Judy Gruen

Oct 23

8 Ways to Boost Your Happiness, and Make Others Happier, Too

These tips have been pasted to a bathroom mirror in my house for years, and it’s time they got a broader airing. I take no credit for them: They came from The Jewish Women’s Project for Ahavas Yisrael (Love of Israel). You don’t have to be Jewish to benefit from them!

1. Greet everyone with a smile. It makes the world a happier place.

2. Recognize your own virtues; love yourself so you can love others.

3. Speak well about someone every day. Positive words create positive feelings.

4. Give a compliment. It’s a gift that lasts.

5. Be the first to apologize. You will be paving the road to peace.

6. Give more charity. When you give more, you get more.

7. Rejoice in the happiness and success of others. Your life will have more joy.

8. Take the time to feel the pain of others — we are one.

Oct 19

My Little Garden

This photo, taken with my iPhone, doesn’t do justice to my little garden. It’s funny how everyone loves the soothing sounds of water softly tapping into a fountain, and my office is just to the right of the garden, so I can enjoy the sounds of the water falling, even when I am looking straight ahead at my messy desk.

Our garden needs some attention, and I am not the one to give it, since the best I can manage is not to kill the hardiest of our house plants. I have learned to be gentle and to keep a respectful distance from my orchids, which demand precise care.

But I love my garden, and I love our fountain, and I hope the light dance of the water will help me keep my thoughts flowing productively as well.

Aug 22

Queen of Comedy Phyllis Diller, RIP

Have you ever noticed how often great comedians live very long lives? Phyllis Diller, who passed away on August 20, was 95. George Burns and Bob Hope both reached the century mark before they went to their final rewards. Art Buchwald defied medical predictions and lived to write a book about being in hospice, finally passing away at 82 with a freshly published book to his credit. I could go on, but you get the idea.

I’ve sometimes wondered if those who work professionally to make people laugh live longer because they have to look at the funny side, the bright side, the ironies in life that help us get — and give — perspective. Many comedians have also famously been depressed for long periods of their lives (Art Buchwald wrote movingly about his own bouts of depression in “Too Soon to Say Goodbye.”) But great humorists can’t afford to stay in the doldrums for too long: people are out there needing the gift of laughter. In giving it, I believe God often rewards them with longer lives.

The Wall Street Journal quoted this brief excerpt from Phyllis Diller’s autobiography, “Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse: My Life in Comedy,” which illustrates this point so well:

"Sure, I’ve experience my fair share of unhappiness, but throughout the years I’ve always tried to express and give cheer. One of my earliest memories is of standing as a teenie little kid in Sunday school, singing a hymn whose words still resonate in my ears:

'Brighten the corner where you are!

Brighten the corner where you are!

Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar;

Brighten the corner where you are!’

I bought that. And I sold it.”

Jul 18

Chocolate Is Good For You — Again

The good news about chocolate just keeps melting in. This week, the august European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) gave the nod to Barry Callebaut, the world’s largest chocolate manufacturer, allowing them to claim that cocoa flavanols are good for blood circulation. I wish I could fly to Zurich, the headquarters of Barry Callebaut, to offer my personal congratulations, and to ask for as many samples as they are willing to hand out to a weary traveler. And as long as I was there, I’d also conduct a personal investigation to try to figure out what it is about the Swiss that makes them the world’s whizzes in a trio of seemingly disconnected enterprises: precision watches, secret bank accounts, and divine chocolate. Perhaps the secret link is hidden away in a dossier in a Swiss bank vault, surrounded by priceless specimens of chocolate.

Untold millions of dollars have been invested in the tasty academic discipline of chocolate studies. Happily, each of them has proven an additional health benefit, making dark chocolate pretty darned near a health food. It boosts levels of antioxidants, which in turn gobble up free radicals. And if there’s one thing I think we can all agree on, it’s that there are too many radicals running free. It releases those feel-good endorphins, lowers cholesterol and blood pressure, and now, is known to potentially improve blood circulation. And, while nobody is saying this publicly, eating adequate levels of dark chocolate will keep us from getting too skinny, and therefore less fun to hug. Really, is there anything this superfood cannot do? Thankfully, nobody is throwing good money away trying to prove anything beneficial about milk chocolate, that pasty imposter. Talk about a waste of calories!

Always ahead of the curve in these matters, I have been insuring my own healthy heart and cholesterol levels for years by beginning my day with dark, semi-sweet morsels with breakfast, the perfect complement to my highly charged cup of coffee. And isn’t it delightful that the good news about caffeinated coffee also continues to percolate? Just this week, a new study showed that drinking up to four cups of caffeinated coffee a day could help prevent heart failure. I always knew coffee and chocolate were a winning health team, and I didn’t even go to medical school. I’m sure apples are still good for you, too. But why not bolster their health impact by baking an apple cake riveted with dark chocolate chunks?

Frankly, I think the first 100 studies that revealed dark chocolate’s power to lower blood pressure and cholesterol should have removed all doubt. Maybe people suspected that something that tasted that good couldn’t possibly be good for you. But nobody suspects that about the perfect summer peach, so why was chocolate always suspect? Too bad that money that was lavished on redundant studies couldn’t have been used instead been used to pay for chocolate subsidies — not for manufacturers, but for the common citizen, who could apply those subsidies to upgrade from Hersey bars to Godiva. (Notice that the first three letters of Godiva spell GOD — the only Manufacturer who could have created something so magically delicious.)

The only bad news, for me anyway, is that drinking milk with your dark chocolate can negate some of these other health benefits. Sadly, this means that chocolate chip ice cream may be less of a healthy choice than I have convinced myself it was. But I can work around this, if need be, even if it means I begin experimenting with soy milk at breakfast.

Imagine how healthy I’ll be with my chocolate, soy milk and coffee, perhaps a trio that will one day be revealed as the elixir of youth. Heck, even if it isn’t, those feel-good endorphins in the chocolate and the power surge from the coffee will make me feel invincible – at least for the first few hours of the day.    



Jul 11

Shut Up and Parent -

My new column on MommaSaid.net, posted July 10 — enjoy!

Jun 25

Queen for a Day

I was blessed with some wonderful birthday presents the other day, including three orchids (those closest to me know how much I love them), a pair of earrings, and this fabulous mug that assumes I have more power in my little fiefdom — or would that be wifedom? — than I actually have. In any case, it was a birthday that really rocked! And my morning coffee tastes even better in this delightful mug.

Jun 21

Memo to Kids at Camp: I Love You, Now Stop Calling

In most ways I’m a classic Jewish mother. If I’m cold, I tell my kids to put on sweaters. I make chicken soup on Friday nights. (It’s good and good for you!) I worry more than I should. But I depart from the stereotypes in one significant way: I really am not interested in hearing from my kids every day when they are away at sleepaway camp.

And yet, they call. They call from the bus to tell me they are on the way back from the water park, but the reception is patchy up in the mountains and usually the call breaks up, requiring several more calls to complete the message. They call to say that while the showers are flooding the bunks, they are still having a great time. They call to tell me about the successful outing to Wal-Mart to get fly swatters and candy. They call to tell me which bunk mates are being kicked out of camp for having taken a boat for an unauthorized midnight ride in the lake. They call me when their tummies hurt. 

Look, I’ll match my maternal love for my kids any day with any other mother on the planet. My kids are fabulous, smart, and good-looking (objectively speaking). I am enormously grateful to be their mom. But I had thought that going away to camp meant going away.  In so doing, my urban kids would theoretically revel in the freedom of being in the great outdoors, parent-free for one month. Meanwhile, we parents could learn to cope in a small, measured dose with an empty nest. Sheesh, if they really missed me that much, how come they never listen to me when they’re at home?

When the kids are home in Los Angeles, I worry about them when they are out too late or seem in a deep funk, but I am blissfully worry-free when my kids are at camp — until they call me at midnight from the bus somewhere in the mountains. Then I think: They’re on a dark and windy mountain road! Is the driver responsible, cautious, and still alert at this hour? When they call to report on the bug problem, I think: West Nile virus! Are they using the bug spray I packed? Ignorance is bliss, and I wish I weren’t always so well informed.

Moreover, it turns out I am also expected to email my daughter several times a week. I had thought I was doing something special by writing her a real note card that had to be mailed with a stamp, but this didn’t rate. “All the other parents” are busy emailing their campers, and so must I. God knows what damage I might do to my child if she doesn’t hear from me electronically every 48 hours. Talk about pressure!

The good news is, I absolutely must find something fun to do all by myself, not because I’m bored — just because this way I’ll have something worth sharing on the next phone call.

Jun 19

I Think, Therefore I’m Happy?

Here’s a powerful idea from Jewish tradition that I first heard many months ago from Rabbi Noach Orlowek, a renowned Jerusalem-based educator. In a talk he gave about true happiness versus false happiness, Rabbi Orlowek explained that the Hebrew letters that comprise the phrase “to think,” (machshava) are the same letters that comprise one of the words for happiness (b’simcha). 

Lesson learned, if we can incorporate it: Joy is in our minds. We really do have the power to choose to be happy — or as happy as possible given difficult circumstances. If we can try to see the big picture, and know that happiness is anchored in meaning, we can fuse the idea of thought and happiness more than we may realize. 

Thank you, Rabbi Orlowek, for this vital lesson.

Jun 18

Writing as Responsibility

I’ve cracked open my box of personalized note cards, the ones I usually enjoy using so much because I use them mostly as thank-you notes. Today, I am writing an apology note to a woman I care about and whom I accidentally hurt through my writing.

I was totally taken aback when I saw her this morning and realized she was upset with me. I had asked for her permission to quote her by name in my latest book, because I found her words to be both inspiring and, in the context of my topic of weight loss and exercise, also very funny. She graciously gave that permission. But in my haste to add interest and color to my work, I didn’t think to ask her permission when I chose to also quote something else she said, which had nothing to do with the diet/exercise theme. She had also shared something that of a more personal, painful nature that had recently occurred, and as I wrote this section of the book it struck me that this other bit of personal information could be “used” to link with something else in my story.

I wondered for too brief a moment whether it was okay to use this information as well, but I figured that it was okay. After all, I was only using her first name and  no other identifying information, such as where or when this took place.

I should have thought about it for longer. The point wasn’t whether she could be easily identified by others; she obviously recognized herself and also recognized that I had cavalierly taken liberties with her words for my for my own purposes.  Coming across the information on the written page caused her pain, and when I realized this, I felt like a jerk.

In an interview I gave Friday on a radio show, I made the point that writers must take care when writing about their lives, because by extension we are writing about the others who are in our lives. Today was a reminder of how careful I must be to follow my own advice, so that my work will continue to count for the good and not for harm.

Jun 11