Wednesday, June 14, 2017

NBC’s New Show “Forever Young” Continues Trend Celebrating Older Population

NBC’s upcoming television show “Forever Young” (premiering June 21), is another example of the new trend that celebrates our older population. It comes on the heels of the HBO documentary, “If You’re Not in the Obit…Eat Breakfast.”

Forever Young is hosted by Steve Harvey and highlights the talents of those in their 60s and beyond. “If we’re fortunate enough, we’ll live long lives. Programs like Forever Young provide living proof that our later years can be some of our best years. How do we get there? A lot depends on our attitude.

I've highlighted over 100 thriving individuals in their 80s, 90s and beyond on the “Meet The Amazings” Facebook page in the past year alone. Some are famous, most are not.

Every person featured on Meet The Amazings has an appreciation for life. They have a zest for living; they still have a lot they want to do. They are happy, optimistic and grateful for each day. I expect that to be true of those on Forever Young too. Now compare their outlook with people who are sitting around waiting for life’s clock to expire. It’s a stark contrast.

An appreciative life often means a longer life. In a 2011 study, researchers at University College, London, gauged the happiness levels of people ages 52 to 79 by monitoring their feelings several times over a day. Then, five years later, the researchers examined how many of those people had died. The result? Older people who are happy have a 35 percent lower risk of dying over a five-year period than unhappy people. Even after the researchers controlled for medical conditions including cancer and diabetes, and health risks such as smoking, being happy was still linked with living longer.

Of course, good health and financial security play a role. But study after study shows that those who see life through an appreciative lens, regardless of health or financial issues, still live a longer, happier life than those who don’t.

Everyone, no matter their age, adopt the appreciation approach. You can start to enjoy the mental and physical health benefits right away. Don’t wait until you hit 70. Find something you love, something that will make you happy and fulfilled and then go for it. And always take time to appreciate life’s ordinary pleasures, from the taste of your morning brew to the sweetness of a child’s smile.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Get Yourself Out of Emotional Detention!

There may be a few among us who never ever had to go to detention throughout our school years, but most of us experienced what my high school euphemistically – optimistically? – called “study hall,” at least once, if not more often. Some kids actually seemed to spend more time in detention than they did in class, but whether you were relegated to those dismal couple of hours after school once or frequently, the experience is the same – prison.

OK, so no bars, no guards, no orange jump suits, but the idea is all too similar. Your precious freedom is cut off, there’s a teacher or some other official “watcher” making sure you sit there doing homework (yeah, right), and you aren’t allowed to talk, text, eat, or do any of the other things normal kids like to do. Detention is about as effective as prison, in that the recidivism rates are high: some kids are scared straight, others populate “study hall” so often they practically have chairs with their names on them.

How is this relevant to you? Too often, when we’ve done or said something our better self knows wasn’t that swift, we put ourselves in “detention” of a mental or emotional sort. Oh, we don’t slump off to a dedicated detention room, true, but we do slump off . . . into a mental and emotional berating.

A beat-ourselves-up pity party along the lines of, “How could I have been so stupid!” “Why did I say/do that?” “Now I really messed up, he/she will never forgive me,” “I can’t believe I said/did that, he/she will never want to see me again,” “I’ll can’t get this right, what’s the use in trying?” And on and on it goes.

Which does about as much good as detention did in school. Sometimes we scare ourselves into better behavior, but for the most part, all we accomplish is feeling depressed, unhappy, and even more of a jerk or failure.

A school in Baltimore, Robert W. Coleman Elementary, has adopted a novel approach to detention. They don’t do it. Instead there’s a “Mindful Moment Room,” which isn’t just a renaming of detention, like my school’s “study hall,” it’s literally an entirely different concept. Misbehaving kids are taught mindfulness, meditation and breathing exercises, along with the opportunity (and encouragement!) to work with counselors.

What’s remarkable about the program, is that it works. Since the school started participating in the non-detention after-school program called “Holistic Me” two years ago, they haven’t had to issue a single suspension. Things are really going well at Baltimore Elementary.

What if you treated yourself to a “Mindful Moment” approach, rather than your typical “beat-myself-up-bad-person-poor-me” episode? What if you took some deep breaths, allowed your mind to quiet for a few moments. Then, as neutrally as possible, took a look at the bigger picture.

What were you trying to accomplish? As a kid, you generally landed in detention because you were bored or frustrated. What you were trying to accomplish was an end to boredom or frustration, you just went about it in a disruptive way. As an adult, you most definitely were trying to accomplish something positive, trying to turn a situation around. It’s rare that any one of us is going about trying to be destructive or disruptive for no reason.

Once you’ve got a sense of the bigger picture, focus on what you might do going forward that would be more effective. Keep breathing. Meditation can help keep you calm. Meditation can also help you zero in on possible new ways of doing whatever it was you were trying to accomplish.

“Mindful Moments” work, whether you’re six, sixteen, thirty-six or older. And they are far better for your overall health and well-being than the “let me see how hard I can beat myself up” approach.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Smile Mindfully: it’s Good for Your Health!

Babies smile - a lot. Beauty queens smile - on cue. Winners smile – most of the time, in between all that jumping and high-fiving. Smiles are a way of expressing our happiness, our joy, our pride, our gratitude.

More than that, smiles are a way of connecting, of saying – without words – I’m with you on this, I acknowledge you as a fellow human or a delightful animal or a beautiful flower, someone/something I’m in sync with.

All this you already know, but did you know that smiles are really good for your health and well-being? Researchers in the UK used electromagnetic brain scans and heart-rate monitors to measure the “mood-boosting values” for a variety of stimuli including sex, chocolate and money. Their findings are astounding: one single solitary smile can provide the same level of mood-enhancement as up to 2,000 chocolate bars, as stimulating as getting up to 16,000 pounds sterling (roughly $20,000), and smiles are more likely to produce a better short-term high than either sex or shopping!

So if your credit cards are maxing out – try smiling! If you’re too hooked on chocolate – find something or someone to elicit a smile from you! Dogs always work for me. Of course so do flower, sunsets and Carol Burnett re-runs.

But here’s the thing. We’re not talking New Age feel-good stuff here. Smiling has well-documented physiological impact on your mind and body. For example, neurotransmitters relay messages to your body on how to respond and react, given various situations. Dopamine, endorphins and serotonin, known as the “feel-good” neurotransmitters, are all released from your brain into your body when you smile. Not only do these neurotransmitters relax you, and make you feel better emotionally, but they can also lower your heart rate and blood pressure – two significant contributors to your physical well-being. The very act of smiling makes us feel better, all around.

Children smile way more than adults do – the number most commonly given is 400 times a day. As compared to the happy adults 40-50 smiles per day, and average adults 20 smiles per day. Now you may say, well, gee, kids have a lot less worries, and thus a lot more to smile about. True. But just like anything else, you can get better at smiling with practice.

No, I don’t mean to affix a phony smile to your face. You can’t fool your brain, it knows the difference between the real thing and a fake. Rather, I mean to become more conscious about the many opportunities to smile that you now may let go by un-noticed.

You might think of it as smiling-mindfulness. Because that’s really what it is. Becoming more mindful of occasions that – for you – genuinely merit a smile, and allowing yourself to indulge in that very life-enhancing act.

For example, the barista hands you your coffee: add a smile to your “thanks.” As a matter of course, any time you say “thanks” or “thank you,” add a smile! That includes when you thank spouses, significant others, children and other family members: too often we forget to smile at those closest to us.

Or, the sky is dotted with little puffy clouds, a sight which pleases you: smile. Someone’s yard is awash in white roses, your fav: smile. The traffic eased up: smile! There are a gazillion opportunities to smile each and every day.

You may never make it up to the children’s’ 400-smiles-per-day mark, but for sure, your body and mind will most decidedly benefit from your increased smiles. What could be better?