The Dolce Vita Lifestyle

Raeleen Mautner, Ph.D.

Up until recently, when he relocated to another state, we had a letter carrier whom I will call “Mike”.   Mike was no ordinary postal worker.  Yes, he was good at his job—we never had to worry about our mail being delivered to someone else’s house, or finding mail on the sidewalk somewhere having out of a letter carrier’s bag.  But what made Mike really extraordinary was his joyful personality.  He always took a moment to exchange pleasantries with the neighbors on his route, yet the mail was always on time, no matter what the weather. He proudly wore his uniform each day—all neat, clean and shirt tucked in– but the best part of his uniform was something he hadn’t been instructed to wear by the US Post Office: It was his smile. I never saw him without it! 

            Mike always took care to go the extra mile and leave packages at the back door if he knew you weren’t home from work yet. If it was raining, he made sure the package was wrapped in plastic or left under an awning or covering.  Engaging each person on his route with exuberance and positivity, Mike would point out some small wonder he had just noticed—as if it was the first time he had ever seen that species of flower, bird, tree or that great dog he ran into just moments earlier who was now chomping away on the cookie bone he had given him.  Before long the oldest of the “elders” on our street would want to adopt him as their own. They would save him a piece of their homemade pie, or give him a few vegetables form their gardens, or run out with a cold drink in the heat of summer.  In short, this (extra)ordinary letter carrier had become an extended family member in our neighborhood. When he left to relocate back to his home state halfway across the country, he truly left a void that was once filled with the positive energy that made everyone with whom he came in contact—feel just a little bit better about their day. That is the power of personality—regardless of age, financial status, or career field. 

          Mike had the kind of personality that best-selling author Dr. Daniel Goleman might have called “emotional intelligence”. His personality drew people to him like a magnet, instead of driving them away or inciting an argument.  Everyone Mike came in contact with felt just a little better than before they interacted with him. His personality exuded positive emotions, like joy, interest, and contentment.

The way we present ourselves to the world has a powerful effect on life satisfaction.  In fact, researchers consider personality to be one of the strongest and most consistent predictors of well-being. Polishing our own personalities, or our “way of being” with more joy and positivity leads to the kind of social connectivity that can lead us to a happier, and even longer life. 

A joyful and welcoming demeanor draws people to us. They want to be in our company because it makes them feel good. On the other hand, a negative or abrasive personality does the opposite.  A litigious personality can extinguish our social life; and even lead to   life-threatening state of loneliness. There is no reason to start an argument or abandon friends and family because they believe, think, or vote differently than us. Our differences can be our collective assets—– and our commonalities are usually much greater anyway.

 It’s not rocket science, and it’s not hard.  Just be kind. Let your joy shine through. Give others a word of encouragement, not a judgmental dig. And remind yourself to adhere to the simple advice of Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People): SMILE! 

©Raeleen Mautner Ph.D, LLC 2021

The non finito, most observed in Renaissance times, refers to an artist’s unfinished sculpture or drawing.  For example, Michelangelo’s renowned “prisoner” sculptures in Florence’s Academia show four human figures partially emerging from unfinished blocks of stone. This allegorical masterpiece conveys the human struggle to break free of matter or the soul imprisoned by the flesh. 

There are several hypotheses regarding the reasons behind an artist’s unfinished works. I see these explanations as pertinent to our own lives, and wanted to share my thoughts with you, for whenever you might be feeling discouraged by life’s challenges. 

First, the non finito might have been the result of the artist running out of funding and thus had to abandon the original plan.

Second, as was often the case with Michelangelo, the artist may have been unhappy with the way a project was turning out, and thus abandoned it to start over.

Third, an artist sometimes just lost passion for the current project and left it unfinished in order to start work on something completely new and fresh.

Many of us, over the past year have made important discoveries about ourselves, our work, and even about the relationships we have with the people in our lives. Other challenges might have included losing loved ones; feeling stagnant with respect to our hopes and dreams; or putting our mental and physical well-being on the back burner due to pandemic-related disruptions to our lives—in the form of job loss, weight gain, economic hardship, or losing the momentum that kept us excited about our lives. Yet, for a number of reasons, we may be reluctant to start over and let go of past patterns that no longer make us happy.

 It is time to get UNSTUCK!

What if we envisioned our life as a non-finito project with infinite possibilities for continual learning, personal-development, and the resilience to start over again when we are not happy with where we are, or when we’ve run out of emotional (or physical) resources—or even just lost the passion we once had for the path we are currently on? 

It’s called “change”, and if you feel you are ready to explore a new passion, here are 5 steps to break free from a block of stagnation and start carving out a fresh new direction towards greater personal fulfillment.

  1. Start with a clear and realistic vision of what you would like to achieve in 2022. Perhaps you want to change careers, learn a new language, get a higher paying job, lose weight, write a novel, or play a new instrument. Instead of just dreaming about them or jotting them down amongst a laundry list of New Year’s resolutions that are never fulfilled, you have the ability to make a plan and take action.
  • Choose one goal you can get excited about. Limit it to one for now. Write a description of how it will make you feel to achieve that goal and imagine yourself having already attained it. 
  • Decide if you need learn a new skillset or get refresher training. You may want to sign up for an online course or learn through instructional YouTube videos.
  • Now, with the skills you need, break that one target goal into small doable steps, with possible ways to reward yourself as you complete and achieve each step along the way.
  •  Monitor your progress and be flexible when you need to modify or break your steps down further.

To my lovely “non-finito” readers—I would love to know what goals you will be working on as the new year approaches. Feel free to share by writing a comment below.

 May 2022 be the year you gain new momentum towards fulfilling your hopes and dreams—by making a plan to achieve them one by one. Remember that you are a beautiful work-in-progress with potential to continually develop your God-given potential. 

©Raeleen Mautner, Ph.D., LLC 2021

BONUS—Enjoy my latest column about the potential benefits of a Mediterranean Diet in times of COVID. You will find that article HERE

For those of us who are open to finding love the second (or third, fourth, etc.) time around, I can tell you from experience the journey requires patience, clarity of priorities, and if necessary, even some personal development to make sure we ourselves match up to the characteristics we are hoping to find someone else!  In this post, I’d like to share a few ideas that Psychiatrist Silvano Arieti and his son James wrote several decades ago, in their book entitled Love Can Be Found, published in 1977 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. I always return to these guidelines because they ground me and make so much sense, even today. I have listed some of them here, along with a few of my own reflections, and then I end with a few final thoughts that occurred to me.  As always, I welcome your comments if you’d care to share your own journey for attracting–not chasing—romantic love.

  1. Overcome your personal fears. By that was meant the fear of rejection, the fear of commitment, the fear of not finding love.  Once you decide you are open to finding love, you must gather the courage to follow through.
  2. Believe in your self-worth and dignity. Know that you will make someone a wonderful companion, and do not think you have to be perfect in looks, intelligence, or in any other way. Have faith in your own value and the dignity to acknowledge your limitations.
  3. Exposure. If you want love, realize that it is not about to come knocking at your door. You need to actively put yourself in settings where you at least have a likelihood of meeting a partner. Socializing is important for our mental well-being in general.
  4. Don’t look for the impossible. While you shouldn’t “settle” for someone who is not right for you (or who is not “right” period); neither should your expectations be that you would find someone who is perfect–because none of us are.
  5. Don’t rush to either accept or reject someone. Sometimes people are nervous in the beginning. Other times, though they may not be a physical attraction at first, charm eventually makes a person more attractive in our eyes. Give him/her a chance before saying NEXT. 
  6. Don’t misrepresent yourself. You want a person who is RIGHT for you, so why would you pretend you are someone you are not and preclude any chance they will be a match for the real you?
  7. Ask yourself if there is a repelling pattern (rejection) that YOU need to work on. Are potential partners telling you the same thing that perhaps you do all the talking, or you look bored when they are talking? While you should not try to be someone you are not, that doesn’t mean you should try to be YOUR personal best. We all have minor (or major) flaws we can work on to improve.
  8. Don’t expect success every time.  Take your time and enjoy meeting new people and getting out there. You don’t have to rush into anything, especially when you know you are fine with or without a partner, and can love your own company. I look at dating as a fascinating chance to meet new people. There are no losers when you decide to just enjoy the process.  And who knows, one day, there may be that special person…who makes your heart flutter again.

A few final thoughts on an Italian perspective I was taught from a young age. As the Roman Poet OVID said: “Sii amabile se vuoi essere amato;” Be lovable if you want to be loved. Here are a few tips that speak to that theme.

