Category Archives: Happiness

To Give Away: One Happy Rooster

Yesterday, Rita posted a free rooster to give away on a local Facebook page. She was surprised that no one claimed him. I waxed empathic, “I don’t understand,” I said, “people always want free things. Getting a free rooster would make the right person very happy.”

We’ve been studying happiness, but not the smiley sort of happiness. We’re into Aristotelian eudaimonic happiness (of course we are). You know, the sort of happiness you experience from living your life in ways that honor others and consistent with your deep values. That just might involve high-quality daily interactions with a free rooster. Think about it.

I was so puzzled by not having our rooster snapped up for immediate adoption that I took to the streets. Really, it was just one street. We’re living in Absarokee for the summer; there are streets, but not very many, and I only spent time on one street.

I cleverly wove the rooster opportunity into my banking business. With only two employees left in the bank on a late Friday afternoon, I asked with great cheer, “Would either of you like a free rooster?” They both quickly said “No thanks,” but I got my transaction processed in record time.

Rita was still in the grocery store (we were dividing and conquering our errands). I marched in, offered to carry her beer, and announced, “Hey. Anybody want a free rooster?” The cashiers avoided eye contact. The bagger started talking about his pigs; they made him happy. He didn’t need a rooster. I guess that proves it’s possible to have too much happiness.

Despite repeated rejections, I’m still convinced that our rooster could bring free happiness to someone. In fact, I think our failed transactions are evidence that happiness is in the eye of the beholder. When I was a teenager, our neighbors got a rooster. We woke up every morning to fantasies of murdering the neighbor’s rooster. I started plotting a late-night abduction. After all, roosters are the mother of opportunity. [I know that’s a wrong and terrible butchering of the saying “necessity is the mother of invention,” and I know that butchering must be the wrong word here, but I’m typing fast and consequently it’s impossible for me to suppress or repress my aggression and mother issues when free associating at this pace. Freud would be happy. But then Freud had his own peculiar tastes regarding what made him happy, which is, of course my point.

The famous Peanuts cartoonist, Charles Shulz, wrote a book titled, “Happiness is a warm puppy.” Although warm puppies likely bring happiness for many people, they’re certainly not the recipe for happiness for everyone. If I recall correctly, for Linus, happiness was a warm blanket.

And I can’t stop myself from thinking that, perhaps, for some lucky person out there . . .

. . . happiness is a warm, free, pet rooster.   

If you’re that person, contact me, because right now, for me, happiness is giving away a free pet rooster.

Sign Up Now for the University of Montana’s Short Summer Happiness Course

Dan Salois is teaching an abbreviated version of the Montana Happiness Class this summer. The course starts in ONE WEEK!

Dan is a doctoral student in the Department of Counseling and a great instructor. The course is noncredit, offered through our campus continuing education unit, and all online . . . so you can get a boost of happiness from the convenience of home.

Here’s the course description:

Over the past 20 years, research on happiness has flourished. Due to the natural interest that most Americans have for happiness, research findings (and unfounded rumors) have been distributed worldwide. Every day, happiness is promoted via online blogs, newspaper and magazine articles, Twitter posts, Instagram videos, TikTok, and through many other media and social media venues. Ironically, instead of increases in national happiness, most epidemiological research indicates that all across the U.S., children, adolescents, adults, and seniors are experiencing less happiness, more depression, and higher suicide rates. To help sort out scientific reality from unsubstantiated rumors, in this course, we will describe, discuss, and experience the art and science of happiness. We will define happiness, do some short readings, try out research experiments in class, engage in happiness lab assignments, and measure our own happiness and well-being. Overall, we will focus on how happiness and well-being are manifest in the physical, cognitive, emotional, interpersonal, spiritual/cultural, behavioral, and contextual dimensions of our lives.

The course meets online July 12 – 30, Tuesday and Thursday, 11:00 a.m. – 12:20 p.m. Course fee is $90, which translates to about $10 per instructional hour. . . and a pretty good deal for a dose of happiness.

To register, click on the following link.

My Six Promises to Members of the Association for Humanistic Counseling

Rita and I have been watching way too many bad detective shows. You know the format, someone gets abducted, then the hero or detective or agent tells the frightened parent or spouse or sibling, “We’ll get her back, I promise.”

The words “I promise” are accompanied by intense eye contact and complete—albeit unfounded—confidence.

