring the beauty inherent in every age, the evolvement of the soul, the depth of accumulated intelligence and wisdom we possess in our autumn years.  It is time to start proudly celebrating each birthday, each month, each day, each minute that we are given the privilege to celebrate our life.

While we may not be able to single-handedly change others’ perspective on ageing, we can refuse to buy into it —by respecting ourselves. With unabashed gratitude we owe it to ourselves to acknowledge the beauty of our age, the immensity of our hearts, and the capacity of our minds.  This “third age”, I have discovered, is wrought with exquisiteness. This is the time to live our gift of life to the fullest:  in strength, confidence, grace, and goodness.  What a relief it is to know that we are fine and even perfect just the way we are—without having to chase anyone else’s impossible dream of who they think we should be. Now is the time to live out YOUR dreams, YOUR way.

COMING IN NOVEMBER, my newest book : “Aging Happy: How to Knock Out the Nonsense and Make These the Best Years of Your Life “(Linden Press).

For speaking inquiries : RaeleenMautner@gmail.com

Ever Been “Ghosted”? Here’s What to Do!

casper_the_friendly_ghost_issue_no.1_(march,_1991)

(By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50316612)

The idea for the little child-ghost with the New Yawk accent was conceived in the 30’s and slowly evolved along the decades from books to comics to a cartoon show in the early 60’s. It was about a delightful ghost. A friendly ghost who wasn’t like the others. He actually wanted to make friends with people—not scare them. He wanted to help others—not hurt them. I loved the Casper cartoons, and you probably did too.

Flash forward to a term we never had to familiarize ourselves with back then—not even on Halloween when we cut three holes into our mother’s old sheets and morphed into little with trick-or-treat bags. The term “ghosting” doesn’t mean any of that today. Instead it refers to a growing phenomenon in a world that is growing increasingly less courteous.

“Ghosting” someone today, means you have an interaction with someone (or may have even had many interactions), and the interaction had been positive. You were on the same wavelength and came to an agreement to talk again or see each other. Then, without warning or explanation that person “disappears”, like a ghost.  You may or may not attempt to contact them and there is no response.

Ghosting can happen in any area of a relationship. It can happen after a first date when everything you thought was upbeat and the chemistry seemed to be there. The person says they would like to go out again but then—-POOF– no person.

Ghosting can happen in the context of business. You might have introduced yourself and your idea to someone in a position to purchase or implement that idea. They indicate they are “all in” and really enthusiastic. They give you their personal cellphone just so they are sure not to miss your follow up call. Then POOF—gone. No answer to your call, email or voicemail.

Ghosting can happen between friends or family members; even when longer-term relationships have been established.  You think everything is going fine then one day they stop responding to your calls, or calling you back. They stop responding to your emails or attempts at writing a letter, even just to see if they are okay (they are, as you have probably already checked with someone who verified this).

Most of us, even before we knew the term, have experienced the feeling in recent years—and the feeling is one of hurt, confusion, even anger. All of that is normal as we are used to having some kind of conclusion or answers to situations in which people give one impression then appear to change their mind without having the courage to explain, work things out, or even just punctuate their desire not to have further contact with you.

If you have been ghosted recently, I’d like to suggest that you switch your thoughts from a negative reaction (e.g., “what did I do, say, “etc. that may have caused this) to these two perspectives:

  • IT REALLY ISHIM/HER—NOT YOU. Barring extreme circumstances, disappearing without warning or explanation is usually an act of cowardice, rudeness, or just plain meanness on the part of the person who is doing the disappearing act.  IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU. Believe that.
  • Be GRATEFUL. Consider that when a person disappoints you by disappearing without warning, it is the natural process of the “nonsense” knocking itself out of your life. You don’t have time for others’ bad behaviors. Life is too precious. Spend yours in positivity, and
  • MOVE ON.That means, don’t dwell on it, don’t pursue further contact, don’t insist on an explanation, and don’t feed your desire to tell that person off.  Neutralize your feelings about that person (eg-stop caring) and let your heart be light. Get professional help if you need it, but always be a shining example of your own inner beauty. Act with dignity, appreciation, and courteousness, and know that you lost nothing, but gained your own self-respect.

If you like topics related to aging happy—please do subscribe to this blog!

