Will Being RICH Make you Happy? YES (but it’s not what you think)

Happiness is often defined as “psychological health”. Sometimes we use the term well-being, or life satisfaction, but no matter how we define it, we always give a great deal of weight to our subjective perception of happiness (i.e. if you feel you are happy, then you probably are).

But what is the science behind happiness, and why are some people happy even in the worst of circumstances, while others find something to complain about even in the best of circumstances?

Researchers have long debated the nature vs nurture influences on happiness. The question of how much our genes determine our tendency to be happy will probably never be resolved, nor will the question of how much our surrounding environment plays a part. The important thing to remember, however, is that, no matter how powerful the heritability factor—which is beyond our control– there are things we can control to to stack the cards in our favor.

One way to do this is to become RICH. But I’m not talking about needing a millionaire’s portfolio.

When I was a graduate student, one of the most fascinating lectures I attended was given by Dr. Thomas Kehle of the University of Connecticut. His theory was that happy individuals shared four common characteristics that could be boiled down to the acronym R.I.C.H. . These characteristics are not totally exclusive from one another. To the contrary, they are interrelated; and if you work on improving any one of these characteristics, the other three will also improve!

The R.I.C.H. Model of Happiness

R = Resources; Having the right resources will give you a sense of freedom to do the things you need to do in daily life. Resources might include the allocation of time and money to maintaining friendships, establishing competence, and nurturing your physical health.

I= Intimacy. Friendship is specifically emphasized in this category, but intimacy may also include a romantic relationship, or even the kind of close bond that exists between you and your pet.

C=Competence. We all need develop and use our abilities—whatever they are—to achieve an adequate amount of resources, intimacy and physical health

H-Health. We have a greater chance of remaining healthy when we are aware of what to do to take care of our body and mind, and following through with those behaviors, which will help us feel independent, enjoy intimacy, and feel competent.

Remember, if you pick just one of these to start working on, you will improve the other three by default. So why wait?

Improving your resources might involve establishing a budget and paying off debt; or it might include keeping a time planner to organize your time to make more room for friends.

If you are lonely, you may be able to increase your intimacy factor by joining groups that are aligned with your interests; going to lecture discussion gathering, participating in a book club, or adopting a pet.

If you feel you are not living up to your full competence and abilities, perhaps taking an adult education class to improve on your skills or interests may get you to the next level.

Finally as my grandmother—and probably yours too– used to say,“Without your health you have nothing”. Don’t put off those regular medical checkups. Refine your diet to cut the junk foods, fast foods, and sugary foods that lead to disease. Make sure you get at least 30 minutes of physical activity into each day. Your mind will make up a million excuses not to walk, dance, do that exercise video, or march in place during TV commercials. OVERRIDE that negative talk and get healthy.

Get happy.

Get R.I.C.H.

Please “like” and share this article (citing with original source) with anyone who could use a happiness template.

Let’s start a conversation! How do YOU work on your resources, intimacy, health and personal competence?

Reference

Kehle, Thomas J., & Bray, Melissa A. (2004). Rich Theory: The promotion of happiness. Psychology in the Schools vol. 41(1) 2004 pp43-49.

©Raeleen Mautner, LLC

5 Habits That Can Keep You From Going “Glumly” Into Old Age

 

Baby boomers; let’s think back for a moment, to the days of our long-haired, love-beaded youth. Picture our “anti-establishment” hippie days, when we took a strong stand against war, and demonstrated for peace and love. Perhaps you were one of the ½ million young visionaries who gathered in solidarity at the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival to groove to the music of Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, Santana, The Grateful Dead, Joan Baez, and The Who. Back then our generation was sure we could change the world… for the better. Then we grew up and realized that although we had some impact; the world was not so easily changed. Many of us were disillusioned. We had no choice but to get back to reality and trade our free-love drawstring bell-bottoms and gauze kurtas for more responsible pinstriped business suits and shorter hairdos.

Needless to say, I was hardly surprised when I came across two Pew Research Center Reports about Baby Boomers (those born between 1946-1964) going “Glumly” into old age. On overall life satisfaction, 80% of the boomer respondents said they were dissatisfied with the way things were going; as compared to much lower rates of dissatisfaction in the other age categories. Most of us feel we did not do as well as our parents did and that our standard of living is lower. Many boomers feel uneasy financially. Some of us are drained from being sandwiched between the caregiving needs of our children and our aging parents. In short—baby boomers may have legitimate reasons to feel anxious, worried, depressed or disappointed when it comes to facing our transition into old age.

But Are There Ways to Make Ourselves Happier, Despite Our Challenges?         

The short answer to that is YES.

Research from the School of Psychiatry at the University of new South Wales in Sidney conducted a 30-year longitudinal study that measured life satisfaction, using Personality, Depression, and Self-Esteem inventories, as well as a Satisfaction with Life Scale. Participants were also sent a semi-structured interview in which they were asked to outline their future plans and strategies to maintain health and well-being. The data was gathered at baseline and then every 5 years over the course of 30 years.