IMHO, these scenes represent a very poor use of the words, “I promise.” How can you promise something over which you don’t have complete control? For example, I can promise never to leave the toilet seat up again, but I can’t promise to rescue someone who just got abducted by aliens. What the writers/actors really mean to say is something like, “By golly, I’ll do my best to rescue your son from the jaws of that shark, but I don’t really have control over all the variables here, and so, although I wish I could guarantee a positive outcome, I can’t.”

Now you see why no one is asking me to become a screenwriter.

My point is that I’m about to make several promises to the members of the Association for Humanistic Counseling, and I want everyone reading this to know that I take promise making very seriously. I’m a careful and contemplative promise-maker. . . and I promise to do my best to fulfill the following promises during my online keynote speech this coming Friday, June 4, from 1-2pm (EDT).

Wait, one other sidetrack, before I share my list of promises.

My speech is titled, “Growth through Struggle: Embracing Sparkling Moments and Strengths, while Avoiding Avoidance and Denial.”

Now you can see why no one is asking me to come up with titles for their keynote speeches.

In the description of my speech, I included the following statement (which is sort of like a promise): “Join John Sommers-Flanagan in this keynote presentation, for a review of five positive strategies counselors can use for lightening their burdens, while simultaneously embracing deep existential challenges.” The problem here is that the five positive strategies I’ll be sharing come from the so-called “happiness” literature, and when talking about happiness with people who are fully in touch with their existential angst and nihilism, it’s advisable to offer a few caveats.

And so here come the caveats (aka promises):

  • I promise not to use reductionistic pop-psych pretend brain science terminology like the “amygdala hijack,” partly because if we really imagine an amygdala hijack, then we have to conjure up miniature D.B. Cooper character to conduct the hijacking, and those of us who embrace the humanist label tend to be rather disinclined to attribute our behavior to imaginary entities that live in our brains.
  • When talking about evidence-based happiness interventions, for obvious reasons, I promise to never use the phrase, “Happiness Hack.”
  • Throughout the keynote, I’ll never use the term “Mental illness” unless I’m explaining to everyone why I never use the term “Mental illness.”
  • Because I like to use a little Carl Rogers terminology here and there, I may spontaneously weave the term “organismic” into my speech. I’m sharing this in advance because, at that moment when I’m speaking to hundreds of people via Zoom and feeling nervous, there’s always the possibility that Sigmund Freud will pop into my brain, double-crossing Rogers, and taking over my unconscious. This could cause me to misspeak, and say “orgasmic” instead of “organismic.” Keep in mind that if you think you hear the word “orgasmic” during my keynote, I promise, what I really meant was “organismic” in the Rogerian sense of the word.
  • I promise to stretch myself, my self-awareness, and my understanding of the whole of existential humanism by refusing to boil down any part of human existence into the presence or absence of specific hormones or neurotransmitters like oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine.
  • I won’t engage in reductionistic and sexist discourse by using rhyming words, like “fight or flight,” to describe complex, multidimensional human behavioral choices.

Overall, I promise to do my best to talk about how to use happiness interventions to help cope with the immense struggles many of us have been experiencing, without pretending that any of us can easily discover a secret, magic, or miraculous solution to human suffering.

If you’re interested in tuning into this keynote speech, during which I do not say the word “orgasmic,” yes, there’s still time. You can register and experience to whole slate of amazing, live, online presentations brought to you by the fabulous Association for Humanistic Counseling and their cool and fantastic President, Victoria Kress, by clicking here:  https://www.humanisticcounseling.org/ahc-conference Then, just scroll down until you see, “Register for the Conference.”

I hope to see you there.

The Root of (Most) Misery

For years I’ve been teaching counseling students that the cause of most emotional and psychological misery can be boiled down to one word. To inflame their competitive spirits, I tell them this powerful word starts with the letter E, and offer prizes to students if they can guess the correct word.

Sadly, no one ever guesses that I’m talking about “Expectation.”

Expectation is, IMHO, the biggest source of bad, sad, and maladaptive emotions. I suffer from my own expectations all the time. Just this morning, while trying to listen to a podcast on a walk, I became irrationally enraged with all things Apple. Why? Because my iPhone podcasting app didn’t work in an elegant, user-friendly manner. Even worse is that I’m fully aware of how silly it is for me to justify holding such high—or even modest—expectations when it comes to technology. I have repeated lived experiences that should have led me to know how often I (and others) are thwarted by technology. I also happily rely on and use technology for many hours every day, and although it feels otherwise, most of the time technology provides . . . my computer powers up, my emails get sent, my phone dials the right number, and magical things like Zoom conferences happen without adverse incident.

