‘Emotional Footprint’ important to consider on path of life, writes Del Mar psychiatrist

Aware of our carbon footprint, most of us consider the impact we have on the future of our world. But Del Mar psychiatrist Dr. Saul Levine believes we also need to consider the “emotional footprint” we leave behind.

“We all affect each other — and sometimes in minute ways,” he said. “This goes for families, it goes for friends, it goes for people on the streets and in stores.”

In his book, “Our Emotional Footprint: Ordinary People and Their Extra-Ordinary Lives,” Levine shares a series of reality-inspired novellas that follow the life stories of 10 different passengers in a single railcar.

These individuals embody the extraordinary relationships, life changes and unexpected events that make up the “ordinary” human experience. Through the lens of the four Bs — being, belonging, believing and benevolence — the book examines their lives, how they’ve affected others in the course of their lives, and how they may have been resilient in the face of defeat and gracious in times of success.

“Where does this book belong? It belongs everywhere,” said Levine, who has lived in Del Mar for more than 20 years.

Born in Montreal, Québec, Levine earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate’s degrees from McGill University. While living in Toronto, he served as professor of psychiatry and head of the department of psychiatry at Sunnybrook Health Science Centre at the University of Toronto from 1970 to 1993.

Now professor emeritus in psychiatry at UC San Diego, Levine has worked at the university ever since relocating to Del Mar in 1993. In 2011, he retired as professor of clinical psychiatry and head of the department of psychiatry at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. He continues to teach at the medical school, has a private psychotherapy practice with patients of all ages, and serves as an expert witness and mediator in family and civil disputes.

A husband and father of three adult sons and a teenage daughter, Levine has published five other books and is published widely in magazines, newspapers and scholarly journals.

Although he didn’t start his latest book until his retirement, “I’ve been thinking about writing this book for many years, and it all came together when I came down here,” Levine said.

One of the inspirations behind “Our Emotional Footprint” was Levine’s late father. His father escaped the brutalities in Europe before World War II and came to the “New World” as a young man.

“My father came over from Europe impoverished,” Levine recalled. “We had no money as a young family.”

Despite disappointments, his father, Mike Levine, always remained resilient.

“He was my model,” Levine continued. “He was grateful that he escaped the Nazis, he was grateful that he was given a place to live. He worked hard all his life. He taught me appreciation of life. He was always grateful.”

The book is intended to encourage readers to evaluate their own lives. After working with people for decades, Levine developed a theory that he said helps them to do so.

“Everybody wants to be rich and materialistic and get all the toys we can get,” he said. “But when you’re alone and thinking about whether you’re satisfied with your life, it ain’t the toys. It’s never the toys.”

Levine observed that humans are “remarkably resilient.”

His father’s story is just one example of how resilient human beings can be in the face of adversity, a concept he explores further in his book.

“We all have setbacks and we all overcome them — most of the time,” he said.

“Nobody gets away unscathed,” he added. “All our lives are dramatic. We all have loves and we all have losses. We all have failures and we all have successes. That’s life.”

With that in mind, Levine developed the theory behind his new book. We all need to consider the “emotional footprint” we leave on our loved ones, our community and for the next generation, he said.

“We’re not paying attention to how we affect each other — how we can be intolerant, nasty, rude, disrespectful, demeaning,” he said. “People are, and when they do, it has a negative consequence.”

Referring again to his father, Levine said he left no valuable personal belongings behind. He did, however, leave a “positive emotional footprint.”

“When he passed away, the world was poorer for it,” he said. “It lost a good soul.”

Levine hopes the book, published in April, will inspire readers to evaluate their lives as they read about the lives of the 10 railcar passengers.

“We really have to think in terms of our emotional legacies and what we’re teaching our kids,” Levine said.

“Emotional Footprint” is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iUniverse Bookstore.