Kick Envy to the Curb

Your friend drops 15 pounds…and you secretly resent her slim figure. Your coworker gets a big promotion…and you’re not exactly cheering. If this sounds like you, it’s time to overcome your envy and find a way to feel good about yourself.

“We could spend a lifetime researching why some people are more prone to envy than others,” says Carl G. Hindy, PhD, a clinical psychologist and marriage counselor in Nashua, N.H. “Childhood and early family experiences may have something to do with this. Recent past experiences, hurts and losses also play a part in how happy you feel for others.”

Try these expert-tested tips to conquer these feelings once and for all.

1: Reframe your mental state.
Being gracious about others’ successes is one of those things that sounds easy, but may not be such a cinch to put into practice. If you’re struggling with this, stop and think of why you may not be jumping for joy when a friend shares good news. “It helps to step back and examine more carefully, more objectively, what you’re thinking,” Hindy says. You may just have had a bad day, which has nothing to do with your friend’s accomplishment.


2: Keep things in perspective.
If a co-worker is promoted, this honestly has less to do with you than you think. “A promotion is really just that -- a raise and new title -- not a call to take action against yourself,” says Audrey Cleary, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Miami.


3: Beware of Facebook envy.
On Facebook, it seems like just about all your friends are living a life of bliss -- and researchers have found that this can accelerate jealous feelings. “Everyone has the most attractive and smartest children, the most loving relationships, and even [the best] dogs and cats on Facebook,” Hindy says. “We are prone to look at that and think, ‘What's wrong with me?’ But remember that a Facebook profile is like a brochure about the person. It's a collection of the high points, of what they feel best about. It would be a very different social media if our profiles were comprised of what we each feel worst about.”

 

4: Make a distinction between envy and jealousy.
There’s a reason these are two different words, explains Fran Walfish, PsyD, a family psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, California. “I define envy as ‘I wish I had it and she didn’t,’ while I define jealousy as ‘I wish I had it, too,’” she says. “It’s absolutely normal for adults to feel jealous, while envy has a tinge of meanness to it and needs special attention to get to the root cause.”


5: Be good to yourself.
Coveting your friend’s new Coach handbag? Practice some self-empathy. “You might say, ‘I wish I had that bag,’” Walfish says. “We can’t always have what we want and that’s a disappointment. But consider this: Each time you experience a disappointment, you’re giving yourself an opportunity to grow.” You’ll also feel better if you put a concrete plan into action: Start a savings account for a special splurge, sign up for an exercise class to lose weight, or research classes to boost your work skills.


6: Do the “deathbed test.”
As morbid as this sounds, asking yourself what your priorities will be when you’re 101 years old can help keep envy in check. “At that point, you won’t cherish a slimmer body or a bigger promotion,” Hindy says. “You’ll cherish the people with whom you were close and open, who valued you for being yourself -- not for being some brochure of what you wish you were.”


7: Look at yourself through others’ eyes.
One of the best ways to keep things in perspective is to assess yourself objectively. What would a stranger envy about you? “You don’t have to agree with those things,” says Cleary. “In fact, there may be a tendency to discount the value of those qualities that you perceive yourself to have, while exaggerating the value of those qualities in which you perceive yourself to come up short. But it’s a great exercise to try.”

Find New Friends Fast

When you’re younger, friends are everything. As you get older and people change and family responsibilities and jobs require more time and attention, it’s not unusual to lose touch with friends. And if you move to a new city, distance makes it even harder.

“In midlife, women’s lives are particularly full,” explains Irene Levine, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at New York University and author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend. “But having supportive friendships is important -- it reduces stress, blood pressure and the risk of depression.” Besides, friends make life more fun.

So check out these strategies for how to seek and develop meaningful friendships. They require only a little extra effort and repay you with a priceless gift.

1. Work your current commitments.
Conventional advice may suggest you sign up for an art class or book club to meet new people. But you’re probably overscheduled as it is! So instead, become more engaged in the groups you already have. For example, instead of watching soccer games with 30 other parents, become a board member of the league. Or lead a subcommittee for the PTA.

“You’ll connect more regularly and intimately with the same people,” says Levine. And doing so allows friendships to develop naturally, even though you aren’t shouldering much more of a time commitment.

2. Elevate an acquaintance to a friend.
When you find someone you click with, take baby steps toward making her a bosom buddy. “Share your real self slowly and wait for her to reciprocate,” says Levine. Meet for coffee and start by talking about your background or your interests (e.g., cooking or scrapbooking). Peeling back layers may be uncomfortable for shy types, but you need to expose yourself to see if there’s good mutual chemistry, she says.

On the other hand, should you feel totally at ease, resist the temptation to spill your life story right away. If your new pal is overwhelmed, she might back off unnecessarily.

3. Integrate yourself into a group.
If you’re on the periphery of an established social circle, breaking in can be daunting. Solution: Develop a closer relationship with one person first. Once the friendship sprouts, your pal is likely to involve you more with the group.

One warning: Don’t get too clingy with your go-to gal. At gatherings, chat with others so you don’t alienate her. And be patient. It takes time, but eventually you’ll be chummy with more members and become part of the inner circle yourself.

4. Spend time outside mommy-dom.
Being a mother is probably the most important part of your life, but it’s not the only part. “Mommy friends are our mentors and consultants, but it’s nice to have girlfriends with whom you can talk about more than kids,” says Levine.

So when reaching out to another mom, suggest a movie or art exhibit -- anything that doesn’t involve kids. And steer conversation away from little ones. Exploring other parts of your personality helps a relationship transform from a one-dimensional interaction to a full-fledged friendship. Plus, you’ll feel more like the well-rounded woman you are, beyond your role as mom.

5. Be open to friendship.
“It sounds sappy, but most friendships begin with a smile and openness,” says Levine. That means engaging in small talk where appropriate -- your office elevator, the community pool, courtside at your kids’ games. “If you act friendly and show people you’re interested in them, you’ll get a few ‘nibbles,’” she adds.

But finding your friend may be a hit-and-miss process. For example, you chat up a neighbor and she invites you to a party that turns out to be a pressure-filled sales pitch for her jewelry business. Don’t give up! Stay cheerful and talk with the other guests. Who knows, your future BFF may be there feeling duped too.

6. Nurture new connections.
Once you’ve made a friend, make her a priority by scheduling time together. If it feels forced or you’re just too busy, get your haircut at the same time and grab coffee afterwards. Syncing must-do’s guarantees a little one-on-one without overburdening your schedule. Also remember that you needn’t always connect face-to-face. Try other ways to stay in touch, such as Facebook, texting and quick calls, says Levine.

If you ever feel guilty about missed family time, know that investing in friendships pays off -- for everyone. “Friends help us relax and keep life in perspective,” says Levine. Those “selfish” moments recharge your soul so you can be a better mom, spouse, daughter and sister.

How to Get Your Kids to Really Talk to You

Does it seem like an effort to get your children to say anything to you besides, “Fine” and “What’s for dinner?” Lack of communication can make parents feel closed off from their own kids.

But don’t despair! You can get kids to talk to you -- really. Try these six suggestions from experts:

1: Don’t compare yourself to TV families.
If you watch shows like Modern Family or The Middle and wonder why your kids aren’t as chatty as the kids on those shows, you’re not alone. “Parents see kids talking to their parents on TV and they start worrying that they’re not doing enough of it,” says Carl Grody, LISW, MSW, a social worker who specializes in child, adolescent and family therapy in Columbus, Ohio. “Those [TV] parents have scriptwriters and 22 minutes of airtime to solve problems. In real life, it takes longer to make changes, but the changes are real, not made up.”

2: Pause and take a deep breath.
Telling your kids you’re upset about their one-word answers will only make the problem worse. “If you seem jittery, you may be projecting this to your kids and that stress is more likely to push them away than it is to draw them in,” Grody adds. Calm down and put things in perspective. You’re probably doing better than you think in the communication department.

3: Quiet your inner interviewer.
Instead of peppering your child with questions every day, ask him just one. “This may seem insufficient, but as you have more success getting him to answer you once, your child will feel more comfortable chatting and may even start volunteering more information,” Grody says.

4: Put down your phone!
If you want your kids to talk to you, set aside your cell, tablet or any other electronic distraction, says Loni Coombs, author of You're Perfect…and Other Lies Parents Tell. Make your body language open and assuring: Turn your whole body toward your child and make eye contact. “This is important, because when there is something really important that they need to talk about, they will feel like they can come to you because they know you will listen.”

5: Make meals fun.
Since mealtimes are often when most families gather, make that time an enjoyable one. Draw out your kids by hiding questions under each plate. Or have each family member write out a question, suggests Coombs. “Everyone feels more talkative when there’s food involved,” Coombs says. “Sharing in the preparation of the meal is also a good time to talk.”

6: Consider instituting family meetings.
To create an environment where conversation is encouraged, schedule times several days a week to get together and share your thoughts as a family. “This becomes part of the family ritual and encourages conversation and sharing,” says Richard Horowitz, a parenting coach and author of Family Centered Parenting.

And to keep things going, avoid asking open-ended questions. “Instead of asking, ‘How was your day?’, which often leads to one-word answers, ask, ‘What was the best thing and worst thing that happened in school today?’” Horowitz suggests. “And always respond with non-judgmental comments.”

Photo: Corbis Images

Perfect Post-Holiday Brunch Ideas

A family brunch is a great opportunity to relax together after the excitement of opening gifts. Best of all, you don’t have to spend a lot of time to make delicious (and healthy!) mid-morning treats. These two recipes that will have you out of the kitchen and at the table in no time!

FESTIVE ZUCCHINI MUFFINS
Makes 12 muffins

2½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup canola oil
1¼ cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini (use the large holes on a box grater)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a standard-size muffin tin with a bit of canola oil, or use muffin cups.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, baking soda, nutmeg and cinnamon. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, canola oil, sugar and vanilla.

3. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and stir until almost incorporated. Add the zucchini and mix until the ingredients are just combined. Do not overmix, or the muffins will be tough.

4. Transfer the batter to the muffin cups and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan for five minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack.


 

Merry Berry Salad
Makes 4 cups

1 pint strawberries (fresh or frozen and thawed), halved or quartered into bite-size pieces
6 oz. raspberries (fresh or frozen and thawed)
½ pint blueberries (fresh or frozen and thawed)
1½ teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons chopped mint or basil (optional)

1. In a large bowl, gently toss together the strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, sugar and mint or basil if desired. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to 2 hours before serving.

Photo: Corbis Images

Your Biggest Holiday Dilemmas – Solved!

There’s nothing like the holiday season to put us under pressure. Whether it’s buying the perfect gift or hosting the best party, we’re in a race to meet high --and often unrealistic -- expectations during what’s supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year.”

“We try to make our friends, relatives and children happy, but you just can’t please everybody all the time -- especially during the holidays,” says Susan Newman, Ph.D., a social psychologist and author of The Book of No: 250 Ways to Say It and Mean It.

Here, a guide how to navigate four of the stickiest holiday dilemmas while keeping your relationships intact and reducing holiday stress.

 

Situation: Trimming your gift list without upsetting anyone.

Solution:  In today’s economy, drawing the line on gift-giving is a no-brainer. But the key to making this arrangement work is to spread the word early, before your sibs and gal pals max out their credit cards. “Many families limit how much the adults can spend on each other, or they do a ‘Secret Santa’ where everybody buys and receives just one present,” Dr. Newman says. “Another option is to set a policy that the adults buy for their young nieces and nephews, but not each other.” Among friends, there’s always uncertainty about how much to spend -- and fear that your gift will look chintzy. Solve the problem by setting a spending limit in advance. Or suggest an alternative, such as cooking a fabulous meal together or pooling your money and making a charitable donation.

 

Situation:  Changing an established family tradition. 

Solution: It’s the same thing year after year -- Christmas Eve at your mother’s place, New Year’s brunch at your sister’s -- and you’d like to be the host for a change. “You have the right to say, ‘I want to try something different; I want to host the family celebration this year,” Dr. Newman says. Try this approach: First, acknowledge the other person’s feelings while presenting your side: “Mom, I know how much you enjoy having us over, but with our crazy schedules, it would be easier if I could host dinner this year.” Second, encourage her to contribute to the celebration: “It wouldn’t be Christmas without your chocolate cake.” And if your mom balks at giving up hosting duties, suggest that she schedule her gathering on a different day. “Be prepared for a little pushback at first, but remember that families not only adjust to change, but even embrace it,” Dr. Newman says. “More than anything, your parents want to be with you on the holidays.”

Situation: Celebrating when you’re not feeling festive.

Solution: If you’ve been going through a rough patch -- a divorce, a layoff, the loss of a loved one -- the thought of going to holiday parties, concerts and tree-lighting ceremonies may seem overwhelming. The answer: Instead of accepting every invitation, choose one or two that you think you’d enjoy. To the rest, decline with a simple answer: “It was sweet of you to ask me, but I can’t make it” or “I’m sorry, but I already have other plans.” Don’t give a detailed explanation as to why you can’t attend. As Dr. Newman points out, “If you say, ‘I’m not happy this year’ or ‘Things are going badly for me right now,’ you’ll give the host wiggle room to say, ‘Oh, you’ll feel better if you get out and see people.’”

Situation: Trying to please both sides of the family at once.

Solution: Stressed out from racing to both your parents and in-laws’ houses on Christmas? Some boundary-tightening is in order. You and your kids will have a far more pleasant day if you don’t have to fight traffic and chow down two heavy meals to avoid hurting Grandma and Nana’s feelings. “Don’t let yourself be held hostage by the past,” Dr. Newman warns. “On a rotating basis, visit one set of relatives on Christmas Eve and the other on Christmas Day. Or celebrate with one set on Christmas Day and the other during the week.” Stand your ground. After all, you’re an adult now, and it’s up to you to write holiday rules that work for your family!