Here’s the irony: My expectations thwart my happiness far more often than technology thwarts my personal plans and goals. Nevertheless, I’m eager to throw a childish fit when an app malfunctions, but I continue to barely question my unrealistic expectations despite their predictable adverse emotional outcomes. Funny that (as the Brits might say). I resist blaming and changing that which I have some control over (my expectations), while I let loose with relentless complaints about that which I have little control over (technology).

The fortune in my fortune cookie from dinner with my father gave me a nudge toward recognizing and managing my expectations. Panda Express—not usually where I look for guidance—provided me with the wisdom I seek.

If I were inclined to use the word “wiring” when referring to neural networks (I’m not), I might question whether there’s a glitch in my wiring. However, because I’m pretty certain I’ve got no wires in my brain, I’m going after the glitch in my attitude. Sure, as I pursue my attitudinal glitch, my brain may undergo physical, chemical, and electrical changes, but I suspect the fix will be ever so much more complicated than clipping a wire here, and reconnecting another one there.

Thanks for reading . . .

A Short Video on Love: Featuring Max and Paula Sommers

This afternoon, Rita and I are doing a short lecture for the University of Montana Honors College course (HONR 391) titled “Love.” Dr. Timothy Nichols, Dean of the Honors College is teaching the course. They’ve covered a ton of very cool stuff (academic speak here) and Rita and I are getting a chance to throw 2 of our cents in.

While putting together the powerpoints, I also discovered and captured a 4 minute video of my parents talking about love and their relationship. The video was produced on Valentine’s Day of 2008 by Regence Blue Shield of Oregon. I contacted them and they said, of course, I could share the video . . . so, here it is:

Geographically Exclusive Strengths-Based Suicide Workshops: First Stop (Virtually) – Kalispell, Montana

In partnership with Montana Pediatrics and the Nate Chute Suicide Prevention Foundation, the Montana Happiness Project is launching its “Geographically Exclusive” strengths-based suicide assessment and treatment planning workshop series. The purpose of this workshop series is to work with mental health and school counselors from specific geographic regions to further develop community-based professional competence in suicide assessment, treatment planning, and intervention. Our goal is to train professionals to provide excellent care to students, clients, and patients who are experiencing suicidality. At the same time, similar to Dr. Marsha Linehan’s dialectical behavior therapy model, we hope to build professional communities that will support one another in facing this challenging and stressful professional activity. We believe that if practitioners within a single community feel more competent AND more supported, they’ll be able to be more effective, more available, and better able to handle the stress associated with suicide assessment and intervention work.

Our first geographically exclusive workshop is scheduled for two consecutive Tuesday evenings: April 13 and 20 from 4:15pm-7:15pm. Here’s the description:

Interested in learning a new approach to suicide assessment and treatment? John Sommers-Flanagan, professor of counseling at the University of Montana, will be leading an innovative professional development opportunity on strengths-based suicide prevention.

Founded on current research and national best-practices, this workshop will help you:
Understand the limits of suicide risk factor assessment

  • Use creative approaches to connect with distressed clients, while collecting useful assessment information
  • Respond compassionately and effectively to client hopelessness, irritability, passive suicidality, and more
  • Initiate collaborative safety and treatment planning protocols

If you’re from the Kalispell area, you can still register for the workshop through the Nate Chute Foundation website: https://www.natechutefoundation.org/events/suicide-assessment-and-treatment-planning-a-strengths-based-approach-for-clinicians-virtual

If you’re interested in hosting a geographically exclusive suicide workshop in your region (via Zoom or in-person), please email me at john.sf@mso.umt.edu

What’s Happening in Happiness Class?

We start every happiness class with music.

As many of you know, the class generated a pretty cool song playlist. Typically, I select a song from the playlist, download it into my powerpoint, and start the music at 12:55pm. I say typically in that optimistic—see the glass half-full—sort of way, because, in reality, sometimes I struggle to get the music video to play, other times I start it a bit late (and begin to hear my Zooming students query, “What’s happening? Where’s the music?”), and still other times I go rogue and pick an off-list song that I happen to think fits the topic perfectly.

