Category Archives: Happiness

University of Montana Happiness Class Research Results Round 1 (again): The Structured Abstract

I’ve spent the morning learning. At this point in my life, learning requires simultaneous regulation of my snarky irreverence. Although I intellectually know I don’t know everything, when I discover, as I do ALL. THE. TIME., that I don’t know something, I have to humble myself unto the world.

Okay. I know I’m being a little dramatic.

After pushing “submit” on our latest effort to publish Round 1 of our happiness class data, less than an hour later I received a message from the very efficient editor that our manuscript had been “Unsubmitted.” Argh! The good news is that the editor was just letting us know that we needed to follow the manuscript submission guidelines and include a “Structured Abstract.” Who knew?

The best news is I wrote a structured abstract and discovered that I like structured abstracts way more than I like traditional abstracts. So, that’s cool.

And, here it is!


Background: University counseling center services are inadequate to address current student mental health needs. Positive psychology courses may be scalable interventions that address student well-being and mental health.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects of a multi-component positive psychology course on undergraduate student well-being, mental health, and physical health.

Method: We used a quantitative, quasi-experimental, pretest-posttest design. Participants in a multi-component positive psychology course (n = 38) were compared to a control condition (n = 41). All participants completed pre-post measures of well-being, physical health, and mental health.

Results: Positive psychology students reported significant improved well-being and physical health on eight of 18 outcome measures. Although results on the depression scale were not statistically significant, a post-hoc analysis of positive psychology students who were severely depressed at pretest reported substantial depression symptom reduction at posttest, whereas severely depressed control group students showed no improvement.

Conclusion: Positive psychology courses may produce important salutatory effects on student physical and mental health. Future research should include larger samples, random assignment, and greater diversity.

Teaching Implications: Psychology instructors should collaborate with student affairs to explore how positive psychology courses and interventions can facilitate student well-being, health, and mental health. 

Anger Management — Revisited

What’s new about anger? Everything and nothing. You will feel angry over and over in your life. Each time it will be your familiar anger, which may come to feel old, tired, and boring. But each time it also will be new and compelling—as if you’ve been charged with energy to change the world.

Here’s one big truth about anger; it will come around again.

Here’s another: when doing anger management, it’s helpful to develop awareness of your usual triggers because if you see it coming, you may have a better chance to handle your anger in ways that are less embarrassing or destructive.

Here’s a third. This one I like to tell my clients and students: One good thing about having anger problems is that—and you can count on this—you will get many opportunities to work on your anger in the future, because it won’t be long until your anger visits you again (and again).

To summarize: Anger is repetitive; it’s good to develop self-awareness of your personal triggers; you will be presented with many opportunities to deal with your anger differently.

What follows is a slight revision of a post from seven years ago.

The speedometer reads 82 miles per hour. The numbers 8 and 2, represent to me, a reasonable speed on I-90 in the middle of Montana. Our speed limit signs read eight-zero. So technically, I’m breaking the law by two miles per hour. But the nearest car is a quarter mile away. The road is straight. Having ingested an optimal dose of caffeine, my attention is focused. All is well.

In my rear-view mirror, I notice a car slowly creeping up on me from behind. He gets a little to close to my rear bumper, and then slowly drifts into the left lane past me, lingering beside me and edging ahead. Then, with only three car lengths between us, he puts on his blinker and drifts in front of me. Now, with no other cars in sight, there’s just me and Mr. 83 mph on I-90, three car lengths apart.

An emotion rises into awareness. It’s anger, from a distance. I see it coming slowly, as if it’s in the rear-view mirror of my brain. At this distance, it’s only annoyance. I feel it and see it coming and immediately know it can go in one of three directions: My annoyance could sit there and remain unpleasant, until I tire of it. If I provide it with oxygen, could rise up and blossom into full-blown anger. Or, I can send it away, leaving room for other—more pleasant—thoughts and actions.

That’s not to say annoyance and anger is wholly unpleasant. Part of me likes it; part of me feels so damn aggrieved and indignant and justified.

All this self-awareness is fabulous. This is the Sweet Spot of Self-Control.

