Add some years to your life with upbeat thinking

grim reaperIf you hate the thought of getting old, you may be shortening your life.

That’s the conclusion of researchers from Yale and Miami universities. Their study found that older individuals with more positive self-perceptions of aging, measured up to 23 years earlier, lived 7.5 years longer than those with less positive self-perceptions of aging.

“Self-perceptions of aging had a greater impact on survival than did gender, socioeconomic status, loneliness, and functional health,” said the researchers, who studied 660 individuals aged 50 and older.

This study ties into the lecture on resilience that I wrote about Monday. The ability to bounce back from adversity is deeply influenced by how you think about the problem. The more you can get free of one-dimensional thinking, often stemming from psychological needs, the more options you have for assessing a problem and finding solutions.

Unfortunately, our youth-oriented culture promotes many negative stereotypes about aging that are hard to ignore and easy to internalize. Buying into this negativity can be life-threatening for the elderly. As the researchers note compellingly:

If a previously unidentified virus was found to diminish life expectancy by over 7 years, considerable effort would probably be devoted to identifying the cause and implementing a remedy. In the present case, one of the likely causes is known: societally sanctioned denigration of the aged. A comprehensive remedy requires that the denigrating views and actions directed at elderly targets undergo delegitimization by the same society that has been generating them.

Even when the elderly can fight off society’s negative stereotypes, other obstacles to upbeat thinking present themselves. When my mother was 88 and afflicted with medical problems that would soon take her life, I asked her about her outlook on life. She reflected on this question for a while and said: “I used to think that things always worked out for the best. Now I’m not so sure.”

At 60, I had to accept the fact that the arthritic pain in my left hip could cripple me in a few years. Hip-replacement surgery eliminated the pain overnight and enabled me to resume my active lifestyle, including playing full-court basketball. What a boost to my feeling of resilience.

Even so, the operation clearly signaled what road I was on and where it would lead. The reality of death casts a long shadow over the effort to stay upbeat when you’re elderly. That’s why there’s truth in the saying: Old age ain’t for sissies.

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Stumbling blocks on the road to resilience

“Why Some People Are Resilient, and Others Are Not.”

That was the title for the third lecture in a One Day University event I attended yesterday.  Instead of doing garden chores and working out at my athletic club, I thought I would stretch my mind with a few scholarly presentations. The semi-annual event is sponsored locally by The Sacramento Bee, my employer of 32 years. How’s that for resilience!

Well, after listening to an entertaining, informative talk by Andrew Shatté, a psychology professor at the University of Arizona and co-author of  “The Resilience Factor,” I have to wonder. Resilience refers to the capacity to overcome adversity, to bounce back from setbacks. I had my share of those at the Bee and still returned to work each day, intent on doing a good job.

In some ways, I was following in my father’s footsteps. He was a high school chemistry teacher in New York. Although he was disgruntled that he hadn’t been promoted to principal, he set high standards for his students, oversaw the chemistry club and missed just one day of work in 38 years.

I didn’t see my father as a role model in resilience. I thought the old guy was in a rut and afraid to leave the security of the job, like so many others who had struggled through the Depression. As a kid, I wanted the freedom and excitement promised by the boom years following World War II, from a cool Chevy Impala to a vision of man walking on the moon.

Thanks to the social upheaval of the 1960s, I delayed my entrance into the “real world” until I was past 30. Then I caught the last train to the middle class and followed my father’s work pattern, even though I didn’t have eight kids to support. In fact I had no kids and no economic need to stay tethered to my job. Yet stay I did, even though managers and C.K. McClatchy himself failed to see me as executive editor material.

Like my father, I chose job security over ambition. When I didn’t get desired promotions at the Bee, I could have displayed resilience by making an all-out effort to advance my career at another newspaper. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, that was a viable option. But resilience of that sort is tied to seven factors, according to professor Shatté. As he outlined them, I immediately focused on a few personal stumbling blocks.

Consider “causal analysis,” which is the ability to get outside one’s habitual thinking style and accurately identify the causes of adversity. Most people have their radar set to identify trouble in a fixed way, depending on how they were raised, Shatté said. That limits their ability to find more possible causes of the problem and potential solutions.

When I didn’t get a promotion, I viewed it as a personal attack by incompetent or threatened supervisors. I didn’t use it as an opportunity to assess weaknesses I might have or perceptions people had of me. Nursing a grudge did nothing to help me empathize with supervisors and build better relationships.

I also fell short on “realistic optimism,” defined as the ability to stay positive about the future and realistic in planning for it. Through my work years, I often saw life as a house of cards, set to fall apart sooner or later. Maybe that’s the Irish in me.

In retirement, I find it useful to reflect on the roads taken and the reasons why. Improving my resilience may help me stay in the game until I’m 100. Beyond that, I don’t know how much optimism I can generate.

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Lead-contamination fears in Sacramento used as fodder for cheap-shot column

In filing criminal charges against three officials responsible for maintaining safe water in Flint, Michigan, the state attorney general declared that they “had a duty to protect the health” of Flint residents and “they failed to discharge their duties.”

That clear, compelling and obvious statement of accountability Wednesday is far removed from the reprehensible, self-serving bleating of Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton this week regarding a local lead-poisoning danger.

Instead of providing a journalistic public service by focusing on city officials who displayed a callous disregard for the safety of residents near Mangan Park in south Sacramento over a period of years, Breton chooses to blame nearly 32,000 city residents, myself included, for the mess.

That incredible connection, if one can call it that, was our vote against Kevin Johnson’s attempted power grab in 2014 via Measure L. Breton apparently is still in a snit that his public declarations of support for his buddy Johnson failed to overcome voters’ wariness of our morally challenged mayor. A strong mayor, Breton seems to argue, would have established clear lines of authority throughout the city bureaucracy and all would be dandy for children, parents and other residents near Mangan Park.

Breton’s strained logic trivializes a serious issue of public safety and does nothing to establish needed accountability for a health danger initially recognized in 2006. According to a Bee story earlier this month, more than 20 tests conducted inside the range between 2006 and 2014 found lead in nearly every corner of the building that was used as rifle and pistol range.

The city-owned building was closed in December 2014 after elevated levels of lead were found on the roof, but local residents were not notified about the potential danger. The city did not conduct soil tests or put up a barrier around the building until the Bee starting investigating the issue recently.

The toll on public health remains to be seen. I haven’t read anything about what warnings – if any – were given to those who used the indoor gun range for years. The lead levels measured inside the building were sometimes hundreds of times greater than the state’s hazard threshold, according to the Bee. Then there are all the neighborhood children – including my two grandchildren – who played in the park with no awareness of possible unseen danger.

Who knew what and when they knew it should be investigated. Let’s see the emails and other internal communications among city officials, council members and the mayor. Maybe, as in Flint, criminal charges are warranted.

Meanwhile, if Breton is as enraged as he claims to be about this mess, he might start looking closer to home. Why didn’t he or others at the newspaper know what was going on for the past 10 years? Why wasn’t the 2014 closure investigated then?  Why were the watchdogs asleep on the job?


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UC Davis chancellor says the craziest things

uc seal A wife catches her husband in bed with another woman. He denies anything is going on and asks: “Who are you gonna believe – me or your lying eyes?”

That old joke came to mind the other day while I was reading the latest absurd statement from UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi. I almost admire the chutzpah of this scoundrel who just isn’t going to let go of her $424,360 a year job and the lucrative perks that come with it. Katehi seems convinced she can spin her way out of any “missteps” she has made.

Earlier this month, the Sacramento Bee reported that the school spent at least $175,000 to scrub the Internet of negative publicity surrounding the 2011 pepper-spraying episode and execute an online branding campaign to boost the image of the university and chancellor. This effort came in addition to a huge jump in the UCD strategic communications budget since Katehi’s hiring.

Caught using taxpayer money to undo one of her “missteps” and making a mockery of the University of California motto “Let there be light,” Katehi sought refuge in a bold claim of stupidity. In an April 18 statement, Katehi said:

In hindsight, we should have been more careful in reviewing some of the more unrealistic and ridiculous scope-of-work claims in the written proposals of our outside vendors. What might be accepted industry hyperbole in the private public relations world falls far beneath the high standards of a public institution of higher learning.

The UCD chancellor would have us believe that she and her staff overlooked some mind-numbing fine-print language buried deep in these contract proposals. But here’s what one of the companies had to say in its six-page proposal, according to the Bee.

“Nevins & Associates is prepared to create and execute an online branding campaign designed to clean up the negative attention the University of California, Davis, and Chancellor Katehi have received related to the events that transpired in November 2011.”

UC Davis hired Nevins & Associates in 2013 in a six-month contract that paid $15,000 a month. The university later paid a second company more than $80,000 to “design and execute a comprehensive search engine results management strategy,” the Bee said.

Despite these facts, Katehi proclaimed in her statement:

None of our communications efforts were intended — or attempted — to erase online content or rewrite history.

So, when the UCD chancellor is caught in bed, so to speak, with suitors seeking to manipulate online content for her benefit, are you going to believe her or the evidence in front of you?

I’ll go with the evidence, but as a native of New York, I find her chutzpah impressive.

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Help wanted: Coach with strong punch needed for Sacramento Kings

How about Mike Tyson as the next coach of the Sacramento Kings? Sure, he’s turning 50 this year, but the former heavyweight boxing champ could still knock some sense into DeMarcus Cousins’ thick head or scare the 6-foot-11 star into being a team player. Cousins needs someone who can kick his butt, right?

Want a tough guy with more basketball knowledge? There’s Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Bill Laimbeer. No one trifled with them in their playing days. Cousins would think twice before cursing them out in the locker room.

George Karl, the Kings’ long-suffering coach until a few days ago, reportedly wasn’t up to being a tough guy. That’s part of the reason he got fired. Two bouts of cancer and a bum knee turned Karl into a shadow of his former self. He was punking out of fighting Cousins and losing the respect of all the players in the locker room.

If you didn’t know that, you haven’t been reading the Sacramento Bee very closely. Here’s how sports columnist Ailene Voisin put it last Friday:

A younger, healthier Karl – one who felt fully empowered by his organization – would have reacted to Cousins’ profane tirades by throwing punches or tossing him out of practice. But this is not the same feisty, in-your-face coach who transformed losing franchises into perennial playoff participants. He has a bad knee that will be surgically replaced next week. He has survived two bouts of cancer, and his vocal chords have been severely damaged by the treatment, reducing his voice to a whisper at times.

Karl ranks fifth all-time in NBA annals with 1,175 head coaching victories through 27 seasons. He compiled a 44-68 record in one and a half seasons in Sacramento. I didn’t come across any stats on how many locker-room fights he won along the way.

Does Voisin really think a punch-throwing Karl would have brought Cousins under control? I don’t know. The idea is as ludicrous as her theory that general manager Vlade Divac should hire the best coach available, not one who will placate the dysfunctional Cousins. Says Voisin:

The worst mistake Divac could make would be to hire someone based on whether he thinks that person would relate to Cousins, coax the poorly conditioned center into better shape, and overcome the six-year veteran’s volatile mood swings and bullying personality. Just hire the best man for the job. That’s it. This can’t be about Cousins. These six seasons have been brutal.

Assuming the Kings don’t trade Cousins, they would be foolish to bring in any coach who didn’t intend to minister to Cousins’ every strength and sidestep his weaknesses. Cousins has the support of primary owner Vivek Ranadive, and the star has made it clear he puts his statistics and self-interest above that of the team. He can’t or won’t play an uptempo game with a lot of ball movement. That isn’t his style. He wants to have the ball in his hands and make one-on-one moves or fire up some three-pointers. He averaged 26.9 points per game last season.

Let Cousins choose his own coach. Maybe he will average 35 points a game, and the Kings will grab the eighth playoff spot next year.


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