COMING THIS NOVEMBER: The release of my book: AgingHappy: How to Knock Out the Nonsense and Make These the Best Years of Your Life. Check my website for my talks and workshops on this topic, including my upcoming presentation at OSHER LIFE LONG LEARNING lunchtime café’ on Friday, April 5th—UConn Waterbury.

Copyright Raeleen Mautner, Ph.D. 2019

 

Chronic Pain and Mind-Body Strategies

Those of us who are lucky enough to be Survivors of Life past the age of 50 are probably way too familiar with the kind of daily aches and pains that our doctors tell us are part and parcel of the privilege of aging.  In talking to my peers I realize that many of us cannot get out of bed in the morning without experiencing some kind of stiffness or pain. Some of you cannot stand up from a chair or even go for a walk without grimacing from the pain in your knees or lower back.  The current chapter I am working on for my book“Aging Happy: How to Knock Out The Nonsense and Make These the Best Years of Your Life”(to be released at the beginning of next year), looks at body image in older adults. This topic is particularly dear to my heart, as it completes the circle of the research I conducted as a (much) younger doctoral candidate many moons ago.  It comes as no surprise that an adversarial relationship with our body in our older adult years is just as poisonous to our happiness as it was in our youth. Body Image Dissatisfaction can still make us older adults vulnerable to eating disorders, low self-esteem, social isolation, and depression.

The bulk of body-image research on adolescents and young adults examines the influence of advertising, the cosmetic and fashion industries, and even the comparisons we make between ourselves and those we think look better than us (i.e. Leon Festinger’s Social Comparison Theory, circa 1954)—but what about the influence of chronic pain on our self image as we age?

Non-malignant chronic pain, the kind that many of us experience every day, can keep us from feeling good about about the very body that houses our heart and soul and keeps us functioning right up to our last breath.

Pain can make us feel (and look) older, and feebler, and often we perceive ourselves to look older as well when we look in the mirror.  Pain can strip us of our motivation to do the things we normally love to do. Thoughts of pain, and ways to adjust our lifestyle to avoid pain can consume our thoughts and eventually our entire existence; causing us become less social and less engaged in life—a disastrous outcome for older adults who need more than ever to be involved with meaningful social interactions.

I recently came across an article that reviewed a number of studies examining various mind-body strategies for relieving chronic NON-malignant pain in older adults. These strategies included tai chi, yoga, hypnosis, progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback, guided imagery, meditation, and qi gong. The benefits of these methods are undisputed when it comes to relieving stress and its related maladies.  When dealing with chronic pain researchers are cautiously positive, but are calling for larger clinical trials to be conducted before the scientific jury can definitively weigh in. My hunch is that anything we can do to help ourselves when it comes to chronic pain will also up the happiness factor.

Let me explain.

Chronic pain commonly triggers feelings of learned helplessness especially when people have been to their doctors, tried a number of medications, modified their lifestyles to the nth degree—and still they suffer, despite reassurance from the medical professionals that there is nothing seriously wrong other than a touch of osteoarthritis in the joints that “everyone gets” sooner or later. Of particular note, however, when it comes to using mind-body strategies such as Yoga to relieve pain, is the change in attituderequired to perform these self-therapies.  It takes us from feeling helpless and defeated to actively taking control of our “rehabilitation”. Often this position of emotional strength starts a domino effect of better self-care and a more positive relationship with our body. For example: “That gentle yoga video made my joints feel better so I wonder if I will feel even better if I avoid all flour and sugar today and instead prepare a large vegetable salad for lunch (like mine, in the photo above).”  Then that leads to going out for a 15 minute walk at lunch time, then to setting your timer to get up from your couch or office chair every 20 minutes to march in place or do a few sit ups. And so on.

It’s been established that mind-body strategies are really good at relieving stress. That alone will reduce the perception of pain. But because they also require an “active” component, our sense of self-efficacy (belief in our ability to affect our situation) will also be bolstered and before you know it you may experiences longer and longer stretches of time in which the thought or fear of your chronic non-malignant pain will not even enter your mind. You can start to once again pursue the things you used to love doing, instead of avoiding them.

If you are in chronic pain have it checked out by your doctor and ask about either starting with, or using mind-body strategies as an adjunct to their recommendation. You may be pleasantly surprised at the results.