Without moving or speaking, “Hello anger,” I say, to myself, in my brain.

In this sweet spot, I experience expanding awareness, a pinch of energy, along with unfolding possibilities. I love this place. I love the strength and power. I also recognize anger’s best buddy, the behavioral impulse. This particular impulse (they vary of course), is itching for me to reset my cruise control to 84 mph.  It’s coming to me in the shape of a desire—a desire to send the driver in front of me a clear message. Isn’t that what anger, in its behavioral manifestation, aggression, is all about—sending a message?

“You should cut him off,” the impulse says, “and let him know he should give you some space.”

The sweet spot is sweet because it includes the empowered choice to say “No thanks” to the impulse and “See you later” to anger.

Now I’m listening to a different voice in my head. It’s smaller, softer, steadier. “It doesn’t matter” the voice whispers. “Let him move on ahead. Revenge is only briefly sweet. Those who seek revenge should dig two graves.”

I smile remembering an anger management workshop. With confidence, I had said to the young men in attendance, “No other emotion shifts as quickly as anger. You can go from feeling completely justified and vindicated, but as soon as you act, you can feel overwhelmed with shame, regret, or embarrassment.”

One participant said, “Lust. Lust is like anger. One second you want something more than anything, but the next second you might wish you hadn’t.”

“Maybe so,” I said.

There are many rational reasons why acting on aggressive behavioral impulses is ill-advised. Maybe the biggest is that the man in the car wouldn’t understand my effort to communicate with him. This gap of understanding is common across many efforts to communicate. But it’s especially linked to retaliatory impulses. When angry, I can’t provide nuance in my communication; I can’t make it constructive.

The quiet voice in my brain murmurs: “You’re no victim to your impulses. You drive the car; the car doesn’t drive you.” That doesn’t make much sense. Sometimes the voice in my head speaks in analogy and metaphor. It’s a common problem. I want straight talk, but instead I get some silly metaphor from my elitist and intellectual conscience.

But here’s what I get. I get that my conscience is telling me that this sweet spot is sweet because I get to see and feel my self-control. Not only do I see my behavioral options, I get to see into the future and evaluate their likely outcomes. I get to reject poor choices and avoid negative outcomes. I’m not a victim of annoyance, anger, or aggressive impulses. I make the plan. I drive the car.

The other driver is now far ahead. I recognize that I could resurrect my anger. I choose to let it go instead.

I haven’t always let go of my anger. In my teen years I developed a temper. I had many sport-related fits of embarrassing anger. I went to psychotherapy. My therapist listened, and helped me grow my better judgment. He said, “I don’t believe in the bowel movement theory of anger control.” That was a little indirect, and interesting. We don’t have to expel it. We can sit with it. We can reflect on it. We can watch it go away. We can put it in the rear-view mirror, or let it pass us by. Using our functional frontal lobes, we can experience the joy of the Sweet Spot of Self-Control.

My anger is like an old, greedy, needy, and fickle friend. It has an all-or-nothing mentality. My anger wants attention and power, because it values power over long-term happiness.

Anger is also a source of energy; it can fuel us to be assertive, to fight injustice, to be clear on our values. Anger has its place, and is sometimes a useful partner: a partner whom we should keep in the passenger seat, never letting it get behind the wheel and drive—even on a wide-open Montana highway.

Bad Sleep . . . Bad Judgment

No one has excellent judgment when sleep deprived and so no one should expect to have excellent judgment when sleep deprived. I’m making this bold claim based on my recent personal experience of writing and posting last week’s blog titled, “Sleep Well.” Sometimes I write late at night. That’s great for the muse and creativity; it’s less great for me remembering what the heck I was planning to write. I start writing. . . I finish writing. . . and sometimes I stay with my focus, while other times, well, I forget the whole point.Last week, my main reason for writing a blog on sleep was to link readers to a specific sleep podcast. However, because I was doing my late-night writing thing, by the time I finished it, I completely forgot to mention the podcast or include the link. Has this sort of thing ever happened to you? My guess is that, if it does, it happens more often when you’re sleep deprived, than when you’re sleep restored. Now, after a nice weekend of restorative sleep, here’s info and the link to the podcast.The podcast is called “All things Vagus.” I confessed to the host (Kathy Mangan, who is great) that I was scientifically opposed to “polyvagal theory” but she still let me on the show. That’s an example of how great she is. Here’s the description for the April 3, 2023 episode, titled: Sleep Well, Be Well: Why talk about sleep? It is important to our health, so we need to get clear on the types of insomnia and how we can cope with distress and anxiety that might be disrupting our rest.The link: This is a 42-minute podcast episode, which makes it a nice length to go along with the workout you should be doing every day to optimize your sleep. And if you optimize your sleep, you’re more likely to remember what you’re writing about.

Sleep Well

When it comes to literally everything, knowledge is power. The more we know and the more we understand, the better we’re able to cope with—as Alfred Adler used to say—the tasks of life. One very important task of life is to sleep well.

In September, 1975, I went to college for one reason: to play college football and baseball. Going to class and learning anything was required for me to be able to do what I wanted to do. So, I went to class and I played sports.

Being away from the structure of home and family, I didn’t sleep well. Then, several months into my college career, I started having what I considered “Very weird experiences.” I didn’t tell anyone about those experiences, because they were weird and I was a young male and unaccustomed to being open with others about any of my private experiences. The very weird experiences just kept on happening.

The experiences happened as I tried to nap (on the floor, or a couch, a bed, or wherever I was). While dropping off to sleep, or waking up, I would start to hear what sounded like loud static. The static was bad and weird on its own, but then I discovered I couldn’t move, which was especially disturbing because I began seeing the shape of an ominous figure standing at the end of my bed, or couch, or in the doorway. I had to just lay there in panic because, of course, I was paralyzed.

Eventually, I would completely wake up, be able to move, and discover no one was in my room. And eventually, maybe because I adjusted to college or started sleeping better, the very weird experiences stopped. But, while they were happening, I searched my mind for explanations.

Because there was no Internet and no Google back then, I relied on what was in my brain. But basically, I had nearly nothing in my brain. Remember, I was interested in sports, not knowledge. . . and I was a bit averse to doing anything rational, like going to the library or consulting a professional. Consequently, being a meaning-making creature, I created two hypotheses, basically out of thin air.

Hypothesis #1: I was about to be possessed by a demon.

Hypothesis #2: I might be developing psychic powers.

There was no hypothesis #3. My mind bounced from hypothesis 1 to hypothesis 2, and back again.

Funny thing. In the early 2000s, I happened to be reading the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and found a section that described a phenomenon called, “Sleep paralysis.” I was, as they say, gobsmacked. The description was EXACTLY my experience, including the frightening and shadowy figure at the end of the bed.

My point is that it’s good to know stuff in general, and good to know specific stuff about our own experiences around mental health and. . . including that thing we call insomnia. I’ve posted before about insomnia ( I will also post more soon, but for now, I’m just sharing the “sleep hygiene” slide from my happiness and sleep lectures.

Sleep hygiene is a thing. I’ve got lots of funny and snarky things to say about sleep hygiene. Maybe the most important is that sleep is an elusive little bugger. What I mean by that is that sleep comes somewhat easier when we stop trying too hard, and often runs away when we’re feeling especially desperate to get some good sleep. The other piece of important information is that having sleep disruptions and not sleeping the magical 8 hours is pretty darn normal. Many or most people have regular sleep disruptions. And, fun fact, expecting that you should get 8 hours of sleep every night can get in your head and interfere with you getting 8 hours of sleep a night.

For now, here’s the famous sleep hygiene powerpoint slide (below). More to come (later) on tricks and techniques for sleeping well. Thanks for reading.

Men, Suicide, and Happiness: Helping Men Live Meaningful Lives

Tomorrow morning, March 31, 2023, at 8am, I’m co-presenting with Matt Englar-Carlson and Dan Salois on suicide and happiness with men at the American Counseling Association World Conference in Toronto.

Here’s the session blurb:

Men and boys account for nearly 80% of all suicide deaths in the U.S. Factors contributing to high suicide rates include: constricted emotional expression, reluctance to seek help, firearms, alcohol abuse, and narrowly defined masculinity. In this educational session, we will use a case demonstration to illustrate suicide assessment counseling methods to help boys and men liberate themselves from narrow masculine values, while embracing alternative and meaningful paths to happiness.

If you’re in Toronto, I hope to see you there. . . and for anyone interested, here’s the Powerpoint presentation:

What’s Happening at the Upcoming American Counseling Association World Conference: Take III

I’m really not sure what’s happening with WordPress, but because of tech and formatting issues, this is my third effort to post this blog. Now, I’m trying an approach that requires me to separately copy and paste each paragraph into this post. I used to be able to paste the whole document and it worked just fine. Now, if I do that, it makes all 10 paragraphs into one long paragraph and I look technologically even dumber than I am. Next month, WordPress will likely make me copy and paste the blog word by word.

You may be wondering, “How are you doing John?”

I think I’ll pass on answering that for now because WordPress is now graying out each sentence I type as soon as I press “enter.” And it’s repeating some short paragraphs and even though I delete them and they appear to be gone, when I try to publish this, the deleted paragraphs re-appear. I don’t know what any of this means other than WordPress must be angry with me because I asked them for help.

What I’ve been wanting to post is that I’m honored to be speaking several times at the American Counseling Association World Conference in Toronto next week. Here’s what’s happening. . .

Bright and early Friday morning, March 31 from 8am to 9:30am, I’ll be joined by Matt Englar-Carlson of Cal State Fullerton and Dan Salois of the University of Montana, for an educational session titled, “Men, Suicide, and Happiness: Helping Men Live Meaningful Lives.” We’ll be starting our talk by wondering why there isn’t more focus on the fact that men die by suicide at 3+ the rates of women and by wondering who gets to define what constitutes intimacy and intimate conversations among men. If you come to our talk and are not fully satisfied, you just might win an evening out getting a beer with us as we lament the unpopularity of masculine psychology. Or you might not. Life is like that.

At 1pm to 1:30pm on Friday I have the great fortune of joining Amanda Evans and Kenson Hiatt of James Madison University for a poster session titled, “Wellness and Social Justice: A Positive, Liberation-Oriented Approach.” Among the many things that are cool about this presentation is the fact that Dr. Evans has creatively combined social justice, positive psychology, and liberation psychology in ways that—as far as I know—have never been done before. Given the usual awkward nature of poster sessions, I hope you’ll drop by for some conversations about how we can integrate these important perspectives and facilitate social justice. But if you’re the type who prefers walking and studiously avoiding eye-contact with poster presenters, that works too.

From 3:30pm to 5pm on Friday, I have the privilege of offering an “Author Session” titled, “Top Tips for Weaving a Strengths-Based Approach to Suicide into Your Practice.” This session—based on our ACA book by nearly the same name, I will offer strengths-based tips about viewing suicidality as an unparalleled counseling opportunity, making your assessments therapeutic, building hope from the bottom-up, and much more. Right afterward, there will be a book-signing session . . . and I hope you’ll come to that, if only to talk to me and save me from the embarrassing situation of sitting alone next to a pile of books.

On Saturday, April 1 (and this is no joke), I’ll be presenting an education session on “Counseling for Happiness: Facilitating Client and Student Wellness.” Here’s the blurb:

Most people who seek counseling not only want to deal with their problems and distress, they also want to live happier and more meaningful lives. In this education session, the presenter will describe and demonstrate six evidence-based happiness strategies that professional counselors can use with clients and with themselves. The discussion will also address how specific happiness interventions may be more or less culturally appropriate. Using an open and collaborative experimental mindset is encouraged.

In addition to these formal appearances, I will also be hanging out at the John Wiley and Sons booth in the exhibition hall (especially on Thursday, March 30, from 2-5pm for the Expo Grand Opening). If you happen to be in Toronto for the ACA Conference, I hope to see you there.

Tough Kids, Cool Counseling in Ypsilante

Yesterday I had a marvelous day with a group of about 35 wonderful mental health professionals and students in Ypsilante, Michigan. I was hosted by generous and kind faculty of Eastern Michigan University. I learned about the historical significance of “Ipsy,” along with anecdotes pertaining to the Ipsy water tower on post-cards, details of which—obviously because I’m so classy and sophisticated—I will not mention here.

The weather was marginally dreadful. We worried the in-person workshop would be cancelled and replaced with Zoom. Despite the weather, some people drove 90 minutes or more to arrive, which was just one small measure of their commitment to learning and their commitment to serving youth and families in counseling and psychotherapy. Whenever I’m in a room with professionals like the group yesterday, I have renewed hope in the world and in the future. The participants were: Just. Good. People.

As is my practice, I’m posting the ppts from the workshop here:

I’m also posting the “Extra” and more detailed handout here:

And here’s a PG-rated image of the Ypsilante water tower.

Toward the end of the workshop I engaged two participants in an activity that involved shaking imaginary soda pop bottles and opening them. One participant had brought her five-year-old daughter for the day (because of a school closure). As her mother and the woman next to her pretended to shake their imaginary bottles, and I was saying, “Shake, shake, shake,” the five-year-old, who had been incredibly well-behaved for the preceding 8 hours, began giggling in a way that couldn’t be described as representing anything other than pure joy.

In honor of my new five-year-old friend, I encourage you all to find time to giggle this weekend. Even better, find a child to giggle with; it will be time well-spent.

And here’s a photo of me having a giggle with a young person.

The Three-Step Emotional Change Trick, Revisited (Again) . . . with a side note on plagiarism

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I have a friend who repeatedly espouses the glories of redundancy. Maybe that’s why some politicians stay on-message, regardless of the veracity of their statements. Of course, George Orwell and Hannah Arendt also commented on redundancy as persuasion, and not in a good way. I should emphasize that my goal for using redundancy and writing about the three-step emotional technique again has nothing to do with shaping your reality through political messaging.

When I presented on positive psychology to a bunch of UM STEM graduate students back in August, 2022, I made it very clear that I was not advocating toxic positivity. Nevertheless, in one of the student evaluations, someone complained that all I was doing was telling graduate students to “Cheer up.” Oh my. Sometimes people just hear what they want to hear. That’s a problem with over-valuing “lived experience.” When we over-value lived experience, then everything is viewed through our own, usually narrow and biased, personal lenses. Adler called this private logic. Too much private logic is too much private logic. Although we should strive to value, learn from, and share lived experiences, we should also have a shared value of this thing called . . . wait for it . . . science!

The next time I presented to the UM STEM grad students (in January, 2023), I made an explicit point of emphasizing my “non-toxic positivity street cred” by beginning the lecture with a short lesson on the three-step emotional change trick (which, BTW, with inspiration from Alfred Adler and Harold Mosak, we created as a youth psychotherapy technique in the mid-1990s). You can even find our (with Rita) original three-step article here: and a later book chapter here: and, of course, I’ve written about it on this blog, and have a youtube video demonstration:, yada, yada, yada.

While presenting the 3SECT (which is what cool people call it) to the STEM students, there was a woman sitting toward the back. She had stationed her 8-year-old son still farther back, where he was sitting, head down, playing on her phone. I did the 3SECT thing, including the famous “And so I put my cat on my head” scene, emphasizing throughout, that the WHOLE reason for the 3SECT existing was because we should NEVER SAY CHEER UP to anyone, anytime!

The next day, I received the following email from the anonymous woman in the back (who generously gave me permission to share it here):

Hi John,

I was at your happiness seminar yesterday and was very disappointed I had to leave early. You may have noticed my son (who is 8) was sitting in the back playing a game on my phone during the seminar. I was delighted to find out this morning, while my 6-year-old daughter was having a meltdown trying to do her hair for school, that my son had been listening and absorbed your 3-step emotional change trick. He remembered the whole thing, and he asked his sister this morning if she wanted to learn it, but only if she wanted to change her own mood. He was clear that it wasn’t because he was trying to tell her to cheer up. He heard it all yesterday! Thought you might enjoy that little anecdote.

A few days later, she wrote:

We have gotten a lot of mileage out of your emotional change trick in the last few days.

I have to admit, I absolutely love it when people listen and get the message, but I truly and deeply love it EVEN MORE when 8-year-olds absorb messages while allegedly playing on a cell phone. I believe this may just be the scientific evidence (or is it my lived experience) I needed to validate that I am not and never have been a proponent of toxic positivity.

One other notable note. When searching (via Google) for my very own 3SECT video, I found that a counselor in Tennessee has copied one of my three-step blog posts and posted it as his own blog post. I was gobsmacked—with annoyance and flattery in equal proportions. If you want to read the blog post worthy of plagiarism (not the plagiarist’s version, which is the same, but my version that was so darn tempting that it literally caused plagiarism, here you go:

I’m ending now with a few core messages:

  • Don’t say “cheer up” to anyone.
  • Don’t get too over-focused on your own lived experiences, because, after all, everyone has their own lived experiences, and we should complement them all with scientific knowledge.
  • Don’t plagiarize.
  • If the person you plagiarized emails you, asking you to stop plagiarizing or provide a citation, don’t ignore that person.
  • And, whenever appropriate, follow in the anonymous 8-year-old’s footsteps and spread the good mood – without saying cheer-up!

The Acts of Kindness Challenge

On TikTok, people often post challenges. A couple years ago, one of my former students reached out to me for a consultation because he was getting an unusual number of young clients reporting psychotic symptoms. Turns out there was a TikTok challenge to see if kids could trick their counselor or psychotherapist into thinking they were psychotic. This sort of “challenge” just turns me speechless.

But, no worries. I’m never speechless for long.

Today I’m issuing my own non-TikTok challenge. Along with wishing you all Happy Random Acts of Kindness Day, I’m challenging you to adopt an attitude of kindness.

Random Acts of Kindness Day has been celebrated since 1995. Although I love randomness and kindness, as some of you already know, I believe our efforts toward kindness should be more than just random. We should put value into being a kind person, have a kindness intention, and then be waiting and watching for kindness opportunities around every corner.

Just in case you want a copy of my “Intentional Acts of Kindness Homework Assignment,” here it is:

Good luck with the Intentional Acts of Kindness challenge. If you do something kind and feel an impulse to share it, please share it as a comment on this blog, or through your preferred social media platform.

And now, I present you with a kindness opportunity.

Hana Meshesha, one of our University of Montana doctoral students in counseling, is conducting a qualitative research study. I’m posting her call for participants below. If you or someone you know meets the criteria to participate in her study, please contact Hana. Her contact information is also below.


My name is Hana Meshesha and I am a doctoral candidate in the Counselor Education and Supervision program at the University of Montana. I am conducting a qualitative research study on the experience and process of surviving from sexual trauma for individuals identifying as part of a minority/underrepresented group. My goal is to develop a framework to better support survivors of sexual trauma. This research is approved by the University of Montana Institutional Review Board #213-22.  

If you experienced sexual trauma and identify as a part of a minority/underrepresented group based on your sexual orientation, gender, race, and/or ability status, I would appreciate your participation in this study. You are eligible for this study if you meet all of the following criteria:  

  • Identify as a survivor of adulthood sexual violence and the sexual trauma is no longer intruding on your daily functioning
  • Have disclosed your experience to another person prior to participating in this study 
  • Are 20 years of age or older 
  • Identify as part of a minority/underrepresented group based on your gender, sexual orientation, disability status and/or race 
  • Have not experienced childhood sexual abuse/trauma.

Participating in this study involves two 60-minute interviews focused on your process of surviving and healing from the experience of sexual trauma. If you are interested and willing, you will also be asked to share a poem, picture, song, or any artwork that represents your journey of surviving from sexual trauma. To participate or ask any questions related to this study, please contact me at or 406-303-1794. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.  

Hana Meshesha