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Valentine’s Day ~ Happiness & Well-Being

February 10, 2012 Leave a comment

“To get the full value of a joy, you must have somebody to divide it with.”

Mark Twain.

Valentine’s Day…a day to celebrate the importance of relationships in our lives…or just another “Hallmark Holiday”?  Originally the christianization of a pagan fertility celebration, St. Valentine’s Day has now come to be the day when we recognize the most important relationships in our lives with cards, candy and other demonstrations of caring.

More and more research is pointing towards the importance of social relationships to human beings’ health, happiness and even to our longevity.

Harry Harlow  (click on his name to watch a video of this experiement) was instrumental in showing how important the attachment of infants to their mothers is to their later ability to successfully parent their own offspring.  Subsequent research points out that secure children are more apt to actively explore and interact with their worlds and are also more likely to be engaged and successful in the classroom.

The research of Ed Diener and Martin Seligman,(click on his name to watch a TED video by Dr. Seligman)  whose work in positive psychology is becoming very popular, links people’s happiness to the quality of their long term relationships.  And numerous other studies show that many types of social connectedness  may also be important to health, well-being and longevity.  People who are regular members of religious institutions and those who volunteer regularly enjoy a heightened sense of well-being.  It is speculated that a sense of social support and belonging are the keys to why these types of activities lead to positive emotions and their attendant benefits.

This idea of relationship has been explored in the area of film lately by producer, studio president and independent film maker, Lindsey Doran.  During her exploration of what really makes people love a movie, Ms. Doran has employed Dr. Seligman’s 5 pillars of well-being: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment (PERMA) and has found some really surprising truths about what constitutes a popular film.

We apparently don’t need a happy ending to love a movie; we don’t necessarily need the protagonist to overcome all obstacles.  Surprisingly, what we care about most is the relationships that are developed throughout the movie.  Accomplishment is great but if there is no relationship in which to share it, we don’t engage the same way that we do when we see people share their victories within the bonds of strong relationships.

Matt Damon’s triumph in the recent hit, We Bought a Zoo, would not have had the same emotional impact for us had he not reconnected with his emotionally estranged son, played by Colin Ford.

When an almost 70 year-old Burt Munro (Anthony Hopkins) sets a land speed record in The World’s Fastest Indian, we are thrilled for him but it is in watching the people who have come to love him, cheer him on in spite of almost insurmountable odds that we fully engage with him and become an actual part of his epic quest.

It is these relationships which feed us in the real world, in the literary world and in the world of film.  They may be our keys to:  better health, a heightened sense of well-being and to actually extending the number of years that we have to enjoy them.

So while February 14 is the customary celebration of St. Valentine’s Day, perhaps we would do well to internalize Mr. Twain’s sentiment, that joy is greatest when shared with someone close to us.  Perhpas we can decide to celebrate Valentine’s Day more often than just on February 14th and with more of the people who are important to us!

References:

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper & Row, 1990

Diener, E., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2002). Very happy people. Psychological Science, 13 (1), 81-84.

Harlow, H.F. Early social deprivation and later behavior in the monkey. Pp. 154-173 in: Unfinished tasks in the behavioral sciences (A.Abrams, H.H. Gurner & J.E.P. Tomal, eds.) Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins. 1964.

Koenig, H.G., Cohen, J. (2002) The Link Between Religion and Health:Psychoneuroimmunology and the Faith Factor. Oxford University Press;London.

McKinney, William T. (2003). Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection. American Journal of Psychiatry, 160, 2254-2255.

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Why is Florida so Blue!?! RESILIENCE May Be the Antidote!

January 18, 2012 2 comments

Recently, I was horrified to see St. Petersburg, Florida named the saddest city in the United States by a popular men’s magazine and Tampa wasn’t far behind it.  I was thrilled to see the enthusiasm with which our citizens refuted the magazine’s findings in letters to the editor, articles, blogs and even in spoofs on the cover of the men’s magazine! And while the science in the original article was far from conclusive, some of the statistics mentioned, were.

How can it be that our area chalks up such substantial statistics in the areas of: suicide, depression and substance abuse when we enjoy one of the most beautiful places to live in the world?  This question is especially pertinent when we look at these skyrocketing statistics among our youth.

Enter the relatively young branch of psychology known as Positive Psychology, the theme of the latest Harvard Business Review. Splitting from traditional psychology, with its emphasis on diagnosing mental health disorders,  Positive Psychology focuses on helping people to identify their strengths and then encourages growth in those areas.

Resilience is identified as the ability to adapt successfully to sources of adversity and stress… In other words, it is the ability to bounce back from life’s challenges without feeling defeated by them.  This characteristic of resilience leads to some of the character traits that we value the most as a society, self-esteem, optimism, perseverance, and self-efficacy. The US Army has partnered with the University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Martin Seligman to implement a $145 million resiliency training program aimed at providing, among other things, Post Traumatic Stress Growth as a viable alternative to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

How can we explain the nation’s recent obsession with Florida Gator, turned Denver Broncos Quarterback, Tim Tebow?  He is the poster-boy for resilience!  He embodies this can-do attitude of overcoming HUGE obstacles with grace and style!

While resilience can be a natural characteristic to some people, in others it doesn’t come as easily. The good news is that resilience can be taught and the better news is that the scientific evidence concludes that it is never too early (or too late) in life to successfully learn and/or strengthen this ability!

Developing resilience is a personal journey and starting to strengthen this quality in oneself, one’s family and/or one’s business can be the key to individual and even corporate well-being! You may need a guide to help you do this and we have had a lot of success coaching people as they grow from success to real significance.

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!

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.

The Weight of the Holidays

October 31, 2009 Leave a comment

The little monsters came and went with Halloween and now we are left holding the bag of left over treats! What will you do with yours? We certainly don’t want to waste food now do we? So odds are that one by one, we will eat those tempting left over treats. And when they are gone we will be facing Thanksgiving feasts and then the Christmas season with all of its attendant parties and food-centered gatherings. No wonder then that the average American will gain 5-7 pounds between Halloween and New Years Day!

We are counseling our clients that now is the time to take a proactive approach to the holidays in order to avoid gaining those extra holiday pounds and we are encouraging you to make a commitment to someone and to stay accountable to that person regarding diet and exercise whether it is a friend, family member or your personal trainer.

Recent research, reported in the New Englad Journal of Medicine, indicates that your friends and family members are a key part of weight loss and are also important too a successful weight management program. A recent study of over 12,000 adults reported that a person’s risk of becoming obese increased by roughly 40% if her spouse or sibling became obese and that risk jumped as high as 170% if a close friend were to become obese.

This is why it is important for friends and family to support one another’s goals this time of year. And it is also important for you to know what your own goals for your weight are. Knowing what your calorie intake per day should be is extremely helpful. For women, take your current weight (or desired weight) and multiply it by 11 (men multiply by 12) and that will give you the number of calories that you can ingest each day and neither gain nor lose weight. Simply knowing this number helps many people think about what they put in their mouths and that single action can help keep you true to your weight management goals this holiday season!

We will share some Holiday Weight Management Tips in the coming days to help provide you with the tools to meet the holidays head on and have no regrets come January first! That way you greet the New Year with Health and Happiness and in the mean time, donate your left over candy to a food bank, daycare center or a local Boys & Girls Club – or even better – just throw it away!

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