 

Reference:

Morone, Natalia E. & Greco, Carol M (2007). Mind-Body interventions for chronic pain in older adults: A structured review. Pain Medicinevol 8(4) pp 359-375.

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC 2018

How to Keep Your TV From Killing You

Older adults are the most sedentary segment of society.  Beyond sitting at our desks in front of computers for hours on end, one of our major leisure time activities is watching television for hours on end. The new buzzword for this is “binge-watching”. According to a Deloitte survey, 70% of Americans, including over 1/3 of baby boomers engage in “binge-watching”, or watching multiple episodes of a TV show in one sitting. There is no shortage of data pointing to evidence that a sedentary lifestyle can shorten our life. The data show that low levels of physical activity are responsible for over 5 million deaths each year world wide, and long hours of TV viewing increases the risk of premature death by 33%.

Physical activity, on the other hand, reduces cardiovascular risk, as well as obesity, hypertension and even cognitive impairment later in life.

Getting rid of our TVs is probably not a realistic an option, but there are a few solutions that may counteract the health risks associated with hours of continuous television-watching. One of those solutions is “active” TV-watching, such as stepping in place during commercials.

Research has found that the average number of calories burned from stepping (i.e. marching or walking) in place during commercials within 1.5 hours of TV watching, is equal to the number of calories expended during 30 minutes of walking at a pace of 3mph (150 calories).

Another suggestion is to take advantage of an entire half hour show or newscast to use your home exercise equipment. Do some strength training with your light dumbbells and leg weights or do a few calisthenics using your body weight: knee pushups, planks, modified squats, and dips. Before you know it you will have a half hour of daily exercise under your belt And that belt, by the way, will gradually need to be tightened!

You can also alternate strength training with cardio exercise; same half-hour TV slot, only you can march in front of your favorite program through the entire 30 minutes, free form dance, alternate jumping jacks with grapevine dance moves, or step lifts, kicks, or any other move that gets your heart pumping a bit.

Last but not least, don’t forget to warm up and cool down adequately.  Protecting our muscles and bones is even more important as we age.  Do a few stretches; take a few deep breaths. Reset.

Remember this: Ageless fitness doesn’t require a Herculean effort; only non-negotiable regularity.  Be consistent about turning your TV time (or at least a portion of it) into active watching time. You’ll feel better, and look better too!

 

 

References:

Chastin, S.F.M. et al (2015) Systematic literature review of determinants of sedentary behavior in older adults: a DEDICAC Study.  International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. Vol 12:127.

Deloitte.com/us/tmttrends (2015) Digital Democracy Survey

Steeves, J.A., Thompson, D.L, & Basset JR D.R. (2012) Energy cost of stepping in plae while watching television commercials.  Medicine and Science in Sports Medicine. Pp330-335.

Steinberg, S.I., et al. (2015) Exercise, sedentary pastimes, and cognitive performance in healthy older adults.  American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and other Dementias. Vol 30 (33) pp290-298

Turi, et.al. (2017) TV viewing time is associated with increased all-cause mortality in Brazilian adults independent of physical activity. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 28:596-603.

(c) Raeleen Mautner, LLC 2018

 

 

How To Let Yourself “Flow” Into Happiness

Have you ever become so engrossed in a project that you lost all track of time?  Try to remember how you felt –that deep sense of personal satisfaction, a feeling of accomplishment, a sense of wonder and the motivation to keep going; shutting out anything else that might have distracted you.  You might say you were in the ZONE.  It’s been known for quite some time that the activities we engage in can either add to our happiness or detract from it. This is especially true as we grow older, when time is of the essence and how you spend each moment—matters.

 The phenomenon I am referring to is called “flow”.

A state of flowrefers to the high you get when you become engrossed in an activity that brings you such joy and satisfaction that you become seamlessly entwined with the experience, losing all sense of the passage of time. Everything else fades into the background.  You feel productive, on top of your game, in control. Most likely you are also following your heart; doing something you are passionate about.

