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Stephen Soreff, M.D.
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Four Full Seasons

Insights November 2022 Numbers are more than just numbers

If that title is too obtuse, let me use one of my loose associations to clarify it. When teaching any of my many different college courses, regardless of the subject, whenever we turned to page 401 in their textbook, I would the student what that page had to do with the state of Rhode Island? Students were generally perplexed and slightly bewildered. After their moments of exasperation, I told them it was the telephone area code for Rhode Island. Yes, I told you it was a loose association. Cutting to the chase, certain numbers are connected to people, events experiences, and emotions.

Let’s take the disorder called triskaidekaphobia. That is the fear of the number 13. And for some people, it is very real. Hence, some hotels and hospitals often avoid the 13th floor and room 13. Forget its origins, it nicely illustrates how a simple number can be so significant.

Furthermore, I believe that all folks have certain numbers that are highly significant to them. Look at how many people use their birthdays in the passwords and locker combinations. Say 911 and many of us will have a flashback to September 11, 2001. They will re-experience that moment and that day. The bottom line is that certain numbers are not neutral. Again, with examples, try the number 42. It is Douglas Adams,’ The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, “The Ultimate Answer to Life, The Universe and Everything is...42!” It is also Jackie Robison’s number. I almost rest my case, but.

Another way to look at numerical significance is by reviewing birthday, anniversary, and reunion numbers. Sure, all of them are important. But look at how much more attention we pay to certain birthdays. For some groups, Sweet 16 is significant. Then there are the key birthdays such as the 18th and 21st that lead to at lead to certain privileges. Keeping with birthdays, 30, 40,50,60,70,75,80,90, and 100 are important. For wedding anniversaries, each one has a special gift designation as well as silver and gold for 25 and 50. And with reunions, certain years- 25, 50, and 75 count more than other ones.

As I began, numbers are more than just numbers. Numbers have meaning.

Four Seasons

Insights October 2022 Four Full Seasons

The splendor of the New Hampshire Fall Foliage remains one of the most glorious and gorgeous times of the year. People come from all over the United States and the world to witness it. But, it is only one of the four seasons. I am writing in praise of each of them. Each offers new beginnings and endings. Each is unique.

Fall right now takes center stage. Yippee. The brilliance of the sugar maple tree’s leaves screams, “ look at me”. The yellow of the Aspen leaves provides an Oriental look to the landscape. The foliage of the White Mountains is legendary. People flock to peek at the peaks during Peak season. The autumn shrine.

Winter offers a variety of firsts. These include the first snowfall of the year, blazing the first trail into the wilderness, the first down-high ski run, and of course, the first snowball fight of the year. There are chestnuts roasting over an open fire. Your neighborhood can appear like Currier and Ives’ paintings. Then there are the neat and giving holidays.

Spring means resurrection, rejuvenation, and re-emergence. The trees burst out with brilliant, vividly green leaves. Animals and us emerge from hibernation. It is time to wear your new bonnet. And, things begin to grow. It is a time of hope, marriages, and graduations.

Now for summertime “and the living is easy”. It is vacation time in the northern hemisphere. It is the season of “play ball” for “the boys of summer”, growing everything, going to the beaches, hiking in the mountains, playing golf, and family time. And it used to mean no school.

Getting to the point. Each season has its glory, uniqueness, and special attributes. That is why I love New Hampshire and all of New England. They have four full seasons. Enjoy them all ?

New Years Resolution

September 2022 The Value of New Year’s Resolution

At this point, you are thinking, although the idea sounds interesting, why now? The easy answer is that I am Jewish and on the evening of September 25, 2022, begins Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Others may invoke the same concept on December 31, 2022, or January
1, 2023. And for those wanting more information, the Jewish New Year celebrates the creation of the earth. For the record, this will be year 5783.

But the real reason for this topic remains the huge importance of both reflection and the opportunity to change. Yes, the New Year provides two figures representing the transition. They are the old person and a baby. Besides the time to write those often boring family boasting endof-the-year newsletters, it is a moment to look back on the last year. If you are honest and candid with yourself, you can appraise ‘the good, the bad, and the ugly’ of your last year. Thank you, Clint Eastwood, for your phrase and movie.

And, from that assessment can come ideas of how to do better. Besides, the too-often quickly lapsed gym membership and participation, this is a great time to develop and implement changes for the coming year. I use still the old-fashioned paper and pencil yearly appointment
book. But, it is called an academic appointment book. It is based on the September to September schedule. I find that more fitting to my life. And, yes it coincides with the Jewish New Year.

The new year does offer an opportunity to look back with reflection, and a chance tomake plans based on this process and the new resolutions.

Kenny Rogers - The Gambler

August 2022 The Kenny Roger’s The Gambler Principle

Right now, I want to go two ways at the same time. Yes, that is impossible. The first direction is what happened to me on Saturday, May 14, 2022, at 2:30 PM. However, also I would like to describe and cite Kenny Roger’s The Gambler Principle. Let’s start with that. Most of you have heard Kenny Roger sing The Gambler. It involves the gambler offering his advice. The key lyrics are “You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em,”. In fact, there is a similar sentiment found in the Serenity Prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Now back to the moment on May 14th when I applied The Gambler’s principle. I had almost finished mowing the lawn for the first time this year. Yippee, the mower started, It was a very hot day and I had just earlier done a gardening project. But, because of those two factors, I could not complete the full grass area. I was exhausted. I quit mowing. Never before had I ever failed to complete my lawn mowing task. I knew “when to fold’em”. It was the right thing to do.

Yet I felt I had not completed my task. But it was still the right thing to do. Ready, for a leap? As I aged or matured, I have had to encounter many more situations where I could not do, what I used to do. Yes, I have to apply Kenny Roger’s The Gambler Principle to a number of activities. It is called graceful aging.

Insights for Better Mental Health

The Great Resignation

July 2022 Questioning Your Job and Life

The buzzword phrase coined during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 was the great resignation. Indeed, which ironically is also a job search company, a significant number of folks quit their jobs during this period. “At the same time, quits totaled 4.54 million, an increase of 152,000 from the previous month as the so-called Great Resignation continued, was reported in May 2022.” The number of people leaving their jobs is real and impressive. A Pew report attributes that to three causes: “low pay (63%), no opportunities for advancement (63%), and feeling disrespected at work (57%)”.

Although those reasons are true and fitting, they do not go far enough. I believe that there is a deeper and an underlying explanation. Simply put it is a matter of life and death. Especially in the early days of the pandemic, bodies with literally piling up. There were trailers of people who had just died of COVID-19 outside hospitals. There were mass graves. This meant, that individuals were faced with their own mortality. They suddenly had to think seriously about their lives. Socrates said "The unexamined life is not worth living", The pandemic confronted all of us to reflect on our lives. We had to ask ourselves- Is this job worth my life? And, is this the life I want to live?

There is a story told of a man who survived a heart attack and dramatically changed his life, He altered his diet and stopped drinking alcohol. He quit his job and took up a new career. He called the heart attack his “wake-up call”. In that way, the fear and the reality of COVID was for many people a wake-up call. It made them re-evaluate their lives. It made them question their career and their purpose in life. That led to the Great Resignation.

June 2022 Remember the Titans The Movie and the Message

Do you remember seeing Remember the Titans? This 2000 film depicted the true story of when T. C. Williams High School in Alexandra, Virginia in 1971 was forced by the Supreme Court’s decision of Brown vs The Board of Education to integrate. Its newly formed football team composed of whites and African-Americans members not only bonded amazingly together and became victorious but also united the community. It starred Denzel Washington portraying the real-life coach Herman Boone. I’ll admit when it was first released, I dismissed it as yet another high school football movie and did not watch it. My bad. Later, when I did watch it, I discovered what a treasure it was. Here is why.

The real message of the movie was if you want people of different backgrounds, religions, races, political parties, social groups, and economic levels to listen to and appreciate each other have them actually work together. The film provided an example of what different races really have to work together as a team, they had to hear the others had to say and respect them as individuals. Remember the old cliché’, there is no I in the word team? If you want a winning squad, you have to come together. It is a simple idea. Interpersonal interactions often reduce one’s thinking in stereotypes. Mark Twain once said. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness”. Working with people breaks down barriers.

There are many examples of how to have something that brings people together. These include
among others- an athletic team, a community garden, a neighborhood clean-up, and a local yard sale.
Working together with others is a great way to connect and appreciate them.


May 2022 "I once was lost, but now I'm found"

Hello, if that introduction sounds familiar, it is. It is from the song, Amazing Grace. Not, I am not becoming super religious, but instead, that lyric provides a vehicle to introduce my next insight. Let me share my experience, which brought it about. In December 2021, my partner Peggy and I, along with several friends, vacationed in Hawaii. Despite COVID precautions and restrictions, it was a great trip. En route, I discovered I had lost my coveted water bottle. It was in the side pouch of my backpack when I left home. Once on the islands, I discovered it was gone. I believed that it had slipped out when the pack was in the overhead compartment of the bus that took us to the airport. The bus company did not have it when I checked. It was gone. Therefore, I purchased a replacement bottle.

Fast forward to March 24, 2022, I was clearing out the back of my car and getting ready for huge load to take to my town’s Recycling Center. And, there it was-my water bottle. And that leads me to my insight- do not give up on things or ideas you believe were lost.

There are many stories in the news about how lost engagement and wedding rings have been found long after their disappearance. The recovery is cause for great celebrations after the huge loss. My partner, Peggy, loves to do and complete a 1,000-piece puzzle. She and her son are very proficient and efficient in doing them. Once done, finished puzzles represent significant achievements. However, on two occasions, each of the “completed” puzzles was missing one piece missing! To get to the point, by happenstance, I found the wandering pieces. One-piece, I discovered on the bedroom floor. The other piece, I found in the woods near our home. The message was the same; what was lost but now is now found.

Remember, I noted both lost objects and ideas. Let me switch gears. I was part of my Tufts College 45th class reunion. At one of the ceremonies, each one of us talked about one’s life and career. Many stated, “ I did such and such as my job, but now I returned to my first loved activity.” For one, after her business career, she was now a ski instructor. It was her first passion, but job and career were in the way. Another example was an emergency department physician, and now has a wine vineyard. He loved growing things. Me, after
practicing psychiatry and then university teaching, I am now a newspaper reporter for my hometown online newspaper. My first real high school career was a reporter for the school’s newspaper.

The insight is that for certain things and passions, although they all seemed lost, never give up on them. They may be found!


A Nap :)

April 2022 In praise of naps

Yes, this insight is in praise of napping. Not only do I credit my ability to nap as one of my important and useful personal assets , but also I will argue that is good for your health as well as mine.

Let me look at how my ability to nap has helped me. And, by napping, I am talking about quick, short 10 to 20 minutes moment of sleeping aka naps. In college and especially medical school, I found that a quick nap between classes or often in the afternoon extremely refreshing and energizing. These ‘cat’ naps proved particularly useful during my internship and residency. I recall driving home while in medical school from Chicago to Connecticut in 20 hours will a number of road side naps when I felt fatigued. Even today, if while driving, I feel fatigued, I still will pull over in a safe location and take a quick nap before completing the trip. For me, naps are an important source of renewal and maintaining alertness.

But that is for me, now let’s review some of the general health benefits of napping. They include your ability to relax. Many of us lead hectic, time driven lives. Taking a few minutes off for relaxation can be incredibly rejuvenating. Napping can relieve fatigue. That quality of napping has been critical in my life. It is well known, when you are fatigued, you are much more prone to making mistakes and having accidents. When and if you feel fatigue coming on, stop and take a nap. It is that simple.

Here is another great gain from napping. When you wake up from a nap, you feel more alert. Another benefit of naps is that they can act to improve your mood. Napping can be a mild but effective antidepressant. Feeling depressed? Try a quick nap. You’ll be amazed how it can lift you spirits. Another advantage of naps is because of their ability to improve your alertness. In turn being alert will speed up your reaction times. Also being alert can enhance your memory. But that is not all. Naps in several studies have been shown to let you live longer. And, who does not want to live longer?

For all these reasons, I praise napping. In fact, I wrote this piece after I took a short afternoon nap! It is your turn. Try one some time.


March 2022 Compass Power

This insight focuses on the dual power of having a compass. In the first instance, it means simply having a physical compass when hiking in the wilderness or driving in an unfamiliar area. The second involves the compass as being a metaphor of having a direction in your life.

Let’s look first at the compass use in wilderness travel. I love to make my own trail as I snowshoe in newly fallen snow. The spring-summer-fall familiar paths have been obliterated by the deep snow. I am free to set my own trail. And I do. However, especially on cloudy days, my peregrinations often led me to actually end up going in complete circle. Then, I got smart and took my trusty compass with me. Yippee. I followed it, in this instance, on a north course. And good news, I did I not go in circle but instead I reached the road which I was aiming for. Thus, a physical compass works in the real world. Incidentally, my car compass functions the same way. It prevents me driving in circles and allows me to get to the intended destination.

Now let’s apply that idea to having a direction in your life. Here are three good reasons: survival, being stress resistant and longevity. Viktor E. Frankl is a psychiatrist who survived the Nazi slave labor camps and the death camps. He wrote the book entitled Man's Search for Meaning. He chronicled how those who had a purpose in their lives survived more than those without it. He attributes his own survival to live through those horrors to his goal and purpose was to write that book. He said, “When I was taken to the concentration camp of Auschwitz, a manuscript of mine ready for publication was confiscated. Certainly, my deep desire to write this manuscript anew helped me to survive the rigors of the camps I was in.” In some cases, one’s survival depends on having a purpose, meaning and direction in one’s life.

Who does not have stress in their lives? I know, few if any, who do not. And some jobs are considered more stressful than others. These include first responders, police, air traffic controllers and physicians. Recognizing there will be stress in your life, is there anything one can do about it? Raymond Flannery in his book Becoming Stress Resistant offers 6 things one can do in preparation to deal with life’s inevitable stresses. These include having a take charge attitude, committed to a goal, attention to life style issues-diet, use of potential addicting substances, exercise and relaxation methods, ability to seek others, humor and concern for others, What is key is that having a direction and goal makes it much easier to cope with stress.

Finally, if people have a direction, purpose and goal in their lives, they live longer. This makes sense. It offers them a reason for living. Hence, using a physical compass and having direction in your life are important. What is your life’s direction?


February 2022 The Importance of Searching

One of the keys to better mental health is to searching. What do I mean? It means not being just  satisfied with what you have,  but instead I  am always looking for how to make things  better. Before you think I am off on a wild idea, let me show you to see searching in the different context. What  I am advocating for being curious. Using the twist on the old cliché, curiosity killed the cat, but information brought him back. I want to know how something works. As a psychiatrist, I seek to understand what make people tick.  Yes, the quest leads to a  journey. A search indicates a level of discontent.  Wow, that is radical. Remember,  that history has been made by discontent people.

Let be show you an example of the problem of not searching. The history of many  industries is littered with examples of companies with self-satisfaction have gone out of business. The photographic giant, Kodak  has been replaced by digital  photography.

As you have seen  by now, perhaps you have noticed that I am wandering about in my attempt to define searching. The answer is.  As I am writer and I always searching for the right way to write something. And that search has led me to a look at synonyms for searching.. Here is what I found. examination, exploration, hunt, inquiry, inspection, investigation, pursuit and quest. I like them all but really enjoy the word  explore.   That is what I believe human beings’ manifest destiny explore.  That is why people from many different continents set off to explore the world by boats. That is why we went to the moon and now wish to go to Mars.

So, keep searching, looking, inquiring, investigating, exploring and examining your world.   You’ll be amazed at what you will discover.

Entering Somerville

January, 2022: The Somerville Connection

Many years ago, at the nadir of my life, I was actually a telemarketer. Yes, one of those dreaded folks who call during diner time and are very annoying. In that capacity, I had an opportunity to have a conversation with a potential customer. She was not interested in my product but we had a great chat anyways. In the process of the talk, I asked her where she lived? She replied, “I live in Somerville, Massachusetts.” I, then said to her, “I, too had lived in Somerville”. This was true. While attending Tufts University, Class of 1964, I did live in Somerville. I was in an apartment near Powder House Square. At this point, she utters this famous line. “In everyone’s life, there is a Somerville”. That proves to be a profound pronouncement.

Allow me to explain what is so significant about the Somerville connection. First and foremost, here is what you will find, if you conduct this astonishing little empirical experiment. Ask in any given group, you encounter ask the following question: “Do you know someone who has either lived at one time or nowt lives in Somerville?” Try it. For example, I put this question of my Little River Tai Chi gang recently. Of the five there, all of them had either lived in Somerville or knew someone who had dwelled there. Again, the same idea with a different variation. When I was an Information Volunteer for the Appalachian Mountains Club (AMC) at Pinkham Notch. One of the hiking families I talked to came from Somerville. You’ll be amazed at how many folks who encounter have a Somerville connection. Thus, proving, “In everyone’s life there is a Somerville”.
But that is not all. Let me show you. Everyone, which means you, knows one person who has lived in Somerville. Really! It was Barack Obama. He lived in Somerville attending Harvard Law School. Try it! You’ll be surprised, Anyways, asking people you meet for the first time, an inquiry about where they are from is a great ‘ice breaker ‘ and a nice way to start a conversation. As noted in the Insights October 2019: “How to Make Friends and Influence People”. Have fun with the Somerville connection.

Fire and Smoke

December, 2021: The Difference between Strategy and Tactics
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Many years ago, at the nadir of my life, I was actually a tele-marketer.  Yes, one of those dreaded folks who call during diner time and are very annoying.  In that capacity,  I had an opportunity to have a  conversation with a potential customer.  She was not interested in my product but we had a great chat anyways.  In the process of the talk, I asked her where she lived?  She replied, “I live in Somerville, Massachusetts.” I, then said to her , “I, too had  lived in Somerville”.  This was true. While attending Tufts University, Class of 1964, I did live in Somerville. I was in an apartment  near Powder House Square.  At this point, she utters this famous line.  “In everyone’s live there is a Somerville”. That proves to be a profound pronouncement.

Allow me to explain what  is so significant about the Somerville connection.   First and foremost, here is what you will find, if you conduct  this astonishing little  empirical experiment. Ask in any given group, you encounter ask the  following question: “Do you know someone who has either lived at one time or nowt lives in Somerville?” Try it.   For example, I put this question of my Little River Tai Chi gang recently. Of the five there, all of them had either  lived in Somerville or knew someone who had dwelled there. Again, the same idea with a different variation.  When I was an Information Volunteer for the Appalachian Mountains Club (AMC) at Pinkham Notch. One of the hiking families I talked to came from Somerville. You’ll be amazed of how many folks who encounter have a Somerville connection. Thus, proving, “In everyone’s live there is a Somerville”.

But that is not all.  Let me show you. Everyone, which means you, knows one person who has  lived in Somerville.  Really! It was Barack Obama.  He lived in Somerville attending  Harvard Law School. Try it! You’ll be surprised,  Anyways, asking people you meet for the first time, an inquiry about where they are from is a great ‘ice breaker ‘ and a nice way to start a conversation.  As noted in the Insights October 2019:?“How to Make Friends and Influence People”.  Have fun with the Somerville connection.  

Patience is a virtue

November, 2021: Patience is a virtue

I am now arguing for the virtue of being patient. However, before I explain this idea, I need to deal with a possible contradiction. In Insights for February 2020, I Just do it now! was a definite call for action. Yes, in certain situations, the Carpé Diem approach is indicated. These are often emergency circumstances. But, in other instances, patience emerges as the better response.

Perhaps examples will clarify this concept. An easy situation occurs in cooking. In barbequing a thick steak, it is much better to allow the meat to linger for a while over the glowing coals than a quick moment over the heat. In the latter instance, you get burnt surface and raw, red, and uncooked center. A similar chef-type situation applies to cooking a stew. Alternately, here is a medical example. A person runs a low-grade fever. However, its etiology is unclear. But, applying the ‘tincture of time’, in several hours a rash surfaces suggesting the cause of the fever and its treatment.

In another instance, I had to do an interview of the patient in front of three observing psychiatrists as part of the Oral Psychiatric Board Examination. The interview consisted of my taking the p psychiatric and medical history and assessing his mental status. The goal of the interview was to determine a psychiatric diagnosis and formulate a treatment plan. Then, I presented my findings and diagnoses. One of the watching psychiatrists pointed out that I failed to notice in my differential diagnosis that the patient was also depressed. At that moment, I felt embarrassed, humiliated, and annoyed by his comments. However, I checked my emotions and collected my thoughts. I did not respond immediately to his observation. Instead, when I did speak, I thanked the examiner for his insight. My patience here, I believe, helped me to pass that stressful examination.

Several clichés would help here. One is to engage your brain before opening your mouth. The next is Look Before You Leap. And the third is Count to Ten before Responding. They all proclaim the value and virtue of patience in many situations. And, to end on a humorous note, as a practicing doctor, one definitely needs patients.

October 2021 Routines Rule - clocks

October, 2021 Routines Rule

Yes, I am advancing the idea that having a set routine for many things has great merit. Why? Because the daily system prevents making mistakes. Let me be a dull as a possible. I have a morning routine or ritual. I clean my mouth guard, floss, brush my teeth, take my prescribed medications, then take my vitamins, use mouth wash and shave. Wow-big deal. The gain is that I take the right medications at the right time as well as completing my hygiene chores. I do not miss important things.

Here is the same theme in a different context. I have a placement ritual when I come home at night. I put the car keys on a hook next to the garage. My sunglasses, in their protective case, are placed next to the model of the Charles W. Morgan, a whaling sail bark at the Mystic Seaport in Mystic Connecticut. The iphone gets plugged into the recharger. My trusty camera is placed next to the computer so its pictures can be uploaded to the proper files. This ritual has several advantages. It is easy to discover something is missing. Its facilities a quick and order scheme for the next time I go out. And, its t tells me where to find things, if I need them.

As a psychiatrist my most important diagnostic procedure remains the interview .  It generally followed a script.  It would begin with the Chief Compliant, recent history, social and family history, medical history, medications and lead to a thorough, complete and comprehensive mental status.  By following this scheme, I made sure I covered and gained  all the significant information in order to make a diagnosis a treatment plan. And, I immediately write down and document what I have learned before I forget it.  That stands consistent  with the ideas expressed in Insights February 2020  Just do it now!

I suspect others maintain their own routines. These include cooks, carpenters, surgeons and shop keepers to name a few. I find a certain comfort in some prayers and their order in the worship services I attend. Furthermore, as I travel nationally and globally, the synagogue services I attend follow a similar and familiar routine and ritual. Indeed, the same holds true for my Tai Chi practice.

Take home message having certain routines can be very helpful and make you be successful.

September, 2021 The Friendship Triangle

Friendship Triangle

Friendships remain one of the great sustainers of living and life.  Our friends serve as our social support systems.  Just, only for a moment, imagine your lives without your friends.  That was one of the most potent  interruptions due to the pandemic. But what are the key ingredients in the true and great friendships?  Yes, think about your relationship to your best friends.  Here are two things that I have learned about the Friendship Triangle. First, there are a number of different The Friendship Triangles models  out there. Second, many of them  can also be applied to love relationships and marriages. 

Here is the Friendship Triangle model I prefer. It is based are proximity, values and reciprocity.  Let us look at each one.  Proximity means you most likely find and make your friends with those with whom you are geographically close to.  Look at the relationships you develop at school, on a  team, at a place of worship, and at work.  Remember all those friends you have gained and sustained from those locations.  I will hasten to add, through the Internet, the geographic limits have changed.  

Values is the next part. Think of the following question.  Is it similarities or opposites that attract people to each other?   Rephased, which one of these alternatives would you be more apt to pick as a friend: a person to whom you are similar to or a person who different than yourself?  Stated another way, are introverts more connected other introverts or extroverts? The real and neat answer is that friendship is based on shared and similar values.   

Reciprocity represents the third pillar of the  Friendship Triangle.  This translates into a truly interactive conversational experience.  Rephased, you talk, then your friend speak and it goes back and forth. Think of a recent  conversation with a good friend.  Often, you have spoken for an hour but it felt only a few minutes. I recall talking with a good friend recently.  It was like watch a popcorn popping. Apply the reciprocity to your conversations.   

Friendship Triangle is based are proximity, shared values and reciprocity.  It offers a neat way to look at and understand your relationships.  


August, 2021 Another  Meaning of Dicken’s  A Christmas Carol.

Most folks know something about Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol.  From the  Royal Shakespeare’s  website https://www.rsc.org.uk/a-christmas-carol/plot  here is the basic plot.  “ A Christmas Carol is a play about a mean-spirited and selfish old man, Ebenezer Scrooge, who hates Christmas. One cold Christmas Eve, Scrooge is unkind to the people who work for him, then refuses to give to charity, and then is rude to his nephew when he invites him to spend Christmas with him. When Scrooge gets home, he is visited by the ghost of his old business partner Jacob Marley – and then by three ghosts! They are the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future.

The Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge on a journey through Christmases from his past, taking Scrooge to see himself as an unhappy child and a young man more in love with money than his fiancé. The Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge his clerk, Bob Cratchit’s family. At Bob Cratchit’s house Scrooge sees Tiny Tim, who is very ill, but full of spirit. The ghost then takes him to see his nephew Fred’s Christmas celebrations - which he had been invited to, but rebuffed.

Finally, The Ghost of Christmas Future terrifies Scrooge by showing him visions of his own death… The ghosts’ journey through time teaches Scrooge the error of his ways. When he wakes up on Christmas Day, he is full of excitement, and buys the biggest turkey in the shop for the Cratchit family before spending the day with his nephew, full of the joys of Christmas.”

I  am calling upon this story is to illustrate the three pillar of life and of psychotherapy.  One needs a balance of all three-the past, the present and the future in one’s life.   Let us look at each of them.  Much of psychotherapy is simply eliciting and hearing the patient’s history.  Yes, traumas of the past influence the present and future.  The unique story of each person is very important to tell and to hear.   Often, people are haunted by past events. Exploring them remains one of the major tasks of psychotherapy. .

However, it is key to relate them to the present and focus them to  the here and now.  It is important for one to be able to fully  “smell the roses” today.  The quintessential  therapy question in remains, “How does it make feel you?” Present means that one  is paying attention to the moment and the ability to be in that moment .

But that is not all.   Too often people and therapists miss the power of the future.  What do you want? What  are your dreams and aspirations?   Where will you be in one year, three, five and ten years?  Imagine your life without a future. Nothing to look forward to?  The twin H’s of depression stands as Hopelessness and Helplessness.  Again, think of your life without any hope!  That is depressing. Hence, the future serves as vital part of your appreciation of the present and has been influenced by your past.

A balanced healthy life depends on the alignment  and harmony of these three-past, present and future.  Thank you, Charles Dickens and Scrooge for pointing that out.

July, 2021 It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness
July 2021

I will start with a quick admission. I have used this phase before in January 2020: Your New Year's Resolution: Just do something. Then, I wrote “Growing up in the 1950's I vividly recall hearing the Reverend Fulton J. Sheen on the television. He had a television series entitled Life is Worth Living. http://fulton-sheen.cua.edu/bio/index.cfm.” That was his motto and message. It is another clarion call to action. However, now, I want to spin it another way.

All too often, one is surrounded by negative messages. For example, with weather.it is too hot or too cold or windy or too humid. I used to work in an office where the boss would chastise others for “casting negativity about the room”. Complaining is fashionable and can be contagious. It has been said, if you like, something, let us say, a restaurant, you will tell a few people about your positive experience there. However, if you had a less than satisfactory encounter there, you will tell about 25 people about it. It is easy to complain than to find something good to say.

There is the infamous joke about a waiter addressing a group of snobby, slightly elderly, rich women after having served them a meal. He inquires, “was anything alright?” Yes, I am advocating an attitude of gratitude. Perhaps, I would break into a Monty Python song “Some things in life are bad, They can really make you mad, Other things just make you swear and curse, When you're chewing on life's gristle, Don't grumble, give a whistle, And this'll help things turn out for the best, And, Always look on the bright side of life, Always look on the light side of life.” Or to continue with the corny chemistry story. What happens when a hydrogen an atom loses its electron? It became positive.

Yes, I am arguing finding good things to be thankful for and taking the action of lighting a candle as both recognizing the what is positive and taking the action to shine a light on it. In my synagogue ‘s Friday night prayer book there a responsive section entitled Prayerful thanksgiving that is written this way “to give thanks for the many gifts which we already possess and are often overlooked”. The key words are “often overlooked”. Look around and see all miracles that surround us.

Go a head and light a candle!

June, 2021 Make Like a Snake and Shed

I hope this title proves to be provocative. It was designed to be too. The idea behind it is that snakes grow, mature, and live longer by actually shedding their skins. Yes, I know, we also do the same every day but not dramatically. We shed skin cells all the time. Additionally, other animals do the same thing. But the concept here is a metaphor. It means in order to develop and mature as a person; one must periodically not only take an inventory of one ‘s ways of thinking but also be willing to shed and change them. This is done either consciously or unconsciously. Either way, one abandons certain ideas and incorporates others.

To drop back to Psychology 101, Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development chronicles how as one matures that individual moves through a series of ways of thinking. For example, children see the world in terms of black and white aka concretely. As children mature, they see the world in more abstract. Many of us view many areas and answers in terms of gray. Although we have all heard of the idea, eye for an eye”, our justice system is not based on that Code of Hammurabi. We accept that human behaviors and their consequences are much more complex.

And continuing on the ancient history tact, let me look at many of the stories from the Hebrew Bible. What and when I learned them in Sunday School, they seemed straightforward and simple. Later, I studied them again in both Torah and Talmud classes. There, I discovered how complex they can be. Many of them were not so black and white, but instead several shades of gray. As a result of further study, I have changed my ideas of some of the events and people in the stories in them.

Translating shedding into our lives means we must often change our views as we mature. We see our jobs, money, family, religion, and responsibilities differently as we grow up. Shedding some ideas and replacing them with a new ones is a good and necessary part of life.

May, 2021 Just write it.
May 2021

The idea for a better mental health derives from the amazing power of simply writing things down. Wow, what is that all about? Here are several examples of that. Mary Kay, of the pink Cadillac fame and the cosmetic world, began her business consultant career by telling executives to start each day with a list of six things to be accomplished that day. This proved to be very effective advice and proved to be very successful. This list not only provided goals for the day but also a place check-ff your accomplishments. Here are several more examples. Remember how much more effective your weight loss or miles run programs were when you kept a record aka writing the results down each day. Or to get Biblical, Moses first came down the mountain with oral 10 Commandments. But, G-d called him back so they could be written on down on two stone tablets for all to see.

Returning to the theme, just write it, writing is powerful. One of the neat tools in psychotherapy is called journaling. The therapist asks one simply to write down each day one’s emotions, thoughts and behavior. It offers productive avenue for self-evaluation, reflection and growth. Or to go to the other extreme, there is old legal adage, “an oral contract is not worth the paper it is printed on!” From my days doing Quality Improvement at Westboro State Hospital, there was this keystone rule of medical documentation; “if it is not written, it did not happen”.

Taking another tack, your mobile phone or computer can also be as an effective method of ‘just write it’, . I know many folks who not only count their steps each day but also keep a longitude record for each walk. This allows one to both see progress and provides a neat graphic chart of it. Others use the computer program to track what and how much they eat. And, of course, one could follow weight loss or gain depending on the circumstances.

Whatever method you select, the basic idea is that transforming thoughts into visible products have profound powerful effects.

April, 2021 The Creativity Power Connection

This month the intriguing topic of creativity commands center stage. Let me introduce it with a riddle. April showers brings mayflowers, What do mayflowers bring? The answer is Pilgrims. Okay, I accept a groan. To me, that riddle illustrates creativity. How so? It offers surprise by linking flowers to a religious group. The creativity here is based on connecting two dissimilar ideas, or objects together for the first time. Take Einstein’s E = mc2. It brilliantly connects matter and energy. There is also, a less obvious connection. This is one’s ability to see and enjoy one’s inner child. You can enjoy those too often repressed joys of splashing in a mud puddling with doing the dishes. Remember, when there really was a monster under the bed or the boggy man in the closet. One of components of creativity is its ability to link things together making something new. But there are others. Creativity besides connection includes imagination, dreams, curiosity, and opportunity.
One of the greatest facets of imagination is that there are not rules, You can transcend time and space. You go back in time or you can construct a future world. And, you are not bound by geography. You can go anywhere on earth, into the underworld or in the universe. The key to imagination is freedom. What a wonderful gift is being free which imagination gives you.

By dreams, I do not mean the conventional idea of have a dream and follow it. Although that helps, I am thinking of the amazing ability of dreams to solve problems. There is the tale of a German chemist trying to figure out a new compound. The story goes that he had a dream of a snake biting its tail. That night time adventure led to the famous discovery of the benzene ring. Dmitri Mendeleev, another chemist, had a dream which led to the creation of the Periodic Table. But, you need not be a chemist to harness the power of dreams. Others have written songs, solved problems, and developed story plots while dreams. . And, there are many more ways dreaming can be linked the creativity. At least, it is an idea worth sleeping on.

Yes, there is the old saying, “curiosity killed the cat, but information brought her back”. Please, forgive the more modern quote’s ending. But, being curious represents the gateway to being creative. As a psychiatrist, I have often pointed to my waist watch. Then, I say “I love to figure out want makes some one tick”. Asking why and then pursuing the answer to it allows for great discovery adventures. And, yes, creativity can be an active verb. Be curious and find out what makes anything or everything work.
And opportunity plays a role in creativity. The reason that Florence, Italy becoming one of the cradles of the Renaissance was because in brought together artists and their wealthy patrons in a supportive milieu. Other places that have supported creativity was Vienna, Austria at the time of Freud and Greenwich Village, New York at the time of Pete Seeger. Working with and about creative people, in a supportive environment helps. And do not forget, necessary is the father of invention. In the pandemic, people have found ingenious ways to cope and thrive.

Be creative. Connect two ideas into something ne. Use your imagination. Use your dreams at night to solve problems of the day. Be curious. Work with other creative, supportive and appreciative people. And, seize the opportunity to address problems to come up with new solutions.

March 2021 March Into Aging

March Into Aging

I will admit that is a cute beginning to a serious topic-“getting older”. Yes, I am writing about becoming a senior citizen. There is a new answer to aging. Right now, we are rewriting the geriatric book on aging. When I was growing up, it was the joke that seniors moved to Florida and spent their days sitting by the pool and clipping coupons. While older folks in Florida are still look for their senior discounts, they are more active than their predecessors. They are golfing, running, playing pickle ball, and swimming.