  • Avoid having an argumentative personality. You don’t’ have to win every debate.  Remove your porcupine quills and replace them with a fuzzy warm blanket—the kind that invites, not repels a potential love interest. Be interesting and kind, not abrasive.
  • Tend to Your Appearance:  No, this doesn’t mean you have to dress to the nines every time you leave the house, but tending to our appearance is just a part of good self-care. It shows respect for the bodies we were given when we groom and dress them nicely; and looking our best on the outside, fosters self-confidence on the inside.  
  • Get over past baggage.  I once had a friend who held a torch for his ex-girlfriend for several years after she left him to marry someone else!  Granted, his heart was broken, and professional help may have been useful in putting it back together faster than the passage of time alone was able to do.  Don’t think of dating as a potential remedy for emotional issues you have not resolved.  I have come to believe we all have a story. Whether widowed like me, divorced, childhood issues—or whatever the issue—it is not fair to a potential newcome to your love life, to bring them into negativity or emotional instability that has not been worked through.  It is important to get the help you need to come to be able to start fresh on the road to finding love. One of the biggest turnoffs across my dating experiences is sitting down with a new acquaintance who spends precious time badmouthing his ex-wife or former lover. Not cool.  Leave the past behind, except for the lessons you learned that have hopefully helped you to become a better (wiser, smarter, stronger, etc) person and potential partner for someone else. 
  • Frequent NEW venues. You have been going to the same supermarket for years and haven’t met anyone.  Get bold. Go to the market in the next town. Go to a farmers’ market, join a book club, get curious about an antique car show or fly fishing demonstration.  But don’t just go there—make eye contact and start a conversation with one or two people. At the very least you may make a new friend, and you may even win the jackpot of love.

Finally, don’t get discouraged and don’t think you have to settle.  The older I get, the more I find my time to be so valuable that I don’t want to waste it on go-nowhere coffee dates or even video chats with someone whose values clash with mine; or with someone whose personality is not harmonious with mine.  In my opinion it is important to be just as content with your life without a partner, as you would be with one.

©Raeleen Mautner, Ph.D., LLC 20

BONUS READ–enjoy my latest column in l’idea Magazine by clicking HERE.

Whenever I am in Italy, I can’t help but notice how the days seem long and full; and how time seems to dawdle, instead of racing by. Technically the 24- hour-day formula is a non-negotiable, but I have discovered, that if we make a few subtle modifications to our lifestyle, “Life is long if you know how to use it”. These words are from the writings of Seneca, the Roman Stoic Philosopher.  

LIVE IMMEDIATELY. Seneca, in his essay “On the Shortness of Life” mused about how foolish it is to spend one’s days organizing and planning for the future. The focus should be on interacting consciously with your life now,and not letting yourself become a passive bystander. Seneca also wrote that “putting things off is the biggest waste of life, for it snatches away each day as it comes and denies us the present…” Instead take time each day to do something you love to do or have been wanting to do. Spending your time worrying about the future or feeling regretful about the past is an unnecessarily harsh self-punishment. 

REFLECT ON MEANING.  We should take time to pause and reflect periodically, in order to mindfully “register” each day’s experience and ensure that we are spending our time on what is most important to us.   How often do we fall into the trap of endless daily “to-do” lists, running around robotically completing the mundane tasks of living? Granted, there are routines we must follow for survival (e.g., grocery shopping, etc.). However, such activities should not become the reason for our existence. We need meaning. Seneca believed that “living is the least important activity of the preoccupied man, and those who run around preoccupied find life to be very short”.

 MAKE A LIFE PLAN SO YOU CAN LIVE ON PURPOSE. Try keeping a journal in which you write out (and continue to modify as needed) your “Life Plan”. Often the goals we set for ourselves end up looking more like a disjointed collage than the interlocking parts of puzzle, which when completed makes total sense. When I was a psychology professor, one of the exercises I would give my students was called a “Lifeline”. It went something like this: You draw a horizontal timeline that represents your life, putting an X at the date where you are now. To the left of the X mark each major experience/event, and the approximate year that it occurred up to the present (X) (E.g.; got a new sibling, unforgettable grade school teacher, first date, marriage etc.), then to the right, continue to put X’s to represent your future goals. Your goals should be aligned with your passions, values, and talent, no matter what your present age. Of course, you don’t have to follow that template, but you get the idea.  The concept is to think about the important aspects of your life– short, mid, and long range.  That will better guide each day and help you to live more fully. It is never too late to enrich and savor each precious moment of your life. 

In ancient times people looked to the life and words of philosophers to serve as examples on how to live well. Their writings can still provide a guideline for living a quality life, in areas of friendship, emotions, physical health, finances, love, and spirituality.  Examine your life as it is now, and how you would like it to be in these fundamental areas; then set out to close the gap. This will bring a greater awareness to each day; a necessary element for using your life well and experiencing the satisfaction of a “long life”. 

—–

BONUS: Want to know what a singer (and everyone else) can learn from “Ol’ Blue Eyes”? Check out my article for l’Idea Magazine HERE

Raeleen D’Agostino Mautner, Ph.D. is a columnist for L’Idea Magazine, and Author of “Living la Dolce Vita”, which sold 22,000 copies and published in several languages.

No matter what our age, who amongst us isn’t tempted by the bags of Halloween candy we break open in preparation for the onslaught of our neighborhood trick-or-treaters?  What is YOUR favorite Halloween candy? It is said that two of the most popular choices are the Almond Joy and Mounds. I remember as a kid, one of our class trips was to the Mounds/Almond Joy factory and I was in sheer heaven watching the huge vat of my favorite coconut mixture being made behind the glass. The aroma alone was intoxicating.

Today I am much more careful about what I put into my body, for a whole host of reasons. I generally try to avoid all that sugar, dairy, and perhaps even having to bite into a hard almond and crack a tooth!  So I have come up with a healthier alternative just in the nick of time.  I’d love to share it with you! 

I never measure ingredients precisely, but I have closely estimated the amounts in the recipe below. Naturally you would put a little more of this or a little less of that ingredient, according to your tastes. You really can’t mess it up.  So easy to make, healthier than the store-bought, sugar-laden original—and just as delicious! I hope you will give this guilt-free makeover a try and let me know what you think.xo

RAELEEN’S PLANT- BASED ALMOND JOY MAKEOVER

INGREDIENTS:

1 c. whole unsalted almonds

¼ c. raw cashews

½ c raisins or dates

2 T maple syrup

1 c Bob’s Red Mill (or any brand) rolled oats

½ c. unsweetened coconut flakes

½ c. Hershey’s 100% unsweetened cacao powder

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Soak the nuts and raisins or dates in hot water for 15 minutes. 

2.Then drain, rinse, and blend nuts, raisins, and syrup in a Vitamix or high-speed blender, until it takes on the consistency of extra-crunchy peanut butter (about 1 minute). 

3. Put mixture in a large bowl, add cacao powder, coconut, and rolled oats.  Blend thoroughly with clean hands. You can also add flax seed and/or sunflower seeds if you have them on hand.

4. Shape mixture into balls and plate. When serving you can plate alongside fresh strawberries, or any other fruit you have on hand. Store in refrigerator.

Have a Happy, and above all, Healthy Halloween! 

© 2021 Raeleen Mautner, Ph.D., LLC

Marino D’Agostino died 4 months ago. He had a larger-than-life presence, and with very little formal education, Marino had an instinctual wisdom about what it took to succeed in life. He himself succeeded on many fronts against all odds– in business, social life, and even health and longevity (he was 100 years old).  I learned a few important insights from this man; one of which I will share with you in this piece.  You see, Marino D’Agostino was my father, and one of the most important principles he taught me, was to TAKE ACTION and follow through when I had an idea that I was excited about. It didn’t matter if it worked out or failed, because if I learned something from failure; it was not a wasted effort.

This is what he said, whenever I expressed a desire to go back to school, get another training, start a new writing project, or make a career change. “Start working on it now and by the end of whatever time it takes, that time will have gone by whether you did something about it or not.  Take action and you will have something to show for it, instead of just wishing you had done something.”

I hear many people say they have “let themselves go” during the past year and a half. Our lives have changed. Many of us got out of the routines we had pre-pandemic. An example is our exercise, self-care routines, or our nutritious eating habits.  We’ve maybe spent more time in front of the computer or TV, less time out dancing, going to the gym or socializing.

