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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reference

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

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC

Self-Help Books: Can They Really Make You Happier?

Don’t let anyone make you feel embarrassed about reading self-help books. I for one, devour them. I also write them. Why? Because I am convinced in their potential for helping readers get through tough times or get to better times. For some reason, just as with psychotherapy, self-help books come with an undeserved stigma attached to them. Critics say they can be “dangerous”, they can give us “false hope”, or the motivational boost they might give readers initially is fleeting—and then what? Well then you re-read, and re-assess. The truth of the matter is that up to 85% of psychotherapists recommend self-help books to their own patients, and a growing number of studies show that self-help books can make a big difference in readers’ lives. Self-help is as uniquely American as Stars and Stripes and the right to the pursuit of happiness as laid out for us in the Constitution.

If I didn’t believe there was a valid place in the world for good self-help books, I wouldn’t have dedicated many long hours, months, and years of my life writing them. Researchers use the word “bibliotherapy” (biblio=books) to refer to people who seek to feel better through the reading of certain books, and there is growing evidence that for many people, such books do make a difference. Let’s face it, most people don’t have access (or the time or interest) to go to the research journals and muddle through pages of academic writing. They shouldn’t have to have a degree in statistical analysis to interpret what research findings. A good self-help book, in my opinion, brings this information out the obscure journals and laboratories, and into the light of day; making it available and understandable for all who might benefit. I happen to trust that readers can make their own decisions as to whether one book or another makes sense to them; whether they want to try some of the suggestions contained in it; or whether they need more help than a book can give. If self-help books have become cliché or stigmatized part of the reason is that some authors have taken advantage of their platform by using their book as a little more than an empty advertisement for the author’s more expensive programs or products, without giving the reader any real information in the book itself. There are some charlatans in the field that just outright lie, by giving you “miracle” cures for just about every malady under the sun that “they don’t want’ you to know about.” Well ok, such con artists exist in every sector, but if you do a little research, read book excerpts, and examine real (non-solicited) reviews, rest assured that you can find very valuable self-help books with solid information, suggestions, and exercises that will help you to improve your mood, revamp your lifestyle, improve your finances, help you lose weight, learn how to dress more professionally, build better relationships, and get through loss.

Self-help books are neither a panacea, nor a substitute for psychotherapy when you need it; but my point is that you don’t always need it, anymore than you need medical therapy for minor injuries. If I fall and scrape my knee I wash the wound, slather it with some ointment and throw a Band-Aid over it. If I shatter my kneecap, you better believe I am off to a medical professional. Self-help can give you a clear roadmap for navigating the everyday challenges of life. Centuries ago people looked to philosophers or spiritual leaders for wisdom; today, self-help books in America have gained unprecedented popularity.

So the long answer to the question is YES, self-help books really can make a positive difference in your life. One study I came across even found self-help reading to be a viable remedy for sadness or depression in older adults.

Research has shown that both cognitive and cognitive behavioral therapy have typically had high success rates in reversing depression or depressive symptoms—and in many cases are at least as effective as anti-depressant medication perhaps even more effective. But there will always be individuals who, for whatever the reason, cannot afford to go to a mental health professional, do not have access to one, or who just don’t feel comfortable with one-to-one therapy. A good self-help book can be an effective alternative.

Adults between the ages and 60 and 80 were divided into three groups: Individual psychotherapy sessions (12-20 sessions); Cognitive bibiliotherapy (participants were asked to read a book called Feeling Good (David Burns, 1980) and complete all of the exercises in the book; and a third group, the control group, was the delayed treatment group. In general, both of the “treatment” conditions improved geriatric depression more than the control group, and both psychotherapy and bibliotherapy were found to be viable options for depression in older adults.

So the next time you are in a books store, library, or browsing online, check out the self-help books that address whatever it is you want to work on. And don’t let anyone tell you that you’re wasting your time. You and I know otherwise.

Let’s start a discussion! What are YOUR favorite self-help books? I would love to know how a good self-help book made a difference in your life. I welcome your comments below.

 

References:

Bergsma, Ad (2008) Do Self Help Books Help? Journal of Happiness Studies 9 pp. 341-360

Floyd et. al (2004) Cognitive Therapy for Depression: A Comparison of Individual Psychotherapy and Bibliotherapy for Depressed Older Adults. Behavior Modification 28(2) pp. 297-318

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC 2018

Nostalgia-Induced Youthfulness? Sign Me Up!

(Photo courtesy Wikipedia)

What a treasure I recently happened upon: An episode of The Jack LaLanne Show from the 1950’s! There he was, the Pioneer of Fitness with his over-the-top enthusiasm, and a charisma that catapulted you from your easy chair into jumping jacks before your mind even had a chance to talk yourself out of it. Oh, what nostalgia! In grade school I was mesmerized in front of our black and white TV as Jack, his stately German Shepherd “Happy”, and his super-cheerful wife Elaine LaLanne got me ready for a simple, 20-minute workout routine, in which nothing more was needed than my own body, and a few things I had around the house—soup cans for weights, a jump rope, maybe a chair. Then, as a backdrop to the overall exuberance—came the muffled sound of a live organ playing Daisy, Daisy, Give Me Your Answer Do. The tempo got faster and faster until Elaine LaLanne could barely keep up and would eventually burst into laughter as Jack encouraged her keep going, keep going, do one more jumping jack.

Watching that show again brought back all kinds of wonderful memories that went beyond Jacks message of exercise and healthy nutrition. At one point he would pull up a chair, look into the camera and saying something like “Boys and Girls, now go get your Mom and your Dad and have them do these exercises with you”. Being as I still believed TV was magical and that Jack was able to see me right through the screen— into the kitchen I ran to get my mother. Of course she resisted, so I would grab her hand and pull her into the “parlor” (what we called the living room back then) and insisted she do the exercises with me. Eventually, unable to keep up, she too, would burst out laughing. Then I would run downstairs and show my grandmother how to do them too—but that was where the line was drawn because in her day in Sicily, intentional exercise hadn’t even been invented; and had it been no one would have done something so silly because life back then was hard enough and physical on its own terms.

These and more memories came flooding back as I recently watched that episode, and I suddenly I felt a surge of happiness. I sent away for a DVD of old Jack LaLanne TV shows and started exercising to them, simply because they made me happy. I still belly laugh at his his corny jokes, contort my face all over the place like I used to do back in the 50’s when Jack commanded us to exercise 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 spawned another and another and I begin to feel like a kid again.

As it turns out, nostalgia may really be the fountain of youth. I’m not talking about external appearance, but rather, 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. A walk down memory lane can give you that feeling of turning back the clock.

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 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 found other ways to weave the warmth of nostalgia into my life. Here are some of them:

  1. Music: I regularly listen to my favorite songs from the 60’s and 70’s; both those in Italian and in English that I loved. 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”.
  2. Artifacts from yesteryear: I located and purchased a perfume that I used to use back in the day—Blue Waltz! It is still as sickening sweet as it was then, but there was a magic to it, which, when I put it on today still happens!
  3. Retro-Dressing: I have a few “retro dresses” that I absolutely love. I found these on Amazon and they are very inexpensive. They are not the quality that will last a decade, but for a couple of seasons, I can look like I Love Lucy if I want to. Oh, Ricky?!!
  4. Old TV Shows: I adore reruns of 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 event of The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland. My heart still skips when the wicket witch flies onto the scene. We watched that in our little parlor on that Sunday evening. The black and white versions are still the best.
  5. Live in Real (not virtual) Time: I like to spend my free time doing simple things, like I did back then. Forget FaceTime—go make a real time visit. Get up from your computer and start to explore the places you google. Get involved in community theater, go to a discussion group, and art exhibit or a museum. Take a course in a real classroom.
  6. Browse old photo albums: Be careful that this one doesn’t bring you more pain than joy. Select the photos that put a smile on your face, not those that re-open an emotional wound.

Question for my Readers: Does nostalgia make you feel more youthful? What are some of your happiest childhood memories that energize you when you think back to them? Let’s start a conversation!

