When Was the Last Time Something Took Your Breath Away?

When was the last time something took your breath away? I polled a few friends to explore this question and got a range of responses: gazing at the night sky, attending the Broadway show Hamilton, witnessing a baby’s first steps, being caught in a thunder storm, visiting the Grand Canyon, listening to Ave Maria, watching the Williams sisters hug after Venus defeated Serena at the US Open and beholding the beauty of the Tribute in Light, the twin beams that invoke the Twin Towers. Of note, not one person said they experienced awe reading email.The sensation of awe is universal but hard to describe—“jaw-dropping,” “goose bump giving,” and “spine tingling” are often used to capture that sense of wonder that awe inspires. Indeed, the experience of awe occurs in the body as much as it does in the mind.Psychologists are beginning to explore the benefits of awe and how these experiences are life-enhancing.Studies show that awe makes people feel:

1. Less rushed for time.

2. More ethical when making decisions.

3. More patient.

4. Less materialistic

5. More willing to volunteer to help others.

6. More generous.

In the words of one researcher:
Shifting your focus toward something vast is bound to put your problems in perspective and open you to the greater world.
Of course, in order to experience awe one must be open to it. As life speeds by it is easy to miss those jaw-dropping moments. A sunset won’t take your breath away if you are staring at your iPhone.So look up once in a while – there’s a chance you’ll find yourself in awe.
He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed. –Albert Einstein

Can Music Make You a Better Person

Psychologists, social scientists and even ancient philosophers have long theorized that music has the power to change our lives. None of them, however, has been able to paint a picture of just how that looks, until recently.Psychologist in Germany set out to map out the effect of significant musical experiences and show that these moments can have positive, lasting effects. By coding the exact words used by participants asked to recall intense musical experiences (they call them IMEs), the scientists were able to create a model of how these experiences are perceived both in the moment and afterwards.Listeners reported a sense of transcendence during IMEs, followed by a brief period of what they described as disharmony as they went “back to reality,” when the experience passed, then greater optimism and motivation in the aftermath. Many of the test subjects even claimed that intense musical experiences gave them greater insight into their spirituality. Based on their observations, the researchers believe that IMEs impact isn’t limited to during and immediately after the experience:

IMEs cause long-term changes to occur in people’s personal values, their perception of the meaning of life, social relationships, engagement, activities, and personal development.

While the researchers noted that the subject deserves further study, it’s safe to say that listening to a favorite song or even reminiscing about a wonderful night at the symphony, or concert, may do you some goodMusic is good for the soul.

Dress for Success: Is There a Link Between Red Sneakers and Performance?

What would you think if your lawyer showed up to a meeting in sweatpants? Or your doctor rocked a tank top and ripped jean shorts at your annual check-up? Or the President gave a press conference in an old t-shirt. It would be a little disconcerting to say the least. You might even question their competence and authority. In general, we prefer it when people wear clothes that match our expectations. We like them to dress the part.There are, however, some major exceptions. Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino found that under certain circumstances, violating fashion rules makes people seem more powerful and competent. In the paper, The Red Sneakers Effect: Inferring Status and Competence from Signals of Nonconformity, Gino highlights the benefits of dressing differently and not following established norms. Women shopping in luxury boutiques such as Dior and Armani who wore gym clothes were believed to be of higher social status by clerks than women who wore a dress and fur coat. Students thought more highly of a professor wearing red Converse sneakers than traditional shoes. A casually dressed unshaven teacher earned greater respect from his class than a teacher in a suit. In another scenario, people were surveyed about someone attending a black-tie event at a golf club. A man wearing a red bowtie was deemed to be a better golfer and more powerful in the community than a man wearing a regular black bowtie.As the researcher explained:

Nonconforming behaviors can be more beneficial to someone than simply trying to fit in. In other words, when it looks deliberate, a person can appear to have a higher status and sense of competency.

When it comes to getting dressed, be an original. Feel free to break the written and unwritten rules of fashion. Yes, that means you can wear those white shoes after Labor Day!

6 Ways to Shake Up the “Power-Parenting” Rules

Do you spend more time on your children than with them?There’s a lot of parenting advice out there. In addition to friends and family weighing in on how to raise a perfect kid, there are over 58,000 parenting books telling you what you should and should not do. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel inadequate. A friend and exasperated fellow mom recently told me, “I felt like I was spending more time on my children than with my children.” She has since decided to turn off “power-parenting mode” and enjoy being a mom without the pressure of trying to be the perfect parent with the perfect child.Here are six science-backed tips to help you do the same:

1. Let your kids get bored

Instead of feeling pressure to plan fun activities and schedule extra classes, allow for some downtime. Encourage your kids to keep themselves busy and to fill free time by coming up with their own plans and activities. In addition to boosting their creativity and ability to take initiative, you will benefit from not having to drive them to yet another afterschool practice.

2. Walk the walk

Make healthy habits a family value. Model the behavior you want to encourage. Eat the fruits and vegetables you serve to your kids. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Make sleep a priority for everyone. Everyone will be happier, healthier and less stressed.

3. Sit on your hands

Allow your kids to solve their own problems (when age appropriate). Resist the impulse to swoop in and resolve any issue they are having at school or with a friend. This robs them of the confidence that they can do it on their own and undermines their ability to learn to navigate their way through a challenge.

4. Cultivate communication

Ask your children questions. If “How was your day?” is usually met with “Fine,” and a shoulder shrug, try something more specific like, “How was today different from yesterday?” or “What’s the one word you’d use to describe today?” Do your best to listen and give them your full attention. Create cell–free zones at home, especially at the dining room table. Avoid being half-there.

5. Take care of yourself

Women are the first to take great care of others and the last to take care of themselves. Don’t skip that doctor’s appointment. Take time to see friends. Hire a babysitter so you can have a date night. You will be a better mom when your own needs are met.

6. Send them out the door

Encourage your children to play outside and minimize screen time. In addition to being good for their physical fitness, studies show it improves academic performance. Best of all, it’s fun.


Is Sitting the New Smoking?

Scientists estimate that most people over the age of 12 spend the majority of their time—at least 8 to 10 hours a day—sitting down. All of this sitting is taking a serious toll on our mental and physical health. As Tom Rath, author of Eat, Move, Sleep, writes:Every hour you spend on your rear end — in a car, watching television, attending a meeting, or at your computer — saps your energy and ruins your health. Sitting also makes you fat.A number of conditions are caused or worsened by a sedentary lifestyle including depression, hypertension, angina, obesity, ADHD, anxiety, diabetes among others. Scientists believe prolonged sitting may even increase the risk of cancer.The bad news is that going to the gym for an hour each day is not enough to offset the serious health consequences of chronic inactivity.  In an NIH funded study that followed 240,000 adults over a decade, even the adults who exercised vigorously, seven or more hours per week, had an increased risk of death if they sat for long periods of the day.

Build Activity Into Your Day

Part of the problem is that we tend to think of exercise as something outside of our daily lives rather than something that is built into our day. The good news is that this is just a mindset and simple to fix.

1. Stand up at least once an hour

Whether watching TV or sitting at your desk, stand up, stretch your legs and move around.

2. Seek out opportunities to move

Schedule walking meetings instead of office meetings. Take the stairs. Pick up lunch instead of ordering in.  Get off the subway a stop early and walk the rest of the way. Park the car at the far end of the parking lot. Visit a museum. Get a dog.

3. Monitor yourself:

Tracking your activity with a pedometer or Jawbone will keep you motivated.As recent studies show, daily “non-exercise” activities like mowing the lawn, doing housework, gardening and even mushroom gathering have a positive effect.  Sneakers and spandex aren’t required to reap the mental and physical benefits of staying active in fun and creative ways.

Why I’m Prescribing a Mediterranean Diet to My Patients

When I was training to become a psychiatrist, I rarely paid attention to what my patients ate. Unless the person had an eating disorder or depression-associated weight loss, their diet did not get much airtime. I couldn’t have cared less about how many frappuccinos they drank or how many bowls of Fruit Loops they ate for breakfast.Little did I know about the link between diet and brain health. Now, nutritional psychiatry is taking off as scientists gain a better understanding of how diet affects mental health. A recent report in the highly regarded Lancet Psychiatry journal even concluded that:

The emerging and compelling evidence for nutrition as a crucial factor in the high prevalence and incidence of mental disorders suggests that diet is as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology, endocrinology, and gastroenterology.

Here is what we know so far: A typical Western diet high in sugar, processed food, and fatty meats is not good for your mental health. In fact, research shows a strong association between this pattern of eating and depression and anxiety. Related studies show that it also appears to cause the hippocampus—the part of the brain associated with memory and learning—to shrink.While there is no single ingredient that will put you in a better mood or prevent memory loss, a great deal of evidence suggests that following a Mediterranean diet can boost your psychological fitness. Instead of processed carbohydrates, sugar, and saturated fats, this diet consists of legumes, whole grains, fish, moderate amounts of lean meat, healthy fats like nuts and olive oil, antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, and red wine.The evidence is clear. A study of more than 10,000 healthy Spaniards found that those who closely followed a Mediterranean diet had a 30 percent reduced risk of depression. Another study specifically linked omega-3 fatty acids in fish with these benefits to the brain. As the authors wrote:

Every year, the list of correlations between certain foods and mental well-being grows: fish and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids might help fend off psychosis and depression; fermented foods such as yogurt, pickles and sauerkraut seem to ease anxiety; green tea and antioxidant-rich fruits may help keep dementia at bay.

Now I grill my patients about what they eat and literally prescribe a Mediterranean diet. The only side effects are feeling and looking good.

The Best Relationship Advice I Know

Learning to “fight better” is a common theme in couple’s therapy. Don't use the phrase “you always…” stick to the issue at hand, and by all means avoid saying anything negative about the other person’s mother.Less focused upon and, in fact, a more effective strategy is learning how to celebrate one another. According to research, how we respond to our loved one’s good news is a better predictor of relationship quality than how couples handle disagreements.In her research, Shelly Gable, professor of psychology at the University of California, demonstrates the benefits of responding with enthusiasm and support when a partner shares good news.For example, imagine Maria comes home from her job as an associate at a law firm and excitedly tells her husband that she has been assigned to be the lead lawyer on a big case. Her husband might respond in one of the four following ways:

1. Active Constructive Response:  

“That’s awesome! What is the case about? Your hard work is really paying off. I am so excited for you. Tell me all about it.” He expresses genuine curiosity and actively listens to Maria tell him about it.

2. Passive Constructive Response: 

“That’s nice dear,” he mutters while checking email.

3. Active Destructive Response: 

“Are you sure you can handle it? That is going to be a lot of work. Maybe no one else wanted the case.” He focuses on the negative.

4. Passive Destructive Response: 

“You will never believe what happened to me today!” He hijacks the conversation to be about him.The first one, the active constructive response, is the only response style associated with higher relationship quality and greater personal wellbeing. Studies show this style brings couples closer and enhances connection. The other three styles are all negatively associated with relationship quality.Research shows active constructive responding is beneficial in all types of relationships—with friends, students, co-workers and children. It is about expressing interest and genuine curiosity in something a loved one shares and cares about.

Here is your assignment for the next week:

Listen carefully the next time someone you care about tells you something good that happened to them. It need not be earth shattering. Small good news is more than enough. It may be as simple as them showing you an article in a newspaper that interests them or telling you about a book they just finished. Give them your full attention. Look up from your phone. Ask questions. Relive the moment with them. It may feel strange at the beginning, especially for those who feel inclined to be the “voice of reason” but give it time.It goes without saying that being there for a loved one during tough times is important.Being there for them in good times matters too. 