Two quick examples for this thesis. When John Glenn returned to outer space, he did so at age 77! Our current President, Joseph Biden is 78 years old. And, he is very active. A 2020 survey by Willis Towers Watson trumpeted that in terms of retirement that 70 is the new 60. Golden agers are running marathons and climbing mountains. The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) now has a special patch for seniors who are 70 year or older and have climbed all New Hampshire’s 48 over four thousand feet peak.

There are Senior Olympics on the state level and a National, too. The National Senior Games Association (NGA) https://nsga.com/ will host the National Senior Games 2022, May 10-23, 2022 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. To qualify to be an athlete for these events one must be at least 50 years old by December  31, 2021.  The competitive events include archery, badminton, basketball, bowling, non-ambulatory bowling, cornhole, cycling, golf, pickleball, horseshoes, power walk, race walk, racquetball, road race, shuffleboard, soccer, softball,  swimming, table tennis, tennis, track & field,  triathlon, and volleyball.  These games provide testimony that aging does not necessarily mean deterioration. 

I recall the inspiring statement written across the wall at a Southern Maine University’s gymnasium wall that was attributed Dr. Paul Dudley White, a renowned cardiologist. It said something to the effect that you can become healthier as you become older. The message is clear. Seniors now are more active, involved, participating and doing more things than ever before. Aging can be the gateway to opportunities, activities, adventures and accomplishments.

February 2021 Buy locally !!!

First, let me explain my reasons to buy locally. reason it Several years ago, I set out to look for and purchase a snow blower. Yes, I had grown tired of shoveling my driveway. Initially, I went to a big box store. It had a neat array of snow blowers which were at reasonable prices. But, it just did not feel right. So, I then went to a local snow blower and lawn mower shop. The owner personally talked me and make several points. He noted that although the same name on the machine was in his store and the big box, the bigger store did not have the same high quality parts as his ones did under ‘the hood’. Next, he offered that his shop would both pick-up and return it from our house when it need servicing or repairs. Furthermore, he indicated he would service the machine there, if it need of work. The big box store said if I had problem with it, I would have to contact the manufacture. I must admit, that the local shop’s price was slightly higher, but the in-house service option, sold me. Not only do I not regret the purchase, but I also discovered when I had problems with the machine, I was moved to the head of the line for repairs, because I bought it there. Reason one is local serve.

Certainly, when it comes to fruits and vegetables, the local farm stand cannot be beat. Their produce is fresher than most supermarkets. Their attention and knowledge of the items is amazing. And, clearly the transportation costs are low or non-existent. Reasons two and three are fresh quality and supporting local businesses. By the way, I have found the same quality to going to a local mechanic for my car. It more convenient and very much appreciated.

Buy LocalThe ultimate buy local: A farm stand-

To complete the sequence of purchasing locally, it  is also better when it comes to computers. A quick confession, the computer is integral to my work and life  especially in the pandemic. I did walk the talk and brought my new computer through a local computer genius. Yes, I have  had computer technical help remotely from the Philippines, Georgia, and Maine  for it.  They have be useful and helpful. But when one of them actually sat down in front of my computer, then his skills and abilities not only dazzled me but also did wondered for my computer.

Whenever possible buy locally! It better for service, and quality supports area businesses.

Change happens one step at a time

January 2021
One step at a time

Welcome to January of a new year, 2021-yippee!  This represents the perennial time for the infamous New Year’s Resolutions.  As any gym personnel will testify, those ambitious plans crumble by February or March.  What can I offer in the face of that reality?  Simple, whatever you resolve to accomplish, do it one step at a time.  There are a million cliché’s that trumpet it.  “Think globally; act locally”. Dean Witter used to boast and advertise itself as “We measure success one investor at a time ". Whenever I set out to climb a mountain, I do it one step at time. Each step is the key to whole venture. And, when I did long sail boat race, I would break it in ‘legs’ to be achieved. The race is only completed and hopefully won one leg, properly executed, in order, at a time.

Whatever the goal, do it in stages. Set limited, small, accomplishable gains.  Just like in climbing a mountain, I do it in phases.  Get to the base of the mountain.  Then, reach the high transvers.  Finally, I hike on to the summit.  And between the phases, there are each step at a time.  One great advantage of this system is each section achieved, represents a victory.  Success breeds success.

Let’s look at other examples.  Let’s take weight lost.  You resolve to lose 20 pounds-great. But, instead set the goal of losing 5 pounds in 3 weeks.  Yes, aim low, go slow.  This system proves to be more sustainable, too.  Or you want toe learn to play a musical instrument.  First, practice simple hand or mouth pieces.  Do simple songs.  One new note at time.  Or you want to run a half marathon. Start with  jogging.  Later move to running.  Get comfortable with a 5 k race.  Build your endure and confidence slowly,  Like The Little Engine that  Could, I think I can, I think I can!

In medicine there is another example.  We starting an elderly patient on a new medication, the basic rule go low and slow. That translates into an initial low dose and increase it gradually over time. It works. 

The message remains, when starting out on a new venture aim high but go slow.

Running Brain

December 2020 
Exercise on it: The Mind-Body Connection

Let me jump to the bottom line and work backward.. Physical activity helps you think.  Here is an example, years ago a publisher canceled the book contract I had been writing for it.  I had done a great deal of work on it and was quite vexed, to say the least.  However, rather than just sit there and stew about it, I went for a jog. During the run,  I came up with the idea of turning the book’s concept into edited journal issue.  Running improved my thinking and the resultant idea was testimony to value of physical activity in my cognitive ability aka thinking.

I loved to jog.  I found after running for a while, my thinking became clearer and focused. During my running a course, I reaped many cognitive benefits.   I would come upon a neat solution to a problem  that I had been fretting.    Or, while my feet hit the ground, I would come with a creative  idea, gain an insight, or rework an article I was writing.  And,  as my July 2019, Insights for a Better Mental Health  noted “Exercise makes me a better person”.  I found that exercising not only improved my menta abilities but also lead to be being more generous  and helpful to others. Although jogging was one form of exercising, I have found many different activities had the same cognitive improvements.  The physical activity could be walking, a stair master, bicycling, golfing or on an elliptical machine.

And many studies demonstrate the link physical activity and thinking.  Christopher Bergland https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201404/physical-activity-improves-cognitive-functionwrites “Regular physical activity can improve brain function throughout a lifespan.”    Alzheimer’s prevention programs as well as many other programs designed to promote, maintain and improve the brain advocate physical activity.

So, when you are dealing  with a problem, wanting to gain insight into an issue, hope to be creative  and just want  to think clearer, exercise!

November 2020 The Need To Be Effective

One of the cornerstones of a Psychology 101 college course stands Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’ pyramid https://www.explorepsychology.com/maslows-hierarchy-of-needs/. It nicely outlines a series of levels of individual needs. They are from the lowest level up as follows: Physiological Needs, Security and Safety Needs, Social Needs, Esteem Needs and finally Self-Actualization Needs. These represents a neat way at looking a human need.

But, as a psychologist colleague pointed out, there is another one. That is the need to be effective. What does that mean? Here are some of the definitions. One meaning of effective is successful in producing a desired or intended result. Another is that effectiveness means adequate to accomplish a purpose; producing the intended or expected result. And finally a last definition for being effective is a successful or achieving the results that you want. What is the common denominator? It is a feeling of accomplishment. That’s easy.

We all want to feel that we have to achieve something. In sports it could mean winning a game, getting a hit, smashing a home run, throwing a terrific pass, parring a hole, pitching a strike, and dunking the basketball. In school, it could grades on a test or a report or a class. In cooking, it could be making a meal everyone loved. As a parent, one of my goals for each of my children has been to find an area in which that one excelled in. It could be a sport, or on an instrument, a subject, a hobby, or a game. I want each of my children to feel successful in something.

Translating effectiveness into your own life, means each one discovers at least one area in which you feel you have accomplished and achieved something. It could be at your job, in a sport, in a hoppy, in your work, in solving a puzzle, in gardening and the list goes on and on. Find it, do it, practice it, enjoy it. And then feel successful!

October 2020 The Morning Glory and Your Glory

I hope that title caught your attention, here is the story. In our garden, we have a couple of Morning Glory vines. One grows on a triangular trellis and the other, on a pole. All Summer long, the vines with their large green leaves surrounded and held on to each’s supporting device. Nice. Then, on Saturday, September 5, 2020 the one on the pole vine produced two beautiful purple flowers. They took my breathe away. I said to myself, “I should take a picture of them”. But, it was getting on toward evening and dinner was waiting. The next day, the flower was gone. It blew my mind.

What did I learn? I found out two things—one about the Morning Glory and the other about life. Here’s what the website said about the plant https://www.hgtv.com/outdoors/flowers-and-plants/flowers/morning-glory-flower. “These beautiful bloomers unfurl trumpet-shaped flowers that open daily in early morning. Morning Glory flowers bring magic to the garden with their sun-worshiping ways. Each blossom lingers only until the sun begins to sizzle each day, then they close and die. It’s an incredible process to witness.”

And the life lesson is for certain things do not put them off. This idea represents a kissing cousin to Carpe Diem. The Morning Glory event shouted out to me- stop procrastinating! “Do not put off to tomorrow, what you can do today". Many senior folks often say , "I do not regret the things that I did, but rather those I did not do."

In looking at life, I have had many moments I am proud of. These include hearing Robert Frost in person, shaking hands with Barack Obama, and listening in person to Pete Seeger. A friend of mine missed a meeting to attend her son’s first baseball game. She was right. She can get the minutes of the meeting but never have the seconds of the first game experience. Your child’s birth, cutting the umbilical cord, hearing their first words, watching your kids' first steps and being at their kindergarten graduations — all are moments, if not witnessed, are gone like the flower of a Morning Glory.

And by the way, I did learn from experience. But, the next day the vine had another flower and I did take that one’s picture!

Blue Flowers

September 2020-   Dreams provide an avenue to understand your self       

Yes, I will start with Freud’s statement: “Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious”. That is a powerful idea. Let ‘s unpack it. First, one has to appreciate that something in ourselves beyond one’s conscious thoughts. This known as the unconscious. I will demonstrate it in several ways. There are Freudian slips.  Yes, the classic example is when you are about to say milk but instead speak the word, mother.  Hypnosis can reveal thing in one’s unconscious. In one case, a person witnessed a hit-and-run automobile accident but he could not recall the car’s license number.  Under hypnosis, he did.  Many folks, under the influence alcohol, will utter what one really thinks about another person. Hence, the embarrassing statements, regrettably said at the office’s Holiday Party.  It also can be seen during Amytal Interviews (Amytal is a barbiturate}.  In it, people reveal events thoughts they could not recall consciously.. Finally, as Freud said, there are dreams to get in your unconscious.

Assuming you accept the connection of dreams to the unconscious, what can dreams do? They can solve problems, forecast the future, offer divine revelations and indicates past challenges. There is a legend that a chemist and scientist   Kekulé was trying to understand the configuration of six carbon molecule. He had a dream of a snake either chasing or biting its tail. From that dream he came up with benzene ring. Some people use dreams to tell the future. Remember the story of Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dream of seven fat cattle followed by seven thin cattle.  It meant seven good years then seven famine years. And for some faiths, they believe the deity speaks to the prophets through their dreams.

But for most of us, dreams represent unresolved issues, conflicts and traumas. For example, my ex-brother-in-law died from cancer. Historically, he and I had had a close relationship.  Then there a divorce followed by him developing cancer, However, since the divorce, I did not have any contact with him. Two years after his death, I had a dream in which I said good-by to him. The dream represented my unconscious guilt of never having visited when he was dying.  One detail, I had had that dream on the second anniversary of his death! Dreams and nightmares present us with opportunity look at areas of your lives which hidden in one’s unconscious.

We dream every night. One of the best ways to remember dreams is too write them down.    Yes, keep a pad of paper and pen next to your bed.  Share them with a partner, a friend or a therapist.  Remember, you are the best person to interpret your own dreams! 

This represents a monthly idea that will lead to you have better mental health. We all can learn and improve.

August 2020 Thinking outside the box

Most of us have heard the term but many do not know its origin. However, before I get to that answer, let me explain the idea of this insight. Too often, people take the easiest solution to a problem. Right now, I am asking you to use your creative talent and thinking outside the box to solve the problem I am presenting to you, now.

Here is the problem which I have given to many of my college classes.  The question aka  the problem is simply what does my mother love and what does she hate.  For example, she loves kittens and hates cats; she loves puppies and hates dogs.  Easy-right. You figured it out? But and this is a big BUT, once you solved what my mother loves and hated DO NOT tell the answer but instead provide an example of what she loves and hates.

Ready to go on? My mother loves ladders but hates stairs; my mother loves pepper but hates salt; and my mother loves hills but hates mountains. Not quite so easy? This is hard to do, when the students cannot see the actual words. That is a big clue. Here are a few more. My mother loves pills but hates medicine; my mother loves jelly beans but hates candy; and since jelly beans can come in different colors, my mother loves yellow but hates red.

Figured it out? If so, give an example of what she loves and hates.  Okay, she loves double consonants and hates any other word.  Remember loves double consonants but she hates school!!

The whole exercise is for you to think outside the box. In other words, be creative. Now as promised, the source of that statement. “Thinking Outside the Box with the 9-Dot Problem. Here is another classic puzzle, the 9-dot problem. To a person who encounters it for the first time, it can be puzzling indeed. The problem is to connect 9 dots (three evenly spaced rows of three) with four lines, without lifting your pencil from the paper. If you do not know the solution to this puzzle, you should try to solve it now, using trial and error, before you read further.” https://www.psywww.com/intropsych/ch07-cognition/problem-solving.html#9-dot


Good looking for and finding solutions outside the box.

The purpose of this whole Insight, is to encourage folks to look for unique, creative and innovative answers and solutions to questions and problem in their lives. Start-up companies and entrepreneurial people are now major players in our lives and economy. Remember, it the beginning facebook and ebooks  were the result of thinking outside the box.

July 2020   Bittersweet is not just a Taste but also it is life

In the last year I have been watching the Amazon Prime series 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel'. It is now into its third season with its fourth due out in late 2020. It deals with a New York City mother struggling to become comedian in the 1960’s. I am captivated by the series. What is so enticing about the program is the both comedy and pain of its characters as well as the predicaments they get themselves into. In other words, I laughed and, at the same time, in the words of President Bill Clinton,” I can feel your pain”. I felt sad when some of the characters were hurting. My viewing experience of that program was bittersweet.

The more I live, the more appreciate that life is full of the bittersweet. There is an Israeli song, Al Kol Eleh, written by Naomi Shemer which begins with these lyrics: “Over the honey and the stinger, Over the bitter and the sweet” . These words captures this idea. https://lyricstranslate.com/en/over-all-these-things-lyrics.html. For example, any graduation is bittersweet. On the positive side, one is after completing something moving on and advancing toward another level. Yet, at the same time, one saying good bye to one’s classmates and teachers. So that the graduation ceremony one witnesses both joy and tears.

Bittersweet has two kissing cousins: ambivalence and the Yin and Yang. Ambivalence means having two diametrically opposed emotions at the same time. That seems so impossible. That is amazing and so unreal but also very real. Ambivalence forms the basis of many jokes. There is the classic line when a person is asked about one’s spouse. “Divorce, never; homicide maybe”. Relationships come with elements of bittersweet. People often feel ambivalent about their jobs. There are aspects they love and enjoy. Then there are aspects of their work they abhor. In the principle of Yin and Yang, two diametrically opposed positions are linked together. Examples include good and bad, day and night, and male and female. It basically says you can not have one without the other.

Life is full of the bittersweet-

June 2020   Making Every Encounter Count!

I suspect that idea of making every encounter count sounds a bit either pompous or unreasonable.  Yet, it is what I strive for.  When I was treating patients, I wanted each one of them to walk away after the session, feeling something had been accompanied.  When I taught a class, I wanted students to leave the room feeling that they learned something from it. 

But that is in a doctor’s office or in classroom, how does that translate into every day life? To me, it is simple.  Let me provide several examples.  If I am at a restaurant, I insist to know the server’s name and where that person is from.  I want to deal with a person, not a “hey you”.  And, I find knowing where an individual provides a neat and quick generally neural way to connect with them.  See Insights October 2019: How to Make Friends and Influence People for more about using the geographic connection.  And sometimes, if I am ordering coffee, I will pose the following question to the waitperson.  What do you call a cow, that just had a calf?  The answer is de-caffeinated.   That is appreciated by the staff but frowned upon by my dining friends.  They, with annoyance, remark, “I’ve heard that a million times”.  Humor can often help make the encounter count, too.

One national and international hotel chain uses some of these ideas.  All personnel wear a name target.  The that badge has two pieces of information on it. It gives the employee’s first name.  It also tells where the worker comes from.  If they are from the United States, it gives the state each is from. If they are from another country, it tells the nation each is from.  That information is a great conversation starter. Conversations enhance the encounter

Another example happens when I am buying something.  I ask a lot of questions about the product.  But first, I want to relate to the salesperson personally.  At a minimum, I want to know that person’s name and shake the hand.  The questions not only gain more information about the product but also to treat the sales person as knowledgeable.   Or in the supermarket, at least, I will smile at the cashier and make small talk.  I am especially curious about their names.  I love to give people an opportunity to talk about themselves.

Try it, make very encounter count.   That is an idea you can count on.

May 2020  Assume makes an Ass of You and Me!

Remember the old adage, “Open mouth, insert foot.” How many of you have done that by the assumptions you have made? There is the classic situation of meeting an old female classmate whom you have not seen in years. She happens to look physically big. You with glee, and say “hello and when are you due? However, she is not pregnant. As a result, a moment of mutual joy becomes a period of mutual embarrassment. To some degree police profiling is based on assumptions. The assumption that certain groups of people more likely to be criminals. Hence, all too often many African-American encounter D W B, Driving While Black. A student of mine, husband’s was an African-American. And whenever he drove his BMW home late at night through a ‘white’ suburb, he was stopped by the local cops. I recall the this event. A mature woman dressed in a business attire was sitting in a wheel chair at an airport, waiting to board a plane and drinking a cup of coffee, A man came up to her and put a quarter in her coffee cup! He had assumed she was begging for money. I bet you can come up with other examples.

What to do? The answer is easy. First, recognize that you making assumption. Yes, stop and think. Before you speak, engage brain. Figure out that you are making an assumption and then question if it accurate. You can do so by talking with the person and assessing the situation who is the object of your assumption. If one did a quick, hello to the person in the wheel chair, that person might have discovered, she was on a business trip. And you would have saved a quarter. There is a saying, ‘curiosity killed the cat, but information brought him back”. Recognize you are making an assumption. Then question that assumptions. Challenge it. Finally, if indicated say something or not.

April 2020  Try Something New!

Yes, try something new in your life. There are many reasons to do so. It expands your activities. Thus, it gets out of the daily routine, aka rout. That goes along with the old adage variety of is the spice of life. New ventures also represent new learning. It has been long touted that mental challenges offer an avenue to preventing or delays Alzheimer’s. Here are some mental challenges: learn another language, take up playing a new musical instrument, and work on mathematical and word problems.

In physical activity and exercises change or doing something different has long been advocated. In strength training, one is urged to keep adding more weight. Cross-training is recommended for a number of sports. Exercise physiologist frown doing the same exercise all the time.What makes people not try something new? Many will not because they fear they will not be successful. Originally, many administrative personnel resisted the use of a computer to do word processing instead of their familiar typewriter. Personally, I delayed my acquainting a smartphone instead of my flip-top one, for concerns over my ability to master the new devices. By the way, I am still trying out my new iPhone.

For those hesitant to do something different, I recommend “Try Something new.”
Yes, simply try it. The operative word is TRY! If you like it, continue it; if you do not, stop it! I love to listen to books on CDs from my public library when I drive. A friend gave me this following advice. When taking out a new CD for the library instead of just taking one out, get two. Then, start one of the new CDs. If you like it, continue listening to it. If not, try the other.
Returning to the theme- Try Something New!!!!

March 2020  Applying the Medical Biopsychosocial Information Model to Your Own Health

Ready to apply the medical model to yourself? It sounds a bit complex. Let me make sense of it.  The traditional medical model has focused on disease.  It says that illness can be related to the interplay of your biology, how see the world, psychology, and your social context, sociology, aka  the environment.  It is easy to visualize the interplay of your genes, how you feel and your support system in terms of let us say Diabetes Type II. If you have a family history of diabetes, if you are stressed so that you eat a lot of ice cream, and if are of low income so you cannot afford to buy fruits and vegetables, then there is a high probability you will have a high blood sugar, aka diabetes. Moreover, I have added information to the interaction equation, The Biopsychosocial Information Model: The New Disease Paradigm. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1924996/.  

But what I am saying, apply the Biopsychosocial Information Model to yourself. You are product of your biology.   Your genes and your diet are major influencers of your life.  If you have a family history of diabetes, then you have to pay attention your sugar intake.  Your state of mind contributes to how see your world.  Your attitude determines your altitude.  If you wake-up in a bad mood or recently have had a family alteration, you might see the day or life negatively.  Your nationality, your religion, your neighborhood, your workplace and your country- all make-up your social network and context.  If you live a high crime area, you might not take an evening stroll.   And finally, information and its sources affect you.  Think of how a Facebook posting, a YouTube video, a television show especially a news broadcast, a certain website, a particular radio or a recent movie has influenced you.  For example, a PBS program on a plant based diet may change your grocery purchases. Or if your healthcare provider gives you a new prescription, many of us will immediately look its effects and side-effects on the Internet.

What is key here, is to look at yourself and your life as an interplay amongst your biology, your psychology, your sociology and your information. 

February 2020  Just do it now!

To make my point, let me call upon Benjamin Franklin who said “Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” This so simple and direct.  It can also lead to a companion notion; a stitch in time (saves nine). Either way, the enemy is procrastination.

Let’s look an example. For years I practiced psychiatry in the Emergency Department (ED) of large training hospital.  There I had to evaluate patients who were psychotic, depressed, suicidal, anxious or homicidal.  In that position,  I had to make one major decision for each patient: in or out patient treatment.  When in-patient treatment was indicated,  IT could be done two ways  The patient  could accept voluntary hospitalization or through an involuntarily commitment process. .  I had to do a complete psychiatric history and mental status examination on each patient as well as to document my findings.. What was key here the need record each patient encounter immediately after I had conducted the interview.  If I delayed writing the medical record, it meant I might forget key information and quotations in the documentation. Moreover by not procrastinating, I was then ready to evaluate the next patient.

Another example was a recent series of heavy snow storms which we had in New Hampshire.  We must deal with each storm when it happened.  Failure to do so resulted in our being trapped in the house, having ice dams, having too much snow on the roof and no having  path for the oil delivery.

So, the come back to the point, “Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”

January 2020:   Your New Year's Resolution: Just do something

Growing up in the 1950's I vividly recall hearing the Reverend  Fulton J. Sheen on the television.  He had a television series entitled Life is Worth Living http://fulton-sheen.cua.edu/bio/index.cfm Each program, he ended with this statement: "It is better to light just one little candle than curse the darkness." Clearly, that has made a great impression on me and is one of my guiding lights. All the time, one finds oneself surrounded by folk very willing to complain about things. It could be about the work, their children, their spouse, the cost of things, the government, their house of worship and the weather. As Mark Twain said. “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

My answer is to do something. Climate change is real and happening. I can talk about it, and I just did. But I do things to reduce my carbon footprint. We compost our kitchen products, and it eventually becomes organic manure. I turn off lights and use LED bulbs. I am concerned about not getting enough exercise. I could complain, but instead, whenever possible, I take the stairs instead of the elevator. I have difficulty reading. I could be annoyed at myself for it. But not, I listen to books on tape or CDs.

The point is simple and straight forward. Instead of the famous Nike slogan “Just Do It!”, I say, Just do something!. Volunteer to be on a committee, say hello to a stranger, pick up a piece of litter, park away from where you work and walk a little to get there, compliment someone and smile more. Yes, choosing a path of action rather than observation and complaining.


December 2019: How to Understand the Mystery of Group Behavior

Have you ever been part of a group? Most of us have. It could have been in school, part of an athletic team, at work, in a theater company, in a musical ensemble, at your place of worship, or in volunteer, political, or social setting. Furthermore, once you are in one of these groups, were you not amazed by its initial chaos? And then even more marveled that it actually accomplished something?

In fact, what you have witnessed and been part of was the group life cycle process. In 1965, Bruce Tuckman created a model for group development. Here are its four stages: The forming–storming–norming–performing. https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_86.htm

Let us walk through these stages. The first step is the actual formation of the group. Regardless of the task, a number of people are now brought together often for the first time. They have come as individuals and not infrequently view themselves as independent agents. Although each recognizes the ultimate goal of the group, collectively, many are uninformed about the number of facets of the issue, problem, or task. This is the hello phase. Who are you? What do you do? Where are you from December 2019 Insights?

The storming stage is often uncomfortable during many folk wonders why they are there. Here people often steak out their views, positions, and opinions. Hopefully, after each has offered one’s perspective and heard the other ideas, they are ready to move on.

Next is the norming stage. In this process, participants learn the ‘rules of the road”. Some groups will follow Robert’s Rules of Order. Others adopt codes to follow during the meeting, such as' "talk just about the subject and avoid personal attacks." This is when individuals start to see themselves at part of a group. Two movies nicely illustrate the entire process. One is Remember the Titians and the other is Miracle. In the Titians film, a Virginia high school, which has to be a forced integrated , has to form a biracial football team. In Miracle, students from many different collegiate backgrounds come together to form the 1980 United States Men's Olympic hockey team. Both vividly and dramatically highlight the change from “I” to “WE!”

The performing stage is where the group achieves its purpose. Be it a play, winning a game or series, completing a project, writing a paper, developing a product, doing a presentation, or reaching a goal. In the films, the team high-fives each other; the leader lights up a cigar; and each other hugs each other. They have won their games and performed well.

This sequence offers one insight to any group one may join or are already part of. It makes the group journey more understandable and perhaps easier to participate in.

November 2019:  Ask a local

We supposedly live in an information age. It is so easy to get ideas and data about places to hike, routes to bike, restaurants to eat at, movies to see, books to read, and any other conceivable question. Right? Google has all the answers. Not so fast.

Well, I am here to tell you the Internet and books can only get you so far. Let me give you an example to make my point. Recently, Peggy and I went on vacation to Southern Vermont. We had taken our bikes with us and really wanted to make a rail trail. Riding on the side of many of the roads was dangerous. We initially had decided on a river trail near Albany, NY. But, we had an accidental encounter with an Albany residence, who informed us about a new rail-trail that just opened. It was too new to make it to the biking books. So we changed our plans and destination.

We found the new trail via the Internet and used Waze to  get to the supposed start of the trail.    But upon arrival at that site, it was not there.  But, again, a chance encounter with a person walking in the neighborhood  saved the trip.  She told us where the trail actually began.  Then we followed here directions and gained the railhead. Yet, again local biker gave us key information about whether to ride first north or south on that rail trail.  He gave us good advice.  Without the information and knowledge of three local people, we would not have known about the trail, found it, or knew which direction to ride on it.

Tip O'Neill wrote a famous and often quoted book entitled All Politics Is Local: And Other Rules of the Game. The line most folks cite is All Politics Is Local. Spinning off from that, I would like to advance the idea that all information is local. So, if you want to know something about a place, ask someone who is local. If you want to know something about a school, ask someone who attends it. If you want to know something about a company, ask someone who works there or uses its products,

As an Information Volunteer for the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), the first thing I do when I arrive at a hut or lodge, I ask the room there. They are the ones who know the trails and their conditions.

So, when in doubt, ask local!

October 2019: How to Make Friends and Influence People”

My apologies, and thanks to Dale Carnegie, who wrote the self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People were in 1936 and which has sold over 15 million copies, but I like the idea and his title. And it does nicely capture what I want to say.

Remember that exciting and awkward moment when you meet someone for the first time? Besides that person’s name (which most of us promptly forget), there is usually the follow-up question. In America, that inquiry takes one of two forms. The first one is “How are you?”. This too often leads to a dead end. That is because the standard answer is “Fine.” Indeed, that reply is ubiquitous and automatic. In fact, next time someone asks you that, offer a review of how you really feel. It is too often not heard nor responded to. The most common question is, “What do you do?”. This means one’s vocation. Now, depending on one’s employment situation, the response can be interesting, inviting, painful, or embarrassing.

I propose as an alternative to both. Instead, ask, “Where are you from?”. It is easy, neutral, and a conversation starter. It gives you and the other person both a point of reference and something one can relate to. No matter what the location, it offers opportunities. It could have been a place you have been to. You might know someone who lives there. (In the idea of six degrees of separation, it is possible you do know someone for there) Or it could be a location you want to know more about or perhaps visit.

A quick digression to make the point and add a neat twist. I was talking to a woman. When I asked her where she was from, she said, Somerville, Massachusetts. Neat, because I could add that while I attended Tufts College, I too had lived in Somerville. Instantly, we had had a conversation expander. But then, she said the most profound statement. “In everyone;’ s life, there is a Somerville.” You’ll be amazed at how many folks have lived in Somerville at some time in their lives. This includes President Obama when he went to Harvard.

Back to the point, asking Where are you from? It is great way to connect and converse with others. It is a neat way to develop relationships. 

September 2019: Small, Incremental and Successful Steps to Lead to Progress and Triumph

Taking small, incremental, and successful steps in the direction you want to travel is the way to make progress.  Let me offer an example to explain this.  I suffered a jogging injury.  I fell and injured both my left knee and my pride.  For a while, I was even reluctant to run even though I love jogging.  Yes, I had moments of a fear of falling.  What to do?  At the urging of a friend, I started running again.  But it was only for a short distance.  Each run became a small victory and success.  So each time I could go a little farther.  My initial success bred confidence and courage. 

First, I want to unpack the three parts:  small, incremental, and successful.  Small means little, not huge steps.  If you want to eliminate the world hunger, start with helping at a local food bank.  Break a project down into manageable segments.  Another cliché’ is that “Rome was not built in a day.”  Incremental indicates a direction of progress and succession.  For example, in exercises designed to muscle strengthen, one first master the sets at one weight level. Then, you increase the load.  Successful hinges on the notion that success breeds success.  After I could jog for a quarter mile without problems, I was ready to try to run a half-mile.

But, what if one of the small steps were not successful?  Great question!  Rather than seeing it as a failure, look at it as a lesson and opportunity to learn from it.  Ever attend an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting?  There you will hear people telling their stories to a supportive and encouraging audience. The tale involves times of progress and moments of lapses, e.g., falling off the wagon.  Ultimately, the speaker sees the setbacks as just part of the recovery process.  They have benefitted from the mistake and put it into a recovery process resulting in their ultimate triumph.  One day at a time is a great message.  It leads to abstinence for the first day, for the first week, then the first month and the first year.  A model of small, incremental, and successful steps, remember to turn your stumbling blocks into stepping stones.

August 2019: Life’s Three Stages

It is time to combine some of my favorite life’s developmental schemes with Henry David Thoreau.  I want to link the life stages Freud, Erikson, Piaget, and Kohlberg with the dictum of Thoreau- "Simplify, Simplify, Simplify."  Freud advanced a developmental sequence of a 5 stage psychosexual model.  Erikson presented it in a lifelong psychosocial scheme in 8 stages.  Piaget created a 4 stage  cognitive-developmental model. And Kohlberg offered a 3 stage moral development model. To simplify things, I have created three stages of life  model: acquiring, maintaining, and divesting.

In the early years, one’s life is based on the acquisition.  It means attaining things.  From birth to your highest level of graduation, one is gaining knowledge. Physically, you go from not moving to crawl to walking and to running, In language one starts with cooing to dada and mama to sentences to vocabulary and to syntax as for some a second language. With writing, one begins with scribbling to letter to sentences and paragraphs. In information, you travel from a few facts to a mental encyclopedia.  You do so with a new job.  Meanwhile, you are accumulating  material things: clothing, toys, cars, homes, appliances, and furniture.

The next stage is based on maintaining and preserving all the accomplishments and achievements.  It takes many forms.  Professionally, it means doing continuing education to keep your license and certification.  In health, it translates into annual examinations and tests, not to mention holding steady with your weight and blood pressure.  In the home, one not only pays the mortgage but also a house insurance policy.  And some folk fence the front and back yards.

The last stage is marked by divesting.  People giving away things in their homes, they are downsizing.  A term, now popular, is a Swedish Death Cleaning.  This means parents and grandparents give away their prized processions to others or non-profits, because their children and grandchildren do not want those items. By doing so, upon their death, this relieves others from getting rid of them.  And yes, your final will represents the last act of this stage.

So there it is-the three-stage model of life: acquiring, maintaining, and divesting.  Simple, applicable, and where are you in this sequence?


July 2019:  Exercise makes me a better person

After I have jogged, I feel and act as though I am a better parent and partner.  This how that works.  I love jogging.  It is my time both  to exercise and for creative thinking. But it also a very selfish activity.  Unless I am running with another person, it is a very solitary experience.  It is my time for myself.  However, what I have discovered, after jogging, I come home in a more open, caring, sharing, and giving mood.  I played more with the kids and listened attentively to my partner.

Here is my explanation.  I love Erik Erikson’s eight stages of life.  In this developmental sequence, one goes from I to us or me to us.   Erikson’s  sixth stage, Intimacy versus Isolation, covers ages 18 to 40.  There, one discovers the importance of another person in your life.  Remember, before this stage, if someone asks you for dinner, you might quickly reply, “sure.”  However, once you have an intimate relationship, with the supper request, you now say, “Let check with my partner, first.”   n the seventh stage, Generativity versus Stagnation for ages 40 to 65, one becomes more focused on giving to family, the community and organizations. Ask any non-profit organization or college alumni office what group they have mostly been successful with.

So metaphorically, in my run, I have traveled from I to we.  Because I have done something for myself, I am now prepared to do things for others,

The take-home message:  Do something for yourself, be it jogging, meditation, listening to music, reading, and knitting.  Then you are in more open, sharing generously to others. 


June 2019:  I hear the birds: I am not depressed.

“I hear the birds; I am not depressed” is a power statement.  Many of us wake up with too much “noise” in our heads.   That noise is a result of a long list of  “things”  running through our minds.  These include things I have to do today, something I did not do yesterday, things I want to do today, but I cannot, wondering how can I avoid annoying others, and wondering whether my kids will call me today.  And that is to name a few.

Admit it.  You all have entertained some of these mental ramblings.  Regardless of our mental noise, the birds sing every day.  Yes, every day, even in the winter, they sing.  But some days you hear those birds and some days you do not.

The reason you can hear the birds is that your “noise” is silent or really turned down.  Too much noise is because you are stressed, worried, and perhaps depressed.  So when you  hear the birds, whether around your house, while jogging or on the golf course, you know that you are not depressed!!!

Take home message:  Did you hear the birds today?  If so, great.  If not, take a self-inventory.  Pay attention to your noise.