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, LLC

The Placebo That Really CAN Help You Lose Weight-Your Mindset!

Experts say there is no easy way to lose weight or improve your fitness level. Yeah okay; we all know the routine: Eat right and get plenty of physical activity. Kudos to you who love to go to the gym—but you probably won’t find me there. Different strokes for different folks. I like to exercise to home videos, or go outside for a brisk walk then finish with some strengthening moves. Whatever way we get the job done. But here’s something I haven’t paid enough attention to—UNTIL NOW. Did you know that aside from your daily planned workout, you can also reap some real exercise benefits by simply regarding your household tasks as “exercise” too?

If you don’t already do that, you might want to reconsider.

The placebo effect is an outcome that has nothing to do with an actual drug or remedy but rather, to the therapeutic effect of your own beliefs and expectations. A review of the research in this area shows that the mind-body connection is no fairy tale. Placebo studies that involved depression drugs have produced impressive results, but the mind-body connection has also been explored in other ways. It has been effective—not as a cure—but as a powerful way to address pain, insomnia, stress, and even to counteract the side effects of cancer treatments; like nausea and fatigue. As it turns out, our mind is not only capable of producing positive effects on our health, but negative expectations can also produce negative results, which scientists call the “nocebo” effect. For example; older persons who perceive their health as “poor” were 6x more likely to die than those who regarded their health as “excellent”; regardless of actual health status. In another study, participants who were exposed to fake poison ivy (but believed it was real) developed actual poison ivy rashes. Likewise, subjects who were told they were drinking caffeine (but really weren’t) produced increased motor performance and heart rates, similar to what would be seen with the effects of caffeine.

But how can all of this make me lose weight?

A study out of Harvard revealed that when it comes to getting exercise, your mind-set can influence how many calories you burn, how much body fat you lose, and how fast your waist will whittle down—by simply being aware that your daily activities ALSO burn calories, and believing that these activities, too, are “exercise”. Think of the possibilities: We make the bed every day, go up and down the stairs in our home or workplace, vacuum and wash the floors, clean bathrooms, dust furniture, till the garden, shovel snow, repaint the backyard fence, mow the lawn, sweep the driveway and push a grocery cart for at least 30 minutes twice a week. These are just routine tasks, but when perceived as exercise, they may actually help you get fit—without doing anything else beyond what you are already doing.

The researchers in the Harvard study randomly assigned hotel room attendants from 7 hotels to the “informed” or control group. Hotel attendants clean on average 15 rooms a day, which takes about 20 minutes each to complete. They are bending, lifting, pushing vacuums and carts, carrying supplies, etc. Those in the informed condition received information on the benefits of exercise, and were informed that their daily work satisfied the Surgeon General’s statement that all adults should get 30 minutes of exercise each day. They were given specific information about the benefits of exercise and the calorie expenditure of each of the tasks they performed in their job. This group was also told that their daily housekeeping work satisfied the recommended prescription for daily exercise. Subjects in the control group received the same information about the benefits of exercise, but were not told that their work tasks fulfilled the requirement for daily exercise. There were no other significant changes to the housekeepers’ diet, or other aspects of their lifestyle.

The results were fascinating. After just 4 weeks, the informed group’s blood pressure was lower, they lost weight, their BMI went down, and so did their waist-to-hip ratio. No such changes occurred among the participants in the control group. In other words, increasing one’s “perceived” exercise—independent of actual exercise—resulted in measured physiological benefits.

The implications of this study go far beyond exercise benefits. Think of how many ways your positive expectations might create other meaningful changes in your life. Imagine how you might benefit by training yourself to habitually expect the best; not dread the worst.

Placebo or not—Sign me up for a lifetime prescription!

Comment below: What are some ways you could expect more positive results from some aspect of your life? Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Please “subscribe” to my blog if you enjoy reading it. And don’t forget to download the free Happiness Tips eBook on my home page. Thank you for stopping by!

Reference

Crum, Alia J., & Langer, Ellen J., (2007). Mind-Set Matters: Exercise and the placebo effect. Psychological Science.Vol 18(2) Pp165-171.

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC

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