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A Picture is Worth….

January 27, 2012 Leave a comment



We went out kayaking with friends over the weekend and took some great photos.  I couldn’t wait to post them on Facebook so that I could share my photos with them and hopefully they would do the same with photos they took of us.  It got me thinking about how important photos are to us and why that is true.  After all, the saying that, “A picture is worth 10,000 words” has endured for generations now and has lost none of its truth.

When we consider why we like to take photos, many truths come to light.  We love visiting people and places that are special and preserving the occasion by taking a photo. We love reliving those times when we go through the pictures we have taken.   But isn’t there something special about sitting down with someone and sharing our pictures with them?  Somehow the captured moments seem brighter and more alive when we share them with someone else.  Facebook, Flikr and other photo sharing sites certainly understand this psychology well!

Acting as photographers, we portray truths about; our perception of what is important,  our creativity, our emotions, our identities but even more importantly, we portray truths about our relationships.

I was watching Christmas pictures being taken of the different segments of a blended family recently.  One side of the family posed naturally so that each person was touching at least two other people and the group was definitely seen as one cohesive unit.  The other side of the family needed a little more encouragement!  They originally posed without one single person touching anyone else!  When the photographer chided,”Act like you like each other!” one of the adult sons whacked another over the head and then they all held hands and grinned at the camera as a family unit!  It turned out to be one of the family’s favorite pictures from that Christmas!

This is what’s important…. the relationships. Sometimes it’s about the relationship among the people in the picture, sometimes it’s about the relationship between the photographer and his subject and still other times it’s about the relationship between the two people who are viewing a photograph together. Photographs cement relationships.

The joy that comes from looking at a picture isn’t always about happy memories.I remember arranging to have a four-generations picture taken with my grandmother, my mother, me and my children, one of whom was an infant. Everyone was dressed in Sunday best, everyone put his or her best face forward until our littlest member lost it, just as we were called in to sit for the photographer. She started screaming at the top of her lungs and there was nothing that any of us could do to make her stop.  Finally we decided to just go ahead and try to just get a picture anyway.  This poor man did his best but in every single shot, she was either screaming bloody murder or she was photographed when she had paused to catch her breath and she was blotchy, swollen and red-faced from crying.  Whenever we look at that picture, those of us who can remember the incident always laugh, though it certainly wasn’t funny at the time!

I have another photograph of my father in a life vest. Now my father was in the Navy,  is an excellent swimmer and taught each of his children how to swim and dive well enough so that they were able to compete on high school and college teams.  When I was growing up, my family always had a boat and this one photograph is the only time I’ve ever seen my father don a life jacket.  We were on a rented boat, off the east coast of South Florida, in a storm so ferocious that it had knocked out the steering on our flying bridge.  We couldn’t see 2 feet in front of the boat and we were lost. Seeing my father put on a life jacket, I just knew I was going to die! My sister and I ate our last meal together (cold SpaghettiO’s out of the can!) and were thoroughly surprised to actually live through the experience when the fog and rain lifted and we were in the middle of the Miami shipping channel!

The joy of looking at pictures isn’t necessarily about what was going on in the picture, it’s about the relationships that are forged before, during, after and at the time of viewing them.  So let’s take pictures and not forget to share them, all the while remembering that we are strengthening precious bonds between ourselves and the people who are important to us by doing so!

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!

January 9, 2012 Leave a comment

At the stroke of midnight (or as shortly afterwards as possible) each January 1st we endeavor to be the first to wish our family and friends, “Happy New Year!”  This year I encourage each of us to really think about what this means and to really mean what you say when you use this greeting.

When people are asked what they wish most for, whether it is for themselves or for their children, they usually reply, “I just want (them) to be happy!”  Amazingly enough, the wishes are not for a large flatscreen TV, new model car, or any other material possession.  The wish is for something that seems to be completely intangible and yet… is it really?

Recent empirical research shows that happiness has multiple physical and psychological benefits for people, such as:

  • Optimistic people are much less likely to die of heart attacks than pessimists, controlling for all known physical risk factors (Giltay et al., 2004).
  •  People who are happy have stronger immune systems and suffer fewer and/or less severe illnesses than do people who are not as happy (Cohen et al., 2006).
  •   The pursuit of meaning and engagement are much more predictive of life satisfaction than the pursuit of pleasure (Peterson et al., 2005).
  • Economically flourishing corporate teams have a ratio of at least 2.9:1 of positive statements to negative statements in business meetings, whereas stagnating teams have a much lower ratio; flourishing marriages, however, require a ratio of at least 5:1 (Gottman & Levenson, 1999; Fredrickson & Losada, 2005).
  • Happy teenagers go on to earn substantially more income 15 years later than less happy teenagers, equating for income, grades, and other obvious factors (Diener et al., 2002).
  •  How people celebrate good events that happen to their spouse is a better predictor of future love and commitment than how they respond to bad events (Gable et al., 2004).

