Pet Therapy for Your Love Life

Pets are good for the body and the mind, and research backs it up. Pet owners are less likely to be obese, or to have high blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels than non-pet owners. Pet owners who have suffered a heart attack exhibit faster recover rates and feel less depressed and isolated. They even live longer. In institutional settings, prisoners who participate in pet therapy programs show improved social skills and relationships with the humans in their lives. Similar results have been found in older patients who live in long-term health care facilities. Pet therapy programs have also been shown to boost the wellbeing of hospitalized children.Add a new institution to the list: love. Recent findings, a review of pet ownership research, in Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of the Interactions of People and Animals suggested that caring for Comet and Shadow might also teach you some of the skills that can help keep a love life alive.The authors looked at three studies that explored the link between pets and romantic relationships in three different ways: how individuals perceive their pets’ influence on their relationship, how the romantic relationships of pet owners compare to those of people who do not keep pets, and lastly, how your pet affects your ability to empathize, a skill that is essential to good relationships (and life.)All three studies showed positive associations between pets and partners. Pet owners overwhelmingly view their pets influence as positive on their romantic relationships. Pet owners report better relationship quality all around (including better partner responsiveness, higher level of well-adjusted relationships, and more investment in relationships) compared to couples who did not have pets. And finally, the longer a person owns a pet the higher their empathy score.Adopting a puppy isn’t a quick fix for a romance that needs revitalizing and it won’t necessarily bring a special someone into your life. But according to Jennifer Gutstein, LCSW-R, a psychotherapist in private practice in New York, “nurturing and developing a relationship over time with a pet can help you develop some of the same skills, like empathy, that are important for success in a romantic relationship.” In other words, it’s a long game, with a potentially better love life as the prize, not to mention the snuggles, kisses and leisurely strolls that make owning a dog (or cat) so comforting and rewarding.© Susan McQuillan

How to Make Small Talk at All Your Holiday Parties

Does the thought of small talk fill you with dread? If your answer is “yes,” I suspect this time of year is particularly challenging for you. The endless cycle of holiday parties between Thanksgiving and New Year’s can be exhausting, especially for those who are not natural social butterflies.Most of us will do anything to avoid an awkward silence, but making idle chit-chat is not the solution. Let’s be honest—nobody really wants to talk about the weather. The good news is that there are strategies to make small talk more meaningful and more fun.

1. Be curious

Avoid firing out checklists and predictable questions like “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” Ask open-ended questions that require more than a one-word reply. Try to learn something. Remember, everyone knows something you don’t.

2. Ask for advice

As Oscar Wilde keenly observed, “We all admire the wisdom of those who come to us for advice.” This is a wonderful way to engage someone in conversation and to learn something.

3. Let your body do the talking

Making eye contact (not looking over the other person’s shoulder), nodding sincerely, gesturing with your hands and leaning in convey interest and engagement.

4. Your phone belongs in your (chic) handbag

According to research, the mere presence of a phone undermines the quality of a conversation. Nothing kills a pleasant chat like someone checking their phone in the middle of it.

5. Encourage elaboration

Being a good listener is essential for a good conversation, but that doesn’t mean you should stay silent while the other person talks. On the contrary, one of the best ways to show comprehension and encourage dialogue is to actively ask questions and engage in the conversation.

6. Avoid your favorite topic

The problem with talking about your own favorite topic is that you may not be able to help yourself from banging on about it and becoming a windbag. Try to find common ground instead.

7. Skip the TMI

No complaining and no over-sharing. Nobody needs to know about your money problems or that rash in an embarassing spot.

8. Don’t avoid a healthy debate

A healthy debate can be incredibly rewarding, and you can learn something from listening. That said, know thyself and pay attention to the other person. It’s best to avoid hot-button topics like politics.

9. Make an effort

If you want to feel less awkward in a social setting, be nice. A recent study showed that when people with social anxiety do something nice for someone else, they feel more at ease mingling. At a cocktail party, this may mean offering to get a co-worker a drink or another pig in a blanket.

Lisa Cypers Kamen

Mom, Felicitator, Lover of Life

Present Tense: The Perfect Gift

The materialism associated with the holidays can leave us feeling empty and anything but full of good cheer. Conspicuous consumption leaves a mark on our budgets and worse, our psyches and souls. And yet, we’re urged to give-give-give! Arthur Brooks calls it the “Christmas Conundrum.” He writes:
We are supposed to revel in gift-giving and generosity, yet the season’s lavishness and commercialization leave many people cold. The underlying contradiction runs throughout modern life. On one hand, we naturally seek and rejoice in prosperity. On the other hand, success in this endeavor is often marred by a materialism we find repellent and alienating.
To avoid the Christmas Conundrum, consider the following ways to make this holiday season more meaningful:

1. Give an experience

A dance class, a night at the theater, a membership to a museum like the The Metropolitan Museum of Art – lasts longer than the short-lived excitement from something bought from a store.

2. By hand & heart

Bake something, draw something, create something. Personalized gifts that take time and effort mean more.

3. Give to others

Kindness is the gift that keeps on giving. Make a donation in a loved one’s name. Two of my favorites are Citymeals-on-Wheels and Heifer International which empowers communities in developing nations to become sustainable with gifts of goats, cows, honeybees and more.

4. The gift of time

There is nothing more valuable than time. A wonderful gift is the promise of quality time with someone you love. Ideas: Plan an evening with a friend or group of friends or make coupons for your children, like “This entitles you to 20 extra minutes at bedtime…”

5. Of-the-Month gifts

Love times 12. And depending on whom it’s for, there’s a gift of the month for every kind… fruit, flower, cheese, wine, chocolate, bacon, etc. It will be something they look forward to for an entire year.

6. Give them what they want

Christmas lists have power. People report more satisfaction and appreciation when they receive a gift they actually asked for rather than a surprise.Above all, remember the wise words of the Grinch:
What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more! - Dr. Seuss How the Grinch Stole Christmas

14 Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

The average American gains between 4 and 7 pounds in the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. You don’t have to be one of them. Here are 14 secrets to maintaining your weight — and sanity — this holiday season (and still enjoying yourself):

1. Know your triggers

Stress combined with an increased abundance of calorie-packed treats can lead to unnecessary eating. Be aware of those situations and your choices.

2. Avoid the collective holiday mindset:

Life isn’t on hold until January 1st. Do not use the holidays as an excuse to put health on the back burner. Don’t stop going to the gym.

3. Keep a log:

Weigh yourself everyday. Self-monitoring is an effective tool.

4. Survey the entire buffet before serving yourself

People eat less when they know what to expect.

5. Snooze

Fatigue leads to overeating. Make sleep a priority.

6. Do something for someone else

Volunteers weigh less, feel healthier and have less of a chance of suffering from a heart attack than the Scrooges of the world. If you’re taking care of someone else, you’re not going to be thinking about that second (or even first) slice of fruitcake.

7. Use small plates

You will eat less. This limits how much you can pile on your plate.

8. Savor it

Slow down and chew more. You’ll enjoy yourself and the food more.

9. It’s ok to be vain

Too much sugar reduces effectiveness of elastin and collagen, proteins in the skin that help maintain its youthful appearance. It also causes acne.

10. Pre-Game checklists:

Going to the grocery store on an empty stomach is a bad idea and the same holds true for holiday parties. Don’t arrive starving and have a list in hand.

11. Bring snacks

Resist temptation by heading it off. Keep a bag of almonds or an apple close by.

12. Take a hike

Or a brisk walk. The more you move the less likely you will pack on the pounds. Walking also reduces stress and rumination. Do it with a friend for an added boost.

13. Use the 80% rule

Stop eating when you are 80% full. Longevity expert Dan Buettner says this can be the difference between a pound lost versus a pound gained.

14. Don’t deprive yourself

If you are going to indulge, make it worth it. Skip the store-bought Christmas cookies so you can really enjoy Grandma’s homemade pecan pie.

Feeling Down Post-Election? Tap into Your Resilience Reserves

Since Tuesday, I have heard from patients, friends and co-workers who are having a difficult time processing the outcome of the election. While I cannot make your pain go away, I want to share some thoughts on how to stay strong during this challenging time. You are more resilient than you know, and now is the moment to tap into your resilience reserves.

1. Get Out of Bed

As tempting as it may be to hide under your duvet and not go to work or class, this will only exacerbate how bad you feel. Maintaining your routine during a difficult time is one of the best ways to get through it. Make your bed. Brush your teeth. Take your exams. Go to the office. Attend to your responsibilities. You will feel stronger within your stress.

2. Hit the Trail

Take inspiration from that image of Hillary Clinton hiking in the woods with her dogs two days after the election. Nature is one of the best remedies for heartbreak and sadness.

3. Take Care of Yourself

Inhaling a tub of ice cream, drinking tequila and staying up late may numb the pain in the moment but erode the resiliency reserves you need. Prioritize sleep, eating well and exercise. You are in charge of these choices. On that note…

4. Recognize What You Can and Can’t Control

There are events and things in life that are beyond your control. Focus your time and energy on what you have control over — like your actions, your attitude, your generosity and your forgiveness.

5. Be the Change

Embrace learning mode and action mode, not hate mode. When difficulty arises, stress-hardy people ask themselves, “What can I learn from this?” Along these lines, be informed. Don’t rely on soundbites and social media. Make the extra effort to seek out reliable sources.

6. The Power of Words

Use language that reflects your values and that empowers you. Language that communicates helplessness, hopelessness, and hate undermines resilience and progress.

7. Be Your Best Self

If there was ever a moment to be the best version of yourself it is now. If you embrace compassion, empathy, tolerance and integrity, it will bring out the best in others. Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz’s letter to his employees captures the value of compassion at this critical moment:
Start today by recognizing the power we have to walk in someone else's shoes, to demonstrate understanding, and to strip away the differences that divide us. Let's each embrace the universal virtues of respect and dignity, refusing to allow the hatred on cable news, the ugliness of our politics, and the lack of political role models for our kids to define us and to dictate how we treat each other.

8. Focus on the Future

There is no benefit in wallowing in why or what if. For your friends, for your family, for your country and perhaps most importantly, for those you don’t know, be a force that helps our country move in a positive direction. Every year, two years and four years, you have the Constitutional privilege to vote again.As Schulz concludes:
Rise above this moment to be the person that makes a positive difference in your neighborhood and community. Be the person who makes your family proud. Be the person who embodies the promise of America so others may see and feel the possibilities that come with being an American.


Can Bad Manners Kill?

The world was my oyster but I used the wrong fork.
Oscar Wilde’s amusing observation highlights the negative impact of bad manners. We all know bad manners are toxic. New research now shows that bad manners can kill. In the study, when doctors spoke rudely to their staff, both accuracy and performance suffered. The medical teams exposed to bad behavior and nasty comments demonstrated poorer diagnostic and procedural performance than those who were not exposed to incivility. As the lead researchers commented:
Relatively benign forms of incivility among medical staff members — simple rudeness — have robust implications on medical team collaboration processes and thus on their performance as a team.
Rudeness undermines people’s ability to think clearly and make good decisions. It steals confidence and weakens motivation.I vividly remember working with a senior physician who always barked at the team. We all hated working with her and she certainly did not inspire hard work or optimal performance. Her harsh words and non-stop criticism made us lazy and passive aggressive. While I don’t think our behavior killed anyone, we definitely were not at our best when working with her.Next time you are looking for a doctor, pay attention to his or her manners. It may be the difference between life and death.

Backfire: Is the Pursuit of Happiness Making You Unhappy?

Are you happy?

The moment someone asks you this question, you start analyzing how happy you are.  “Am I happy? Am I really happy?” you ask yourself.  Existential angst creeps in. The more you think about it, the more anxious you become.Studies show that the more we think about happiness and how to pursue it, the less likely we are to find it.Valuing happiness may be self-defeating. Leading people to value happiness more made them feel less happy.The problem may stem from the way we view happiness. The emphasis on personal happiness – like buying the best stuff and finding the best job leads to too much self-focus. As Palmer Thomson points out:
No one ever died saying, ‘I’m sure glad for the self-centered, self-serving and self-protective life if lived.’
Indeed, there is more to life than being happy all the time. Having a sense of meaning may be the secret sauce of a life well lived.Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided. If anything, pure happiness is linked to not helping others in need.Bottom Line: doing good is more important than feeling good.Eleanor Roosevelt said it best:
Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well lived.

At an Impasse: Who is the Best Person to Ask for Advice?

At inflection points in life—when graduating from college, in between jobs, in between relationships—we do two things:

1. We engage in some form of soul searching.

The idea is to reflect and reach deep inside ourselves to figure out who we are and who we want to be. We read self-help books and talk to therapists hoping to gain insight and answers.

2. We talk to our closest friends and family.

The assumption is that they know us better than anyone we know and will offer the best advice.While both self-reflection and guidance from people who know us well is helpful, Cornell University’s Karl Pillemer suggests a different strategy.If you want access true expertise, Pillemer recommends searching outside of yourself and beyond your immediate circle. Specifically, he recommends seeking out an older person—a much older person – who embodies the “self” you would like to be.Pillener cautions not to look for someone in the next generation:
You don’t want a 40-year-old if you are 20; you want someone in his or her 80s, 90s, or a centenarian if you can find one.
As Pillemer asks, who better to answer questions about the purpose of life than someone who has been living theirs for a long time? He recommends finding a “maven”—a trusted expert and reliable source of accumulated wisdom.We know from research that people make better financial and ethical decisions when they are primed to think about their future self. Looking at computer-generated images of their 80-year-old self has been shown to increase responsible behavior. Unfortunately, time travel is not yet available so the next best thing is to speak to someone as close as possible to your imagined future self.
Debating a career in medicine? Find a doctor who loved what she did. Worried about whether you can balance your values with a career in the financial services industry? Find an older person who struck that balance and made it to the end of life without regrets. Planning to work on an undemanding day job so you have the energy to paint/write/act in your spare time? Some very old people did just that.
Yes, times have changed but the hope of living without regret endures. Mavens bring a timeless perspective to contemporary problems. Their insights may help you see the world with fresh eyes.

Dr. Sam’s Holiday Gift Guide

The Happy Cook: 125 Recipes for Eating Every Day Like It's the Weekend daphne-oz_gift-guide-listFrom bestselling author and Emmy Award-winning co-host of ABC’s The Chew, Daphne Oz takes the intimidation out of cooking and shows you how to savor life fully every day with this gorgeous cookbook featuring more than 125 easy, healthy, and delicious time-saving recipes. The Happy Cook is all about real-life application, real-life success, the confidence to get into the kitchen, have fun, and become a happy cook!Celebrate Everything! Fun Ideas to Bring Your Parties to Lifedarcy-miller_gift-guide_listThe ultimate guide to making special occasions unforgettable, by celebrations expert Darcy Miller, the founding editor of Martha Stewart Weddings.Masterpiece Paintings at The Met: Forging Connections through Centuries of Painting met-book_v2This impressive volume is a complete survey of the Met’s painting collection, and includes 500 works from the Museum representing 5,000 years of art history. Lavish color illustrations complement informative and engaging text written by Kathryn Calley Galitz, whose experience as both a curator and an educator at The Met makes her uniquely qualified. Give the art lover in your life the masterworks of this iconic institution.Rolling Stones 'Cartoon Band' 1981 White Tour T-shirt tshirt_gift-guide_listChapel was founded on one simple premise: finding the perfect vintage tee. This year, You Can't Always Get What You Want, but you can definitely get the rocker in your life this Rolling Stones t-shirt so they can let everyone know who’s boss.Heifer Internationalheifer_gift-guide_listHeifer International's mission is to work with communities to end world hunger and poverty and to care for the Earth. Give a loved the opportunity help children and families around the world with animal gifts (chickens for eggs, goats for milk) or specialized training to help them become self-reliant. A gift that truly keeps on giving.Goop Glow Kitgoop_gift-guide_listThe Luminous Melting Cleanser sinks luxuriously into skin to remove dirt and makeup, leaving it incredibly moisturized, soft, and glowing. Follow it up with the The Exfoliating Instant Facial for a brighter and smoother complexion.Sarah’s Bags x Samantha Boardman's Positive Prescription emotional-baggage_gift-guide_listGive the gift of Visual Prozak - a Positive Prescription collaboration with this Lebanese fashion house. Sarah’s Bags is a social enterprise that creates one-of-a-kind luxury hand crafted bags and accessories that empower both the women who make them and the women who wear them.Pickett’s Presspicketts-press-guide-guide_listSend thank you notes the old fashioned way with Pickett’s Press stationary. A hand written heart felt note will make someone’s day.Shinola Journalshinola_giftguide_listA quintessentially cool and and classic American brand, Shinola Journals are crafted entirely in the U.S. from raw materials sourced from sustainably managed forest. Great for the office, the classroom, hammock and anywhere inspiration strikes.Moon Dustmoondust_giftguide_listThese transformative formulas are alchemized with the most potent organic and wild-crafted herbs, adaptogenic plants, and bioactive minerals available. Add these botanical blends to your daily routine to help your body adapt to physical, mental and environmental stress.Membership at the Metropolitan Museum of Artmet_gift-guide_listGive someone a year of learning and inspiration. Members of the Met receive special access, free admission at the Met Fifth Avenue, The Met Breuer, and the Met Cloisters, invitations to previews and parties, private viewing hours, classes, a discount at the shop, and so much more.Positive Prescription Visual Prozak Pinvp-pin_gift-guide_listCrafted by our very own team of elves – give someone some Positive Prescription on the go with our Visual Prozak pin. It’s the perfect reminder to look up, seek beauty and notice the good things.Hill House Pajamas hill-house-gift-guide_listGive the gift of sleep. These pajamas guarantee sweet dreams.Merry everything and a happy always!


Lisa Cypers Kamen

Mom, Felicitator, Lover of Life