“Everyone Gets to Be Young. Your Turn is Over.”

My mother (the avid card-sender) and grandmother

My mother would send a greeting card almost every day. We would even go to a special store where she would get her Italian language cards for someone’s onomastico (name day, which coincided with the Saint everyone (except for me apparently), was named for), birthday cards galore, Holy Day of Obligation cards, holidays and everything in between. They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree but in my case it must have fallen into the yard in another part of the country. I don’t send greeting cards. Will I call someone, or send an email to wish him or her a Happy Whatever? Yes. I know, I know, it’s not the same, but the good thing about growing older, is that we have earned the right to be who we are; whether we are card senders or not.

The other day, however, I decided to “turn over a new card-sending leaf”. A friend of mine was about to turn 60. Yes, dammit, I will send a card. And so begins the search.

“Everyone Gets to Be Young. Your Turn is Over” sounds like it could be a line from the 70’s Sci Fi movie, Logan’s Run, where everyone lived under a pleasure-perfect dome—that is until they turned 30, at which time they were to be annihilated, to keep from growing old.   But No. The above “greeting”, and hence the title of this post comes straight from a greeting card! Ehm…Was that supposed to be an uplifting message?

And so I looked further:

After a certain age, your body is like a garage sale—Some stuff looks old, some stuff doesn’t’ work, and some stuff you can’t identify.

60 year olds like to nap, stay warm, and have things done for them—so basically you turn into a cat. 

(Picture of a donkey with sunglasses)—Your ass looks good—for 60

Psychologists say you go through 7 stages of adjustment when you turn 50—Denial, Denial, Denial, Denial, Denial, Denial, Denial.

Don’t sweat being 50—nobody likes a sweaty senior citizen

Now I have a sense of humor that rivals the best of them, but as I looked at these cards I wondered what vile undercurrent these messages were really sending to older adults in our society. If you substitute any other “ism” for the ageism in those sayings, you would be horrified, I’m sure. Can you image a card that says “Don’t sweat being _______ (a woman, black, Italian, blind, gay, etc.)—-nobody likes a sweaty ———-?

Having spent a good part of my career investigating the effects of stereotyping on both the people being stereotyped and the ways peoples attitudes toward the stereotyped are formed—I say we stop with the “senior moment” jokes, implying that older people can’t remember things (I don’t know about you but I have been losing my car keys from the time I graduated high school), and stop spending our bank accounts on “anti-aging” potions that make aging seem like a dreadful disease to be stomped out. It isn’t. It is a natural privilege that not everyone (certainly not my late husband) gets to enjoy. But you and I do! And that is why the ageist buck must stop with us.

So I bypassed those cards. In fact, I almost decided to go back to my old ways and not send a damn card at all.

Until…

Happy Birthday!

            Here’s to aging

            Here’s to wrinkles

            Here’s to laughing

Till we twinkles (all right, somewhat corny, but so what)

Here’s to the one’s who see us through

            Here’s to birthdays

            Here’s to YOU.

Well hallelujah.  And that is the one I sent.

To all of my Readers, for whatever the occasion– Here’s to YOU!

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC

What the *^%$# Are You Telling Yourself?!

What you say to yourself DOES matter. Researchers found that older adults are generally higher in spontaneous self-affirmation tendencies, as compared to other age groups. But that doesn’t mean we’re all immune to occasional negative self-talk. When you examine your own mental chatter, you might discover that you can say some pretty mean things to yourself. Mental statements like: “I’ll never lose this weight”; “Nothing good ever happens to me”; “What’s the point of trying, things never change”; “I never fit in anywhere, what’s wrong with me?”; “I look so (old, fat, skinny, short, tired, bald, etc.).”

The bottom line is, you can reverse this negative thought pattern if you can catch yourself thinking these thoughts, and then correct them. You can also train yourself to establish a new habit of saying positive things about yourself. I’m not saying you should make things up, or make your statements extreme (I am the greatest; I am invincible, etc.). Rather, look to your past accomplishments and successes. Reflect on your values. Have you gotten through a challenge in the past and felt proud of how much strength you had? Have you met goals before? Have you mended your broken heart after a breakup or loss?

Plenty of research confirms why you should make positive self-affirmations a habit. In experiments where researchers had participants practice positive (“induced” ) self-affirmations, the outcomes included taking care of one’s health better, lower stress levels, greater weight loss, and an improvement in general psychological wellbeing.