So, this year, when you wish someone, “Happy New Year,”  I hope these are some of the things that you are wishing for them!!!

For upcoming happiness groups and/or resilience training in the Tarpon Springs, Florida area, please email jean@stillwaterscounselingcenter dot com (.com).

Fit = Smart No Matter What the Age!

December 20, 2011 Leave a comment
Exercise provides a terrific boost to brain function and to actual brain cell growth. New research shows that cardiovascular fitness may be more important than strength training – no matter what the age.Up until recently, it was thought that the brain was finished growing by as early as age 3. New studies indicate that this is NOT the case, the brain continues to grow and produce new neural connections even into old age (referred to as neural placticity).New research shows that teens who have better cardiovascular health not only score higher on intelligence tests but also pursue more education and enjoy a higher income in later years.Researchers from Sweden and USC examined data on 1.2 million Swedish men born between 1950 and 1976 and found that the greater the cardiovascular fitness, the higher the cognitive scores were at age 18. The association between muscle strength and global intelligence, in contrast, was weak.The researchers speculate that those later teen years are critical because the brain is still changing. But researchers at the University of Colorado indicate that the young are not the only ones who benefit from aerobic fitness programs; the elderly do also. In fact the greatest gains in cognitive function tied to exercise programs were found in people over the age of 65!

So as the New Year approaches and you make your resolution to be more fit in 2012, grab your kid and your parent and make it a family affair! You’ll all be happier, healthier and SMARTER!!!

We’ve Counted Our Blessings…Now Let’s Pass Them On!

November 25, 2011 Leave a comment

What a wonderful tradition we have just celebrated; the giving of thanks for the blessings we enjoy. Being reminded of the things and people who are important, the events that have happened and the ways in which we matter to others and in the world allows us to appreciate the richness of our lives.

Now it is time to pass that on to others who are less fortunate than we are. We are challenged to give of: our time, our talent, our gifts and our treasures; fortunately not all at the same time! In the current economy, most charities’ gifts are down but amazingly 1 in 4 people still gave of their time in the past year in order to help someone else!

One of the greatest benefits to helping others is the by-products of health and happiness that we reap in return. Research out of the University of Pennsylvania shows that people who volunteer their time and talent for others, live longer, have higher mental acuity and lower rates of depression and have a stronger feeling of over-all connectedness than do those who don’t choose to volunteer.

The upcoming season can overwhelm us if it becomes all about the getting and giving of stuff! Maybe instead of spending time gathering stuff for the people who are precious to us, this year we choose to share our precious time with them and get together to help someone else.


‘Tis the season…let’s make a difference!

The Psychology of Thanksgiving Eating!!!

October 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Thanksgiving, it is one of the few days a year when we give ourselves permission to absolutely gorge ourselves with an amount of food that we would never consider consuming on an average day! Those of us trying to successfully manage our weight, know the advice and the tricks that are suggested to limit the intake of calories and none of them really works very well.

So let’s look at some studies on the psychology of eating, undereating and overeating and see if we can learn something from this scientific research that might allow us to better manage our environment, companions and ambiance settings and thus decrease our intake of calories.

Probably the two easiest strategies are to shrink your stomach during the week prior to Thanksgiving and to wear tight clothing the day of the feast. Dr. Joseph Risser, director of clinical research at Lindora Medical Clinics, states that by limiting the volume of food that is ingested at each meal, one can successfully shrink the stomach in about 3 days. By eating smaller meals more frequently during the days leading up to Thanksgiving, you will feel fuller faster because of the stomach’s smaller condition. Wearing tight-fitting clothes will have the same effect of making you more mindful of the amount you have eaten, according to several Weight Watchers coaches. It is immediate feedback, which can really help!

Some other strategies are to: eat breakfast and limit liquid intake the day of the feast. Research by Health Management Resources in Boston, reveals that people who eat breakfast actually consume fewer calories over a whole day than do those who skip the first meal of the day. By eating a light, yet sensible breakfast, you won’t come to the table starving and may be able to manage the temptations more successfully.

And contrary to some popular advice, which says to fill up on liquids before and during meals, research shows that parched rats tend to refuse their chow, while well-hydrated rats eat as they would normally. In humans studies, the evidence is similar with people tending to eat less when mildly dehydrated.