Csikszentmihalyi first introduced his theory of flow state to the world of psychology in 1975 and since then, researchers across various fields, such as education, sports psychology, neuroscience and others have leveraged this phenomenon to improve performance and increase success.  Important to note, is something called the Match Hypothesis—that is you are more likely to achieve flow state when you choose activities that match your abilities to the demands of the task. Everyone is different, of course. Some people are more cognitively oriented and are more likely to achieve flow when working on intellectual pursuits (reading, writing, continuing education); some are more inclined toward the creative skills (playing a musical instrument, drawing, acting); some the interpersonal skills (showing empathy, communicating, emotional intelligence). It may be that you are a combination of those, but usually, we derive more satisfaction when engaged in one of those areas, as opposed to the others. I know for myself, when I work on something that is a mismatch for my abilities, I end up frustrated and eventually unfocused, not to mention feeling like I wasted x amount of time that I can never get back.

More recently, researchers have found that the principle of “flow” may be an important key to well-being in older adults. It seems to protect our cognitive functioning as we age.

If you are not already doing so, consider reserving at least one hour of your day to give complete concentration to an activity you find rewarding; one that lifts you up to a higher level and helps you transcend the mundane tasks we all have to do each day. Enjoy the natural high that comes with experiencing flow on a daily basis.

Here is how to start honoring your life with a daily dose of flow-driven happiness

  1. Make a list of several projects/activities that you love to do. They should be challenging but not so far beyond your ability that you will be frustrated and abandon the activity.
  2. Categorize these activities (intellectual/cognitive, creative, interpersonal, kinesthetic/physical), etc.). You may find that you gravitate towards one or more areas.
  3. Rate the activities in terms of how closely each project is aligned with your abilities. Remember they should be challenging enough to hold your interest and give you a sense of achievement when completed; yet they are well within your skillset to achieve.
  4. Set aside an appointment with yourself for no less than an hour a day.
  5. Choose one project from you list which you will work on during that hour each day until that project is complete.
  6. Eliminate all distractions—no phone, email, social media, getting up to vacuum, or anything else. Resign yourself to spending this time fully engaged in the chosen activity.
  7. Be mindful of the peace and satisfaction this one hour of engagement offers you.

The flow experience is a simple way to enrich your life, give you something to look forward to each day, and increase your passion for life. It is also your chance to engage in experiences you have always aspired to before the other to-do’s of living got in the way. I urge you now to go for it. Take out that easel and paint palate; weave that rug; observe the sunrise; outline the novel you have had stuck in your head; compose the lyrics and music to that song you once thought of writing; build that bird feeder; study that period in history that always fascinated you; learn to tango; feel the waves crash around your feet as you breathe in the salty ocean air; fire up your camera and capture life’s portraits—and allow your passions drive your personal flow state. The result? You will be giving yourself the extraordinary gift of a daily dose of happiness.

Reference

Payne, et al (2011) In the Zone: Flow State and Cognition in Older Adults. Psychology and Agingvol 26(3) pp738-743.

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC

How A Simple Tomato Can Help You Write Your Book

I wrote my first book over 15 years ago. When it was published, it seemed everywhere I went people were not only interested in discussing the contents of the book, but also wanted me to coach them on how to write THEIR book. One woman told me she had wanted to write a book for the past 10 years, and please would I tell her what the “secret” was.

Well, there is no secret, not really. Just like there is no secret to losing weight—it comes down to the obvious Nike logo of “Just Do It”.

Everyone who has written a book knows that writing courses can be insightful, writer’s groups may offer motivation and camaraderie, but if you spend too much of your time attending courses and going to writers groups, you are robbing yourself of the time you need to write the book itself. Furthermore, the whole notion of “writer’s block” is another method of stalling, as it is premised on the misbelief that you have to wait for inspiration to strike before you can write.

There is no “Muse” that is going to descend on you and tell you what to write. So stop waiting for one, get rid of all excuses and distractions and make a commitment to yourself to WRITE!

Becoming an author doesn’t require a degree in literature, stimulating as that might be. It comes from the very mundane task of being willing to work hard, set aside time EVERY DAY to sit in a chair, and focus on typing out what you have outlined or planned.

The psychology of motivation, tells us that when we “chunk” large tasks into mini tasks, and then record our progress on paper, we actually get somewhere. Why? We can track our progress every time we reach a “mini-goal”, and seeing what we have accomplished thus far, motivates us to take the next step.

We can apply this technique to writing a book and I will share with you, a method that some of the most renowned authors use (e.g. Daniel H. Pink): It is called The Pomodoro Technique. Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato.

What does a tomato have to do with writing a book? Back in the late 80s when Francesco Cirillo, the creator of the technique, was in university, he always felt like no matter how hard he worked, he was not doing well with his studying. A big part of that was lack of focus, motivation, and too many distractions. Today we have even more distractions and for would-be authors, with publishers telling them to grow their presence on social media and build their “platform”, get out there and do some speaking, added to the daily tasks of oh, I don’t know, keeping your home in order, working a full or part time job, caring for pets, children or grandchildren, getting our exercise in and the other gazillion things that pop up in our mental “to-do” list every day—somehow our writing dreams just fade into the background until they dry up.

 

Don’t let YOUR dream of becoming an author dry up!

 

As an advocate of Aging Happy (title of my 4th book, which will be out in the beginning of 2019), I know how satisfying AND therapeutic writing can be, as we get older. I also know you may have wisdom and inspiration that others can benefit from if only you will get it down in writing.

Maybe you just want to write a book to leave as legacy to your children, grandchildren and generations to come with no particular desire to publish beyond making a few copies at the local printer. Or, you may want to finally write that novel from an idea you have had inside you for years but never acted upon, or started but never finished. Maybe you have a special expertise that you want to share with others by writing self-help or how to book.

The Pomodoro Technique was named for the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo himself used to help him stay focused on his studying, and later on his professional work tasks. The technique helped him become successful in all areas of his life and has since helped many others. In a nutshell, here is an example of how it works, as applied to writing a book:

 

Goal: Writing a Book

Equipment: Kitchen Timer (shaped like a tomato or not); Paper, Pencil, and amount of time you will set aside EACH DAY for your task—in this case, of writing a book.

Time: I like to set a non-negotiable block of time each day (either before or after work).

 

  1. Choose the Task you will work on today: This task can be the outlining of your book, or the completion of 5-10 pages of a chapter, or doing the research needed for that chapter.
  2. Set your Timer (pomodoro or other kitchen timer) for 25 minutes.
  3. During this 25-minute time segment, block out all distractions. No Internet, no cellphone, no TV on in the background.
  4. Work straight through for 25 minutes, then when the timer rings put a check mark next to the title of that task (see below for example). Next comes a short break.
  5. Get up and stretch, walk around the house, get water, take a bathroom break, etc., for 3-5 minutes.
  6. Set the timer for another 25 minutes and get back to the task.
  7. Repeat the process. After each 25-minute segment, put another checkmark next to your task.
  8. After 4 pomodori (or checkmarks) take a longer break of 20-30 minutes. Go out for a walk, pop in an exercise video, prepare a salad, do whatever does not involve the task you are working on. This way you will clear your head and be able to get back to task until it is completed
  9. Set the Timer again in 25-minute segments and repeat the process until your task for that day is complete.

 

Make sure that you are realistic in setting your task(s) for the day. For example if you only have 1 hour a day to devote to writing, don’t set a goal of completing an entire chapter in that one hour. Self-motivation is about seeing yourself succeed at the mini tasks you set out. A bunch of completed sub-tasks will serve as reward and motivator to keep you going when you realize what you have already accomplished thus far.

 

Rough Example of The Pomodoro Technique applied to writing a book:

Outline Book ✔✔✔✔ longer break ✔✔
Write Preface ✔✔✔✔ longer break ✔✔✔✔ longer break ✔✔✔
Research Chapter 1 ✔✔✔✔longer break✔

 

Now is the time. If you have always wanted to write a book, get going and share your insights and expertise by finally getting them on paper. You can do this, if you just take that first step and START!

Let’s start a conversation in the comments section below: What will YOUR book be about?

 

Reference (and for more information)

Cirillo, Francesco (2009, 2018) The Pomodoro Technique, LuLu & Currency Publishers)

(C) Raeleen Mautner, LLC 2018

Feeling Lonely? Enter Digital Pet.

My personal reality of dog ownership includes frequent veterinary bills, skin allergy meds, anti-cataract eye drops, prescription shampoo, specific hypoallergenic diet, occasional emergency trips to the pet ER, scratched hardwood flooring and gnawed furniture. Now if I had a virtual pet all I would have to do is power up my iPad, press the virtual Fido avatar, and voila’: A canine companion that needs little maintenance, eats nothing, costs nothing, and doesn’t require walks in the dark frigid mornings of winter or the sweltering high afternoons of summer. In fact, with a mere swipe of my tablet screen my virtual pet could even converse with me and remind me to get up and exercise, take my vitamin D tab, or just lend an ear when I want to blow off a little steam and there’s no one else to call.

I envision this possible scenario:

Me: Fido, tell me the truth: Do I look better in the blue dress or the red?

Virtual Fido: LOL (laughing out loud). I’m colorblind; COR (Come on, Raeleen)!

Me: Okay OOTD (outfit of the day) then will be tomato-red Yoga pants and purple studded sweatshirt.

Virtual Fido: ROFL (Rolling on the floor laughing)

Me: YOLO (You only live once)

Virtual Fido: ^5 (high five).

Okay, perhaps it wouldn’t go down exactly like that, but could I become so attached to this maintenance-free virtual pet that it starts to appeal to me more than my sweet, adorable, albeit issue-laded real dog?

No way, because despite my sickly pup’s requirements I can’t imagine life without her. I get pure love in return. And loyalty. And a ton of laughs and smiles just watching her play with her toys, or scamper toward her food dish when its time to eat. No, Virtual Fido could never replace the joy I get from my Real Fido.

That said, I cannot dismiss the fact that Digital Fido can possibly make an important contribution to an older person’s life.

The truth is, about 30% of older adults live alone and the number growing in leaps and bounds with each year that passes. Granted, some are alone because they actually enjoy more solitude than most, but even the most solitary amongst us need social interaction every now and then. Studies on loneliness show that too much isolation can affect us emotionally and physically, and even put us at a higher risk of premature death. Do I encourage you to welcome a live pet into your home if you are able to love and care for it, and provide it a good life? Absolutely. Researchers have consistently shown that older adults who own pets—especially dogs, reap a number of benefits beyond the obvious companionship, which protects against loneliness and isolation. Dog owners specifically have been found to reap additional health benefits from increased physical activity and an improved social life. You will get more exercise throughout the day than a non-pet owner typically gets, and you almost can’t help but meet new acquaintances who want to meet your adorable furry creature and start a conversation as you pass by.

But of course, not everyone has the temperament to be a pet owner. Not everyone can accommodate an animal in their condo or apartment. Not everyone can afford the expenses that come with owning a dog.

Seeing a need for more connectivity in the aging population to combat isolation, researchers from the universities of Washington Seattle, and Northwestern conducted a pilot study with 10 older adults ages 68-89 from a retirement community in Seattle, who had no cognitive impairment and who were comfortable using technology. They were trained in using a tablet-based ECA (embodied conversational agent) system with a pet avatar named “Digital Pet”. The participants were interviewed over the next three months at baseline, midpoint and an exit interview.

While there were a few concerns/complaints about this virtual pet (e.g.—it didn’t work right when the Internet went down; the conversations were too superficial, etc.), overall, the reaction was surprisingly favorable. One person reported that having Digital Pet was a fun conversation starter when she took him out for a walk! As with any pilot study, the information gathered is intended to identify and iron out the glitches before launching a larger more encompassing study. The researchers agreed that having older persons as co-designers of the system would help to help to increase the usefulness and acceptability of the Digital Pet.

Let’s be honest: None of us really think that computers can ever replace the warmth and cuddliness of a real live pet (or human being for that matter), but when used to enhance a person’s quality of life, who might otherwise be isolated—I doubt that anyone would deny that the “Digital Pet” ECS might have some real potential down the road.

 

NOTE: I want to take a minute to thank you for your comments and emails to let me how much you enjoy reading these articles. Because The Psychology of Happy Aging is a relatively new blog, please help me spread the word. SUBSCRIBE, and let your friends and acquaintances know about it by sharing any articles you feel they might enjoy, or the URL: RaeleenMautner.com   If you haven’t’ downloaded my 5 Happiness Tips on the top bar of the homepage I invite you to do so. By entering your email address you will be the first to know when my upcoming book, “Aging Happy: How to Knock Out the Nonsense and Live the Best Years of Your Life” will be released. Mille grazie.

 

 

References

Nai-Ching, C et.al. (2017)   Pilot testing a digital pet avatar for older adults   Geriatric Nursing 38 pp. 542-547

Heuberger, R. (2017) Associations of Pet Ownership with Older Adults Eating

Patterns and Health. Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research Volume 2017 pp. 1-9.

 

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC 2018

Can You Ever Be TOO Happy? The Answer Might Surprise You.

 

On more than one occasion I have been mildly chided for being “too happy”. While I don’t consider myself sickeningly exuberant, I am, in general, an optimist; which is not to say I am immune to life’s heartaches. Never-the-less I guess that irritates some people. But it did make me think. I know that in general, too much of a good thing can actually be—well, no good at all. For example, once a year I enjoy a magnificent zeppola di San Giuseppe; a fried Italian pastry , filled with custard, lightly dusted with confectioner’s sugar and finished with a maraschino cherry on top. Fortunately, they are only on display at pastry shops around the time of St. Joseph’s Day (Father’s Day in Italy), the 19th of March. Heaven knows if they were available every day of the year, I would be a regular at my favorite Italian bakery and gradually either morph into a cannon ball, or get physically sick from eating a half-dozen in one sitting. So yes, moderation in most things, is key. But come on; happiness?? Can we ever be just too darned happy?

As it turns out, the answer is YES…and NO.

Let me be clear, I ran across no studies that indicate happiness is a bad thing; in fact, happiness is an agreed upon good thing, and has a number of benefits in every age category. Moreover, happy people seem to be more successful in all areas of life—from work, to love, to health—than are unhappy people. What researchers found, however, when taking a closer look, was that there are certain situations where ultra-happiness is productive and other situations where it may be counterproductive.

There are many definitions of happiness, and those definitions vary among individuals, but for the most part, we are referring to subjective well-being—a feeling of positive emotion and life satisfaction. Some experts define happiness as the presence of positive affect and absence of negative affect. But here’s the rub: there are situations where being 100% satisfied with things as they are will kill your motivation to take action in ways that might improve your circumstances. Sometimes negative emotions can be productive. Fear, for example, keeps me from walking down a dark alley in a strange neighborhood at night alone. I can whistle zip-a-dee-do-dah (yeah, okay, I still love that song) all I want, but that won’t help me avoid danger. Similarly, anxiety about my knee pain motivates me to see a physical therapist so I can get out of pain. A certain amount of stress keeps me on target in meeting my writing deadlines, and memorizing my theater scripts. A strong superego (i.e., guilt) keeps me from violating my own moral code.

Thus, when a person’s situation is less than ideal, being happy but not 100 -percent happy, leaves room for the kind of uneasiness that can lead to positive changes. If an uber-happy person is in a low paying job with no chance of advancement, (s)he may not put in the effort to get a better paying job that would cover the monthly bills; or fail to pursue a more challenging career because there is no motivation to seek more education or training.

Thus when overly happy people are in bad circumstances, they may become complacent and not seek to improve their situation. Too much happiness becomes an obstacle to making positive changes in such cases.

On the other hand, there are other situations where maximum happiness is a good thing. For instance in relationships, where being totally positive can help you overlook some of the more irritating flaws of our partners, family, and friends. Being totally content with your circumstances may have a positive impact on the stability of a marriage, for example, where you do want avoid making such changes, as searching for another partner.

Researchers examined how respondents rated their overall life satisfaction on a 10-point scale on The World Values Survey Data. They also examined other variables such as relationship satisfaction, highest level of education completed, volunteer status, and political participation. They found that the highest possible life satisfaction score was correlated to satisfying volunteer work and relationship status; whereas moderately high levels of satisfaction (i.e., less than maximum) were more useful when it came to income, education, and political participation –all variables that can improve our life circumstances if we are motivated to take action to make changes.

So have no fear about pursuing what Aristotle considered to be the ultimate goal in lifeàHAPPINESS. Just make sure you can gauge when complacency is keeping you from improving your situation when change is called for.

 

Reference

Shigehiro, O., Diener, E., & Lucas, R.E. (2007). The optimum level of well-being: Can people be too happy? Perspectives on Psychological Science. Vol 2(4) pp 346-360.

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC