Category Archives: well-being

“Thank you for not killing me”

   

No, I’m not addressing the still raging coronavirus or the global pandemic it’s created.  Although I could be addressing Covid-19 and its variants.  I guess I’m grateful to the virus and its cohorts for having spared me so far. (Being fully vaccinated since spring has no doubt helped.)

I’m addressing instead a group of people to whom I’ve said this line for years:  Careless, self-obsessed drivers.  Drivers who endanger my life every time I walk on the streets of my city.

I usually utter this sarcastic line when I manage to avoid being killed by the tons of steel propelled by drivers who are far more concerned with speedily reaching their destinations than with preserving the lives of their fellow human beings.

Pedestrian safety is a huge concern. I won’t dwell right now on the harrowing statistics that reveal the enormous number of pedestrian deaths and injuries caused by automobiles.  I’ll save those details for another day.

Today I’m focusing on my valiant attempts to preserve my own life.

Almost every day, I do a lot of walking in my mostly quiet neighborhood.  As I walk, I cross busy streets and less-busy streets.  My current route has changed somewhat in the past year, but I’ve always walked a lot along these same streets.

And I’ve always tried to protect myself by making some sort of contact with drivers.  In the past, I waved scarves and colorful tote bags to alert drivers to my presence.  And I’ve always tried to make eye contact with drivers who are approaching me.

The level of traffic on these streets has varied from month to month.

But here’s what’s important:  Whether the streets are crowded with traffic or not, many of the drivers haven’t changed.  They remain exactly what they were: reckless.  

And every time I approach an intersection along these streets, I’m in fear for my life.

I’m a driver as well as a pedestrian.  But when I’m driving, I respect pedestrians and their legally-mandated right of way in crosswalks.  Too many drivers are self-obsessed and do NOT respect pedestrians.  These drivers endanger my life.

My survival is at stake.  As I enter a crosswalk, I justifiably worry that a reckless driver won’t hesitate to make a barreling turn or come straight at me.  Why?  Because reckless drivers refuse to respect a pedestrian’s right of way.  Specifically, mine.

Even when some intersections have traffic signals that should protect me:  My walk sign is flashing, and the traffic-signal light is glowing a bright green.

I no longer carry the garish tote bags I previously favored (hoping to reduce my chances of being a “target” of criminal behavior).  [Please see my previous blog post, “Outsmarting the bad guys,” https://susanjustwrites.com/2021/08/06/outsmarting-the-bad-guys/.%5D 

But I still boldly swing any bags or other items I’m carrying, as well as the mask that’s dangling from my fingers when I’m outside (waiting to be worn inside).  I’m doing this in the hope that these rapidly moving items will increase my visibility and thereby save my life.

That’s why I mutter my thank-you line to countless reckless drivers–but especially to those who are breathlessly waiting to make a fast turn in front of or behind me.  Most of these drivers leave me only one or two inches of space as their cars whizz through my crosswalk.  Saving themselves, what?  Thirty seconds?  Forty seconds?  One minute?    

Brother, can you spare…another inch?

I know that I’m a stumble away from perishing in that intersection

Because if I stumble, I can easily become the victim of a massive assault on my body by a carelessly propelled vehicle. 

So, each time I cross successfully, I thank my lucky stars that I’ve survived one more time.  Once I reach the safety of the sidewalk, I can finally breathe a sigh of relief.

And I’ll mutter my thank-you line, oozing with sarcasm, one more time. 

I know the reckless driver isn’t likely to hear me.  But I’ll say it anyway. 

 “Thank you for not killing me.”

(A version of this post previously appeared on this blog, Susan Just Writes, in July 2020.  I’ve revised it for republishing in August 2021 because, unfortunately, it remains extremely relevant.)

Declare Your Independence: Those high heels are killers

Following a tradition I began several years ago, I’m once again encouraging women to declare their independence this July 4th and abandon wearing high-heeled shoes. 

I’ve revised this post in light of changes that have taken place during the past year.

My newly revised post follows:

I’ve long maintained that high heels are killers.  I never used that term literally, of course.  I merely viewed high-heeled shoes as distinctly uncomfortable and an outrageous concession to the dictates of fashion that can lead to both pain and permanent damage to a woman’s body. 

A few years ago, however, high heels proved to be actual killers.  The Associated Press reported that two women, ages 18 and 23, were killed in Riverside, California, as they struggled in high heels to get away from a train.  With their car stuck on the tracks, the women attempted to flee as the train approached.  A police spokesman later said, “It appears they were in high heels and [had] a hard time getting away quickly.” 

During the past year, one dominated by the global pandemic, many women and men adopted different ways to clothe themselves.  Sweatpants and other comfortable clothing became popular.  [Please see my post, “Two Words,” published July 15, 2020, focusing on wearing pants with elastic waists.]

In particular, many women abandoned the wearing of high heels.  Staying close to home, wearing comfortable clothes, they saw no need to push their feet into high heels.  Venues requiring professional clothes or footwear almost disappeared, and few women chose to seek out venues requiring any sort of fancy clothes or footwear.  

As the pandemic has loosened its grip, at least in many parts of the country, some women have been tempted to return to their previous choice of footwear.  The prospect of a renaissance in high-heeled shoe-wearing has been noted in publications like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.   In a recent story in the Times, one woman “flicked the dust off her…high-heeled lavender pumps” that she’d put away for months and got ready to wear them to a birthday gathering.  According to the Times, some are seeking “the joy of dressing up…itching…to step up their style game in towering heels.”

Okay.  I get it.  “Dressing up” may be your thing after more than a year of relying on sweatpants.  But “towering heels”?  They may look beautiful, they may be alluring….

BUT don’t do it!  Please take my advice and don’t return to wearing the kind of shoes that will hobble you once again..

Like the unfortunate young women in Riverside, I was sucked into wearing high heels when I was a teenager.  It was de rigueur for girls at my high school to seek out the trendy shoe stores on State Street in downtown Chicago and purchase whichever high-heeled offerings our wallets could afford.  On my first visit, I was entranced by the three-inch-heeled numbers that pushed my toes into a too-narrow space and revealed them in what I thought was a highly provocative position.  If feet can have cleavage, those shoes gave me cleavage.

Never mind that my feet were encased in a vise-like grip.  Never mind that I walked unsteadily on the stilts beneath my soles.  And never mind that my whole body was pitched forward in an ungainly manner as I propelled myself around the store.  I liked the way my legs looked in those shoes, and I had just enough baby-sitting money to pay for them.  Now I could stride with pride to the next Sweet Sixteen luncheon on my calendar, wearing footwear like all the other girls’.

That luncheon revealed what an unwise purchase I’d made.  When the event was over, I found myself stranded in a distant location with no ride home, and I started walking to the nearest bus stop.  After a few steps, it was clear that my shoes were killers.  I could barely put one foot in front of the other, and the pain became so great that I removed my shoes and walked in stocking feet the rest of the way.

After that painful lesson, I abandoned three-inch high-heeled shoes and resorted to wearing lower ones.   Sure, I couldn’t flaunt my shapely legs quite as effectively, but I nevertheless managed to secure ample male attention. 

Instead of conforming to the modern-day equivalent of Chinese foot-binding, I successfully and happily fended off the back pain, foot pain, bunions, and corns that my fashion-victim sisters often suffer in spades.

Until the pandemic changed our lives, I observed a trend toward higher and higher heels, and I found it troubling.  I was baffled by women, especially young women, who bought into the mindset that they had to follow the dictates of fashion and the need to look “sexy” by wearing extremely high heels.  

When I’d watch TV, I’d see too many women wearing stilettos that forced them into the ungainly walk I briefly sported so long ago.  I couldn’t help noticing the women on late-night TV shows who were otherwise smartly attired and often very smart (in the other sense of the word), yet wore ridiculously high heels that forced them to greet their hosts with that same ungainly walk.  Some appeared to be almost on the verge of toppling over. 

On one of the last in-person Oscar Awards telecasts (before they became virtual), women tottered to the stage in ultra-high heels, often accompanied by escorts who kindly held onto them to prevent their embarrassing descent into the orchestra pit.

So…what about the women, like me, who adopted lower-heeled shoes instead?  I think we’ve been much smarter and much less likely to fall on our faces.

Foot-care professionals have soundly supported my view.   According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, a heel that’s more than 2 or 3 inches makes comfort just about impossible.  Why?  Because a 3-inch heel creates seven times more stress than a 1-inch heel.

A couple of years ago, the San Francisco Chronicle questioned Dr. Amol Saxena, a podiatrist and foot and ankle surgeon who practiced in Palo Alto (and assisted Nike’s running team).  He explained that after 1.5 inches, the pressure increases on the ball of the foot and can lead to “ball-of-the-foot numbness.”  (Yikes!)  He did not endorse wearing 3-inch heels and pointed out that celebrities wear them for only a short time, not all day.  To ensure a truly comfortable shoe, he added, no one should go above a 1.5-inch heel.  If you insist on wearing higher heels, you should limit how much time you spend in them.

Before the pandemic, some encouraging changes were afoot.  Nordstrom, one of America’s major shoe-sellers, began to promote lower-heeled styles along with higher-heeled numbers.  I was encouraged because Nordstrom is a bellwether in the fashion world, and its choices can influence shoe-seekers.  At the same time, I wondered whether Nordstrom was reflecting what its shoppers had already told the stores’ decision-makers.  The almighty power of the purse—how shoppers were choosing to spend their money–probably played a big role.

But the pandemic may have completely changed the dynamics of shoe-purchasing.  Once we faced the reality of the pandemic, and it then stuck around for months, sales of high heels languished, “teetering on the edge of extinction,” according to the Times

Today, with the pandemic a somewhat less frightening presence in our lives, there are undoubtedly women who will decide to resurrect the high heels already in their closets.  They, and others, may be inspired to buy new ones, dramatically changing the statistics—and their well-being.

I hope these women don’t act in haste.  Beyond the issue of comfort, let’s remember that high heels present a far more serious problem.  As the deaths in Riverside demonstrate, women who wear high heels can be putting their lives at risk.  When they need to flee a dangerous situation, high heels can handicap their ability to escape.

How many needless deaths have resulted from hobbled feet?

The Fourth of July is fast approaching.  As we celebrate the holiday this year, I once again urge the women of America to declare their independence from high-heeled shoes. 

If you’re currently thinking about returning to painful footwear, think again.  You’d be wiser to reconsider.

I encourage you to bravely gather any high heels you’ve clung to during the pandemic and throw those shoes away.  At the very least, please keep them out of sight in the back of your closet.  And don’t even think about buying new ones.  Shod yourself instead in shoes that allow you to walk in comfort—and if need be, to run.

Your wretched appendages, yearning to be free, will be forever grateful.

[Earlier versions of this commentary appeared on Susan Just Writes and the San Francisco Chronicle.]

Eating Dessert Can Help You Eat Better? Seriously?

I just celebrated my birthday with a scrumptious meal at a charming San Francisco restaurant. Sharing a fabulous candle-topped dessert with my companion was a slam-dunk way to end a perfect meal in a splendid restaurant.

Should I regret consuming that delicious dessert?

The answer, happily, is no.  I should have no regrets about eating my birthday surprise, and a recent study backs me up.

According to this study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied and reported in a recent issue of TIME magazine, having an occasional dessert may actually be a useful tool to help you eat better.

Here’s what happened:  More than 130 university students and staff were offered a choice of two desserts and asked to make their choice at the start of the lunch line in a campus cafeteria.  The study found that those who made the “decadent” selection—lemon cheesecake—chose healthier meals and consumed fewer calories overall than those who picked fresh fruit.  Simply selecting it first was enough to influence the rest of their order.

Almost 70 percent of those who picked the cheesecake went on to choose a healthier main dish and side dish, while only about a third of those selecting fruit made the healthier choice.  The cheesecake-choosers also ate about 250 fewer total calories during their meal compared with the fruit-choosers.

Study co-author Martin Reimann, an assistant professor of marketing and cognitive science at the University of Arizona, concluded that choosing something healthy first can give us a “license” to choose something less healthy later.  But if you turn that notion around and choose something more “decadent” early on, “then this license [to choose high-calorie food] has already expired.”  In other words, making a calorie-laden choice at the beginning of the meal seems to steer people toward healthier choices later.

No one is suggesting that we all indulge in dessert on an everyday basis.  For many of us, the pursuit of good health leads us to avoid sugary desserts and choose fresh fruit instead.  But Reimann believes that choosing dessert strategically can pay off.  He advises us to be “mindful and conscious about the different choices you make.”

Will I order lemon cheesecake, a chocolate brownie, or a spectacular ice-cream concoction for dessert at my next meal?  Probably not.  But I am going to keep the Arizona research in mind.

You should, too.  Beginning your meal with the knowledge that it could end with a calorie-laden dessert just might prompt you to select a super-healthy salad for your entrée, adding crunchy green veggies on the side.

 

Giving Thanks

As our country celebrates Thanksgiving, this is the perfect time for each of us to give thanks for the many wonderful people in our lives.

I’m an ardent fan of a quote by Marcel Proust that sums up my thinking:

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

I’ve always been a fan of giving thanks.  I raised my children to give thanks to others for whatever gifts or help they received, bolstering my words by reading and re-reading to them Richard Scarry’s “The Please and Thank You Book.”

But guess what.  Not everyone agrees with that sentiment.  These nay-sayers prefer to ignore the concept of gratitude.  They reject the idea of thanking others for anything, including any and all attempts to make them happy.

What dolts!

Recent research confirms my point of view.

According to a story in The New York Times earlier this year, new research revealed that people really like getting thank-you notes.  Two psychologists wanted to find out why so few people actually send these notes.  The 100 or so participants in their study were asked to write a short “gratitude letter” to someone who had helped them in some way.  It took most subjects less than five minutes to write these notes.

Although the notes’ senders typically guessed that their notes would evoke nothing more than 3 out of 5 on a happiness rating, the result was very different.  After receiving the thank-you notes, the recipients told them how happy they were to get them:  many said they were “ecstatic,” scoring 4 out of 5 on the happiness rating.

Conclusion?  People tend to undervalue the positive effect they can have on others, even with a tiny investment of time. The study was published in June 2018 in the journal Psychological Science.

A vast amount of psychological research affirms the value of gratitude.

I’ll begin with its positive effect on physical health.  According to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences, grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people.

Gratitude also improves psychological health, reducing a multitude of toxic emotions, from envy and resentment to frustration and regret.  A leading gratitude researcher, Robert Emmons, has conducted a number of studies on the link between gratitude and well-being, confirming that gratitude increases happiness and reduces depression.

Other positive benefits:  gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression (a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky), it improves sleep (a 2011 study in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being), and it improves self-esteem (a 2014 study in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology).  The list goes on and on.

So, during this Thanksgiving week, let’s keep in mind the host of studies that have demonstrated the enormously positive role gratitude plays in our daily lives.

It’s true that some of us are luckier than others, leading lives that are filled with what might be called “blessings” while others have less to be grateful for.

For those of us who have much to be thankful for, let’s be especially grateful for all of the “charming gardeners who make our souls blossom,” those who bring happiness to our remarkably fortunate lives.

And let’s work towards a day when the less fortunate in our world can join us in our much more gratitude-worthy place on this planet.

 

A new book you may want to know about

There’s one thing we can all agree on:  Trying to stay healthy.

That’s why you may want to know about a new book, Killer diseases, modern-day epidemics:  Keys to stopping heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity in their tracks, by Swarna Moldanado, PhD, MPH, and Alex Moldanado, MD.

In this extraordinary book, the authors have pulled together an invaluable compendium of both evidence and advice on how to stop the “killer diseases” they call “modern-day epidemics.”

First, using their accumulated wisdom and experience in public health, nursing science, and family medical practice, Swarna and Alex Moldanado offer the reader a wide array of scientific evidence.  Next, they present their well-thought-out conclusions on how this evidence supports their theories of how to combat the killer diseases that plague us today.

Their most compelling conclusion:  Lifestyle choices have an overwhelming impact on our health.  So although some individuals may suffer from diseases that are unavoidable, evidence points to the tremendous importance of lifestyle choices.

Specifically, the authors note that evidence “points to the fact that some of the most lethal cancers are attributable to lifestyle choices.”  Choosing to smoke tobacco or consume alcohol in excess are examples of the sort of risky lifestyle choices that can lead to this killer disease.

Similarly, cardiovascular diseases–diseases of the heart and blood vessels–share many common risk factors.  Clear evidence demonstrates that eating an unhealthy diet, a diet that includes too many saturated fats—fatty meats, baked goods, and certain dairy products—is a critical factor in the development of cardiovascular disease. The increasing size of food portions in our diet is another risk factor many people may not be aware of.

On the other hand, most of us are aware of the dangers of physical inactivity.  But knowledge of these dangers is not enough.  Many of us must change our lifestyle choices.  Those of us in sedentary careers, for example, must become much more physically active than our lifestyles lend themselves to.

Yes, the basics of this information appear frequently in the media.  But the Moldanados reveal a great deal of scientific evidence you might not know about.

Even more importantly, in Chapter 8, “Making and Keeping the Right Lifestyle Choices,” the authors step up to the plate in a big way.  Here they clearly and forcefully state their specific recommendations for succeeding in the fight against killer diseases.

Following these recommendations could lead all of us to a healthier and brighter outcome.

Kudos to the authors for collecting an enormous volume of evidence, clearly presenting it to us, and concluding with their invaluable recommendations.

No more excuses!  Let’s resolve to follow their advice and move in the right direction to help ensure our good health.

 

 

 

 

Happy Holidays! Well, maybe…

 

As the greeting “Happy Holidays” hits your ears over and over during the holiday season, doesn’t it raise a question or two?

At a time when greed and acquisitiveness appear to be boundless, at least among certain segments of the American population, the most relevant questions seem to be:

  • Does money buy happiness?
  • If not, what does?

These questions have been the subject of countless studies.  Let’s review a few of the answers they’ve come up with.

To begin, exactly what is it that makes us “happy”?

A couple of articles published in the past two years in The Wall Street Journal—a publication certainly focused on the acquisition of money—summarized some results.

Wealth alone doesn’t guarantee a good life.  According to the Journal, what matters a lot more than a big income is how people spend it.  For instance, giving money away makes people much happier than spending it on themselves.  But when they do spend it on themselves, they’re a lot happier when they use it for experiences like travel rather than material goods.

The Journal looked at a study by Ryan Howell, an associate professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, which found that people may at first think material purchases offer better value for their money because they’re tangible and they last longer, while experiences are fleeting.  But Howell found that when people looked back at their purchases, they realized that experiences actually provided better value.  We even get more pleasure out of anticipating experiences than we do from anticipating the acquisition of material things.

Another psychology professor, Thomas Gilovich at Cornell, reached similar conclusions.  He found that people make a rational calculation:  “I can either go there, or I can have this.  Going there may be great, but it’ll be over fast.  But if I buy something, I’ll always have it.”  According to Gilovich, that’s factually true, but not psychologically true, because we “adapt to our material goods.”

We “adapt” to our material goods?  How?  Psychologists like Gilovich talk about “hedonic adaptation.”  Buying a new coat or a new car may provide a brief thrill, but we soon come to take it for granted.  Experiences, on the other hand, meet more of our “underlying psychological needs.”

Why?  Because they’re often shared with others, giving us a greater sense of connection, and they form a bigger part of our sense of identity.  You also don’t feel that you’re trying to keep up with the Joneses quite so much.  While it may bother you when you compare your material things to others’ things, comparing your vacation to someone else’s won’t bug you as much because “you still have your own experiences and your own memories.”

Another article in the Journal, published in 2015, focused on the findings of economists rather than psychologists.  A group of economists like John Helliwell, a professor at the University of British Columbia, concluded that happiness—overall well-being–should not be measured by how much money we have by using metrics like per-capita income and gross domestic product (GDP).  “GDP is not even a very good measure of economic well-being,” he said.

Instead, the World Happiness Report, which Helliwell co-authored, ranked countries based on how people viewed the quality of their lives. It noted that six factors account for 75 percent of the differences between countries.  The six factors:  GDP, life expectancy, generosity, social support, freedom, and corruption.  Although GDP and life expectancy relate directly to income, the other four factors reflect a sense of security, trust, and autonomy.  So although the U.S. ranked first in overall GDP, it ranked only 15th in happiness because it was weaker in the other five variables.

According to Jeffrey D. Sachs, a professor at Columbia and co-author of the World Happiness Report, incomes in the U.S. have risen, but the country’s sense of “social cohesion” has declined.  The biggest factor contributing to this result is “distrust.”  Although the U.S. is very rich, we’re not getting the benefits of all this affluence.

If you ask people whether they can trust other people, Sachs said, “the American answer has been in significant decline.”   Forward to 2017.  Today, when many of our political leaders shamelessly lie to us, our trust in others has no doubt eroded even further.

Even life expectancy is going downhill in the U.S.  According to the AP, U.S. life expectancy was on the upswing for decades, but 2016 marked the first time in more than a half-century that it fell in two consecutive years.

Let’s return to our original question:  whether money can buy happiness.  The most recent research I’ve come across is a study done at Harvard Business School, noted in the November-December 2017 issue of Harvard Magazine.  Led by assistant professor of business administration Ashley Whillans, it found that, in developed countries, people who trade money for time—by choosing to live closer to work, or to hire a housecleaner, for example–are happier. This was true across the socioeconomic spectrum.

According to Whillans, extensive research elsewhere has confirmed the positive emotional effects of taking vacations and going to the movies.  But the Harvard researchers wanted to explore a new ideawhether buying ourselves out of negative experiences was another pathway to happiness.

Guess what:  it was.  One thing researchers focused on was “time stress” and how it affects happiness.  They knew that higher-earners feel that every hour of their time is financially valuable.  Like most things viewed as valuable, time is also perceived as scarce, and that scarcity translates into time stress, which can easily contribute to unhappiness.

The Harvard team surveyed U.S., Canadian, Danish, and Dutch residents, ranging from those who earned $30,000 a year to middle-class earners and millionaires. Canadian participants were given a sum of money—half to spend on a service that would save one to two hours, and half to spend on a material purchase like clothing or jewelry.  Participants who made a time-saving purchase (like buying take-out food) were more likely to report positive feelings, and less likely to report feelings of time stress, than they did after their shopping sprees.

Whillans noted that in both Canada and the U.S., where busyness is “often flaunted as a status symbol,” opting for outsourcing jobs like cooking and cleaning can be culturally challenging.  Why?  Because people like to pretend they can do it all.  Women in particular find themselves stuck in this situation.  They have more educational opportunities and are likely to be making more money and holding more high-powered jobs, but their happiness is not increasing commensurately.

The Harvard team wants to explore this in the future.  According to Whillans, the initial evidence shows that among couples who buy time, “both men and women feel less pulled between the demands of work and home life,” and that has a positive effect on their relationship.  She hopes that her research will ameliorate some of the guilt both women and men may feel about paying a housekeeper or hiring someone to mow the law—or ordering Chinese take-out on Thursday nights.

Gee, Ashley, I’ve never felt guilty about doing any of that.  Maybe that’s one reason why I’m a pretty happy person.

How about you?

Whatever your answer may be, I’ll join the throng and wish you HAPPY HOLIDAYS!