Some other research shows that how you set and clear the table influences the amount eaten! Using smaller serving utensils and dinner plates and tall, thin glasses tends to result in people eating and drinking less. Even people who are calorie conscious and knowledgeable, tend to serve themselves 31% more when using larger plates and if they are given large serving utensils, they end up serving themselves 51% more!

When it comes to glasses of caloric beverages, people will tend to consume 74% more from a short, squat glass than from a tall, thin one as the brain perceives the amounts to be equal! Perhaps this is because the tall, thin glasses almost always get turned over!

Studies also show that the way a table is cleared influences the amount eaten, as an uncleared table reminds eaters of how much has been consumed while a tidy, constantly cleared table is perceived as an invitation to start over! This can add up to almost a 30% difference in unconscious, calorie consumption.

Some other findings have to do with the numbers and types of people with whom you dine. Eat alone and you will eat less. Research shows that when you eat with one other person, the average food consumption rises by 35% and when you eat with a group of people, you tend to consume almost 3 times the calories that you do when dining solo! This is especially true if you are comfortable with the people with whom you are eating, as most people tend to eat less when they are in an uncomfortable scenario.

Lastly, there is the ambiance to contend with. Low lights and restful colors encourage us to linger and eat more (think McDonald’s vs. your favorite French restaurant).

So when all is said and done, we should fast for a few days this week, limit our liquid intake, eat Thanksgiving dinner alone or with people we don’t like, in a brightly lit, uncomfortable setting using small plates, serving utensils and tall, skinny glasses. Sounds almost as silly as all the other Thanksgiving Day eating advice, doesn’t it?

For health and happiness, my advice is: work out regularly before the holiday, eat sensibly beforehand, relax and have a great Thanksgiving dinner while you enjoy the people around you and then get back to the gym as soon afterwards as possible! Enjoy!

What is a Life Worth?

    “FLOW” is a state of being which is demonstrated when we are totally caught up in what we are doing…time seems to vanish…we are engaged, energetic and vital, our concentration is effortless and all-consuming!

It is manifested when we use our personal strengths in response to situations wherein the perfect balance between challenge and self-efficacy exists: the task at hand is difficult but we beleive that we have what it takes to successfully complete it.

Interestingly most people experience more “FLOW” at work than at home!  Generally “FLOW” occurs when a person is doing his or her favorite activity;creating music, gardening, writing, reading, playing a sportl. It also found in many types of social settings where people are engaged in a common effort, think volunteering time and energy in pursuit of goal which benefits another.  But thereally interesting thing is that  people rarely report experiencing “FLOW” in passive leisure-type activities, such as relaxing or watching TV.

Here is a great video from TED.com in which Dr.iMihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of the book entitled, “FLOW”, discusses the topic.  Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXIeFJCqsPs&feature=related

Is Happiness Gender Specific?

April 20, 2010 Leave a comment


Recent research actually shows that happiness may have a gender specific component and that it is apparent even during fetal development. By the 8th week after conception, the female brain begins to differentiate from the male brain in very specific ways.

The female brain generates more neurons and therefore more neuronal connections in areas like the hippocampal region, which is actually physically larger in the female brain than in the male brain. This area is one component of the brain that is thought to govern emotional experience.

This may explain why many women have more capacity for tolerance and patience than most men do. It isn’t just in the areas that govern emotions that womens’ brains are more abundantly wired. The same is true in other parts of the brain which govern language; in fact women have 11% more neurons for language and hearing than do their male counterparts. Perhaps this is why we have to ask our husbands and sons to take the trash out repeatedly!

The male brain is wired completely differently. In the male brain, the neuronal circuitry is more abundant in areas of the brain, like the amygdala which is thought to govern aggression and sex drive. In fact the amygdala is up to 2 1/2 % smaller in women’s brains. Perhaps this is why women tend to be the peacemakers and men have traditionally been the warriors.

All of this different wiring leads researchers to hypothesize that happiness may have a genetic component, with women finding more happiness in strong relationships and community and men finding more happiness derived from acquisition and accomplishment.

Does this make men or women happier as a whole? Research indicates that women are alternately happier and sadder and that men tend to be more stable in their emtional experiences. After studying twins, one researcher has suggested that there is an actual “Happiness Set Point” that seems to be genetically determined. Similar to our weight’s set point, this is the level fron which we may deviate temporarily but to which we always seem to gravitate back.

The good new seems to be that while happiness may be up to 50% determined by genes and another 10% may be determined by circumstantial factors such as environment, income and comfort, the remaining 40% of our happiness is determined by how we choose to see life and how we react to what happens to us.

We can learn to experience life as if it holds blessings or curses in store for us, and our level of happiness will reflect this expectation… regardless of whether we happen to be male or female.

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