Got Music? Get Happy.

Blog Music

Last Saturday as I performed at a large outdoor Italian festival with my fellow musicians of our band ENTERPRISE (Facebook.com/ENTERPRISE-LIVE-MUSIC), I was overjoyed to see so much happiness began to snowball in one place. Hundreds of people dancing, eating, chatting, laughing—it seemed like every age group was represented, and the cares of the world slowly drifted far away from all of them, as if encapsulated inside a helium balloon that progressively shrinks down to the size of a pen point just before it disappears totally into the horizon.

As our music filled the air you could see people’s hearts get lighter and fill with merriment. Even the oldest of the crowd got up from their chairs and began to dance with the energy of teenagers.

Of course, it wasn’t just the fact that ENTERPRISE was playing (as partial as I may be to our music); rather, this kind of mood—and even physical —transformation happens commonly from the positive effects that music in generalhas on human emotions and even on human health. People exposed to music are less focused on aches, pains, worries and problems because music elicits positive emotions and “feel-good” brain chemicals, like dopamine. Positive emotions, according to some studies are also inversely related to inflammation—which can be a trigger for many short and long term illness.

Music has been used in rehabilitation settings after heart attacks and strokes, in stress reduction, sleep regulation, and according to one study—music can also strengthen social bonding by making us feel more relaxed when in social settings. Music can bring back beautiful and important memories that connect us to our personal history and family members who may no longer be here. Who amongst us doesn’t remember certain songs that came on the radio when we were with some special high school friends; or the song that played when we went out on our first date; or what was playing on the radio when as a kid we watched our grandmother cooking?

The benefits of filling your life with music are endless. Music provides the backdrop for good times—parities, dances, concerts—and it can act as a comfort in the tough times, for when there are no words that can quite as effectively reach the heart.

Whether you create music, listen to music, dance to music, or just let music provide the background as you move through your day; filling your life with music can be a super-effective source of happiness. Let’s all do more of it!

What kind of music provides the backdrop for YOUR life?

THIS is who you are.

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No, we are not meant to fit into a common life template. By that, I mean going through the motions of routine and responsibilities that have to be taken care of, while neglecting the part of you that reflects the very soul of who you are—your creativity.  In ancient times, creativity was viewed as a gift from God. It is what sets you apart from others and deserves its unique expression. If you like to draw, for example, you must draw. If you like to bake, then bake up a storm. If you like fashion, then dress to the nines.  Do you feel the music? Make time in your day to sing, or play your instrument! Write that book. Make those flower arrangements. Dance? Choreograph your own steps and just blast the music!

At the top of the renowned Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the human drive towards “self-actualization” –that point at which, once our basic needs are met we work on personal growth–we gravitate towards truth (including the truth of who we are), beauty, spontaneity, spirituality, and creativity. We are in the process of becoming all that our potential allows. We cannot do this if we are always living our life inside the box—confined by the rules and routines that we must abide by, without also taking the time for self -expression.

Don’t stifle your creativity because you don’t have time to express it. Make the time; just as you would for any other priority in your life. Your creative expression—or that unique “gift from God” is which is also imperative for your personal growth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let Yourself Be In The Moment

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Nonna to Grandson: Wow, how did you make that hole-in-one? I wanna make one, too! Did you think about a straight path from the ball to the hole, or the distance or the speed of the ball?
Grandson to Nonna: No,nonna; You don’t think about it; you just hit it!
Moral of the Story: We don’t have to sacrifice spontaneity to overthinking and calculation. Just being in the moment is often the most joyful moment of all. Nice going, Brendan! xoxox #fromthemouthsofbabes

Why You Should Be Your OWN Social Director

Friends

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

Of course being alone does not always mean you are lonely. Nor does being in company always ensure you are NOT lonely. Also worth noting is that we all have different alone-time preferences, which must be respected.  We vary along the introversion—extraversion personality spectrum.

Rest assured, that everyone at one time or another feels lonely, and then the feeling passes when we switch our focus.

Research shows that loneliness involves feelings of social isolation; a feeling that something is “missing” from your life; such as EMOTIONAL SUPPORT or PHYSICAL COMPANIONSHIP. The good news is, you can do something about it. A good place to start is to take control of your social life.  If you frequently feel like you are missing either one of these components, get out your journal, and a calendar, and TAKE ACTION.

First the journal, where you describe WHAT you want your social life to look like? Do you want to find romantic love? New friends? Reconnect with old friends or distant cousins? The possibilities are endless.

Second, be willing to do the WORK.  Designate blocks of time in your calendar to deepen the relationships that afford you emotional support, and schedule activities that provide you with exposure to new possible companionship(special interest groups such as book clubs, walking groups, volunteering, etc.) and not necessarily lifelong commitment.