Here are the 5 Habits of the most satisfied older adults, according to the data.

They are habits that you can easily adopt, too.

  1. Proactive planning. Happy baby boomers don’t let life happen to them. Instead, they pre-planned (financially, mentally, and physically), for situations they may be facing, such as retirement. They tended to set goals actively worked toward achieving them.
  2. Maintenance. The happiest participants in the study were conscious of what strategies worked for them in terms of maintaining their relationships, health, and creative interests—and so they made sure they continued to use those strategies that were most effective.
  3. Social Connectedness. The happier older adults were those that spent more and better quality time with friends, family and partners. For many of us, with our limited allotment of earthly time, that may mean cutting out relationships that don’t add to your well-being. Who needs friends who make plans and then stand you up last minute, with nary an excuse? Who needs to date a leech who seems to care more about what he/she can get from you than how you both can enrich each other’s’ lives together. Who needs to spend every day with a family member who insults you and disrespects your boundaries? In other words, surround yourself with people who care about you and nurture those relationships with an investment of your time.
  4. Passing the baton. Just as Erik Erikson theorized in his psychosocial development approach in Psychology, guiding the next generation (children, grandchildren) enhances our sense of happiness and well-being as we grow older. It’s actually kind of cool to take the spotlight off of ourselves at this stage and sit back and enjoy a supportive role as we root for the next generation as they realize their dreams.
  5. Smelling the Roses. The most satisfied older adults in this study were those with a great sense of awareness of the clock continuing to tick. Thus, they made sure to fill their lives with appreciation, gratitude and an intention to savor the simple pleasures in a day.

Let’s start a conversation: What do you find helps you maintain your well-being at this stage in life? What are some strategies you use to make and keep positive relationships? How to you stay in touch with your creative side and stay engaged with activities you are passionate about? Do leave your comments below, and  feel free to share (citing the source) with whomever  might find this article useful.

References:

Pew Research Center articles:

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2010/12/20/baby-boomers-approach-65-glumly/

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2008/06/25/baby-boomers-the-gloomiest-generation/

Wilhelm, K & Geerligs, L (2013) Successful transition to later life: Strategies used by baby boomers. Australian Journal on Ageing, Vol 33(2) pp 81-85

c.Raeleen Mautner, LLC 2018

 

Therapeutic Journaling To Reduce Stress and Heal From Trauma

As a former behavioral consultant to a large, hospital-based weight-loss program I often spoke to large audiences consisting of men and women who needed to lose weight for medical reasons. For these individuals, getting the weight off was a matter of life and death. A number of them told me that they were stressed and at their wits end. They felt they didn’t eat any more than their thin friends ate; and added that they probably even ate less! Some commented that even walking past a bakery semmed to cause them to put on weight. They felt defeated and anxious.

At the hospital, I taught cognitive-behavioral techniques to help people suffering from obesity to reach their goals, but the most powerful advice I ever gave clients who were stressed or frustrated—whether the issue was weight loss or not—was this:

WRITE ABOUT IT.

Write The Facts. Write Your Thoughts. Write Your Emotions. Write Out Your Solutions.

I asked my clients to think of where were they when they ate or binge ate; what event precipitated the eating chain; what were they feeling and what where the thoughts and beliefs related to the incident? Most important, I asked them to write out what could they do next time to avoid that same pitfall. Now they ended up with their own personalized guidebook; a concrete plan based on their experience and past patterns that they could measure and modify to overcome their challenges.

Writing helped them come up with a roadmap showing exactly how to reach their goals.

But the usefulness of journaling goes beyond the challenges of weight loss.

Over 30 years ago researcher James Pennebaker discovered that when we write about our stressors and our emotional traumas, we could potentially improve both our physical and emotional well-being. Since his landmark study in the 80’s many researchers have replicated and extended his work and found “expressive writing”, can positively impact the emotional/and or physical states associated with (but not limited to):

  • The stress of caregiving
  • Would healing in older adults
  • Breast Cancer Survivors
  • People afflicted with HIV
  • Men diagnosed with prostate cancer
  • Veterans readjusting to civilian life
  • Mood disorders
  • Pre-adolescent peer problems
  • Problems in romantic relationships
  • Alcohol intervention
  • Patients dealing with colorectal cancer
  • …And some research even shows a strengthening of the immune system after starting a journaling routine, as measured by certain bio-physiological markers as well as a decrease in number of visits to the health practitioner.

Freud believed that telling someone (a friend, a therapist, etc.) about our troubles is healing because of its cathartic effect. The same is probably true of what researchers call “expressive writing.” However, simply letting out your feelings on paper is not necessarily going to improve how you feel. Sitting down and writing one time and then never opening your journal again is probably not going to help either.