Here are some ideas for making positive self-talk a habit:

  1. Write down your values, strengths, and past accomplishments.
  2. Think of a challenge you are facing. What are you telling yourself about your ability to handle this issue?
  3. How many times a day do you “bad-mouth” yourself? Put a check mark on a piece of paper whenever you become aware of putting yourself down.
  4. Begin to change any negative self-talk by substituting the put-downs with positive self-affirmations. You do this by recalling your past victories, values and strengths (see #1).

Eventually, by establishing a habit of positive self-talk, those self-affirmations will become spontaneous, and the number of negative “checks” you record will dwindle.

Researchers found a direct association between spontaneous self-affirmations and wellbeing. In my book that’s reason enough to start being your own best friend. Compliment yourself when you achieve a goal; remind yourself of what you have already accomplished in life; encourage yourself as you would a beloved family member.

I’d love to know how YOU are turning negative self-talk around. I read all of your comments!

Please like and share this post with anyone you feel it might benefit. And if you haven’t received my free Happiness eBook yet, just go to the tab on my homepage and get started putting more happiness into your life.

 

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC.

 

 

Happiness-Enhancing Activities in 4 Do-It-Yourself Categories

 

Yes, crazy me, happily cleaning my oven with baking soda + a knit cloth made by a very special friend!

“Happiness-enhancing activities” seem to be the other half of the nature-nurture question when it comes to happiness. I won’t kid you: genetics play apart, and so do life circumstances. If you come from parents and grandparents who tended to frame things in a positive light you probably tend do think the same way. Life circumstances also have some effect on happiness, according to the research on happiness. If you win the lottery, for instance you will probably break into a happy dance; jump for joy; do somersaults around your back yard—who wouldn’t? But researchers found that positive life circumstances only go so far in making us happy. Meaning, the effect is short-lived, and then we adapt to that temporary emotional lift, and go back to being our own emotionally disgruntled selves, if that is how we were before hitting the jackpot.

So what’s the deal when it comes to the “nurture” side of the happiness equation? As it turns out, almost 50% of lasting happiness is under our control! I don’t know about you, but to me, THAT is a reason to do a somersault (okay, at least a mental one). Okay, but now let’s get to the nuts and bolts of what we can actually do, to make a happiness plan. Hint: you can start by doing more activities + thinking more thoughts– that make you happy.

Researchers Henricksen and Stephens did an exploratory study in older adults ranging from 56-76 years old to find out what kind of activities enhanced their happiness. Their responses fell into four categories; all of which are pretty attainable and might be useful for the rest of us to plan our days around if we want to get more out life. Here are the categories, when it comes to happiness self-management.

1. Other-focused activities. These might include spending time with family and significant others; meeting with others on a social basis, and helping others (such as in doing volunteer work or even making a meal for a sick neighbor).
2. Personal Recreation & Interests. This would include pursuing hobbies you are passionate about; balancing your life with entertainment and relaxation (going to a movie or curling up with a good book), or “external engagement” like going on a group hike or attending a book club discussion or adult ed class.
3. Thoughts and Attitudes. Happy older people are filled with gratitude for their blessings. They also tend toward constructive thinking; that is choosing to frame things positively. Even after personal trauma or loss, they focus on inner growth, or what they have learned from the hardship. Many times we think that we cannot change our thoughts, but great Dr. Albert Ellis, founder of Rational Emotive Therapy (who also honored me with his endorsement of my first book “Change Your Mind, Change Your Weight”), devoted his entire life to showing us how to change our thoughts, which in turn would have a positive effect on our emotional landscape.
4. Achievements. Happiness enhancing activities include setting –and achieving small, short-term goals; and also having longer-range goals in progress. Your immediate goal can be a simple as getting your oven clean using only baking soda and vinegar; and if it actually comes out great, you may feel a sense of achievement that starts a snowball effect of feeling good about other things. The oven is my example (as you can see from the photo above). Make a list of some of the short-term goals you want to attain, and then just start in on them, one by one. Your long-term goals might be what you’d like to do after you retire; or what exotic trip you’d like to take next year, or perhaps you’d like to write a book, try out for a play, start your own business or lose some weight so will feel better.

Happiness has too many emotional AND physical benefits to ignore, especially for older adults like us. The good news is, we can intentionally increase our happiness and have it last, by frequently engaging in positive activity and thought.

What do YOU do to feel happier? I’d love to read your feedback (when you’re done cleaning your oven, of course 🙂

Reference:
Henricksen, A., & Stephens, C. (2010) An exploration of he happiness-enhancing activities engaged in by older adults. Aging International (35) 311-326.

© Raeleen Mautner, LLC

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 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