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Newsflash

It's Not Easy (or Happy) Being Green

When St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, you just can’t escape green. Even if you don’t wear it (and want to risk getting pinched), it’s still everywhere from store windows to menu specials to parades on TV. But that’s okay; on March 17, green is good.

“Irish” green is associated with happiness, celebrations, shamrocks, and the Emerald Isle. Too bad that’s not the case the other 364 days of the year! According to Todd Patkin, most of us normally experience green in a much more negative way: through envy. And that’s definitely not a good thing. “Being in the clutches of the green-eyed monster can really sabotage your overall happiness,” says Patkin, author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In (StepWise Press, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-9658261-9-8, $19.95).

“That’s because envy makes you focus on what you don’t have instead of all of the great things you do have.” Patkin points out that social media has really exacerbated the extent to which envy affects our lives. Think about it: Sites like Twitter and Facebook allow people to live their lives in full view of others…and sugarcoat every aspect of them. When you log on, you’re bound to see pictures and posts that read, “Most beautiful wedding ever!” “This was a dream vacation in paradise!” or “Drinks on me—I just got a promotion!” As you’re scrolling through this never-ending list of good news, it’s all too easy to feel like you’ve gotten the short end of the stick and say, “Woe is me!” And, of course, it doesn’t help that your Facebook newsfeed doesn’t ever go away. You can always torture yourself by taking a look at how much “better” everybody else has it.

“But here’s the thing: While you’re living your life in a constant haze of jealousy, you don’t see the other side of the coin,” explains Patkin. “What social media might not tell you is that the friend who got a promotion might also have just had a huge fight with her spouse. But unless she is one of those people who thrive on drama, she isn’t going to post those details of her personal life…and you won’t know that things aren’t as perfect as they seem.”

The bottom line is, jealousy doesn’t do anybody any good. It makes you feel needlessly unhappy, and it can negatively affect your relationship with others. Here are six of Patkin’s tips to help you banish envy the next time it starts to rear its ugly head:

Admit it; envy is a problem. To some extent, envy is natural. You can’t go through your life without feeling jealous from time to time. So first, simply take note of when and why the green-eyed monster makes an appearance. (You may not even have consciously realized what you’re feeling!) Specifically, be aware of how strong your emotions are and what effect they have on your attitude and behavior.

“You don’t have to take your emotional temperature every five minutes, but being generally aware of the role envy plays in your life can really make a difference in your behavior,” Patkin says. “For instance, if you’re carrying around a lot of anger toward a coworker because the boss liked his project proposal instead of yours, it could be making you unnecessarily snarky, critical, and negative. That means that you’re ruining your own day and hurting your performance…and you might also be burning some office bridges you’ll regret later!”

Remember, “happiness” looks different for everyone. When you’re constantly comparing yourself to the Joneses, you’ll suffer several unintended consequences. First, worrying about how you don’t measure up robs you of your present happiness. Plus, it leaves you unable to think about how you really want your own life to look.

“We talk about the American dream of a house, a pool, two cars in the garage, and the proverbial white picket fence,” Patkin explains. “But the truth is, the same cookie-cutter mold doesn’t work for everybody! The lifestyle that makes your neighbor or your cousin or your dentist happy might not work for you. And, if that’s the case, who cares if it’s flashier, more glamorous or ‘cooler’? Trust me, when you give yourself permission to live your life on your terms instead of letting others set the bar (and feeling jealous as a result), you might be surprised by how good you already have it.”

Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Yes, living with an “attitude of gratitude” is a clichéd concept. But infusing it into your life will also totally change your viewpoint, especially if you have a chronic case of “the envies.”

The fact is, it’s very easy to take things for granted: the information your coworker emailed you, the fact that your car is running, and even the food you’re eating for dinner. Most of us have gotten into the habit of ignoring all of the good things in our lives, and instead, we focus our mental energy on being upset about what’s wrong. But Patkin promises that it can be a true game changer when you reverse the time you spend thinking about each.

“Over the course of my life, I have learned that it’s smarter to thank others because of how they make your life better instead of secretly resenting them because they have something you don’t,” he claims. “And yes, it does take a while to make this change in how you habitually think. To start tapping into the power of gratitude, just say ‘thanks’ to the people who help you out during your day. (You might even work up to writing thank-you notes, as I do.) And beyond that, try to notice all of the blessings in your life. For me, my wonderful wife and extraordinary son top the list, as well as the fact I finally get to do what I love — help others live happier lives. In time, you’ll start to notice that most of your envy has miraculously left the building.”

Focus on others — but in a different way. If you have an hour or so of free time, you could spend it by trawling Facebook (and maybe watching a reality show that highlights the lifestyles of the rich and famous in the background). At the end of that hour, you’ll probably feel dissatisfied with your own lot in life, if you’re not outright angry at how “good” other people have it. Or, you could spend your free time helping your kids build a fort in the backyard, using your financial know-how to help a friend set up a much-needed budget, or even volunteering at a local organization that needs an extra pair of hands. “If you choose the second option, you’ll be a lot happier—guaranteed,” Patkin promises. “Instead of focusing on how much you think your life sucks, focus on how you can use your strengths to help others’ lives be better. It will take the same amount of time but will be so much more uplifting and productive. We all have a choice: We can choose to look to the right and see people who have ‘more,’ or we can choose to look to the left and see others who aren’t as fortunate…and whom we can tangibly help. I firmly believe that the greatest fulfillment in life comes not from satisfying ourselves, but from helping others.”

Be generous. You’ve heard the saying, “The more you give, the more you receive.” Well, that goes for happiness, gratitude, help, friendship and more! When you are generous with these things, you’ll invite them back into your life, too. People who are positive, supportive and loving experience life very differently from those who are jealous and negative.

“Here’s an easy example of what I mean,” recounts Patkin. “Say your friend just got engaged, and you’re still looking for your own Mr. (or Ms.) Right. It’s okay to feel a twinge of jealousy at first. But instead of feeding the fire by scowling at a newly posted album of engagement photos and wishing that you too could change your relationship status to ‘engaged,’ call your friend and congratulate her! You’ll have to acknowledge that she didn’t say ‘yes’ with the intention of making you feel bad, and you’ll probably also hang up the phone feeling happy for her.”

Pay more attention to the little things. If you think about it, a lot of us experience envy over the “big” things: relationships, wealth, career opportunities, vacations, houses, etc. But it’s also true that all of our happiness doesn’t come from, say, getting a new car — a lot of it also comes from a variety of little things that add up.

“Take a few minutes and think about what makes you happy on a day-to-day basis,” Patkin advises. “It might be eating a delicious meal, taking a few minutes to read a chapter in your latest book, or taking a walk with your spouse. Then, make an effort to incorporate those things into your life as often as you can. Think about it this way: You can’t give yourself a promotion at work, but you can definitely get yourself a yummy cup of coffee on your way into the office. When you let the little things make you happy more often, there will be less room for envy to creep in.”

“Don’t underestimate the insidious power of envy,” Patkin concludes. “If you allow it to take root in your life, it will bring you only bitterness, isolation, and disappointment. But, the good news is this: it really is in your power to take charge of the green-eyed monster. Just remember, if you always try to focus on what is going well in your life, you will feel much more balanced and look back on your life with much less regret. I promise, taking gradual steps to banish jealousy will make you happier each and every day!”

El Centro de Corazón: On a mission to provide access to healthcare

The young Hispanic woman felt lost, unable to resolve the many issues she was facing. Then, 16 months ago, she walked into a therapy session at El Centro de Corazón. There, she found direction, support and inspiration in a safe environment.

“Had it not been for my therapist, I wouldn’t be here today,” said the woman, who isn’t being identified for confidentiality reasons.

She was one of 8,320 patients helped with medical or mental services last year at the health center – 63 percent of whom were below 100 percent of federal poverty guidelines, and 95 percent of adult patients are uninsured.

“My life has changed for the better, and I feel I can face each day with the help of my therapist and with her professional advice and support," the woman said. 

El Centro de Corazón was founded in 1994 as a community-based social-service organization for families in Houston’s East End. At the time, East End residents were looking for agencies that did more than give out food or help with utilities, said founder and CEO Mary Jo May. They needed an agency that addressed the issues families were dealing with, particularly violence and truancy. The parent-teach classes, support groups and after-school programs helped do that.

“There are people who are in a certain situation all the time, and it’s normal to them, and sometimes they don’t realize that that is not the norm,” May said.

Initially focused on providing support services for women and children, it added mental-health services two years later. In 2003, seeing local health clinics leaving the area, it became a Federally Qualified Health Center providing primary care, pediatric, prenatal, mental health and dental services on a sliding-fee scale.

“We’re here to service the community,” said Marcie Mir, a licensed clinical social worker and El Centro’s chief development officer. “And as such, we’re constantly looking at services we need to provide and where we need to provide them.”

With Houston ranked third in the nation among cities with the most uninsured residents, El Centro provides an important service in an area of high need, May said. They expect to serve more than 10,000 patients this year.

“There are so many things you look at and ask, ‘How is this OK?’” she said. “How is it OK that people can’t get good health care? How is it OK that people can’t get needed mental health services? I don’t think that’s asked often enough.”

May went beyond asking those questions. She set out to specifically address them.

“Nationwide, people with mental health problems die, on average, 25 years younger than people without,” May said. “That’s not directly because of the mental health, but because those people don’t seek out the services they need and because the system’s not set up to help them.”

May wanted to address that but, first, El Centro had to not only make mental-health services accessible, it also had to remove the stigma attached to seeking out those services. After successfully doing that, the clinic noticed the dearth of medical providers in the East End in 2003. So, the organization merged with Eastwood Health Clinic and stepped in to provide medical services.

“When you look at unmet medical needs, it’s dramatic,” May said. “The numbers are dramatic, and the lack of understanding that not everybody has access is also dramatic.”

By locating all these services together at four locations, El Centro provides convenience, letting patients get all their services in one day, at one location. Services are offered at Eastwood Health Center, John S. Dunn Health Center, Magnolia Health Center and Southeast Health Center.

“There are a lot of barriers to low-income people receiving access to quality health care,” and they wanted to knock those barriers down, Mir said.

One of the barriers is the lack of clinics.Gulfgate Health Center had to turn away 22,000 possible appointments last year. Another barrier is the price of services – and 87 percent of the community is uninsured – and another is the language – 90 percent of East End residents are Hispanic, and most speak Spanish, Mir said.

Most of the staff – about 85 strong, including doctors, nurses and administrative employees – speak Spanish. In attendance at every appointment is someone who speaks Spanish.

Although more than 90 percent of their patients are low-income, the services El Centro de Corazón provides are anything but low-quality. It strives for the highest standards and to become the provider of choice for not just East Enders, but for anyone seeking quality medical care, Mir said. The organization is working with Cigna and BlueCross BlueShield to become a covered provider.

Its model is working; it already sees patients from 137 different zip codes, from as far away as Conroe to Katy to Rosenberg. Its primary care for adults is full to capacity, and mental health services has a waiting list. Services aren’t free; patients bring documentation showing how much they make and how many people live in their home. Based on that, they pay according to a fee scale set by the organization’s board.

However, if someone shows up and can’t pay his bill, he is not turned away. The balance is carried forward.

Two community health outreach coordinators are present in the community and bring healthy habits to children in school. That’s part of taking care of the community – prevention.

As a Federally Qualified Health Center, El Centro receives an annual federal grant based on the number of patients, number of uninsured patients seen, scope of the practice and the number of services provided. It also receives Medicaid and Medicare payments, grants, payments from patients and funding from supporters. Even with that, the adult-care services arm loses about $1 million a year. Many of its patents are undocumented immigrants, and the center can’t get Medicare or Medicaid reimbursements for those patients.

“But the point is to provide the necessary and high-quality services to everyone who needs it but doesn’t have access to it,” May said. “People make the decision every day whether to put the food on the table or get the health care they need.”

El Centro de Corazón is working hard to make that no longer a choice.

Dave Schafer is a staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine.

Texas Diversity Council to present Women in Leadership Symposium

The Gulf Coast Women in Leadership  Symposium will be held Thursday, March 7, from 8:30 a.m. to noon, at the Bayou City Event Center, 9401 Knight Road. The big event is being sponsored by the Texas Diversity Council.

Paula McHam, director of client and community affairs at Cigna, will serve as moderator for a lively panel discussion about “Women of Influence: Leading with Courage and Conviction.”

Panelists include Roberta Levy Schwartz, executive vice president, The Methodist Hospital System; Terry Morales, vice president, commercial lending, Amegy Bank; Spring Williams, general manager, Gulf Coast District, UPS; Cynthia Johnson, director, information technology infrastructure services, Occidental Petroleum Corporation; Chow Yu, vice president, internal audit services, Waste Management, Inc.; and Shemin V. Proctor, partner, Andrews Kurth, LLP.
Topics to be discussed include the following:
• Letting go of Preconceived Barriers and Fear,
• Supporting One Another in Both Directions,
• Leveraging Power in the Workplace,
• Changing the Role of Women in Corporate America,
• Doing Business in Heels: Making the Workplace a Place of Our Own,
• Looking Ahead: Leaders of the Next Generation.

Individual tickets are $79, and sponsorships start at $500.

Why is this type of symposium important? Why should companies send their employees? For the answers, this reporter asked Event Chair Shirley Kwan, vice president, commercial and business banking portfolio group manager at Amegy Bank.

She said, “Companies and organizations across the board should be prepared to offer their current and future female leaders different vehicles for achieving success. The Women in Leadership Symposium has successfully proven to be a catapult in which women of all ethnicities, backgrounds and experiences share their stories of success, learn new ways to lead and understand the important of helping shape the next female leaders.

“The symposium is a great investment for companies and their employees. The participants learn from executive women, connect and network in this half-day forum and, if necessary, return to work and quickly apply the lessons learned.”

When asked why Amegy Bank likes being part of this particular event, Kwan said, “The professionalism of the panelists and the attendees is outstanding. Amegy has a Women’s Initiative to promote female leaders internally, as well as with female clients. We also hold a strong vision for the next generation of female leaders. This symposium reserves a portion of registration free to college students.”

The Texas Diversity Council is a non-profit 501c3 organization, committed to fostering learning environment for organizations to grow in their knowledge of diversity. The TXDC is a great opportunity for organizations to learn from some of the top corporate leaders in the area of diversity. The TXDC is currently made up of five councils, serving the greater metropolitan areas of Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio. For more information, contact Jason deGroot at 281-984-7043 or via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Gloria Steinem to speak at annual event of Women's Resource of Greater Houston

Gloria Steinem will be the featured speaker at The Women’s Resource of Greater Houston’s 22nd Annual Luncheon. The event will be held Tuesday, April 30 at the JW Marriott from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Steinem will discuss the progression of feminism and advancing the rights of all women. An audience question-and-answer session will follow.

Steinem is a writer, lecturer, editor and feminist activist. She travels across the nation and to other countries as an organizer and lecturer and is a frequent media spokeswoman on issues of equality. She is particularly interested in the shared origins of sex and race caste systems, gender roles and child abuse as roots of violence, non-violent conflict resolutions, the cultures of indigenous peoples and organizing across boundaries for peace and justice.

Steinem returns to Houston, a city that is a landmark in the history of the feminist movement. In the essay, “Houston and History,” from her book, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Steinem said, “For myself, Houston and the events surrounding it have become a landmark in personal history...Figuring out the date of any other event now means remembering: Was it before or after Houston?”

In 1972, she co-founded Ms. magazine and remained one of its editor for 15 years. She continues to serve as a consulting editor for Ms., and was instrumental in the magazine’s move to join and be published by the Feminist Majority Foundation. In 1968, she had helped to found New York magazine, where she was a political columnist.

Her books include the bestsellers Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Moving Beyond Words and Marilyn: Norma Jean, on the life of Marilyn Monroe.

In 1993, Steinem’s concern with child abuse led her to co-produce and narrate an Emmy Award-winning TV documentary for HBO, Multiple Personalist: The Search for Deadly Memories.

Steinem lives in New York City and is currently at work on Road to the Heart: America As If Everyone Mattered, a book about her more than 30 years on the road as a feminist organizer. The Women’s Resource of Greater Houston was founded in 1990 to provide free financial education and research so that women and girls have the knowledge they need to make sound financial decisions and improve their lives. To obtain more information about the upcoming event and/ or to purchase tickets, visit www.thewomensresource.org.

UHD professor embodies mission of mentoring

The mission of National Mentoring Month, celebrated in January, is embodied in Dawn McCarty, Ph.D., LMSW, an associate professor of social work at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD).

In addition to teaching her undergraduate students the importance of advocating for those less fortunate, she has chosen to make her home with the city’s poorest and most disadvantaged. Each week, she spends three to four nights in her 500-square-foot apartment at Casa Juan Diego, a house of hospitality for disadvantaged women and the rest of the week at the house she shares with her husband in Galveston.

“I subscribe to the Catholic Worker model that you really can’t know the specific needs of a population unless you live side-by-side with them,” said McCarty. “Living with these women is a joy and honor and is in no way a sacrifice for me.”

When McCarty first began working with the women’s home of Casa Juan Diego, she thought she would live with the community for three months to provide support and serve as an example for her social work students. But, three months turned into four years, and she has never looked back.

In addition to eating her meals with the guests, she weaves herself intricately into their lives, helping them attain legal documents, file police reports, gain government assistance and work with Child Protective Services. She also works with the Houston Food Bank and Harris County Hospital District to arrange appointments for the residents. Many women in the shelter are undocumented immigrants, victims of human trafficking, pregnant or mentally or physically battered. Other women have left their families in Mexico and Central America, traveled to the U.S. with their children and remained after their husbands were deported.

Casa Juan Diego provides a free medical clinic for the community, language classes and food and clothing centers that serve 300 people each week. All full-time staff live in the community and donate their services to the approximately 21 women and children who reside in the shelter.

“By living at Casa Juan Diego, I’m able to offer a unique perspective of service to my social work students,” said McCarty. “They’re able to see the ‘real world’ of their chosen careers and witness my failures, as well as my successes. Many of our students also volunteer at the shelter, providing an excellent high- impact, service-learning opportunity to complement their classroom learning,” said McCarty.

“I wouldn’t teach anywhere but UHD,” said McCarty. “Because of our university’s diversity and urban nature, our students aren’t afraid of tackling tough economic challenges, and they embrace change as a way of life.”

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