Third, follow through with at least 1-2 social activities per week. This can be increased or pulled back to your satisfaction.

If you often feel lonely, take action; even if at first you don’t feel like it. It can save your life. Kind of like exercising; if you make social interaction a more frequent habit, you will eventually feel so much better you will wonder how you spent so much time alone watching TV!

PLEASE SHARE THIS POST WITH THOSE YOU CARE ABOUT!

#Aging Happy #BeingOver50Rocks #HappinessWithinOurControl

What NOT to Ignore if You Want to Be Happy

CaseyFlowersAs I write in “Aging Happy”, ignorance is NOT bliss when it comes to ignoring the beauty around us. On the other hand there is plenty of evidence that SAVORING the small pleasures of life increases our sense of well-being. No more gulping down meals without tasting them; no more walking past the dog that bounds to the door to greet you when you come home; no more failing to enjoy the fragrance of the flowers as you walk past them; no more “multitasking” that keeps you from consiously registering the real treasures this life affords you. So what are the gifts that YOU are going to intentially savor today? Happiness can be as simple as what you decide to focus on.

Don’t Spend Your Money on Ageism

Old bench
Ever notice how birthday greeting cards for young people offer encouragement and congratulations, while greeting cards–and even party favors– for older adults, in an attempt to be humorous, play into seemingly light-hearted–yet far from innocuous– AGEIST stereotypes?
Here is a reason to boycott products that poke fun of baby boomers as being “over-the-hill”, riddled with physical decline,sagging body parts, lack of bladder control , etc.
These ageist messages not only reinforce how society should think and relate to those who are over 50, but there is also research indicating they can have a harmful emotional–and physical– effect on older adults themselves, who eventually will begin to believe and act upon these false and negative assumptions about how “dreadful” it is to grow older.
DON’T SPEND YOUR MONEY IN SUPPORT OF AGEISM. When purchasing birthday cards or buying party favors–or even wishing someone a happy birthday –make sure you are sending a message that reflects how valued that person is, and how fabulous it is that they are on this earth, and still making a positive difference in the world.

Appreciation Can Change Your Life

Piano

Research shows that expressing appreciation increases your sense of well-being and life satisfaction. And it works that way for the recipent, too! Case-in-point:
Two years ago I received a hand-written letter from a friend I had lost contact with since my college days. He had just been given a dismal prognosis and set out to write letters to those who made a difference in his life. The letter to me recalled a time, back in the 70s when we were at my parent’s house waiting for our dates to arrive and while waiting I asked if he wanted to hear the new ragtime piano piece I had been working on. Never did I think he would remember that experience so many years later. Interestingly, it wasn’t just about the music, but the memory of how special he felt that I would want to play that piece for HIM, because no one had ever given him a “private concert” before nor since. Who would have thought?
That letter still means the world to me, and it made me even more convinced of the importance of telling the people who have impacted my life, how much I appreciate them, and how my life changed because of their presence in the world.
What are YOU waiting for to express appreciation to someone who has made a difference in your life? Who are the people who have changed YOUR life for the better? Why not email them, write them, call them, invite them for coffee, etc. –and express THANKS. It will make both of you feel great! #AgingHappy

Chronic Pain and Mind-Body Strategies

Those of us who are lucky enough to be Survivors of Life past the age of 50 are probably way too familiar with the kind of daily aches and pains that our doctors tell us are part and parcel of the privilege of aging.  In talking to my peers I realize that many of us cannot get out of bed in the morning without experiencing some kind of stiffness or pain. Some of you cannot stand up from a chair or even go for a walk without grimacing from the pain in your knees or lower back.  The current chapter I am working on for my book“Aging Happy: How to Knock Out The Nonsense and Make These the Best Years of Your Life”(to be released at the beginning of next year), looks at body image in older adults. This topic is particularly dear to my heart, as it completes the circle of the research I conducted as a (much) younger doctoral candidate many moons ago.  It comes as no surprise that an adversarial relationship with our body in our older adult years is just as poisonous to our happiness as it was in our youth. Body Image Dissatisfaction can still make us older adults vulnerable to eating disorders, low self-esteem, social isolation, and depression.

The bulk of body-image research on adolescents and young adults examines the influence of advertising, the cosmetic and fashion industries, and even the comparisons we make between ourselves and those we think look better than us (i.e. Leon Festinger’s Social Comparison Theory, circa 1954)—but what about the influence of chronic pain on our self image as we age?

Non-malignant chronic pain, the kind that many of us experience every day, can keep us from feeling good about about the very body that houses our heart and soul and keeps us functioning right up to our last breath.

Pain can make us feel (and look) older, and feebler, and often we perceive ourselves to look older as well when we look in the mirror.  Pain can strip us of our motivation to do the things we normally love to do. Thoughts of pain, and ways to adjust our lifestyle to avoid pain can consume our thoughts and eventually our entire existence; causing us become less social and less engaged in life—a disastrous outcome for older adults who need more than ever to be involved with meaningful social interactions.

I recently came across an article that reviewed a number of studies examining various mind-body strategies for relieving chronic NON-malignant pain in older adults. These strategies included tai chi, yoga, hypnosis, progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback, guided imagery, meditation, and qi gong. The benefits of these methods are undisputed when it comes to relieving stress and its related maladies.  When dealing with chronic pain researchers are cautiously positive, but are calling for larger clinical trials to be conducted before the scientific jury can definitively weigh in. My hunch is that anything we can do to help ourselves when it comes to chronic pain will also up the happiness factor.

Let me explain.

Chronic pain commonly triggers feelings of learned helplessness especially when people have been to their doctors, tried a number of medications, modified their lifestyles to the nth degree—and still they suffer, despite reassurance from the medical professionals that there is nothing seriously wrong other than a touch of osteoarthritis in the joints that “everyone gets” sooner or later. Of particular note, however, when it comes to using mind-body strategies such as Yoga to relieve pain, is the change in attituderequired to perform these self-therapies.  It takes us from feeling helpless and defeated to actively taking control of our “rehabilitation”. Often this position of emotional strength starts a domino effect of better self-care and a more positive relationship with our body. For example: “That gentle yoga video made my joints feel better so I wonder if I will feel even better if I avoid all flour and sugar today and instead prepare a large vegetable salad for lunch (like mine, in the photo above).”  Then that leads to going out for a 15 minute walk at lunch time, then to setting your timer to get up from your couch or office chair every 20 minutes to march in place or do a few sit ups. And so on.

It’s been established that mind-body strategies are really good at relieving stress. That alone will reduce the perception of pain. But because they also require an “active” component, our sense of self-efficacy (belief in our ability to affect our situation) will also be bolstered and before you know it you may experiences longer and longer stretches of time in which the thought or fear of your chronic non-malignant pain will not even enter your mind. You can start to once again pursue the things you used to love doing, instead of avoiding them.

If you are in chronic pain have it checked out by your doctor and ask about either starting with, or using mind-body strategies as an adjunct to their recommendation. You may be pleasantly surprised at the results.

 

Reference:

Morone, Natalia E. & Greco, Carol M (2007). Mind-Body interventions for chronic pain in older adults: A structured review. Pain Medicinevol 8(4) pp 359-375.

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC 2018

How to Keep Your TV From Killing You

Older adults are the most sedentary segment of society.  Beyond sitting at our desks in front of computers for hours on end, one of our major leisure time activities is watching television for hours on end. The new buzzword for this is “binge-watching”. According to a Deloitte survey, 70% of Americans, including over 1/3 of baby boomers engage in “binge-watching”, or watching multiple episodes of a TV show in one sitting. There is no shortage of data pointing to evidence that a sedentary lifestyle can shorten our life. The data show that low levels of physical activity are responsible for over 5 million deaths each year world wide, and long hours of TV viewing increases the risk of premature death by 33%.

Physical activity, on the other hand, reduces cardiovascular risk, as well as obesity, hypertension and even cognitive impairment later in life.

Getting rid of our TVs is probably not a realistic an option, but there are a few solutions that may counteract the health risks associated with hours of continuous television-watching. One of those solutions is “active” TV-watching, such as stepping in place during commercials.

Research has found that the average number of calories burned from stepping (i.e. marching or walking) in place during commercials within 1.5 hours of TV watching, is equal to the number of calories expended during 30 minutes of walking at a pace of 3mph (150 calories).

Another suggestion is to take advantage of an entire half hour show or newscast to use your home exercise equipment. Do some strength training with your light dumbbells and leg weights or do a few calisthenics using your body weight: knee pushups, planks, modified squats, and dips. Before you know it you will have a half hour of daily exercise under your belt And that belt, by the way, will gradually need to be tightened!

You can also alternate strength training with cardio exercise; same half-hour TV slot, only you can march in front of your favorite program through the entire 30 minutes, free form dance, alternate jumping jacks with grapevine dance moves, or step lifts, kicks, or any other move that gets your heart pumping a bit.

Last but not least, don’t forget to warm up and cool down adequately.  Protecting our muscles and bones is even more important as we age.  Do a few stretches; take a few deep breaths. Reset.

Remember this: Ageless fitness doesn’t require a Herculean effort; only non-negotiable regularity.  Be consistent about turning your TV time (or at least a portion of it) into active watching time. You’ll feel better, and look better too!

 

 

References:

Chastin, S.F.M. et al (2015) Systematic literature review of determinants of sedentary behavior in older adults: a DEDICAC Study.  International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. Vol 12:127.

Deloitte.com/us/tmttrends (2015) Digital Democracy Survey

Steeves, J.A., Thompson, D.L, & Basset JR D.R. (2012) Energy cost of stepping in plae while watching television commercials.  Medicine and Science in Sports Medicine. Pp330-335.

Steinberg, S.I., et al. (2015) Exercise, sedentary pastimes, and cognitive performance in healthy older adults.  American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and other Dementias. Vol 30 (33) pp290-298

Turi, et.al. (2017) TV viewing time is associated with increased all-cause mortality in Brazilian adults independent of physical activity. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 28:596-603.

(c) Raeleen Mautner, LLC 2018

 

 

How To Let Yourself “Flow” Into Happiness

Have you ever become so engrossed in a project that you lost all track of time?  Try to remember how you felt –that deep sense of personal satisfaction, a feeling of accomplishment, a sense of wonder and the motivation to keep going; shutting out anything else that might have distracted you.  You might say you were in the ZONE.  It’s been known for quite some time that the activities we engage in can either add to our happiness or detract from it. This is especially true as we grow older, when time is of the essence and how you spend each moment—matters.

 The phenomenon I am referring to is called “flow”.

A state of flowrefers to the high you get when you become engrossed in an activity that brings you such joy and satisfaction that you become seamlessly entwined with the experience, losing all sense of the passage of time. Everything else fades into the background.  You feel productive, on top of your game, in control. Most likely you are also following your heart; doing something you are passionate about.

Csikszentmihalyi first introduced his theory of flow state to the world of psychology in 1975 and since then, researchers across various fields, such as education, sports psychology, neuroscience and others have leveraged this phenomenon to improve performance and increase success.  Important to note, is something called the Match Hypothesis—that is you are more likely to achieve flow state when you choose activities that match your abilities to the demands of the task. Everyone is different, of course. Some people are more cognitively oriented and are more likely to achieve flow when working on intellectual pursuits (reading, writing, continuing education); some are more inclined toward the creative skills (playing a musical instrument, drawing, acting); some the interpersonal skills (showing empathy, communicating, emotional intelligence). It may be that you are a combination of those, but usually, we derive more satisfaction when engaged in one of those areas, as opposed to the others. I know for myself, when I work on something that is a mismatch for my abilities, I end up frustrated and eventually unfocused, not to mention feeling like I wasted x amount of time that I can never get back.

More recently, researchers have found that the principle of “flow” may be an important key to well-being in older adults. It seems to protect our cognitive functioning as we age.

If you are not already doing so, consider reserving at least one hour of your day to give complete concentration to an activity you find rewarding; one that lifts you up to a higher level and helps you transcend the mundane tasks we all have to do each day. Enjoy the natural high that comes with experiencing flow on a daily basis.

Here is how to start honoring your life with a daily dose of flow-driven happiness

  1. Make a list of several projects/activities that you love to do. They should be challenging but not so far beyond your ability that you will be frustrated and abandon the activity.
  2. Categorize these activities (intellectual/cognitive, creative, interpersonal, kinesthetic/physical), etc.). You may find that you gravitate towards one or more areas.
  3. Rate the activities in terms of how closely each project is aligned with your abilities. Remember they should be challenging enough to hold your interest and give you a sense of achievement when completed; yet they are well within your skillset to achieve.
  4. Set aside an appointment with yourself for no less than an hour a day.
  5. Choose one project from you list which you will work on during that hour each day until that project is complete.
  6. Eliminate all distractions—no phone, email, social media, getting up to vacuum, or anything else. Resign yourself to spending this time fully engaged in the chosen activity.
  7. Be mindful of the peace and satisfaction this one hour of engagement offers you.

The flow experience is a simple way to enrich your life, give you something to look forward to each day, and increase your passion for life. It is also your chance to engage in experiences you have always aspired to before the other to-do’s of living got in the way. I urge you now to go for it. Take out that easel and paint palate; weave that rug; observe the sunrise; outline the novel you have had stuck in your head; compose the lyrics and music to that song you once thought of writing; build that bird feeder; study that period in history that always fascinated you; learn to tango; feel the waves crash around your feet as you breathe in the salty ocean air; fire up your camera and capture life’s portraits—and allow your passions drive your personal flow state. The result? You will be giving yourself the extraordinary gift of a daily dose of happiness.

Reference

Payne, et al (2011) In the Zone: Flow State and Cognition in Older Adults. Psychology and Agingvol 26(3) pp738-743.

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC