Move it! And Be Happy.

There are a lot of reasons to keep exercising as we age, but one you rarely hear about is HAPPINESS. In a randomized trial of 120 male and female older adults with a mean age of 71, researchers found that participating in an 8-week physical exercise program had a significant impact on their wellbeing. Most experts agree that you don’t have to go to extremes, or even exercise as intensely as you might have when you were in your twenties. Just do something—and do it every day.

It’s been a while since I said good-bye to the Jane Fonda leg-warmer workouts, the gym weight machine routines, the mountain trail hikes (yes, even the White Mountains), and the long-distance jogs (ouch, my knees!). Throughout the years I’ve had home treadmills, steppers, skiers, weight benches, bicycles, mini rebounders–and yes, I would use them all. Back then. At one point I even tried preparing my graduate student notes while dong side leaps over a high step—and let’s just say that didn’t end so well. But that is how committed and determined I was. Back then my goal was fitness, but I also felt better when I worked out. My mind was clearer, I was better able to focus, and I felt more confident.

Then as the years passed and my body slowed down a bit, I began to lose my resolve to get back on the equipment or do the crazy high-intensity workouts I used to do. Yet I have always hated how I feel when I’m sedentary.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of men and women in their 60s, 70’s and even 80’s that keep to a rigorous exercise routine. I admire you if you are one of them. But if you are like me, and even the thought of doing a Yoga “screaming pigeon pose” makes you want to go lie on a couch and sit this one out—the answer might be to find an activity that is gentler on your body, more enjoyable for you, and is something you really look forward to doing each day because it makes you feel so good. Consider options like barre, basic Yoga (no headstands, thank you), 15-minute low impact interval training, Zumba, ballroom dance (or any other kind), or even a calisthenics routine you put together myself. Take the stairs, walk at lunchtime, or get up and march during commercials when watching the news.

 

It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you MOVE. Move a lot. Move every day. And be happy.

 

Reference: Khazaee-Pool, M., et.al. (2015) Effects of physical exercise programme on happiness among older people. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health nursing (22) 47-57.

 

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC

The Henny Youngman Effect—And YOU

Photo courtesy Wikipedia
  • A man goes to a psychiatrist. “Nobody listens to me!” The doctor says, “Next!”
  • The Doctor says, “You’ll live to be 60!” “I AM 60!” “See, what did I tell you?”
  • The doctor says to the patient, “Take your clothes off and stick your tongue out the window”. “What will that do?” asks the patient. The doctor says, “I’m mad at my neighbor!”

I don’t know about you, but Henny Youngman jokes still crack me up every time. They are so simple and goofy, that for a few moments all the problems of the world slip away as I lose myself in a good belly laugh. But that is not where it ends. The effect of laughter lasts far beyond the last line of the joke. Yes, humor does give us a mood lift, but did you also know that laughing has an influence on your physical wellbeing too?

So how is laughter important to aging happy?

Well, if you have ever suffered from the chronic pain that affects so many of us later in life (and it is estimated that over 50% of older adults deal with some kind of ongoing pain), this might interest you:

Researchers conducted an experiment with two groups of nursing home patients, a population that usually suffers a higher rate of chronic pain than do older adults living in the community. One group (the experimental group) was exposed to an 8-week humor therapy program and was compared to the “control” group, who did not receive the intervention. When the program came to an end the findings were significant. Those who had the “humor training” reported substantial decreases in pain, diminished sense of loneliness, and significant increases in happiness and life satisfaction. No such changes were reported amongst the control group (by the way, this group was then offered the humor therapy group in accordance with good research ethics).

The researchers offered several suggestions to increase humor in the lives of an older population, but one of them especially piqued my curiosity, because I had never thought of it before.

We all know that increasing humor in our daily lives, makes us feel good, and there are many ways to do this:

  • Rent a funny movie at the end of the day
  • Watch your favorite comedy TV show
  • Hang out with a friend who always makes you laugh
  • Put on some music and dance or sing with abandon
  • Play with your grandchildren or pets
  • Watch old clips of your favorite comedians on YouTube

The researchers found, that despite patients’ physical conditions, making a “Happy Folder” can empower them to manage their symptoms. They don’t go into detail about what goes into a Happy Folder, but I would think anything that makes you laugh or smile when you re-read your entries.

  • Funny stories that happened to you or someone else you know
  • Jokes (like the Henny Youngman one-liners he was famous for)
  • Philosophical musings about the absurdity of something you’ve observed or experienced.

The possibilities are endless! I say we all start our own Happy Journal and see what happens. If you have an entry that you’d like to share, do comment below. At any rate, please “like” and share this post with your friends, or with anyone who needs a laugh today. So happy to have you on board!

Reference: Tse, Mimi M., et. al. (2010) Humor Therapy: Relieving Chronic Pain and Enhancing Happiness for Older Adults. Journal of Aging Research.

© Raeleen Mautner, Ph.D. 2018

The Four Reasons We Fear Growing Old (And why we shouldn’t)

      photo courtesy Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

And all of them, he believed, could be debunked.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reference

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

© Raeleen Mautner, Ph.D. 2018

The Secret to Getting More Resilient With Time

If you don’t care whether or not you are able to get back up on your feet in the aftermath of life’s blows, then maybe you don’t need to read this article. But the majority of us know that life is a lot happier when we deal with our challenges, then put them behind and turn our focus to what is good about our life NOW.

If you’ve survived past the half-century mark, my guess is that you are no stranger to emotional and physical setbacks. The traumas we go through, as older human beings can make us feel defeated. You may be dealing with weight issues, relationship changes, loss of a loved one, temporary or progressive disease—you name it, we’ve been through it.  It seems we are required to pay a price for the gift of staying on our earthly journey; a journey, which those who are no longer here, would love to still be part of. But that is not to say our challenges are always easy. In fact, many are traumatic. Sure, we can wallow in self-pity and defeat. We can tell our story over and over again and with each telling, re-traumatize ourselves by re-living it. Or we can learn how to build our emotional strength so that we can experience more happiness overall, despite the down times.

One way to do that is what social scientist Albert Bandura called “self-efficacy”. Self-efficacy pertains to how confident you in your capability of affecting the outcome of your challenges. In other words, if you feel confident you can “get through” what ever you are going through, it will affect how motivated you are to succeed, how persistent you are in the face of difficulty, and how resilient you are in the face of setbacks. A strong sense of self-efficacy will increase your confidence, your level of happiness, your sense of accomplishment—and above all, it will help you to be more resilient in the face of these darn age-related challenges. In my opinion self-efficacy is one of the keys to aging happy, as we grow older.

Okay, so how to we acquire this resilience skill?

Lucky for us, Dr. Bandura gave us four ways to build self-efficacy:

  1. Your Mastery Experiences. That means look back on the difficulties you have faced and successfully dealt with in the past. Remind yourself of these and this will give you the confidence to know you can succeed at the challenge at hand.
  2. Vicarious experiences of “social models”. Consider people who know who have faced similar crises, and have come through them stronger than ever. If you don’t know any personally, read inspiring stories of people who have made meaning and derived courage from challenges just like yours.
  3. Social Persuasion. It’s amazing what we can do when we have the right people around us. As it turns out, when the people we surround ourselves with encourage us, and tell us they know we can do it, this revs up our motivation level and we tend to live up to their belief in us.
  4. Keep your Mood Positive. Interpret your emotional and physical signals as energizing, not debilitating, when you face a challenge. Imaging your inner resources gathered together to help you overcome and resolve what you are facing and then take a moment to acknowledge how well you are doing.

If you have a moment I would love it if you would “like” or share this article and also comment below. Let me know what your biggest age-related challenges are, so and what you’d like to read about in future articles. Thank you in advance, and may you continue to grow in happiness!

 

Reference:

Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998).

 

 

© Raeleen Mautner 2018

When Can We Finally Make Friends What We See in the Mirror?

Years ago, I conducted a cross-cultural study on body image when the bulk of the research in this area focused on adolescents and young women, who were the most prone to life-threatening eating disorders. We know that eating disorders often stem from being at odds with our physical appearance; usually our weight. Adolescent girls are more likely to acquire a negative body image than are their male peers and here’s why: When girls hit puberty, their bodies become curvier as Mother Nature adds some padding here and there as part of normal healthy physical development. Boys at the same age start to become taller, leaner, more broad-shouldered and start to grow facial hair. Considering we live in a culture that up until recently (and this is only just beginning to change) worshiped thinness as the ideal for girls, and broad-shouldered masculinity for boys, many girls at this age compare themselves to impossibly thin “ideals”, and realize it is unattainable for the majority of us. While boys get closer to society’s ideal for them at this stage, female puberty brings girls further away from their “ideal”. Thus begins a cycle of body dissatisfaction, or Body Image Disturbance (BID) depending on the severity, and an adversarial relationship with our body affects our everyday life. Serial dieting, binging, purging, seeing distorted reflections when we look in the mirror that don’t correspond to the reality, critical self-talk, and many other maladaptive behaviors begin to spring forth.

While a handful of studies have found that to a certain degree, women like their bodies more when they get older, the majority of findings tell a different story. Just as a girl, through the natural developmental process, gets more distance to the youth beauty ideal of the advertising or cosmetics industry, think of what happens as a woman ages. Now she is told to wear stretch undergarments so she can smooth out her post-menopausal padding, turtlenecks to hide her “turkey waddle” neck, long pants in the summer to cover her “elephant knees” and loose tunics that camouflage our “muffin tops”. Honestly, I don’t know who come up wit these names!

The truth is, many women hate their appearance all of their lives. That’s a long time spent loathing what we should be grateful for. What we should be proud of, as there is beauty in every age, just like in every season in Nature. Some older women even suffer from eating disorders. Or drain their wallets and bank accounts on a desperate quest to try and look 25 again. Instead of aging with dignity and confidence, we feel marginalized and unattractive. As men age, there is some research to indicated that with the gradual physical decline that comes from age—no so much the change in appearance—men start to be dissatisfied with the way they look too (remember, society’s ideal of masculine strength).

So why is a positive body image so important? Because the way feel about our body is connected with our self-esteem and that relationship doesn’t weaken with age.

It is time to establish our own standard of beauty, attractiveness, confidence, and meaning. While this website is no substitute for professional counseling if you need it, in my opinion we can start doing two things now to start making friends with the woman (or man) in the mirror.

First—take care of the body you live in. We should all try to look and feel our best through good nutrition and regular exercise. These to things alone will help you feel better and more attractive.

Beyond that, I am all in favor of whatever skin cream or procedure that you have researched, read reviews on, and think would make you (not society) happy. Just don’t do anything because you were led to believe you could chase down a time travel fantasy, or because you hate your body.

Second—Write down 5 things you can do every day to start developing a positive body image. Emphasize the functionality, not just the appearance of the body. Think of all the things your organs, senses and limbs do for you each day. Our bodies really are miraculous and deserve to be treated with respect and appreciation.

The time to make friends with the image you see in the mirror is NOW. Stop browbeating yourself. Instead, shake hands with your reflection and your reflection will meet you half way.

References

Baker, Lucie & Gringart, Eyal (2009). Body image and self-esteem in older adulthood. Aging & society (29) 977-995.

Mautner, R., Owen, S.V., & Furnham, A. (2000). Cross-cultural explanations of body image disturbance in Western cultural samples. International Journal of Eating Disorders .

c Raeleen Mautner 2018

CAN YOU TRAIN YOURSELF TO BE HAPPY? YES. AND HERE IS HOW.

Nonnaangela
Angelina D’Agostino, my nonna

Happiness is not just a passing mood. Neither is it a constant state of euphoria that protects us from feeling sad in the face of trauma. Think of happiness as a journey down a narrow dirt pathway through the woods. Imagine that the vegetation is at its peak, and surrounding you is an artist’s palette of lime to emerald greens; above you a brushstroke of clear turquoise blue; below your feet the musky smell of rich earth and sprouts of fragrant wild flowers, scattered randomly along the way. You drink in the sound of birds singing and the breathe in the crisp, clean air. You are feeling content; you are feeling happy as you continue down the path. Suddenly in front of you slithers a reptile you know to be poisonous. You will probably not keep walking with a happy whistle on your lips as you walk over it and continue on. You will probably instead go into the fight or flight response as your body reacts and your mind decides quickly if you need to defend yourself or run the heck away. You may need a few minutes to recover after this, but you get over the scare successfully, and then the whole incident will take a back seat in your consciousness as get back to enjoying the treasures of the woods that you normally cherish.

Happiness works the same way. Even happy people (that is, people who are happy most of the time) deal with challenges and traumas just like the rest of us. And like the rest of us they have emotional ups and downs (I’m not talking about extremes)—because that is the nature of life. I guess if we were to define a “happy life”, most would say, that if we –over the long haul—can say we have more of an experience of emotional wellbeing than we do negative emotions.

The late psychology professor Michael W. Fordyce continues to be one of the most admired and well-respected authorities for his innovative work suggesting that happiness can be “learned.” Dr. Fordyce believed that if we emulate the characteristics of happy individuals, we could increase our own happiness. He generously and freely shared these principals among his colleagues, students, and anyone else who was interested.

Here are Fordyce’s 14 Fundamentals of Happiness Training

  1. Keep busy and be more active
  2. Spend more time socializing
  3. Be productive at meaningful work
  4. Get better organized and plan things out
  5. Stop worrying
  6. Lower your expectations and aspirations
  7. Develop positive, optimistic thinking
  8. Become present-oriented
  9. Work on a healthy personality
  10. Develop an outgoing, social personality
  11. Be yourself
  12. Eliminate negative feelings and problems
  13. Close relationships are the number one source of happiness
  14. Put happiness as your most important priority.

Let’s start a conversation! Do you currently follow any of Fordyce’s Happiness Fundamentals? Which ones? If not, which do you think you can reasonable fit into your lifestyle, and in what ways will you do that?

Let’s get to know each other! Feel free to Follow my blog, or Subscribe to my newsletter.

 

References:

Fordyce, Michael W. (1983). A Program to Increase Happiness: Further Studies. Journal of Counseling Psychology, (30)

Friedman, Harris J. (2013) The Legacy of a Pioneering Happiness Researcher: Michael W. Fordyce (December 14, 1944-January 24, 2011). J Happiness Studies, (14)363-366.

 

The Quest for Eudaimonia, or the Holy Grail of Happiness

We humans have been chasing the Holy Grail of happiness since the beginning of time. It took the Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, however, to begin to ponder, speak, and write about it, and thus bring happiness to the forefront of our consciousness, instead of letting it lie in the shadows of our primal instinct, where, like every other species, we automatically gravitate toward pleasure and away from pain. Now there was a way to “think” about happiness, and use our minds to frame the experience of happiness as something we can (somewhat) control. In fact, by changing our thoughts and our behaviors, we really can become more content.

As we grow biologically older (older meaning reaching the age of 50 or so, although that is an arbitrary number), finding ways to feel upbeat despite the common physical, cogntive and social changes that come with aging–makes a difference in the quality of our life. When we are happier, we feel more confident, more passionate, and even more attractive.

“Eudaimonic” well-being, unlike the hedonic variety of happiness (seek pleasure/avoid pain),  assumes that happiness involves higher order pursuits; such as existential purpose, meaning, fulfillment, and personal values.  Kind of like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which emphasized the journey to the highest level of  human drives; the drive to reach”self-actualization”, a metaphysical state of well-being where we are able to enjoy frequent “peak experiences” that trascend us from the mundane to the  highest level of happiness and fulfillment.

But what does this mean for you and me?

There is research to support the idea that involving ourselves with activities can make us feel happier. But not just any activity. Seek out activities that inspire your creativity, awaken your passions, or touch your emotions. Bypass the usual evening at the mall, and go to a classical concert, visit a museum, take part in a worship service or a lecture that makes you think about something new.  Look in the papers and seek out events like these. Schedule them in on your calendar at least once or twice a month. See if that doesn’t begin to elevate your outlook on life.

What activities bring the most happiness into your life? I’d love to hear your ideas!