The Dolce Vita Lifestyle

Raeleen D'Agostino 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



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


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


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.


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

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