Do you feel you have let some of your good self-care habits go since the pandemic, and want to re-boot and reset your direction on a more positive track? Let November be YOUR month to get it done. The month will pass whether you take action or not. Start working towards it now, and at the end of the month you will have something to show for it.

Whatever you goal is, start small and stay focused for the entire month. Research in self-managed behavior outlines 7 specific steps you can take to increase the positive habits you want to see happen or decrease those habits that make you feel bad about yourself.  I will lay out an example, that I have used to get back into the habit of daily walking that seemed to go by the wayside during times of lockdown and quarantine.

  1. CHOOSE A TARGET BEHAVIOR.  (e.g., a daily fitness walk)
  2. RECORD A BASELINE (0, other than saunterings with my dogs)
  3. ESTABLISH GOAL (start out with 15 minutes a day for the first week, 20 the second week then 30 each day for the rest of the month)
  4. CHOOSE REINFORCERS (check marks on a calendar, positive self-talk, a restaurant take-out, a special gift I have been wanting)
  5. RECORD YOUR PROGRESS (I made a weekly graph of the number of times I met my daily walking goal each week for the entire month)
  6. REWARD SUCCESSES (at the end of the day, if I met my walking goal, I would make a checkmark on the calendar and give myself a thumbs up. Meeting a weekly goal would earn me a Thai take-out meal, at the end of the month I would buy myself something special. 
  7. ADJUST YOUR PLAN AS YOU LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR BEHAVIOR (I made plans to increase my walking to 40 minutes a day before I start my workday, and also add in 3 days of light hand weights for 15 minutes. 

In what areas would YOU like to re-set your life and get back on track to feeling and looking your best?  Make a commitment to yourself to improve a particular area of your life and keep that promise to yourself by using a focused blueprint, like the one above, to get there. Remember the words of my father: “This time will pass whether you take action or not. So take it.”  Let’s just say that this is the month you become your own best friend. 

©Raeleen Mautner, Ph.D., LLC

Reference:

Martin, G., & Pear, J. (2003) Behavior modification. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

When I was student at a university in Perugia, I took a brief stroll one day between classes and got lost in the enchantment of the extraordinarily creative window displays of the mom-and-pop shops that were dotted along the central piazza. I remember being mesmerized by the freshly glazed fruit tarts behind the glass at the Pasticceria, when out from the accessories shop next store comes a merchant motioning me into his store with his hand. 

 I was at the time dressed like any other college student– denim jeans, a plain white tee-shirt and platform sandals that made every step atop cobblestone roads an adventure in survival. My hair was long, parted in the middle and uneventful, probably like the rest of my appearance. 

The shopkeeper’s wife greeted me as if I were a cousin she hadn’t seen in years, then came gliding toward me with a red silk hat in her hand. “Provi, Signorina”, she said, placing it on my head before I could explain this was definitely not going to go with my normal “style”.   She positioned the turban-like headgear on me, adjusting the bow to face the nape of my neck, and then tweaked the direction of my hair a bit so that it seemed to cascade from under the turban and flow like a waterfall over my shoulders.

Che bellezza!  Guardi, Signorina”, the shopkeeper’s wife said, directing me to look in the mirror.

My first thought was that this couple’s sales technique was definitely original. My second thought was that the only women I had ever known to wear hats were my mother and grandmother, and that I wasn’t really that “hat type”.

Looking in the mirror I felt ridiculous, but I had to admit the hat itself was pretty nice. It was a lipstick red, made of beautiful silk, and sat about 6 inches high from the top of my head.

Grazie, ma non e’ per me,  I said to the owners who were expecting me to say “I’ll take it”. But as I began to remove the hat, the Signora put her hand up, in a gesture for me to leave it there, while her husband began punching keys at cash register and telling me I looked so beautiful in it that I was to get a deep discount on the red hat.

What could I say? They insisted I leave the hat on my head, so they could admire me as I left the store and walked back out into the main piazza, where I noted I was drawing stares from passersby, making the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes come to mind.  I felt like the target of jest and ridicule.  I looked back to see the shop owners waving and clasping their hands proudly to their chest, like a mamma and papa bird nudging their young from the nest to fly for the first time.

So I kept walking, with the intention of pulling off that hat as soon as I could turn the corner and disappear from their line of vision.  But then I caught a glimpse of my reflection in another store window. Not so bad.  People began giving me compliments and greeting me with a smile. Maybe they weren’t laughing? I straightened my shoulders, held my head a little higher and began to think I could conquer the world.

What was going on? In hindsight, I doubt it was the hat at all that boosted my confidence and made me feel more attractive.  It was more likely due to the “red effect”, which is a real thing according to research findings of how both men and women are perceived as more attractive by others, when they are either wearing something red or even when photographs of individuals are framed in red. Moreover, one intriguing study showed that not only are other people’s perception of our physical attractiveness increased when we wear red, but we ourselves, when wearing Cupid’s favorite color, feel more attractive and more confident. Who would have thought? It’s not such a far-fetched idea. We know from the psychology research that one’s appearance affects how others see and relate to us. That positive feedback often influences our own self-perception, and so it goes.

As the holidays draw near, at the end of a long and challenging 2021, you have a perfect excuse to pull out the red dress or shirt from your closet, the red sneakers or shoes from the shoe rack, or the ruby red lipstick from your makeup drawer—and if you are really daring, you might want to order yourself a beautiful red hat and watch the magic happen.

Reference:

Berthold, A.; Reese, G., & Martin, J.(2017) The effect of red color on perceived self-attractiveness. European Journal of Social Psychology 47 (20) 645–65.

©Raeleen Mautner Ph.D., LLC

Because COVID has led to spending more time at home, many of us are eliminating the clutter in our surroundings.  A messy environment creates a chaotic mindset. Just walking into a kitchen that has dishes piled up in the sink or trying to relax in a living room that is littered with pet toys or coats thrown the couch—creates a quagmire of distraction that keeps you from enjoying your leisure time or focusing on a project you really want to work on.  

While a pile-up of “things” crowds you out of your own physical space and causes you to lose sight of what is important to you, the same applies to relationships that don’t serve your highest self and cause you to waste the most precious commodity you have in this life—the gift of time. We can’t bank it, invest it, or add to it.  The time we have is the time we have. How we spend this precious currency should be driven by intention and reflection.

The Stoic Philosopher Seneca, believed it was important to contemplate who you wish to donate the time of your life to, instead of just giving it way thoughtlessly. 

Do you really want to be with people who aren’t truly happy for you in good times nor offer their shoulder to cry on in bad? Why waste your time worrying about people (including family members) who reject you or relegate you to their “holiday-only” phone call list?  Do you feel good or not so good when you spend futile hours on a one-way relationship; one which is not reciprocated in a balanced way that encourages both of you to grow into the best versions of yourselves? Have you ever spent half a day on the phone listening to someone who not once during the lengthy conversation asks how you are doing? Consider if it is time to let go of those who disrespect you, or relegate you to the periphery of their life until they need you for something, or those who criticize you in a judgmental (non-constructive) way.

Only you can make a conscious decision as to who gets the privilege of benefiting from your beautiful spirit, your generosity of heart, your empathy, your caring listening skills, and your willingness to be there and help at a moment’s notice though crises. In other words, only you can decide who gets the gift of your time.

Choose wisely, and thoughtfully, and you will have more time available to nurture the healthier kinds of relationships which are based on mutual caring, respect, and affectionate reciprocity. 

©Raeleen Mautner, Ph.D., LLC

I am unabashedly proud of my Italian roots, and of my maternal and paternal grandparents who endured endless days and tortuous nights crowded into a ship’s steerage unit, packed in elbow to elbow alongside those who were sick and vomiting, and with the stench of dysentery permeating the airless compartment. There were no beds, no bed linens, no gourmet meals.  With barely a few lire in their tattered pockets they courageously sailed to an unknown land, where they hoped to find work, and be able to help those they left behind in the devastation of poverty-stricken southern Italy. They also hoped to raise the next generation to have an easier life, a less austere life—and a secure life. 

The Italians who were lucky enough to overcome the hurdles at Ellis Island, and not be sent home because of a physical limitation as minor as a limp, or a cognitive lack of understanding of a random “IQ” test only to be deported as being “feeble-minded”—were determined to work hard, for very little pay, at whatever work they were assigned. They did so without complaint, no matter how fatigued and tired their bodies were from long hours of physical labor. No matter how discouraged their hearts were from the jeers of those who came here before them.  They were often referred to as dirty “dagoes” who weren’t quite black yet weren’t quite white, so a curious suspicion surrounded them to the point where oftentimes when a crime was committed, Italians were the first ones accused, regardless of whether they were innocent or guilty. This happened in March of 1891 when 11 Sicilians in New Orleans were lynched by an angry vigilante mob, led by local “respected” politicians, even after the courts had acquitted them of the murder of police chief Hennessy. Anti-Italianism ran rampant through the country. Even Theodore Roosevelt (who was later to become president) wrote that the lynching of Italians was a “rather good thing”. After all, Italian immigrants were thought of as born criminals, mafiosi, or dirty beggars.

Negative stereotypes die hard. I have dedicated a good portion of my life combatting these stereotypes and prejudices. I served as Research Director for AIDA (American Italian Defense Association) for whom I launched a national survey to understand how negative Italian stereotypes originated.  I helped to elevate the important contributions of contemporary Italian Americans through the many interviews I conducted on my then-radio show “The Italian Art of Living Well” at WNHU, and also sought to educate through my weekly columns for both America Oggi and then The Italian Tribune.  Two of my self-help books combined my background in psychology, with both the wisdom I gleaned from my Italian grandparents and the discoveries I made through my doctoral cross-cultural research (US-Italy). 

My turn-of-the-century Italian grandparents, like most, came here and worked alongside all ethnicities, believing always that our strength lied in our unity. While most other ethnic groups have risen up strongly and often with a legal team behind them, against bias and prejudice based on heritage, religion, or skin color, the negative Italian stereotypes, put-downs and jokes continue. Because we have been handed a legacy of harmony and avoiding making waves, many just want to let these insults slide—like the defacing and removal of Christopher Columbus and Columbus Day respectively.

My own grandparents, like many Italian immigrants who came during the two big waves at the turn of the century, rarely mentioned Columbus. They didn’t even particularly identify with Christopher Columbus the man. What they did identify with, however, was this United States gesture of finally recognizing them for the hard-working productive laborers, farmers, shop owners, shipyard and train workers that helped to make America better for us all.  

We have all seen protesters lash out, spray paint, or behead statues of Columbus, and point out the negatives of some of his actions so reflective of his time. Native Americans are our national treasures, and it is right to be concerned about their welfare to this day, as history—far outside of Columbus—has treated them unkindly.  So how did Columbus come to represent the achievements of the Italians who came to America?  He didn’t even really discover the America that became the United States of today.

President Benjamin Harris was morally troubled by the New Orleans lynching of 11 Italians, and so in 1892 he decided to make amends with Italy, who had made it known that it was not going to tolerate the horrific treatment of its faraway sons and daughters. So Harris did two things. First, he offered $25,000 to the families of the innocent Italians who were murdered simply because of where they came from; and second, he wanted to create a Presidential Proclamation to honor the contributions that the Italians and Italian Americans made to this country. He had his staff compile a list of prominent Italians throughout history—Galileo, Michelangelo, Vespucci, Columbus, etc.  Ultimately, because the calendar year 1892 marked the 400th anniversary of the Columbus landing (in what we now know was the Bahamas), the decision seemed like a no-brainer. Italy was so pleased by America extending the olive branch (although a formal apology for the tragedy at New Orleans came many decades later), the Italian government decided to donate a statue of Columbus to New York, to be placed at the southwest entrance of Central Park, known as the “circle”.

Yes, it was by chance and coincidence that Cristoforo Colombo came to represent our pride in the Italian American journey. But that statue goes well beyond the man himself.  His journey was a long, arduous voyage into unknown territory, not too unlike the journey of our Italian ancestors. The statues of Columbus represent our eternal bond of affection with the motherland that our forefathers and mothers left behind while also leaving behind their parents, sisters, brothers, and the familiar life they knew. It represents our people’s restored dignity via the government’s recognition of the many contributions that Italians and Italian Americans have made since arriving upon these shores.   

Columbus was unarguably a brilliant navigator, and a courageous leader. Like all of us, he was a product of his times. Like all human beings he had talents and flaws.  I choose to celebrate the more comprehensive picture of what Columbus Day symbolizes, of what the Columbus statues represented to the Italians of my grandparent’s day, and to Italian Americans today. 

As a proud Italian American, I wish all of my readers a Happy Columbus Day.

© Raeleen D’Agostino Mautner, Ph.D. 2021

I’ve heard so many conversations in which individuals complain that in the past year they had hoped to accomplish x, y, and z, but instead fell into a kind of malaise. They marveled at how they didn’t know where the year went, but outside of work hours, the only thing accomplished seemed to be binge-watching several Netflix series or getting lost in a quagmire of YouTube videos, only to find that as the end of each day rolled around they no longer “felt” motivated to relearn an instrument they once used to play, learn that language they had always longed to become fluent in, write the novel that had been locked up in their hearts or follow their long-time dream to start that online business. 

Is there a way to override that “feeling” of not being motivated to follow through with your deepest hopes and dreams?  I’m not talking about the goals you think you “should” accomplish, nor about the tasks that others want you to do. I want to focus for a minute on the true passions that reflect your authentic self. There is much less internal resistance when goals are aligned with your personal values.

YES.  We can absolutely override feelings that keep us locked up in a prison of inertia—and the key to accomplishing the dreams in our hearts— is the WILL. 

Italian psychotherapist and contemporary philosopher Piero Ferrucci, in his book “What We May Be”, recalled a conversation he was having with his mentor Dr. Roberto Assagioli, best known for his work on psychosynthesis. When Ferrucci commented about how we should follow our feelings. Assagioli surprisingly took quite the opposite stance. “Your feelings should follow you,’” Assagioli remarked. 

After reflecting on this, Ferrucci realized that his mentor was indeed correct. Just think about how our feelings can sometimes lead us to wallow in negativity, ruminate over an insult that someone hurled at us, or stay stuck in sadness or bottled-up anger. To break free of the negative feelings-rut, we can have the potential to “will” ourselves to intentionally shift our attention and take a different course of action. Whether we feel like it or not.

Unfortunately, when most people think of will power, the first thing that comes to mind is a rigid taskmaster that we will never be able to obey in the long run. Think of dieters for example who try to use their “will power” to avoid that bag of Halloween candy they have stored in the pantry. Ehm..I don’t think so.

But instead of thinking of your will as a stern boss that you “must” obey, think of it as an overall guide that can help you to effortlessly move forward towards your personal value-driven goals. Dr. Ferrucci compares the Will to sailing a boat versus rowing a boat. When you row, you are putting in great effort to make the oars take the boat against currents, wind, etc.  In contrast, when you sail, you are simply harnessing the wind and the flow of water, and letting them do most of the work, while you (i.e., the Will) simply adjust the sails, to guide the boat to shore.

So focus on one goal at a time and let your meta-guide, the Will, direct your attention and your action– even when you don’t “feel” like putting the time or effort into it.  The more you use the Will, like any muscle, the stronger it gets and the easier it will be to “sail” to the shore where your dreams are realized. 

Reference for further reading:

Ferrucci, P. (2004)  What We May Be. New York: Penguin.

© Raeleen Mautner, Ph.D. 2021

Who doesn’t love and admire the ageless beauty and super-talented Italian film actress, Sophia Loren? You know, the one who is purported to have said “Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti.” I don’t know about you, but just looking at her photos makes me want to head straight to the pasta aisle at the nearest supermarket!

What most people don’t know about Ms. Loren is something that goes much deeper than her gorgeous exterior. I’m talking about her wisdom, and her positive outlook on life—especially when it comes to aging well. For her, it is not about seeing the world through rose colored glasses, but instead she accepts reality, and rather than dwelling on negativity, stays focused on the positive. 

Below I have summarized for you 5 of Sophia’s philosophical gems from her interviews and writings. I hope they will inspire you as much as they have me.

In a 1984 interview with TV host Merv Griffin, Sophia Loren told him how she felt about turning 50.  “I have never been afraid of age,” she said. “I always tell my age.”

1.Be proud of who you are.

Merv commented: “Italian women are lucky!” Sophia’s replied that instead of being lucky, “Italian women have a winning nature, and I am one of them.”

2.Believe in yourself.

The key to staying young at heart, she believes, is to anticipate the future instead of longing for the past. How to do that? “No matter how old you are, do something you care about.”

3.Spend your time doing what is meaningful to you.

Ms. Loren also felt that bitterness and negative emotions will eventually show up on one’s face. “Bitterness,” she said, “is not in my vocabulary. I believe in kindness, graciousness, and positive things.”

4.Don’t dwell on negativity; focus on the positive.

But the most important thing Sophia learned to finally do at the age of 50 was to learn to say “No”, upon the advice Charlie Chaplin had given her. He told Sophia that when people who don’t know how to say no (as she had a hard time doing), life becomes a disaster. You end up forfeiting your own priorities by putting yourself at the disposal of others. Your life becomes unorganized.as you get pulled in many different directions. When you learn to say “no” you can focus on spending your time on what really matters to you.

5.Learn to say “no” to whatever takes time away from the causes that are important to your life.

What is one of YOUR most important personal philosophies? I would love to hear them if you can take a moment to comment below.

References:

Interview on the Merv Griffin Show, 1984

Loren, S.  (1984)       Women and Beauty. William Morrow & Co.

The short answer is YES. According to the research, one of the strongest predictors of happiness in older adults—is health.  Just think: by 2050 the world population of adults 60 and over is expected to reach 2 billion; and study after study shows that this is the also the age demographic at increased risk for chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, and even cancer. While genetic predispositions may play a role, we often neglect the powerful role that our lifestyle plays in staving off disability and premature death.

The three most agreed-upon lifestyle practices that experts say will help to optimize our health include, diet, exercise, and avoid smoking.  Of these three, an optimally nutritious diet has the most impact on good health –specifically a whole food, low fat, sugar-free, oil-free, and salt-free plant-based vegan diet.

Why not Mediterranean? Paleo? Atkins? While it is true that some approaches to healthy eating may be better than sitting around eating junk food all day, they are still not optimal compared to WFPB SOS (whole food plant-based salt-free, oil-free and sugar free). out all animal products, even fish, eggs, and dairy). Check out the work of the leading plant-based medical doctors who have literally and dramatically helped countless people reverse and prevent disease: Caldwell Esselstyn, Joel Fuhrman, John McDougall, and Neal Barnard. While their approaches to nutritional health differ in only a few minor details, they all agree on the basics that promote vibrant health and longevity. If followed faithfully, this way of eating also helps us to shed pounds and reach our optimal weight. 

What to eat?  Unprocessed plant foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Also avoid packaged foods and added oils (even olive oil should be eaten in its whole natural form—by eating the olive—which has fiber and nutrients that are stripped when the oil is extracted).  If this sounds like a boring way of eating just hop onto YouTube and check out the channels and recipes of Chef AJ, Plantiful Kiki, Jane Esselstyn, Physicians Committee, Joel Fuhrman, Kyong Weathersby, and the Whole Food Plant Based Cooking Show.  There are countless other great cooking channels, too, as a growing body of research confirms the benefits of this lifestyle.

Naturally, if you have special health considerations you should always consult with your primary health provider before you make any kind of change.  Get informed and share what you learn with your doctor. Together you can make lifestyle decisions that can help you to live longer and feel better each day. Here’s to your happiness!

Resources and for further information:

Barnard, Neal   ( 2018  ) The Vegan Starter Kit. Grand Central Publishing

Kahleova, H., Levin, S., & Barnard, Neal D (2020) Plant-Based Diets for Healthy Aging, Journal of American College of Nutrition. 

© Raeleen Mautner LLC 2021

Pictured above is my typical breakfast: Greens, fruit, and oats. Alright, I also walk every day before work, get medical check-ups when called for, floss my teeth 3 times a day and do everything else the experts advise will best preserve my health as I grow older.  I would guess that you too make some effort to feel your best, knowing how precious and fragile good health can be.

Well, here’s a newsflash: We can take all the right “actions” to stay well, but did you know that what we believe to be true about ourselves may be just as important if not more so?

The danger of self-stereotyping:

Let’s face it: If a Martian landed on Earth and relied on TV, film, or print media, to learn about humans, he/she would get the impression that women can’t do math, Republicans are bigoted, Democrats are communist, Italians eat spaghetti and play the mandolin all day, overweight people are jolly, and older adults are senile, useless, out of touch, and incompetent. The list goes on, no matter what societal category you examine.  Research shows that the result of overgeneralizations, especially in the form of negative stereotyping, is not just limited to discrimination towards individual members of that group, but there is also a likelihood that negative stereotypes can also become internalized, and seep into the individual’s own self-concept. This “self-stereotyping” (or believing in others’ stereotypical presumptions about you) can affect your self-esteem, your outlook on life, and even your physical health.

So where do stereotypes come from? How do they start? Most likely they start in childhood, when children are exposed to stereotypical beliefs held by parents, teachers-even peers. They are also probably reinforced by media from childhood to adulthood.

When I served as the Research Director for AIDA (American Italian Defense Association), I conducted a large survey research study to see how Americans formed their concepts about people of Italian heritage. The stereotypes included an image of Italians as cartoonish, over-gesticulating buffoons, mobsters, overweight housewives whose lives center around tomato sauce, males, who of course must be hot Latin Lovers, and the not-so-bright Jersey Shore -like TV portrayals of slicked back hair, gold neck chains and dummied down English. Participants indicated that they ‘learned” these concepts from media (TV, mafia movies, etc.), and just presumed most of them to be true.  

Ageist self-stereotyping, which can influence older adults on a conscious or unconscious level, has been shown to pose a threat to physical health, memory, cardiovascular health—and it may even shorten lives.   That’s good enough reason for me to resist buying into the nonsense of stereotypes—whether it be about others or about myself. I don’t purchase “over-the-hill” greeting cards. I don’t watch TV shows that portray older people as feeble, mentally unstable, or idiotic.  I go against the flow when it comes to how I dress or wear my hair, or what kind of music the boxed-in stereotype proponents say I should listen to or what kind of goals I should pursue. The first step is to be aware that most stereotypes are FALSE. We are all unique individuals, and the only one who has the right to define who you are is YOU. Have the courage to go against the flow and respectfully and civilly speak up when you hear someone categorizing you or others.  Often people are not aware that they are being insulting when they presume certain things about you and just bringing it to their attention can start to turn things around. Most important, what you think of yourself is what really matters. Focus on all the positive things about you and don’t hand over your valuable energy to the negative influences around you.

Sign up for my FREE monthly newsletter at www.RaeleenMautner.com to receive tips, quotes and ideas to make life better each day.

I also welcome you to join my AgingHappy Facebook page, where occasionally, I will go life. www.Facebook.com/AgingHappy

References

Allen, P.M., Hooker, K., & Meja, S. T (2015) Personality, Self-Pereptions and Daily Variability in Perceived Usefulness Among Older Adults.  Psychology and Aging v30 n3 p534-543.

Herndon, K.K; Norsworthy, C.F.;  & Kor-Sins, R. (2020).  Democrat or Republican? Using Political Stereotypes as a Bias Discussion Exercise Journal of Leadership education. Vol 19(2). 

Levy, B.R. (2003). Mind Matters: Cognitive and Physical Effects of Aging Self-Stereotypes Journal of Gerontology: PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCES Vol. 58B, No. 4, P203–P211 

Rivera, L.M, & Paredez, S.M (2014) Stereotypes Can “Get Under the Skin”: Testing a Self- Stereotyping and Psychological Resource Model of Overweight and Obesity J Soc Issues. 2014 June 1; 70(2): 226–240. doi:10.1111/josi.12057.

©Raeleen Mautner, LLC

When entertainment media wants to portray an exaggerated stereotype or caricature, one of the first tools it uses is vocal manipulation. The Italian (or Italian-American), for instance is often portrayed with an exaggerated broken English or dummied down speech. Witches are portrayed with a nasal, squeaky voice or laugh. And then of course in the true spirit of ageism, an older protagonist usually takes on a wobbly, creaky vocal quality.

There is no denying that physiological changes take place as part of aging. Our respiratory system (i.e., the motor that powers our sound) tends not to be as hearty as it was in our youth. The collagen and muscles used in the production of sound involving our vocal cords may also start to decline; just as happens throughout the rest of our body. However, similarly to how certain self-care routines and physical exercises help the rest of the body to stay strong for as long as possible, the same is true with respect to keeping a beautiful, youthful tone quality to the voice—no matter what our age; provided we are not suffering from a major disease that affects the voice directly.

 As a singer, I have studied with several vocal coaches; each of whom has emphasized the importance of good vocal hygiene if I want to preserve my voice and keep it clear and strong.  Unlike a piano or guitar, many variables can make the voice unreliable or inconsistent (such as allergies, acid reflux, talking too loudly when in a crowd or noisy event, etc.). The one thing we can do consistently, is take good care of our voice.

Proper vocal care is even more important as we age if we want to be taken seriously and avoid becoming that ageist media stereotype. The tone and quality of a confident voice is ageless and commands respect, not ridicule. Having a wobbly or weak voice influences how we are perceived, and how others relate to us. 

Here are 11 ideas for making your voice the best it can be, at any age:

1.Record your speaking voice. Just open a book or newspaper and read into a voice recorder. Yes, that really is how you sound to others.  What are the qualities you love about your voice? What are the aspects of your voice you would like to improve?

2. Don’t habitually speak either too loud or too soft.  Speaking loudly all the time can lead to hoarseness and swollen vocal cords. The same is true with speaking too softly or whispering as too much air passes through the cords and dries them out.

3. Avoid breathing too shallowly and stop to take in more air when you need it as you are talking.

4. Enunciate your words clearly. This will prompt you to speak more slowly and use less energy to make yourself understood.

5. Stay hydrated.  Water keeps the vocal cords from drying out and makes them more pliable.

6. Steam your voice safely if you feel your voice is tired. I use a facial steamer by Conair, but there are also inexpensive portable nebulizers available online. 

7. Use a humidifier at night if the indoor air is dry; especially during the winter.

8. Practice the lip trill. Singers rely on this exercise, and it is often recommended to public speakers, who want to avoid overtaxing their voices. Simply hum up and down the scale through lightly closed lips; like you are making a raspberry.

9. Eat right and exercise.  The body is one whole unit.  Keeping the whole unit as healthy as possible will also have a positive effect on the voice.

10. Maintain good posture.  When we are slumped over a computer all day or habitually hunched over, our air flow is crimped, possibly leading to vocal strain. Check your position a few times a day in a mirror. Your head should not be thrusted forward but rather, resting directly over your shoulders (which should not be rounded).

11. See a professional if you have persistent hoarseness or feel that you need some extra help in maintaining a vibrant, ageless speaking voice. I will occasionally seek consultations with two professionals when I feel I need it: One is an ENT doctor, who can scope you and let you know if you have nodules on your vocal cords or acid reflux; the other is a speech therapist who can point out ways you may you have been overtaxing your voice; and suggest the appropriate corrections.

©Raeleen Mautner, Ph,D.

www.facebook.com/aginghappy

References (or for further information)

Coyne, Audrey (2020) Opera Singer’s Tricks to Have a More Attractive Voice. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJsgL5vmtqw

McMillen, M . 5 Ways Not to Sound Old. AARP Media. https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2014/improve-aging-voice.html

Stoney, J (2020) Sing Like Never Before. Mission Point Press

Why You Should Become Your OWN Social Director (and 3 steps to get you started)

The research is clear: Loneliness is hazardous to our health. In fact some experts claim it increases our risk of premature death by a whopping 20%. It can affect our blood pressure, our heart health, and our weight. When we are lonely we take less care of ourselves. We lose the motivation to eat right, exercise, tend to our appearance, or even socialize.

Of course being alone does not always mean you are lonely. Nor does being in company always ensure you are NOT lonely. Also worth noting is that we all have different alone-time preferences, which must be respected.  

Research shows that true loneliness involves feelings of social isolation; indicating that two important ingredients may be “missing” from our lives; EMOTIONAL SUPPORT and PHYSICAL COMPANIONSHIP. The good news is, we can do something about it. A good place to start is to take control of our social lives. One way to do that is to grab a notebook, open a calendar, and TAKE ACTION.  Here are 3 simple steps to get started:

STEP ONE: The notebook is where you want to describe WHAT you want your social life to look like. You may be looking for romantic love, new friends, stronger connections with existing friends, or reuniting with distant family members. The possibilities are endless. 

STEP TWO, be willing to do the WORK.  Designate blocks of time in your calendar to devoted to working on relationships that afford you emotional support, and scheduling activities that provide you with physical companionship (e.g., special interest groups such as book clubs, walking groups, volunteering, etc.).

STEP THREE: follow through with at least 1-2 social activities per week. This can be increased or pulled back to whatever feels right for you.

PANDEMIC NOTE: It is important above al to stay SAFE and follow the guidance of professionals and the situation in your own geographical area as it pertains to the pandemic. Some activities may require masks and/or vaccinations. When it is unsafe to interact in person, there are plenty of online discussion and special interest groups, classes, workshops. And of course, there is the telephone, facetime, skype and zoom.  The important thing is to stay connected to feel connected.

If find you are often feeling lonely, take action, even if at first you don’t feel like doing so. It can save your life; kind of like exercising–if you make social interaction a more frequent habit, you will eventually feel so much better you won’t feel right if you go without it for too long. 

REFERENCES:

Carla M. Perissinotto, MD, MHS; Irena Stijacic Cenzer, MA; Kenneth E. Covinsky, MD, MPH (2012). Loneliness in Older Persons: A Predictor of Functional Decline and Death.

ARCH INTERN MED/VOL 172 (NO. 14).

Sorkin, D; Lu, J; & Rock, K (2002). Loneliness,lack of emotional support, lack of companionship, and the likelihood of having a heart condition in an elderly sample. Annals of Behavioral Medicine 24(4) 290-298

©Raeleen Mautner, LLC 2021

As I walked down the corridor of a large hospital, a young gentleman limped towards me and asked if I knew how to get back to the exit that led to the parking lot where his car was parked.  “Sure, let me walk you there,” I said turning around to walk with him.

He looked at me like he hadn’t heard correctly. “But you were going the other way” he remarked, “I don’t want to inconvenience you.  You can just point me towards the next corridor and I will try to follow the signs.”

 “I could use the extra exercise,” I replied with a smile.

The young gentleman had a knee injury so we had to walk slowly. “I’m really sorry this is taking up so much of your time,” he said as he carefully coordinated his cane with his steps. “Someone asked me if I wanted a wheelchair, but actually, this exercise is good for me, too.”

By the time we made it through 4 corridors to the EXIT, he had relayed the story of his injury, told me about his new car, the joy he took in being a new Dad, and how he loved tending to his garden. When we got to the door I walked him out further to the ramp so he could hold on and make a gradual descent into the parking lot.

“ Gee, I don’t know how to thank you,” he said. “Talking to you really made my day.”

And he was off. 

The fact was that seeing him out safely made my day too!

Often, we don’t realize how a simple good deed for someone, not only helps the receiver of that deed, but can also have a powerful effect on the do-er of the kind act.

Studies in the field of psychology have positively correlated the performing of kind acts (or what we call “prosocial behaviors”) with enhanced life satisfaction (i.e. happiness). This holds true for all ages.  In short: Kindness makes us feel good about ourselves in addition to bettering someone else’s situation. What a win-win!

Back in the 80’s the buzz phrase “random acts of kindness”, implied that whenever it popped into our heads, we should do something kind for someone else.  But how would our lives change for the better if we consciously PLANNED to perform acts of kindness? After all, we can’t always depend on our Muse to give us a hint, and furthermore, the research shows that varying the kinds of good deeds we do has a more lasting impact on our personal happiness

When we first walk into someone’s kitchen as they are sautéing onions, we are overpowered with the aroma, but after a few minutes, we hardly notice it anymore. That is called “sensory adaptation”.  The same thing happens with other systems of the human body and brain. We adapt to what becomes routine, and it has less of an impact on us. 

This is where the element of “novelty” or variety plays a role.

Researchers randomly assigned participants ages 18-60 into three groups. They were asked to do one of three things: a) perform kind acts for 10 days; b) perform new (novel) acts of kindness for 10 days; or c) perform no acts and just go about their normal business (control group) for ten days. What they found was that BOTH experimental groups (the first two) experienced a significant increase in life satisfaction as compared with the control condition, which did not.

It seems that performing regular acts of kindness AND varying the types of kind acts one performs can bring greater happiness—both for the doer and the receiver.

A PLAN TO INCREASE YOUR KINDESS REPERTOIRE:

You might find it helpful to start making a KINDNESS list. To do this, jot down as many kind actions as you can think of. You can add to your list every day as you come up with additional ideas.  These acts could be big or small.  Try to recall some of the nice things you have done for others in the past, or things other people have done for  you, and add those acts to the list. Next, glance at this list each day to get ideas of how to spread your kindness around before the day is through.  Here are some examples:

In a world where self-preoccupation is commonplace, we can each be a unique light that shines kindness all around us. As a bonus, we become a whole lot happier for doing so.

Have you performed a kind act today? Share your story below!

References:

Buchanan, K.E., & Bardi, A. (2010). Replications and refinements: Acts of kindness and acts of novelty affect life satisfaction. The Journal of Social Psychology 150(3), 235-237

Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K.M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology (9) 111-131 

 ©Raeleen Mautner, LLC 2021

Okay I admit it: Yes, I purchased an entire season of The Jack LaLanne Show from the 1950’s on DVD.  I loved him then and I love him now.  Jack was a pioneer of fitness with an over-the-top enthusiasm, and a charisma that catapults me from my easy chair right into a set of crazy jumping jacks before my mind even has a chance to talk myself out of it. I feel like I’m back in my grade school years when I watch the repeats of his show. There I was glued to our little black and white TV with the famous “Glamor Stretcher” in hand as Jack, his German Shepherd “Happy”, and his super-cheerful wife Elaine LaLanne took me through 20 frenzied minutes of a workout routine, to the muffled sound of a live organ playing Daisy, Daisy, Give Me Your Answer Do.  The tempo gets faster and faster until Elaine LaLanne could barely keep up and eventually bursts into laughter as Jack continues to coax her to keep going, keep going, do one more jumping jack.  

Watching the Jack LaLanne Show today brings back all kinds of wonderful memories that go beyond a message of exercise and healthy nutrition. At one point Jack pulls up a chair, looks into the camera and says “Boys and Girls, now go get your Mom and your Dad and have them do these exercises with you”.  Believing in the magic of TV and that Jack was able to see me right through the screen— into the kitchen I would run to get my mother. When she resisted,  I would grab her hand and pull her into the “parlor” (what we called the living room back then) and make her do the exercises with me. In that moment I would become Jack and she Elaine.  Eventually, unable to keep up, Mom too, would burst out laughing. Then I would run downstairs and show my grandmother how to work out—but that was where the line was drawn because in her day in Sicily,  programmed exercise was never a “thing”; as life  in the “old country” was hard enough and plenty active.

So many happy memories come flooding back with the nostalgia of the Jack LaLanne show! I still belly laugh at Jack’s  corny jokes, and contort my face all over the place when Jack leads us in exercises for our face muscles. Reconnecting to something that made me so joyful in childhood still has the power to bring me right back to simpler times, growing up with my parents and sister in a 4-room third floor flat above my grandfather’s shoe store and down the street from my other grandparent’s little grocery market. One memory spawns another and another and I begin to feel like a kid again.

As it turns out, nostalgia really can have the power to be our fountain of youth.  And when we FEEL younger than our chronological age, studies show that we also feel healthier, more confident about our physical abilities, and more optimistic about our future health. In short, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Granted, for a small percentage of people, nostalgia can be equated to a kind of sad longing for something lost in the past. But more recent research shows that for most, nostalgia helps people feel more youthful and promotes a greater sense of well-being. A sentimental affection for one’s past, seems to give us a sense of continuity about our lives, and a self-perception of youthfulness. Among other benefits this feeling of youthfulness has translated into more positive recovery from illness, lower levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation in the body), and an increased level of strength when performing tasks. 

Researchers from North Dakota State University performed three studies that compared participants who were asked to induce nostalgia, by listening to a song they from their childhood, versus the “control” group who were asked to listen to a contemporary song. In all three studies,  the older subjects in the nostalgic group—regardless of gender, felt younger than their chronological age. They were also more optimistic about their health, and had a more positive outlook about their current and future health status as compared to the control group.

So the Jack LaLanne effect is not all in my head after all. I didn’t think so. I have since thought of some other ways to weave the warmth of nostalgia your own life. Here are some of them:

1.Nostalgic Music: For me, it  was Gianni Morandi, Sergio Endrigo, Massimo Ranieri, Iva Zanicchi, Mia Martini, Cream, Mamas and the Papas, Jefferson Airplane, Dusty Springfield, and all those wonderful bands from the “British invasion”. What will you put on your nostalgic playlist?

2. Artifacts from yesteryear: I recently located and purchased a perfume that I used to use back in the day—Blue Waltz!  Albeit cheap and sickening sweet there was a magic to it, that all comes back to me when I take a whiff: A boy I might have had a crush on then; a girlfriend I might have snuck out to a dance with, etc.   What product or artifact brings make happy memories from your past?

3. Retro-Dressing:  Online or antique shops often offer jewelry or clothing pieces that have history—and my reconnect you with your own life history. I once found a dress that could have easily been worn on the  I Love Lucy show. Oh, where are you, my Ricky?!!  You may have an article of clothing or piece of jewelry (like your grandfather’s pocket watch etc) that makes you feel happy when you wear it—or even just look at it. I would love to know what it is; please let us know it the comments below!

4. Old TV Shows Have you ever set aside an evening to watch reruns of shows like I love Lucy, the Carol Burnett, Show, I Married Joan, Topper, Leave it to Beaver, Andy of Mayberry, Ted Mack and the Original Amateur Hour, Lassie, Popeye, The Three Stooges–and of course the yearly showing of The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland. My heart still beats furiously when the wicked witch flies onto the scene!  You may watch these shows or old movies on YouTube, the Turner Classic Movie Channel, or even order them online. The black and white versions are still the best. What are your favorites?

5. Living in Real (not virtual) Time: Since the pandemic (at least for now) seems to have calmed in some locations, whenever possible and safe to do so I like to spend my free time doing old-fashioned activities. Like visiting a friend with a batch of cookies, or shopping at an open-air market. Even taking an adventure drive to explore a new city.   You can also get involved in community theater, go to a library discussion group, or take a guided tour at an art museum. What have you been able to safely do recently that you used to enjoy in the past or in your pre-computer days?

6. Browse old photo albums: I occasionally like to look at photos that put a smile on my face; especially remembering the good times we shared when my grandparents were alive, or when we went on family outings when our kids were small.  What favorite photos of the past bring joy to your heart?

Does nostalgia make you feel more youthful? What are some of your happiest childhood memories that energize you when you think back to them?  Would love to hear your thoughts! 

Reference:

Abeyta, Andrew A., & Routledge, Clay (2016). Fountain of youth: The impact of nostalgia on youthfulness and implications for health. Self and Identity. Vol 15(3) pp. 356-369

© Raeleen Mautner, 2021

After having put a deposit on a major appliance recently, I called a friend to complain about how ill-mannered I felt the person at the front desk was—both to me and to the lovely older salesperson, who clearly had a physical disability. My friend on the other end of the line was equally outraged when I described the situation and agreed with me that if it were not for the salesperson possibly losing a commission, she would have walked out and gone elsewhere for the appliance. 

We often bristle at the concept of “complaining” but the fact is, that none of us can go very long without complaining about something; and sometimes—if not excessive to the point where it takes over our entire personality—complaining here and there has its usefulness along the spectrum of social interaction.

In a research study that looked at the psychology of complaining in social interactions, researchers found that complaining may be an important form of social communication, which serves a function.  Most of us complain on average about 5 times/day. We complain mostly about other people, objects, or events, as opposed to complaining about ourselves. When we do complain about ourselves, it is usually about a physical state (“my back is killing me”; “I’m so hungry I have a headache”, etc.). When participants were asked to keep a log of their complaints, the data showed that over 75% of all complaining did not involve an attempt to change a situation (“instrumental” complaining), but rather to find solidarity, a common ground to agree upon, to find solidarity, or as a way to express frustration.

I once challenged the students (and myself) in one of my psychology classes to go without complaining for 30 days. They were to keep of diary to first record a baseline of how many times they complained in a day; then draw up a behavioral modification plan to gradually decrease and then eliminate their complaining behavior. That was perhaps, they told me, one of the hardest assignments I had ever given them! I wasn’t surprised, having caught myself lamenting more than once during this same period, when I couldn’t find a parking space, or when icy roads made driving a nightmare, or when…

While eliminating our complaining behaviors completely may not be realistic, I still believe that if we want to be happier, we need to complain less and find more of the positive aspects in every situation we encounter. Believe me the positives are there if you look for them. Make sure to notice them and let them outweigh your negatives. 

My friend and I ultimately agreed that I did a good thing in going through with the purchase after all, since I wanted that appliance anyway, and as a result that salesperson who was so nice to me would get the commission. Then we set a date for lunch before we hung up.

Reference: Alicke et.al (1992)  Complaining Behavior in Social Interaction, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 18 (5) pp286-295

copyright Raeleen Mautner 2021

The research is clear: social support through friendship—even more so than through family members, is related to greater life satisfaction as we grow older and may even lessen the impact of the health problems we commonly face. 

Friendships are voluntary, unlike relationships that we inherit through birth or blood. Friends are more likely to be our peers in age, and they are the people most turn to in confidence, about things we may not necessarily feel comfortable to discuss with relatives.

One challenge we face as we age, is that our circle of friends often dwindles, for any number of reasons, which might include taking different life paths, geographical distance, death, disagreements or simply lack of effort in maintaining contact. As with any close relationship, it takes time and effort to sustain established friendships; and if we want to make new friends, we must also call on the more extraverted dimension of our personality that prompts us to get out there into the world, start conversations, and follow through.

A few noteworthy points to consider:

  1. People who believe that finding friends is based on luck are lonelier than those who know it takes work and are willing to do that work.
  2. Be aware of a self-fulfilling prophecy—If you believe that you can never make new friends as you grow older, you probably will act –or not act–accordingly. 
  3. Consider the covert “avoidance” factor.  For example, you may give yourself a nudge to go out to an event, yet while there, you don’t really engage with others. 
  4. Change your perception if it is negative.  The more you see the people in your surroundings as welcoming and friendly ,the more they are likely to perceive you that way, too.
  5. Remember the “exposure effect”—People tend to like us more if they see us more! Just showing up to ongoing events (classes, workshops, lecture series, library talks at the same library, etc.) will foster the familiarity and positive regard needed to start new friendships.
  6. As with the research on successful romantic relationships, factors such as similarity of values, attitudes and beliefs may also play a role in “clicking” with new friends.
  7. When it comes to self-disclosure when meeting new people, remember to go slow and focus on reciprocity. Friendship is like a choreographed dance, based on give and take, and staying in step with each other. Little by little each person reveals a bit more about themselves from which emotional closeness can grow. 

Whether your goal is to reconnect with old friends, maintain ongoing friendships or expand your circle of friends by bringing new and interesting people into your life, the six principles in Dale Carnegie’s classic book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” are still valuable and worth adopting:

  1. Be genuinely interested in others 
  2. Smile
  3. Remember that person’s name—it is the most important sound for that person
  4. Be a good listener and encourage others to talk about themselves
  5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests
  6. Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely

Q. How do you maintain friendships and/or make new ones? Would love to read your comments below. Also, If you found this article useful, please share with those you care about, and do sign up to follow this site. Mille grazie.

References: 

Blieszner, R (2014). The worth of friendship: Can friends keep us happy and healthy? Journal of the American Society on Aging, vol 38, #1. 

Carnegie, D (1982) How to Win Friends and Influence People. New York: Pocket Books

Dumitrache, C.G; Rubio, L; & Rubio-Herrera, R (2018). Extroversion, social support and life satisfaction on old age: a mediation model. Aging & Mental Health, v22, issue 8. 

copyright Raeleen Mautner 2021

RaeleenMautner.com

In his treatise on “How to Grow Old”, Roman Philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero expressed how useless it is to complain about growing old, because “Fighting against Nature is as pointless as the battles of the giants against the gods.”  Yet, despite such a seemingly defeatist attitude, Cicero was anything but depressed about his advancing age. In fact, he was one of the first crusaders against ageist stereotyping, and encouraged people to defend their age, and hold their heads high. 

Cicero wholeheartedly believed that the joys experienced in the older stages of life are unique, and just as rewarding—albeit different– as the joys that are specific to babies, children, and young adults.  So why don’t most people associate aging with happiness? Perhaps because of the common fears associated with growing old; which are evident in those who constantly worry about their age.

According to Cicero, there are 4 age-related fears:

  1. We fear aging takes us away from an active life.
  2. We fear aging weakens the body
  3. We fear aging deprives us of sensual pleasures
  4. We fear aging because we fear getting closer to death.

All of the above, he believed, could be debunked.

First, plenty of older adults live active, vibrant lives well into their 60’s, 70’s and beyond.  We may not seek out the same activities we did when we were 25, but why would we? Says Cicero: When you get older, “it is not by strength or speed, or swiftness of body” that we involve ourselves, but rather, activities that require ‘wisdom, character, and sober judgment”. I might have loved the exhilaration of diving when I was a kid at the beach, but today I much prefer a more relaxing (and less-risky) swim. Or a trip to the museum, or the art gallery—things I wasn’t particularly interested in when I was younger. 

Second, while our level of strength changes throughout the years, we can still use the strengths we have, without feeling we have “lost” anything.  “I don’t long for the strength of youth…any more than when I was a young man I desired the strength of a bull or an elephant.” The message is to accept the nature of who we are, because only then can we live happy. At each stage of life, we have exactly what we need and we must preserve the health we have through moderate exercise and “self-control” when it come stop eating.  The timeless formula that still works. 

Third, to say older adults are deprived of sensual pleasures couldn’t be more false. If we are talking about love and romance, well many older adults are out there dating and having fun, perhaps with a bit more wisdom and less euphoria than years ago. Or perhaps instead they have opted to direct their energies towards hobbies and activities that don’t involve romance at all.  Cicero, for instance, was enamored with agriculture and wrote extensively about the joys of every aspect of planting and the satisfaction of harvesting. The bottom line? All roads lead to Rome; many roads lead to happiness.

Finally, Cicero reassures us there is no reason to fear death, for at the end our lives, there will either be no consciousness at all, or eternal bliss. Personally he believed in the second option. And so do I.

Question: Do YOU fear growing old? If so, does the wisdom of Cicero help you to see the potential for aging happy? I’d love it  if you would “like” and share this article if  you have a moment. And as always I value your comments and your feedback!

© Raeleen Mautner, Ph.D. 2021

Reference

 Cicero, Marcus Tullius (translation by Philip Freeman, 2016). How to Grow Old: Ancient Wisdom for the Second Half of Life.

Did you know that research has shown an association between playfulness and resilience in older women? Furthermore, the more often we take time to just have fun, the stronger and stronger our resiliency skills become.

     Researchers investigated this phenomenon in 167 women over 50 who participated in the Red Hat Society (RHS), which is a leisure group for older women. They gave them a survey that measured playfulness through leisure activities, such as the activities that RHS members often participated in. They controlled for (i.e. cancelled out) the effects of age, education, marital status, years of RHS membership, and physical and mental health statuses. Results showed that playfulness contributed to the growth of resilience in older women over time.

     Sometimes we seem to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. The horrors we witness through the nightly news; the personal traumas that we or the people we care about are facing, the losses that grow in number alongside our years. These situations are real, and in many cases frightening—BUT—we need to break away every once in a while to restore balance and calm in our life. Skip a night of news. Put the technique of “Stop Thought” into action and replace negative thoughts with happy ones, whenever you catch yourself feeling stressed. Most of all—we need to take more play-breaks. Here are some suggestions:

  • Call for a get-together with old friends or new. Instead of sitting at a table eating and drinking for hours (although that is fun too) go play a game of mini-golf, pickle ball or tennis, take a flamenco class together, go bowling or play volleyball, basketball, badminton—just move and have a ton of laughs!
  • Play with your dog. Teach it to fetch a ball, hide and seek the treat—or YOU. Believe me, Fido will be up to the task any time of day or night.
  • Go out dancing. Nowadays there are no hard and fast rules that you must only dance when you have a partner. Many a time, I have just gotten lost amongst a dance floor crowd and danced the night way solo—and had a blast doing so.
  • Have a game night with friends or family. I have never played “Left Right Center” but hear that many a circle of friends are enjoying that dice game.  I personally favor Monopoly and will stop at nothing to obtain Broadway and Park Place!
  • Get silly with your grandkids. Have sleepovers, camp outs, put on a musical together or teach them how to play bocce in your backyard.

Playing seems to strengthen our emotional muscles for getting through the tougher times. So make time for fun as you would for exercise or meditation. It is that important, especially in this tract of our lives.  What do YOU like to do for fun? Comment below and let us know! And don’t forget to share this website with those you know could use a lift.

Reference:

Chang, P; Yarnal,C; & Chick, G (2016). The longitudinal association between playfulness and resilience in older women engaged in the Red Hat Society. Journal of Leisure Research (48) pp 210-227.

%d bloggers like this: