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Nostalgia – when the past helps us cope

January 1, 2010 Leave a comment

The CBS News site brings us an interesting article on nostalgia. As a person of advancing middle age, I’m certainly as guilty as anyone of looking back on my past. Apparently, that used to be thought of as a bad thing — even dangerous:

For centuries it was considered a disease and a form of depression. Soldiers even feared it as homesickness, and thought it could kill them.

But Lemoyne College psychology professor Krystine Batcho, who studies nostalgia, finds no signs of any deadly disease. In fact, quite the opposite.

“It helps remind you who you are in reference to other people,” says Batcho, who sees one especially good use of nostalgia as a coping mechanism.

As even the most nostalgic of us is aware, these are not times in which to shun coping mechanisms. If looking at the past through rose-colored glasses helps us make it through the present, then so be it.

The article also includes a link to this nostalgia inventory, developed by Dr. Batcho. As with many bits of psychological science in the popular media, there’s no scale to let you know where you stand. But, just for fun, compare yourself to your significant other, your friends, or anyone else you can talk into it.

Then, someday, a smile will pass briefly over your face as you remember what a great time you had back in the good old days of reading this blog. And your well-being will be enhanced.

Happy to help.

Image: Salvatore Vuono /

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Five ways to cope with the post-holiday blues

December 29, 2009 Leave a comment

For many, there’s a big letdown that happens this time of year. The Capital-H Holidays are just about done – Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, Festivus, All College Football All The Time – but vestiges remain. The tree, perilously dry, still sits in the corner of the room. The Menorah is still in the window. And a muted sense of letdown pervades.

Here are a few ideas for beating that holiday downer. And, in one case, a suggestion that if you can’t beat ‘em, you can join ‘em – at least for a little while.

1. Sit with the feelings. As important as it is to move forward, it is equally important to recognize that your feelings are completely normal, and legitimate. We naturally grieve the losses in our lives, and getting to the end of the holiday season is definitely a loss. We’re socialized to just “get over it” with so many things, and something as important as grieving shouldn’t be neglected. Emotions, if left to do their work, are like waves – let them wash over you, experience them, honor them, and then move ahead with the next moment in your life.

2. Give thanks. Studies show that those who experience genuine gratitude tend to be happier and lead more fulfilling lives. Did you just give cursory thanks for the gifts you were given, or did you genuinely express how you felt? It’s never too late. And, interestingly, researchers say that study participants keeping a “gratitude list” were more likely to have made progress toward personal goals than those who didn’t. Anyone making personal goals this time of year? Yeah… I thought so.

3. Celebrate your clean slate. As symbolic as it may be, the dawning of a new year (and a new decade!) can be a great opportunity to start fresh. Balance the loss of the holiday season with the gain of an entirely new year to play with.

4. Think positive. There will be a lot of upcoming posts about this very topic, I promise. The short version is that you can train yourself to think in a more positive way, which in turn leads to tangible positive change in your life. Spend just a few minutes approaching the new year with a positive spin.

5. Engage. Give your all to whatever it is that you’re doing at the moment. After all, that moment is the only one you have. Here’s an example: When you’re taking down your tree (or putting away your Menorah, or your Festivus Pole… you get the idea), dedicate yourself to completely engaging in the process. Take a good look at each ornament. Feel how they feel in your hands. Feel the prickly needles of the tree, the smooth coolness of the glass ornaments. Remember where specific decorations came from. Take a deep breath and fill your lungs with the scents of the holidays. When you feel yourself drift away (bills are due January 1! I have to go back to work soon! Little Johnny didn’t like his presents!) bring yourself back, physically. Feel your feet on the floor. Touch the tree. Breathe the air. Engage. As you move into the new year, we’ll work on staying engaged. For now, for this moment, be IN it. All the way.

The days to come hold promise of all sorts of awesomeness. Let the holidays slip from your fingers, slowly, and move into a new year full of possibility.

Smiling instructions…

December 25, 2009 Leave a comment

Note: In honor of Christmas day, I’m not blogging. Or, maybe I’m just lazy. Either way, here’s something I wrote a while back that seems to fit pretty well into a blog about the mind. Enjoy. And, happy holidays!

Wikihow has a whole page full of smiling instructions, to whit: Begin your smile with your eyes. If you find that every time you try to smile with your mouth, you look like you’re faking it or, worse, like you’re in pain, you may find it useful to look in a mirror and smile only with your eyes. Once your eyes are smiling, they tend to pull your whole face (including your mouth) into a natural, beautiful smile.

Hmm. Good advice, I guess, but I’ve got better. Here’s what you do. Close your eyes. Feel your feet on the ground. Realize that you’re connected to everything else on the surface of the planet by dust and rock and old bone and ancient water, plants long dead, pipes, tunnels, veins of sweet precious ore, the cookie someone dropped.
Read more…

Hey parents! You’re not talking about sex nearly enough!

December 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Time magazine brings us news of a study published in the journal Pediatrics, and the news is that we parents are not breaking the icky news about sex to our kids early enough. And, even when we think we are, we’re not:

That difference highlights a primary problem in the parent-child dialogue about sex. “A lot of parents think they had a conversation, and the kids don’t remember it at all,” says Dr. Karen Soren, director of adolescent medicine at New York Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. “Parents sometimes say things more vaguely because they are uncomfortable and they think they’ve addressed something, but the kids don’t hear the topic at all.”

Sound familiar, parents?

Why do we give? Well, it’s complicated…

December 24, 2009 Leave a comment

‘Tis the season, as they say, and at this time of year there is much focus on both giving and receiving.

The New York Post offers an article chock full of the positive reasons we give:

Empathy-driven goodwill is the core of kindness. And it feels good to exercise it. When we help each other, it not only alleviates some measure of suffering in others, it reduces the fear that we are ultimately alone in the world. It’s no surprise, therefore, that the most powerful charities are those whose works are visible, meaningful and effective.

The article goes on to explain that charity involves a “leap of faith,” and says that we are shaken to our very core when a charity is fraudulent.

Brandenberger says teenagers are particularly susceptible to feelings of anger or shame. They recognize they’re less advantaged than those doing the giving. They can also detect messages suggesting the charity is due to a deficit in themselves.

“If you come to save the other person, it implies they can’t save themselves, which is a pretty big critique.

“No one wants to discourage giving at Christmas time. But giving could be complex for the receiver, and a knowledge of that would be a good thing to add to the situation.

As one of the psychologists in the Star article says, “We should come at it with the idea that we’re all in this together.”

Image: Salvatore Vuono /

Reefer Madness: Pot music causes pot smoking?

December 23, 2009 Leave a comment

A study in the new issue of the journal Addiction aims to support “an independent association between exposure to cannabis in popular music and early cannabis use among urban American adolescents.”  The researchers found that 9th graders who listened to music with pot lyrics smoked more pot.

Stunning! Students in the highest third of pot-music exposure were more than twice as likely to be puffing the chronic as were students in the lowest third.

Other, less-peer-reviewed independent research has concluded that marijuana-leaf belt buckles cause pot-smoking, as does coming into possession of rolling papers and downloading old Cheech and Chong movies.

Stories about duck sex kinda write themselves

December 23, 2009 Leave a comment

Many a callow 9th-grader has heard the rhyming tale of Dan McGlock, the only man with the corkscrew… uh, you know.

Now comes word from Yale, of all places, that female ducks have evolved a way to reduce the amount of forced copulation by undesirably aggressive male ducks — and the result is reminiscent of poor Dan McGlock. Dan met his demise after he discovered that the target of his affections “had a left-hand thread.”

Can’t get much more lowbrow than that, YALE. Here, go read for yourselves.