Here IS how to keep a “therapeutic journal” as a self-help tool that may help you deal with the stressors, challenges, and traumas that many of us baby boomers face. Such as:

  • Taking care of an aging parent or sick spouse
  • Putting your life together after the death of a spouse or other family member
  • Feeling stressed or depressed over current events
  • Being estranged from a loved one
  • Facing a work crisis or turning point
  • Coping with an illness or recent diagnosis
  • Worrying about finances
  • Losing a beloved pet
  • Being unable to let go of a past trauma

THE NUTS AND BOLTS OF EXPRESSIVE WRITING:

  1. Purchase a regular spiral notebook, or if you want to splurge, a nicely bound blank journal, to make your writing sessions special.
  2. Work on one issue at a time, but do it as follows:
    1. Write the facts about the situation
    2. Write about your emotions, primarily POSITIVE emotions of how you might achieve personal growth as a result of this experience.
    3. Write about solutions or resolutions.   This will help you to achieve a sense of control (as opposed to the world being an uncontrollable and uncertain place to be), and increase your self-efficacy (the belief that you can influence what happens to you, and/or how you react to what happens.
  3. Write regularly for sustained well-being. They can be brief 10-15 minute sessions every other day, or even 3x/week, but don’t put down your journal for months at a time if you want it to impact the quality of your life. If you set a regular time schedule for writing, it will become automatic, like brushing your teeth. You will even begin to look forward to it.

Remember, the goal of the therapeutic journal is not to ruminate on your negative emotions and re-traumatize yourself, but instead to find your way back to inner peace and well-being.

Do you journal? Has writing out your feelings and thoughts gotten your through some difficult situations? I’d love you to share your ideas in the comments section below!

And as always, feel free to forward this article (citing the original source) to anyone who you feel might benefit from it.

References:

Pennebaker, J.W. & Beall, S.K (1986). Confronting a traumatic event: Toward an understanding of inhibition and disease. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Vol 95 (3). 274-281.

Ulrich, P..M, & Lutgendorf, S.K, (2002). Journaling about stressful events: Effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression. The Society of Behavioral Medicine. Vol 24 (3).

 

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC 2018

Senator Feinstein, I Stand Up for Your Right to Run

           Senator Dianne Feinstein

Have you ever been the target of age discrimination or heard comments that made unfounded presumptions about individuals because of their age? I recently read an Internet article, published in the online version of The San Francisco Chronicle, in which the reporter raised concern over US Senator Dianne Feinstein’s running for another term. Feinstein is one of the oldest US Senators. She is a very vibrant and sharp 84 in anyone’s observation. But the writer gave three reasons that would contraindicate Feinstein seeking reelection; although to some readers—like me—it may have seemed there was only one:

Her age.

The article cites:

  1. Health concerns, given Feinstein had recently been the recipient of a pacemaker;
  2. Being “out of step” with the Democratic party, reasoning that she has been “slow to criticize Trump”, and
  3. Age, which was “perhaps the most pressing issue”, according to the writer, because you can never predict how well the Senator might be functioning toward the end of a potential next term, when of course she would be even OLDER.

Wow.

Let’s start by ignoring the fact that the pacemaker was a voluntary procedure for Feinstein (which actually would improve—not worsen– her heart’s functioning), and the fact she took almost no time off after the procedure; a testament to her resilience.

Let’s also ignore the preponderance of research that shows men generally age faster (biologically) and die younger than women.

And what exactly does “out of step” with her party mean? I heard one commentator on the radio this morning saying that the “old” politicians such as Feinstein should step aside to let some “younger blood” in. Maybe that person should look up the definition of ageism.

I don’t know about you, but I always thought we should vote on the basis of a candidate’s platform and political record. Not on the basis of whether (s)he is young or old (male or female, gay or straight, black or white, etc.).

But no pass for Feinstein. Instead, a statewide survey asking voters if the Senator should run for a 5th term. 48% said YES. Then afterwards her age was revealed to participants. Now only 38% felt she should run. Leading the witness anyone?

Of Feinstein’s age, the reporter fears it is hard to predict how she will function toward the end of a new term should she win; given that she will be in her early 90’s, even if functioning very well now.

True Story: My very strong, active, and seemingly super healthy husband woke up one day when he was 57 and dropped dead 2 hours later when we were about to go grocery shopping. So much for predictability in the basis of age.

Furthermore, we might wonder if the writer has earned a PhD in Gerontology for coming to the following conclusion “Few people work stressful hours at that age because the body and mind can perform only so well at that point in life.”

True Story: My father is almost 98, is still physically very active, and so mentally sharp that he can still out- calculate me in mental math, despite my having taught statistics.

You might say, well the above two examples are atypical, and a sample of 1 does not a sample make. Well you would be right. But that is my point. No one is typical. That is why stereotypes are unfair.

If voters are concerned about a candidate’s body or mind not being up to par, there are cognitive tests and physical exams that we may want to require of ALL of our political leaders, regardless of birth year. Some people show signs of dementia in their 50’s; some have heart attacks in their 30’s. Let’s not assume that advanced age makes a person incapable of doing their job, or that they no longer have anything meaningful to contribute to society.

I am not singling out politics, either. Ageism happens in every field, and outside of the professional world, too. I have been witness to ageist slurs that seem to roll off of people’s tongues, just the way “mafia” slurs flow way too easily from people’s mouths when referring to Italians. In academia, for instance, it was not uncommon to hear students remark that this or that professor “should retire now”, just because they are passed a certain age. When a worker reaches the age of 60 questions like “When do you plan to retire?” seem to come flying out of walls. It is difficult to find a novel where the protagonists are past the age of 35. If you are an actor, you know how few roles are written for the over-50 crowd. And how many of you “over 50”s have had certain goals and dreams thwarted—not because of lack of ability or hard work—but because you are no longer young?

Ageism, like any “ism”, is about making sweeping judgments that don’t necessarily correspond to reality. Unlike some of the more vocal political movements that have sprung up over the past few years; no one in the public eye that I know of has started an anti-age discrimination movement that points fingers and brings law suits. Yet we all know it exists in every sector.

The truth is: Everyone ages differently. Some of us die early, some of us are able to keep age-related diseases at bay longer; some of us suffer from dementia younger—some older—and some not at all.

But lest you begin to feel too confident or giddy over having lived to whatever age you currently are, the writer leaves us with this sobering thought to reflect on: “Aging is a reality that is never pleasant but a reality nonetheless.”

Am I angry over this article? To the contrary; I am actually grateful for the writer’s questioning whether Feinstein should retire because of her age. In doing so, he unintentionally brings to light an ugly reality that goes far beyond the reelection of a single Senator, to make us aware of the ever-lurking undercurrent of ageism that runs through our society—with no strong champions willing to stand up for older adults.

That is why it is up to you and me to take action when we witness (or are the target of) ageism. We do that not only by writing to our lawmakers, but also by making the speaker or perpetrator of ageism aware of their biased statement or actions; pointing out that such attitudes are not innocuous; and that age bias and discrimination deprives all of society of the productivity and wisdom of older adults.

Let’s start a conversation. What is your story?

References

Should Sen. Dianne Feinstein retire? By Larry N. Gerston, San Francisco Chronicle April 29, 2017

https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/Should-Dianne-Feinstein-retire-11109694.php

Blagoslonny, M (2010) Why men age faster but reproduce longer than women: mTOR and evolutionary perspectives Aging May(2)5.

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC

Me? Improve My Voice? Yes, And Here’s How!

Recently I came across a research study showing that people make snap judgments about us based on just hearing our voice— without even seeing us or knowing who we are! Honestly I had never given it much thought, but then I reflected on some of the dealings I have had over the phone. There were times; I have to admit, when I formed quick judgments—right or wrong—about whether the caller was a sales scam, whether the person in customer service was engaging in a power play, whether someone was sincere, empathetic and so forth.

Let’s face it: Our voice is our calling card. It is the megaphone that tells the world who we are. It is the instrument that makes a first impression and draws people toward us or pushes them away. Those first few seconds of a telephone “hello”, depending on our tone and delivery, can make someone determine if they like you or not, whether they want to interview you or not, whether they want to date you or not, or whether hear more of what you have to say.

So why don’t we ever think of sprucing up our voice, like we do our personal appearance? When paired with the right words, our voice has the incredible power to comfort, soothe, uplift and encourage.

Here are 5 tips that can help make your voice reflect the exquisite person you are!

  1. Seek Feedback. Rarely are we aware of how our voice comes across to others—unless we get feedback. Ask the people closest to you what impressions they would get from your voice alone if they didn’t know you. We may not realize that our voice is cacophonous, or if we have fallen into the habits of “vocal-fry” or “up-talking”. Ending every sentence as if it were a question is annoying; and dropping your vocal register as low as possible with a loose glottal closure only makes you sound—well like a frog (rivet!).
  2. I know this might hurt—but RECORD YOUR SPEAKING VOICE. This will give you a baseline upon which to make improvements. Don’t worry that the sound you hear from the recording is not what you hear when you are producing sound. That has to do with tiny bones in the inner ear that produce a depth of sound you can’t get from a recording, where the sound you hear is external. Read a page of a book into the recorder and listen back as objectively as possible. Is your voice too high pitched? Nasal? Squeaky? Go back and reread, practicing various pitches, volumes, tones, and inflections. Your voice—up to a point—can be molded to your desire. Have fun with it.
  3. Practice vocal exercises to correct your breathing (breathing powers the voice) and strengthen your vocal chords. Take a singing lesson or two, or try some of the vocal lessons available for free on You Tube. Make your voice tell the story you want it to tell.
  4. Practice good vocal aesthetics. Enunciate your words clearly. Make sure you don’t speak so fast that no one understands you. Try to eliminate hesitation by knowing what you want to say. Vary your pitch to make your voice interesting. Eliminate “fillers”, such as uh, uhm, etc.
  5. Take Care of Your Voice. When my throat feels a little scratchy I immediately go for the warm water and salt gargle. I found some great natural lozenges and soothing throat sprays, which I use when I have to give a presentation or a singing performance. Some people swear by hot tea and honey or lemon when they feel some vocal strain. I have also learned, from my years in radio, that I should never strain my voice by yelling, screaming, or over-enthusiastic cheering (well maybe, but only on occasion); that is if I want to have a voice to convey my message.

Finally, now that your voice confident and attractive, make sure that the words you use create positivity. Cicero in De Oratore wrote about the ideal orator as a moral guide. He believed that good speaking goes beyond learned technique and that words are equally important. Unscrupulous speakers, he posed, could endanger an entire community. You, on the other hand, can be the pillar.

How do you feel about your voice? How often have you even given it a thought? Share your comments below–I love to hear from my readers!

Reference

McAleer, P., Todorov, A., & Belin, P. (2014). How do you say ‘Hello’? Personality impressions from brief novel voices. PLOS ONE, vol 1(3).

©Raeleen Mautner, LLC

 

Why Improving Your Memory Could Be A Laughing Matter

Hilarious New Musical Comedy, “Italian Wedding Soup”, Pantochino Productions in Milford CT.  Opening Night is April 20th–Come Share a Laugh with me! For Tickets Click Here

One day last week after leaving the house in a rush from having overslept; I suddenly broke out into a cold sweat wondering if I had unplugged the iron, turned off the stove, filled the dogs’ water dishes, and set the alarm. 15 minutes into my drive I could no longer bear it, so I turned the car around and went back to check all of these things. No, I don’t suffer from OCD, and as far as I know, my cognitive abilities are still quite sharp. But when we are under stress (for example, in a rush), short- term memory goes down the tubes.

Did I maybe just need a good laugh?

Short term memory is responsible for processing information that comes in from our senses, encoding that information so it can find a permanent home in our long term memory, to be later drawn back out when we need it. Short term memory is pretty important, even though it can’t handle a lot of information at once, and it can’t hold it there very long.

In older adults, research has shown that short-term memory deficits can result in making serious errors when taking medication, not doing physical therapy exercises correctly, or even missing health care appointments!

Most medical practitioners have begun to recognize the value of integrative approaches that go beyond traditional medicines and tap into holistic wellness solutions. Cognitive training, certain vitamins and herbal supplements, and (no surprise here) physical exercise, all help in improving short-term memory in older adults. One study, however, found that humor could have clinically significant benefits and rehabilitative properties with respect to short-term memory in this same population.

Two groups consisting of men and women average age of 68.7 and having normal cognitive scores were divided into two groups: the control group and the humor group. The control group was asked to sit calmly (no cell phones, reading, or dozing off) for 20 minutes; the; the humor group could select either a Red Skelton comedy video or 20 minutes worth of America’s Funniest Home Videos. Learning tasks (e.g. a word list) were presented to assess short-term memory—such as learning ability, delayed recall, and visual recognition of words. Saliva cortisol levels (the stress hormone) were also measured at various times.

Researchers found significant differences between the control and intervention group on all fronts. Learning improved by 38.5% in the humor group (24% in the control group). Delayed recall (remembering) improved by 43.6% in the humor group, and 20.3% in the control group, and the cortisol levels were significantly lower in the humor group as well.

What does this mean to those of us who are journeying into our older years? Stop taking life so seriously all the time and start laughing more. Build laughter into your daily routine as you would exercise. Hit the nostalgia channel on your cable dial and watch a couple of episodes of I Love Lucy, The Golden Girls, Seinfeld, Modern Family, or whatever sitcom, movie, or theater production that makes your sides ache with laughter.

Memory Note to Myself: From here on in before I leave the house, I plan to think of something funny I saw or heard recently, and have a good laugh to set the tone for the day. I will make and check off a short list of the things that need to be in order before I leave the house. And I will cherish and preserve my memory—- for as long as I can remember to do so 🙂

Reference:

Gains, G.S, et.al. (2014). The effect of humor on short-term memory in older adults: a new component for whole-person wellness. Advances. Spring Vol 28(2) 16-24.

©Raeleen Mautner, LLC

 

This Attitude Can Shorten Your Life—So Here’s How to Change It!

 

There are times when a healthy dose of cynical distrust can be a lifesaver; it can even help us avoid getting scammed—whether from phony phone calls from a voice pretending to be our grandchild in need of money, or an online dating scammer who comes on like a romantic dream-come-true, only to end up a nightmare who texts you from “a business venture in Malaysia” says he/she got “mugged” and now needs you to wire money so you can finally meet in person and live happily ever after.

Yea, right.

Granted, you should always trust your gut when it comes to shady people and interactions.

But if you sense you are becoming skeptical, cynical, and even hostile most of the time, then it’s time to do something about it. Why? Because for one thing, no one will want to be around you, but even more important:

Being in a constant state of suspicion, hostility, mistrust, or cynicism can actually shorten your life.

In a large longitudinal study, 3,433 men aged 42-61, who resided in the town of Kuopio, Finland were measured on cynical mistrust, based on scores from the Cynical Distrust Scale (CDS), a self-report test that contains items like: “It is safer to trust nobody”. Certain measures were taken at the baseline, such as presence or absence of cardiovascular disease (CVD), and the subjects were followed for 20-28 years.

As it turned out, the men who had NO CARDIOVASCULAR disease at the start of the study, but had a high level of cynical distrust had 1.5 to 1.7 times higher risk for premature cardiovascular death, as compared to those who had a low level of cynicism.

It seems that people with hostile personalities have a stronger response to stress, which affects their heart rate, blood pressure, inflammation and other biological mechanisms.

This study was conducted with men, because previous research has shown that cynicism is higher in men than in women, but I think it is a safe bet to say, that we ALL should all

  1. a) Remind ourselves often that life is a balance of good and bad; not just bad; and
  2. b) Deal more effectively with stress, instead of becoming hostile or cynical.

Here are 3 things you can do make sure you’ve got the right attitude:

  1. Think of 10 things every single day that are good about your life. It could be something as simple as a delicious cup of chamomile tea you sip before bed, or a song that makes you want to sing and dance whenever you play it, or an great old movie you are watching with a friend.
  2. Write Gratitude Thank-You Cards. Do you perhaps have a favorite grade school or high school teacher who is still alive? A cousin or friend whom you haven’t seen in years? An unforgettable mentor who trained you at your first job? Find their addresses and write a few words of gratitude on the inside of a thank-you note to express WHY you appreciate them. It will make them feel terrific and will help you to remember how wonderful people can be. I recently got a letter from someone I used to know 40 years ago who sent me a note to thank me for playing a piano piece for him. He said he never forgot how special it was to have someone make him feel that important. I had completely forgotten that incident, but it made me feel great to hear that I had touched someone’s life with such a simple gesture.
  3. Visualize The Most Beautiful Scene You Can. Now put yourself In It. There are many ways to meditate for stress reduction, but one method I used to teach heart patients at Yale, was to close their eyes and visualize a beautiful relaxing scene—some place they had either been to, or created in their mind. I asked them to put themselves in that scene and note all of their sensations. How does this place smell, what colors to they see? What temperature is the ground beneath their feet or the air they are breathing? Find your most beautiful place and immerse yourself totally, by noting every detail. Breathe easily for several minutes as you continue to visualize yourself in this scene. Make it your “safe haven”, to which you can return to anytime when you are feeling stressed or feeling hostile.

 

If you liked this article please press “like” and share on your social media if you know anyone who might find this info useful. Thank-you!

Reference

Smigelskas, K. et.al (2017). High levels of cynical distrust partly predict premature mortality in middle-aged to ageing men. Journal of Behavioral Medicine 40:612-619.

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC

The Ultimate Happiness Formula (Kindness + Novelty)

In a large hospital setting, a young outpatient stopped me in the corridor the other day and asked if I could tell him how to find the EXIT that led to the parking lot where his car was parked. Without thinking twice I said “Sure, let me walk you there.”

He looked at me like he hadn’t heard correctly. “But you were going in the opposite direction” 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.”

“Come on,” I said, smiling, doing a 180-degree turn. “I could use the extra exercise!”

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, this brave young veteran had relayed the story of his injury, told me about his new car, the joy he took in being a new Dad and professed he was looking forward to the springtime thaw so he could garden again. 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.

I had never really reflected on how a simple good deed could have such a powerful effect on the person you help. But the truth is, volunteering to help someone else has an even more important effect on the do-er of the kind act.

I knew that various studies in my field of psychology have positively correlated performing kind acts (or what we call “prosocial behaviors”) with enhanced life satisfaction (i.e. happiness). This holds true for all ages. 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. I would like to propose something different: PLANNED acts of kindness; not only because we can’t always depend on our head Muse to give us a hint, but because varying the kinds of good deeds we do has a more lasting impact on our personal happiness.

One study showed that participants who were asked to perform 5 kind acts in one day had a larger increase in happiness than those who performed 5 kind acts over the course of one week.

How could this be?

Adaptation

It is like walking into someone’s kitchen when they are sautéing onions: You are overpowered with the aroma initially, but after a few minutes, you hardly know it is there. That is sensory adaptation, but 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.

Enter the powerful effect of NOVELTY (or newness). To the participants who performed the 5 acts of kindness in one day, their actions were new, or novel, therefore the kind acts hadn’t become “old hat” routine, as it had with those who were asked to perform the kind acts every day.

Does this mean that:

  1. We should do kind acts less frequently so they don’t lose their effect?, or
  2. Should we plan to do DIFFERENT kind acts more frequently as a way to achieve long-lasting happiness?

THE ANSWER IS “B”

Let me explain:

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 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 of the experimental groups experienced a significant increase in life satisfaction as compared with the control condition, which did not.

Given that both acts of kindness, AND doing new things can be a ticket to greater happiness, combining these two concepts can be an unbeatable formula for making you—and the world around you—a happier, brighter place.

Here’s how to get started on your own kindness-to-happiness project:

Grab a pencil and paper when you get a few moments and start a KINDNESS list. Jot down as many ways to help someone else as you can think of. No numbers on the list, because you will add to it every day as you come up with additional ways to practice kindness. The 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. Then glance at this list each day. And get out there and do something kind and new every day to put a smile on someone’s face.

Examples of Kindness Acts:

  • Show (not tell) someone how to get to an exit when they are lost
  • Bring a meal or a tray of fruit to a sick friend
  • Order a friend a book on Amazon that you think they’d love
  • Pay the next car’s bill at the Donut Drive-in
  • Offer your store coupons or coins to the person behind you
  • Send someone the announcement of an event or conference they might like
  • Shovel a older neighbor’s driveway when it snows
  • Help someone on with their coat when you see them struggling
  • Buy a sandwich and give it to the homeless person standing out front
  • Listen, when you see someone needs to talk something out
  • Smile and say GOOD-MORNING, instead of keeping your eyes glued to your smart phone.

In a world where self-preoccupation is commonplace, YOU can be a unique light that shines kindness all around you. And you’ll be a whole lot happier for doing it, too.

Would you share YOUR ideas for acts of kindness with my readers—so we can all add them to our list, too?  I’d love to hear your stories!

Thank you for taking the time to read this article, and especially for those of you who “like”, “share” on your social media, and subscribe to my email list. Mille grazie!

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

How to Be a Mind Reader (And Why You Should)

Ten years ago (give or take) psychologist Daniel Goleman wrote a book called Emotional Intelligence; opening the first chapter with the unforgettable story of a middle-aged black gentleman who drove the Madison Avenue bus through New York City. On this particular sweltering August afternoon; the kind that made most people “sullen with discomfort”, the bus driver greeted each disgruntled-looking passenger with a hearty welcome and enthusiastic smile; even though few passengers returned his greeting. Then, as the bus continued on its journey through the hot city streets, the driver suddenly began to channel his inner tour guide; pointing out the treasures of the city as they rode by; remarking about this wonderful museum exhibit, that terrific restaurant over there, or the flea market of interest down the block. He could tell by looking at the expressions on his customers’ faces, that they could use an uplifting distraction. And he cared enough to be the one to put a smile on their faces.

By the time each passenger came forward to step down from the bus, they made it a point to thank the driver, wish him a wonderful day, and wave him on to his next stop with a smile. Just like that, they were transformed.

Good feelings all around.

Knowing how to engage in positive social interactions (i.e.. no fighting, no arguing, no negative criticisms, or political put-downs if someone didn’t vote the way you did) is a skill that goes beyond the academic IQ test. EQ is a form of intelligence all its own. Emotional intelligence, as Goleman called it, makes us—and others–happier.  It also helps us guard against loneliness—which affects older adults at alarming rates as our pool of friends dwindles, families become estranged, and divorce or widowhood becomes increasingly commonplace.

The ability to empathize with other people and interpret their mental state (needs, desires, motives, feelings and thoughts) is referred to as Theory of Mind or ToM. All positive human interaction depends on this ability to see things from another viewpoint. The bus driver in Dr. Goleman’s story knew that his passengers were not just scowly for the purpose of being unpleasant. They were unpleasant because they were hot, uncomfortable, and had been waiting at the bus stop under a hot summer sun. He didn’t snarl back at them, he felt their pain, and wanted to do something about it.

Unfortunately, research shows that the older we get, we tend to lose some of ability to decode what others are feeling and thinking; which makes us less adept at the kind of interactions we need at a time in our life when we need them most. Various ToM training programs have found to help, but a technique that I hadn’t expected to come across was the 5-minute meditation.

In this study half of the participants were assigned to the control group, whereby for five minutes they were to asked to sit, breathe, notice their thoughts and immerse themselves in them. The other half were in the the mindfulness meditation group where they also sat for 5 minutes, but were instructed to treat their thoughts as fleeting and keep returning their attention to their breathing for the entire 5 minutes.

Then both groups were given two tasks:

  • One task was to decipher various emotional states expressed by photographs of 36 pair of eyes (both male and female).
  • The other task involved watching a video clip involving 3 cartoon figures playing a ball toss game. One figure was excluded by the other two players during the toss game. At the end of that video both groups were asked to write letters to the player that was excluded.

The mindfulness group in both instances outperformed the group that did not engage in the meditation. They were able to mind read emotional states from looking at the photos of eye expressions, and they also expressed more empathy when writing letters to the player that was left out of the toss game.

If you want to maintain or increase your emotional intelligence and have more positive and less abrasive (irritating, emotionally charged, argumentative etc.) interactions with people, try taking a 5 minute mindfulness breathing meditation break before you leave your house or whenever you can throughout the day. It will soften you, make you feel happier, and draw people to your calm and wise demeanor.

Here’s my favorite 5 minute Mindful Meditation Technique:

  1. Breathe in slowly through your nose to the count of 4 (concentrate only on the counting as you breathe)
  2. Hold the breath for a count of 7
  3. Breather out slowly through pursed lips to a count of 9

Do this practice whenever you need it and watch your demeanor change and the quality of your relationships improve.

Let me know how short mindfulness meditation breaks are changing your life and social interactions.

 

BTW–Thank you so much for “following” my blog (If you haven’t done so yet, please do!) Also, I would love it if you would sign up for my monthly (or less) newsletter.

 

Reference:

Goleman, Daniel (2006) Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition; Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Bantam

Tan ,B.G., Lo, B.C., & MaCrae, N. (2014) Brief Mindfulness Meditation Improves Mental State Attribution and Empathizing.

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC

Do You Use Make-Up to Enhance Or Hide?

Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra

Back in the late 60’s, my M.O. included large hoop earrings, ironed hair, and a splash of Oh de London, before leaving the house with my transistor radio to do the beach strut. I thought I looked pretty dam good. That is, until one particular girl –Yvonne–caused all the boys in our summer neighborhood fall all over themselves whenever she walked by. What the heck did she have that I didn’t? Well, frankly quite a bit, but what it really boiled down to was her— LIPSTICK. Yes, it was the lightest of pink, almost pearlescent. And rumor had it, that it was peppermint! , I never heard one comment about her knockout bikini figure, her large, hypnotic eyes, or her gorgeous dark curly hair. NO. It was all about that lipstick. Not that any of the boys had actually kissed her but that little tube of tint had the capacity to make every boy at least dream of what it would be like to steal a kiss from the alluring girl with peppermint- coated lips.

That was my first observation about the power of makeup to create a perception of beauty— dating back the time of Cleopatra, who was adored for her intriguing painted eyes, long blackened eyelashes, and rose colored lips and cheeks (made possible by red ochre, a type of iron-enriched clay).

The majority of research studies support the fact that women who use makeup are perceived to be more attractive than those who don’t. In one study, women were professionally made up with customized products and application thought to best enhance the specific individual’s features. Then the “judges”, male and female, would look at the same woman’s face in 5 conditions: a) no makeup; b) foundation only; c) eye make-up only, d) lipstick only; and e) full facial make-up (with all of the above). Female judges thought the eye makeup alone condition was most attractive, while the male judges rated eye makeup and foundation to be the most attractive. None of the judges chose the “no makeup” condition as being most attractive.

Personally, I enjoy the “artistry” involved in using makeup, although the older I get the less I use. I have no desire to morph into a “whatever happened to Baby Jane” version of myself; but I do think a little color here and there enhances my current-aged self. Self-adornment can be a reflection of self-respect, although many women bypass make up altogether—and there is no problem whatsoever with their self-esteem. Some older women, however, feel they MUST use makeup or cosmetic procedures to hide their age, because of the consequences of living in a youth-worshiping culture, where they may face age discrimination on the job, or become “invisible” when trying to relate to others.

In fact when women 50-70 years old were interviewed about their reasons for engaging in “beauty work”, to enhance their appearance (e.g., hair dye, makeup, cosmetic surgery, and non-surgical procedures); their explanations included the following:

  • To fight against the invisibility of aging
  • It was part of a lifelong investment in one’s appearance
  • Desire to attract a romantic partner.
  • Because of employment-related ageism.

If you are among those who use makeup to hide your age, because you are either ashamed of the physical changes of growing older, or fear the societal consequences of being perceived as “old”, let me reassure you, you are not alone. But you alone do have the power to turn others’ perceptions around.  You can start by improving your own body image, and acknowledging your ageless beauty. Have fun with makeup if that is your thing. Wear clothes that make you feel great. Stand up tall and proud. Respect yourself and believe in your unique contribution to this world. And only after all of the above– if you feel like buying a tube of peppermint pink lipstick–You go for it 🙂

Do you enjoy or avoid using makeup? I’d love to read your thoughts, so do leave a comment below! 

References:

Clarke L.H., & Griffin M. (2008). Visible and invisible ageing: beauty work as a response to ageism. Ageing & Society (28). 653-674.

Indianpublicmedia.org “Did Cleopatra Wear Makeup?”

Mulhurn et. al. (2003) Do cosmetics enhance female Caucasian facial attractiveness? International Journal of Cosmetic Science (25) 199-205

 

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC