What Keeps Us Happy And Healthy? The Real Key To Happiness

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Happy woman on the sunset in nature in summer with open hands

Happy woman on the sunset in nature in summer with open hands

What makes you happy? How is it that some people are happy while others are not? Is happiness related to wealth? Genetics? Environment? Culture? What do you think? Do you ever stop and ask yourself, “Am I happy?”

This is a question that I find myself thinking about from time to time, and I know I’m not alone. Not only in my line of work, but also among my circle of family and friends, I find that “happiness” is a topic of much consideration. We all know people who are unhappy and we’ve all felt unhappy at one time or another. But what I’m constantly asking is what makes someone happy. Is there a recipe for happiness that others can follow? Clearly there is a range of emotions/different levels of happiness, but from my experience and research it is evident that those who are happy possess a few common traits. It’s these traits that I really want to explore.

I’ve put a great deal of thought into this topic, and one of my biggest dreams — which has now become more of a goal and hopefully a plan that I can execute next summer — is to travel around the world and ask as many people as possible the essential question: What makes you happy? I want to travel to all different parts of the world and record two minute conversations with the random strangers I meet and then share these stories with everyone. It’s fascinating to me how different cultures and lifestyles and socioeconomic statuses can be, and yet, the desire for happiness is seemingly universal.

A recent survey asked millennials about their major life goals. The results? 80% said they want to be rich and 50% said they want to be famous. This got me thinking about the Harvard study that began in 1938 and followed 724 men for over 75 years. Today, 60 of the participants are still alive and are in their 90s. (Of course, the world was much different back then and unfortunately the study did not include women. However, women who were associated with the original participants were eventually asked to be a part of it.)

The study is still going on and now the researchers are studying 2,000 children of these men. At the beginning of the study, the teenagers were tested. Some of the participants were Harvard students and others were kids from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods. The results of the study are fascinating, but the overwhelming conclusion indicates that the participants’ life happiness was not based on their wealth or fame or working harder. The research strongly shows that it was relationships that kept them happy and healthy.

The three big takeaways about relationships?

  1. Social connections are really good for us, and loneliness kills. The experience of loneliness is toxic. People who are more socially connected to their environment and families are happier.
  2. It is not just the number of your relationships, but rather, the quality of the relationships that counts. Living in conflict without much affection turned out to be very bad for health. The people who were most satisfied in their relationship in their 50s were healthiest later in life.
  3. Good relationship don’t just protect the body, they also protect the brain. The memory of those in good relationships was much better than those who did not have healthy relationships.

Dr. Robert Waldinger, one of the directors of the study, did a TED Talk on the subject that I think is worth checking out. I actually got tears in my eyes listening to it, and I started reflecting on how in life, we stress about getting our education, and working as much as we can, and pushing our children to do well in school and excel in as many fields as possible, but we don’t always invest in fostering healthy, strong relationships with other people. Sure, most of us do invest in our relationships with either our spouse or our children or other family members or friends to some degree, but when you see the scientific evidence backing up the positive effects of doing so, does it make you rethink how you prioritize these investments?

How about you pause for a moment and think about your relationships. How strong are they? Do you invest as much time as you wish in those relationships? When I think about people who are important in my life, I know for sure that I am not investing as much time as I would like in fostering those relationships. Clearly, we can’t foster and have strong relationships with everyone we interact with, but I find that if you think about the five relationships that are most important to you, then you will be able to designate more time putting those people and those connections at the top of your priority list.

What if while reading this you realize that you don’t have meaningful healthy relationships and you identify feeling lonely most of the time? That’s ok — because you aren’t alone in that feeling. My takeaway is that it is never too late to form relationships and find strong connections with other people, but you have to be willing to put in the work. Instead of making excuses for why you aren’t closer with your family or why certain friendships have become strained, identify the people in your life who you want to build a stronger connection with and make concrete steps toward fostering those relationships.

I am here to help you learn how to form relationships in your life and how to strengthen those relationships that you want to invest in. Here’s a quick guide, but I’d love to discuss these tips further if this is an area you feel you are struggling with.

Tip 1: Make The Time To Meet With Friends, Family and New People

How many times in the past few months have you had opportunities to go out with friends or family and you gave some sort of excuse to get out of it? “I have to work, I’m finishing a project, I’m too tired, I’m too fat, I’m too poor…” and the list is probably much longer, but you get my point. I am also guilty of doing this and often feel that my to-do list is too long to meet up with people and that it will exhaust me further or stretch me too thin. The truth is, though, when I go out and meet people I love and spend quality time with friends and family, I am much happier. And that happiness gives me a different kind of energy. If you think of your relationships as a key component of your life — in the same way you think about work and the rest of your to-do list — that you need to put time and effort into, you’ll see how quickly you reap the benefits.

Tip 2: Understand Patterns in Your Relationships

This one might be a bit tricky to figure out on your own and you might need to consult with someone you love or a professional. A private clinical psychologist or therapist can help you better understand your relationship patterns if you would like to learn about them and change them for the better. If you have a history of sabotaging relationships, then I encourage you to take the time to reflect on why that might be. Understanding your previous relationships is an integral part of forming healthier future connections. Some patterns that are disruptive include:

  • Reacting to things in anger instead of being open minded
  • Being closed to new experiences and not welcoming new ideas
  • Lack of honesty
  • Lack of respect and overstepping boundaries
  • Not showing physical affection
  • Lack of empathy and consideration to the other person and their needs
  • Being controlling or manipulative

There are other patterns that could be preventing you from getting closer to people you love and care for, but if you don’t take the first step toward understanding what these patterns are, you might continue to find yourself lonely or in meaningless relationships.

Tip 3: Practice Acceptance and Appreciation

This is easier said than done, but as someone who has been in a relationship with my husband for over 20 years and has had ample experiences with challenging relationships, I can attest to the fact that acceptance and appreciation are extremely important. For example, my mother who is one of the most kind human beings I know, is also skeptical and can even come across as negative. For years I was angry about the way she responded to things and at one point I even made a conscious decision to stop being so open with her. As I was growing up, I felt she always put my career aspirations down and had strong opinions about how I lived my life. What I eventually realized was that I had to accept that my mom’s responses are her opinions and that I don’t have to perceive them all in such a negative light. Once I did that I was able to let the anger go, which allowed space for acceptance and even appreciation for who she is. That acceptance allowed me to understand that my mom’s responses come from a place of love and can be perceived as caring or protective, rather than negative or unsupportive. When you accept certain things about the person you care for, appreciate what is good about them and focus on why you love them, it will help you be grateful for who they are instead of focusing on what you don’t like about them and wish to change.

Tip 4: Focus on the Positive

Active senior couple on a walk in a beautiful autumn nature.

This can be challenging at times, but when you focus on what is positive in your relationships and why you fell in love or cared for someone in the first place, then you are more likely to enjoy your relationship and be happier. It’s so easy to focus on the hard parts of a relationship or what you don’t like in a person. This is only human! But when you focus too much on another person’s flaws, it can blind you to all of the wonderful qualities that make them a source of comfort in your life.

Tip 5: Be Supportive

With life being so hectic, at times we forget to make sure that we are supportive of those we love. My best friend in Israel lost her dad four months ago and had a baby on her own two month agos. She was always there for me when I needed her and supported and encouraged me even in my hardest days. As I was writing these words, I remembered that I hadn’t spoken with her for two weeks and I felt terrible for not being as supportive as I want to be. In fact, I had to take a few minutes break from writing this so I could call her and see how she is doing. I have to admit, I was calling to be a comfort to her, but speaking with her brought me a great deal of comfort and happiness as well. Sometimes, when you feel lonely, one of the easiest things you can do is offer to be there for someone else. It’s easy to get consumed with focusing on ourselves, especially when we are feeling down or are in a funk, but the power of reaching out to someone is so strong and therapeutic it can help pull you — and the other person — into a better, more positive place.

Tip 6: Allow Yourself to be Vulnerable

For some people, this is a given and they naturally allow themselves to be vulnerable and open with their opinions and feelings, and for others, it is extremely challenging. What does being emotionally vulnerable mean to you? Do you allow yourself to be open and honest with those you love and care about? How about with random people? Let’s take, for example, the first minute when you meet someone and they ask how you are doing. What do you tell them? You might actually feel great, and if that is true, then there is no problem with answering honestly. Clearly, though, there are some days that you feel sad, anxious or worried about something. If that’s the case, why do you think you don’t actually share that you are not doing well? What is behind hiding your true feelings? Is it insecurity? Shame? Do you think about what the other person might think if you reveal how you truly feel? How would it be for you to share your true and honest feelings? Brene Brown, author of “Daring Greatly: How the courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead” and a researcher of vulnerability for many years, states that the problem with distracting ourselves from shame, is that we also protect and distract the good emotions. She states the following, “Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”

What would it feel like for you to allow yourself to be vulnerable? If you knew that this could help you be happier, despite the fact that it is challenging, would you be willing to give it a try? This doesn’t mean you need to tell every stranger you meet or every random encounter about your most personal thoughts and feelings. I do think a good place to start, though, is really listening to the question the next time someone you care about asks you, “How are you?” Before simply saying, “fine,” pause, think and respond from an authentic place. Even if it’s someone you are close to and trust, this can be difficult. For a lot of people, maintaining a strong front is easier, but instead of worrying about burdening another person, think about the positive effects it can have on you. The key to vulnerability is honesty and openness.

Tip 7: Be Empathetic and Compassionate.

Empathy is one of the most — if not the most — important part of a healthy relationship. Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. The idea is for you to place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling. This doesn’t mean constantly telling people, “I know how you feel.” Instead, it involves being selfless and putting someone else’s feeling top of mind in order to really relate to them on a deeper, more meaningful level. Empathy involves sharing emotions and when you are able to do this, you strengthen a bond. Similarly, compassion is concern for the well-being of another person. It involves being sympathetic and also willing to go out of your way to help another person and alleviate their pain or their feelings of sadness or loneliness.

What To Do About JUUL in Our Schools?

Teenager JUULing in Class

What To Do About JUUL in Our Schools?

Are our teenagers getting addicted to nicotine in class?

What can parents do about it?

It was brought to my attention today that in at least two middle schools near my Manhattan home, kids are selling JUUL in the school bathroom. This is a major problem! Now, I know what you may be thinking: “Limor, kids have been selling pot and other drugs in school bathrooms for years — why are you so up in arms about it now?” Well, first of all, I would be alarmed if my 13-year-old were smoking in any capacity. But there is a new trend sweeping the country that allows kids to buy drugs and smoke them in class literally at their desks without adults noticing, because it doesn’t give off an odor, and it looks like a USB flash drive. It’s widespread, and it’s scary.

Here’s what’s happening: Something that apparently “blew up” last summer is a trend called JUUL. I’d never heard of it before, and I’m assuming this is new to many of you as well. In this blog, I’ll go over what JUUL is, what the health risks are, and what we can do to stop it. My goal is to start a discussion among parents so that we can all be more knowledgeable and address the problem before it becomes even more rampant. My oldest daughter is 13 and she is the one who brought it to my attention. Raising teenagers today is just insane!

Unfortunately, schools are often limited in what they can do to help out with the problem, but I definitely suggest bringing it up to your school boards and principals. This is not just a “trend” or a “fad” that is going to go away. It’s something that could lead to long-term health problems and more serious drugs with severe consequences.

First off, here’s a brief guide on JUUL that I’ve compiled so we can help our kids by getting to the bottom of this.

What is JUUL?

JUUL is just another form of vaping — but it’s sleek and trendy. The JUUL vaporizer looks like a USB flash drive, and it charges when plugged into a laptop. It can be filled with marijuana, a homemade concoction, or JUUL “pods,” which are vaporizer products that have more nicotine than any other vaping product. One JUUL pod has the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes! JUUL vaporizers were apparently made for adults who are trying to quit smoking, which might be true, but it’s also interesting to consider the fact that the oils have flavors like mango, creme brulee, and chocolate — pretty kid-friendly options, if you ask me.

JUUL entered the market in 2015 and gained quick popularity over the summer of 2017. Currently, many teenagers say that a majority of their peers own a JUUL device, and they even smoke them in school.

On the company’s website, it states,  “The JUUL Labs’ mission is to eliminate cigarettes by offering existing adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes.” It goes on to say, “…smokers who want to switch are looking for something that does not look or feel like a cigarette.” For their part, they do talk about sale to minors, and how they are trying to combat it: “While we are dedicated to our mission of helping adults switch off cigarettes, we are also incredibly focused on combating underage use… Underage use of certain product categories remains a persistent problem, and at JUUL Labs we are committed to combating underage use of our product. While we have made strides, we are working on new approaches to address the issue more effectively.”

My question is, how can we all address the issue more effectively as a community, including parents, lawmakers, and the DOE?

Why do kids use it and how do they get it?

People get addicted to JUUL the exact same way they get addicted to cigarettes — they try it once, love the immediate buzz, and keep doing it. Eventually the buzz wears off after each hit, and then they feel like they have to take hits just to feel normal. According to one Yale study, 25% of U.S. high schoolers had tried e-cigarettes, and 3.5% of U.S. middle schoolers had tried them. Many kids stated that they were less afraid of e-cigs, saying that they wouldn’t try real cigarettes but would try e-cigs.

According to the JUUL website, “The Starter Kit” includes a rechargeable JUUL device, a USB Charger, four JUULpods (Virginia Tobacco, Cool Mint, Fruit Medley, and Creme Brulee), and a one year limited device warranty. All for $50.

Kids cannot order JUUL from the JUUL online shop or buy it in a store, but keep in mind that kids can’t buy pot or alcohol in stores, yet they get those anyway. Think of any way that a high schooler might get their hands on weed or liquor — fake IDs, stores selling illegally, older siblings, black market, you name it. We talked to a store owner on the Upper East Side who claimed that they never sell JUUL to underage kids, but that adults sometimes do come in and buy in bulk. The store wondered if those adults were selling to minors. You only have to be 18 to buy nicotine products like cigarettes and JUUL, so many high school seniors can legally purchase these products.

A bit of online research landed us at a Reddit thread titled, “How to get Juul as a minor,” in which teenagers comment on each others’ posts so they can figure out how to purchase a JUUL. Responses included the following: “eBay,” “Just talk to the cool vaper kids at your school lol. Almost every single middle school/high school these days tends to have such a group, and I am sure they have means/would be glad to sell you a real juul,” “Literally any gas station ever. As long as you look like you’re old enough to drive, most workers don’t [care]. If they ask for ID just give them ‘your birthday.’” “Go from gas station to station to gas station that’s how I got mine.”

You get the picture. If a kid wants to find a JUUL, he/she can figure it out.

What are the health risks of JUULing?

There is a common misconception among teens that JUULing and e-cigs are safe because they were designed to help adults quit smoking. While they are safer than smoking cigarettes, they are far from safe. The same cancer-causing lung issues are in e-cigarettes. Nicotine is damaging to brain development, which is especially worrying for people whose brains are still growing, like high schoolers. Nicotine is also addictive.

E-cigarettes are also very new, which means that there are fewer regulations in place. For example, the FDA has banned other flavored drugs such as cigarettes and tobacco products, but not yet in e-cigs.

E-cigs have a different health issue than cigarettes, which is a result of the inhalation of vaping liquid. The liquid is usually a combination of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine, flavors, and nicotine or hash oils. The long-term effects are still unknown. Think about how people started getting lung cancer from non-stop cigarette smoking in the 50s and 60s — the generation that is mostly in their 80s and 90s now. They had no idea that cigarettes could have such negative effects because long-term research hadn’t been done yet, and that’s exactly what I’m worried about with our kids today. None of us knows the consequences, and we won’t know them until the current batch of teenagers is older.

According to the American Lung Association, diacetyl, which is found in e-cigarettes, causes Popcorn Lung. You may remember diacetyl from popcorn products, when it was linked to factory worker death and bronchiolitis obliterans, which is a serious lung disease. It caused such a stir about a decade ago that it was quickly removed from all popcorn products… but the same chemical is found in most e-cigarettes today, along with two other harmful chemicals: pentanedione and acetoin. Diacetyl scars the tiny air sacs in the lungs, resulting in the thickening and narrowing of the airways. Even if there is no nicotine present, kids are still breathing in hot liquids full of chemicals, which is harmful by itself.

What bothers me the most is that sales of regular cigarettes to teens have dropped in the past few years. To me, this means that vaping companies are using innocent, young children to make money, which horrifies me. Many experts also say that e-cigs are a gateway to regular cigarettes, which have been widely found over the years to be a gateway to other drugs as well.

In addition, we know that kids are using e-cigarette devices to smoke pot. Why? Well, for one, the smell is much more disguised so it can go unnoticed.

Another scary thing that kids do with e-cigs is something called “dripping.” Dripping is a more labor-intensive way to vape, in which a user manually puts a few drops of liquid directly on the exposed heating coil of the e-cigarette. The flavor, direct hit, and cloud intensify the user’s experience of vaping, which is why people take the extra time and effort to drip. Studies have shown that dripping also releases much more harmful chemicals than just smoking the e-cigarette.

How do I know if my child might be using JUUL?

  • Dehydration – Propulene glycol is a major ingredient in vaporized liquids. This chemical holds water molecules in the body, which results in increased thirst.
  • Aversion to Caffeine – One of the side effects is not wanting caffeine, so if your kid all of a sudden doesn’t want the coke they always ask for, it could be a sign.
  • Needing a Hit – If your child is addicted, they may need a hit every hour, or even less. They may disappear to the bathroom or their room every so often to vape.
  • Nosebleeds – The same effect that causes dehydration also dries out nasal passages, which sometimes leads to bloody noses.
  • Change in Habits – Some parents told us that they recognized the signs after the fact — their child had been doing well in school, and all of a sudden started getting Cs and Ds. Keep in mind that this could be related to something entirely different, so it’s always good to look into it.
  • Scents – There isn’t a distinct odor like with weed or cigarettes, but sometimes you can catch a whiff of flavors like mint, fruit punch, or candy. If there is no gum, candy, or juice around, there is reason to be cautious.

What are schools doing about the problem?

To be clear, this is happening in public schools and in private schools. It’s happening within all demographics, across the entire country. Don’t think that your child is exempt from this trend.

I talked with the assistant principal at my daughter’s school and he said that, unless they are specifically told who the people using are, the only thing that the school can do is monitor bathrooms and other parts of the school in which kids are likely to sell JUUL. I also went to the governor’s office, and they said that a lot of people have been complaining about vaping in schools. In middle schools, administration is trying to be proactive, incorporating drug-related education into the curriculum, monitoring hallways and bathrooms, etc.

However, as parents, we know that those steps simply aren’t enough and unfortunately, not being informed is the worst thing we can do

What can I do?

How do we raise healthy kids in this society where things are so accessible? I strongly feel that this is about the community! We all have to work together to fix this. I want to call on each and every one of you to help me out.

I started a list of helpful tips from my friends who have teenagers. Here is the start of an eventual longer list of suggestions:

  1. Urge schools to bring addiction specialists to speak with students about the dangers of drugs.
  2. Urge schools to perform random searches in bags.
  3. Urge schools to monitor areas where kids sell, and take actions that will prevent kids from selling drugs in schools.
  4. Get involved in the DOE, and invite other parents to as well.
  5. Talk to your kids about the dangers of e-cigarettes, whether you think they may be using them or not. Some kids told me that they didn’t know there were any dangers because it “didn’t seem like as bad of a drug as cigarettes.” Talk to your kids!

Here’s a suggestion I love from a friend. At first, it might seem like over monitoring or policing your kid too much, but you may find that it helps your relationship with your kid, and turns into a positive thing. I definitely think it’s worth a try. She bought a nicotine tobacco testing kit, which can be found on Amazon for under $10, and she told her son that she may use it in the future. She hasn’t used it, but the fact that her son knows that she has it means that he doesn’t want to smoke or vape. He told her that it actually helped him get out of being pressured by his friends because he could use the excuse that his mom would test him at home if he vaped. It passed the blame to someone else other than him, which gave him an easy out.

What else can you do? Here’s a huge one — let’s come together as a community and figure this out! If you are a parent to a teen, let’s get together in a room with other parents to brainstorm as a team! Let me know if you’d like to join. I am forming a parent group to come up with bigger and better ideas about how we can take action NOW to make a change. To start, we will meet monthly in person with a Facebook Live meeting.

Are you concerned about vaping? What can you do as a parent, and what can we do as a community? I want to start a discussion. We can work together as a community, whether you live near me in Manhattan or across the country. If you want to get together and make a change, message me! Tell me your stories. Tell me your challenges, your advice, your worries, your successes!

Let me know if you’re interested, no matter where you reside. Make your voice heard! I can’t wait to get this started!

If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists or dietitians, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!

 

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