For Anyone Who Has Every Loved a Dog

Eugene O’Neill, a dog lover, wrote this extraordinary eulogy about his beloved dog Blemie when the dalmatian was nearing his end. I challenge you not to cry.       The Last Will and Testament of Silverdene Emblem O’NeillI, SILVERDENE EMBLEM O’NEILL (familiarly known to my family, friends, and acquaintances as Blemie), because the burden of my years and infirmities is heavy upon me, and I realize the end of my life is near, do hereby bury my last will and testament in the mind of my Master. He will not know it is there until after I am dead. Then, remembering me in his loneliness, he will suddenly know of this testament, and I ask him then to inscribe it as a memorial to me.I have little in the way of material things to leave. Dogs are wiser than men. They do not set great store upon things. They do not waste their days hoarding property. They do not ruin their sleep worrying about how to keep the objects they have, and to obtain the objects they have not. There is nothing of value I have to bequeath except my love and my faith. These I leave to all those who have loved me, to my Master and Mistress, who I know will mourn me most, to Freeman who has been so good to me, to Cyn and Roy and Willie and Naomi and — But if I should list all those who have loved me, it would force my Master to write a book. Perhaps it is vain of me to boast when I am so near death, which returns all beasts and vanities to dust, but I have always been an extremely lovable dog.I ask my Master and Mistress to remember me always, but not to grieve for me too long. In my life I have tried to be a comfort to them in time of sorrow, and a reason for added joy in their happiness. It is painful for me to think that even in death I should cause them pain. Let them remember that while no dog has ever had a happier life (and this I owe to their love and care for me), now that I have grown blind and deaf and lame, and even my sense of smell fails me so that a rabbit could be right under my nose and I might not know, my pride has sunk to a sick, bewildered humiliation. I feel life is taunting me with having over-lingered my welcome. It is time I said good-bye, before I become too sick a burden on myself and on those who love me. It will be sorrow to leave them, but not a sorrow to die. Dogs do not fear death as men do. We accept it as part of life, not as something alien and terrible which destroys life. What may come after death, who knows? I would like to believe with those of my fellow Dalmatians who are devout Mohammedans, that there is a Paradise where one is always young and full-bladdered; where all the day one dillies and dallies with an amorous multitude of houris, beautifully spotted; where jack rabbits that run fast but not too fast (like the houris) are as the sands of the desert; where each blissful hour is mealtime; where in long evenings there are a million fireplaces with logs forever burning, and one curls oneself up and blinks into the flames and nods and dreams, remembering the old brave days on earth, and the love of one’s Master and Mistress.I am afraid this is too much for even such a dog as I am to expect. But peace, at least, is certain. Peace and long rest for weary old heart and head and limbs, and eternal sleep in the earth I have loved so well. Perhaps, after all, this is best.One last request I earnestly make. I have heard my Mistress say, “When Blemie dies we must never have another dog. I love him so much I could never love another one.” Now I would ask her, for love of me, to have another. It would be a poor tribute to my memory never to have a dog again. What I would like to feel is that, having once had me in the family, now she cannot live without a dog! I have never had a narrow jealous spirit. I have always held that most dogs are good (and one cat, the black one I have permitted to share the living room rug during the evenings, whose affection I have tolerated in a kindly spirit, and in rare sentimental moods, even reciprocated a trifle). Some dogs, of course, are better than others. Dalmatians, naturally, as everyone knows, are best. So I suggest a Dalmatian as my successor. He can hardly be as well bred or as well mannered or as distinguished and handsome as I was in my prime. My Master and Mistress must not ask the impossible. But he will do his best, I am sure, and even his inevitable defects will help by comparison to keep my memory green. To him I bequeath my collar and leash and my overcoat and raincoat, made to order in 1929 at Hermes in Paris. He can never wear them with the distinction I did, walking around the Place Vendôme, or later along Park Avenue, all eyes fixed on me in admiration; but again I am sure he will do his utmost not to appear a mere gauche provincial dog. Here on the ranch, he may prove himself quite worthy of comparison, in some respects. He will, I presume, come closer to jack rabbits than I have been able to in recent years. And for all his faults, I hereby wish him the happiness I know will be his in my old home.One last word of farewell, Dear Master and Mistress. Whenever you visit my grave, say to yourselves with regret but also with happiness in your hearts at the remembrance of my long happy life with you: “Here lies one who loved us and whom we loved.” No matter how deep my sleep I shall hear you, and not all the power of death can keep my spirit from wagging a grateful tail.Tao House, December 17th, 1940 


Marjorie ‘Mad Marj’ Gubelmann

Mother, DJ, New Yorker