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

Is Relaxing Overrated?

The media, physicians, and respected authorities on health and wellness wag their well-meaning fingers telling us to take it easy. They inform us that we need to relax more in order to save ourselves from burnout. It is the difference, they claim, between being driven and driven to death. But is it?Relaxing may be overrated. Research consistently shows there is a link between longevity and staying busy. Dan Buettner studies people who live well into their 100s. In addition to leading active lives and having strong community ties, meaningful work is a common theme that emerges in those who live into their triple digits. For these centenarians, retirement isn’t an option.Howard Friedman, PhD, author of The Longevity Project, an examination of a study that has followed over 1500 Americans since the 1920s, writes:

Individuals who stayed busiest stayed healthiest.  Often, those who were fully involved in their work (and worked the hardest) lived the longest.  It was not those who took a lackadaisical approach to life who thrived. On the contrary, those who persisted in their education, in their careers, and their marriages and community groups were the ones who stayed healthy and lived long.

Mastery and achievement all require a certain degree of hard work and yes, stress. As Hans Selye, who laid the foundation for stress science in the 1930s believed, stress is in fact the “salt of life,” and goes hand-in-hand with achievement and perseverance. Perhaps the key to avoiding burnout isn’t relaxing more, it is keeping things in perspective, having a connected existence and finding meaning in our lives and in what we do.It’s how you manage hard work and the stress that accompanies it that matters. Certainly finding ways to unwind and relax is important—all I am saying is that relaxing as an end goal is overrated. Self-reflection, connecting with one’s self and loved ones, doing something that’s meaningful to others and not just ourselves matters most.A recent article in the Wall Street Journal showed an interesting graph highlighting the fact that US presidents, on average, live longer than other men of their time “despite the stress of the job.” I would argue that perhaps it is because of the stress of their job.Given the choice of a relaxing life or a meaningful one, choose a meaningful one.

A Brazen Way to Get an ‘A’

The following was reportedly a bonus question on a University of Arizona Chemistry midterm:

“Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat)?”

Here is a brazen response from a creative student.Please read to the end. Chemistry has never been so interesting:“First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing in time. So we need to know the rate at which souls are moving into Hell and the rate at which they are leaving, which is unlikely. I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving. As for how many souls are entering Hell, let’s look at the different religions that exist in the world today.Most of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell. Since there is more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all souls go to Hell. With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially. Now, we look at the rate of change of the volume in Hell because Boyle’s Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand proportionately as souls are added.This gives two possibilities:

1. If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all Hell breaks loose.

2. If Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over.

So which is it?If we accept the postulate given to me by Teresa during my Freshman year that, ‘It will be a cold day in Hell before I sleep with you,’ and take into account the fact that I slept with her last night, then number two must be true, and thus I am sure that Hell is exothermic and has already frozen over. The corollary of this theory is that since Hell has frozen over, it follows that it is not accepting any more souls and is therefore, extinct….. …leaving only Heaven, thereby proving the existence of a divine being which explains why, last night, Teresa kept shouting ‘Oh my God.’”The student reportedly received a well-deserved A+.

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!


8 (Simple) Ways to Reduce Your Daily Stress

I lose my phone at least once a day and end up finding it in a drawer or some stealth pocket of a handbag I didn’t even realize existed. Sometimes it’s right in front of me, mocking me with its steely veneer.According to research, daily hassles like misplacing one’s phone or keys, getting caught in traffic jams, and seemingly minor arguments with family or colleagues take a toll on mental health in the long run. Although they are not as extreme as serious life events, research shows they affect us even more:Life events do not occur every day, but daily hassles do; its the constant, daily frustration caused by these hassles that cause us the most stress, because they occur so regularly and therefore can undermine our health.In other words, the little things can really bring us down and take a toll on our health. How we respond to these seemingly minor daily events is what really counts:Results suggest that daily stressors cause wear and tear on emotional well-being and…how people experience daily negative affect and respond to the negative events in their lives is important to future well-being.Here are eight strategies to reduce your daily stress:1. Resist turning the TV or checking email first thing in the morning and before bed.2. Read the Skimm instead of watching TV for a great overview of the news.3. Meditate: just five minutes a day helps4. Designate a place where keys and cellphones live.5. Spend time in nature or at least outdoors6. Take the stairs.7. Avoid eating at your desk.8. Give yourself 15 minutes of grace time to arrive at your destination.For the politically minded, 44% of those who experience a great deal of stress say hearing about politics makes it worse. Clearly we are going to need all the help we can get as we gear up for the 2016 elections.

The Bright Side of Your Bad Mood

In addition to being annoying, being told to be happy all the time actually backfires. As a society, we have become increasingly intolerant of negative feelings. This “feel-goodism” perpetuates the myth that bad feelings are unacceptable, should be treated with a pill or at the very least controlled and silenced:This intolerance toward emotional pain puts us at loggerheads with a basic truth about being human: Sometimes we just feel bad, and there’s nothing wrong with that—which is why struggling too hard to control our anxiety and stress only makes things more difficult.Research shows that a bad mood per se is not the problem. What matters is your attitude toward the bad mood:Bad moods don't have an adverse effect on everyone to the same degree. The crucial difference seems to be how much people see that there can be value, meaning and even satisfaction in bad moods—those who appreciate this tend to suffer fewer ill effects from the supposedly dark sides of the psyche.In other words having positive attitude toward a bad mood makes a difference.Related research highlights the benefits of a good cry. In a study, those who believed welling up with tears is a good way to relieve emotions felt better later on after watching and weeping through a sad movie.If you are in a funk or particularly bad mood ask yourself, “What can I learn from it?” Channel your inner Sherlock Holmes and do some detective work to figure out what triggered it. Is there something else going on that you need to address? Most importantly, don't beat yourself up for being in a bad mood. The truth is that occasional bad moods can be part of a good life.It turns out bad moods can have a bright side.

What do Women Really Want?

Women flock towards handsome men but a new study shows that being good looking isn’t everything. Being a good guy matters more. The study shows:…women do indeed find good-looking men desirable—but if they have to choose, they’ll probably pick the altruistic guy over the hunk.Selflessness and altruistic behavior are a big draw for women who are looking for a long-term relationship.Don’t cancel your gym membership just yet. Ideally women prefer both goodness and hotness:A handsome guy volunteering at a soup kitchen will catch a lot of women’s eyes.Related research provides further evidence of how goodness—not just great looks – makes someone more appealing. Doing things for others may be the best way to charm a lady.Nice guys really do finish first.

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