Last week, before we explored spirituality and forgiveness, I couldn’t resist playing “Heart of the Matter” by Don Henley . . . and now I can’t stop the tune and lyrics in my head . . . “Forgiveness, forgiveness, even if, even if, you don’t love me anymore.” For your immediate listening pleasure, here’s the Henley music link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rxni_Icyjj8&list=RDRxni_Icyjj8&start_radio=1&t=213

Usually I consider it best practice to keep my camera and microphone off during the opening music. You can imagine why. Holding on to the small shreds of respect that I’ve not yet squandered seems like good judgment, because if I let go, things might look like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0Nju66rif4&feature=youtu.be

After the opening music I burst into the Zoom scene with energetic and pithy commentary designed to get everyone focused in on our topic of the day. Then, after a few orienting announcements, I send students into Zoom break-out rooms where they ask and answer the questions: “What do you remember from our last class” and “What about our last class seemed important to you and your life?”

My sense—based on our immediate debriefing after the break-out rooms—is that some students are finding joy in their five-minute one-on-one Q & A time. However, recently I heard from a few students that they particularly dislike the Zoom break-out experience. This leads me to a conundrum (why are there so many conundrums?). Should I continue with the opening class break-out rooms, or should I find another pedagogical strategy? Please enlighten me on whether you think I should continue with the break-out rooms or find a suitable alternative.

Following the break-out rooms and debriefing, I (sometimes accompanied by Rita), launch into lecture content. We talked about spirituality for three class meetings, and have also hit gratitude, kindness, cognitive methods for dealing with pesky negative thoughts, and much more. In order to not completely bore anyone, I shift in and out of the powerpoint slides, inserting side commentaries, forcing students to imagine their part of research studies, and facilitating experiential activities. My favorite two activities (so far) were having students engage in an on-camera Gestalt two-chair with themselves (the visuals were hilarious) . . . and having everyone shout out the word “fail” over and over again for 60 seconds. The “fail” activity is based on research on deconstructing particular words so they lose their power over us, and begin just sounding like funny sounds. The best part of that activity was having students report back that when they yelled “fail” repeatedly into their computers, their roommates thought they were having serious existential meltdowns.

Class usually closes with a large group discussion, during which I’m humbled by the depth and breadth of student commentary. On occasion, I’ve pushed quieter students to comment, and in every case, they’ve delivered. I’d share some examples, but the student comments are theirs to share. Let me just say, on their behalf, it’s good to listen to students.

Class ends with a flurry of good-byes, as well as expressions of gratitude and affection.

Although I’m not completely certain students are feeling the joy, I can say with confidence that I am. I’m loving the experience and deeply appreciating how often my students are making the Zoom version of happiness class . . . magical.   

Happy Songs Playlist

Good Sunday Morning,

My University of Montana COUN 195 Happiness class has compiled a “Happy Songs” playlist. I’m pasting it below, for your potential listening pleasure.

COUN 195 – Happiness Playlist

Each of these songs was selected by someone in our happiness class as contributing to happy feelings. Please be careful and use as directed because they could have the side effect of putting you in a good mood. [They’re listed alphabetically, and my apologies for typos.]

40 –A Song of Thanksgiving – U2

A Lovely Day – Bill Withers

Are You Bored Yet? – Wallows

Bacc Home – Blxst

Boondocks – Big Little Town

Brand New – Ben Rector

Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel

Crocodile Rock – Elton John

December, 1963 – Frankie Valli

Don’t Worry, Be Happy – Bobby McFerrin

Feels Great – Cheat Codes

Gimme Three Steps – Lynyrd Skynyrd

Go Crazy – Chris Brown

Golden Embers – Mandolin Orange

Good Day Sunshine – Beatles

Got to Give it Up – Marvin Gaye

Hands Up – Sway

 Happy – Pharrell

Happy Together – The Turtles

Heavy – Birdtalker

Here Comes the Sun – Beatles

How Can I Keep from Singing? – Judy Collins

I can Dream About You – Dan Hartman

Is this Love – Bob Marley

Love Train – O’Jays

My Boy – Elvie Shane

My Life – Billy Joel

Nature – The Samples

New Light – John Mayer

New York, New York – Frank Sinatra

Peanut Butter Jelly Time – Buckwheat Boyz

Suit and Jacket – Judah and the Lion

The is the Day – The The

The Less You Know – Tame Impala

Too Much – Jack Harlow

Two Hours of Classical Piano — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0kVNMHo6fQ

Walk me Home – Pink

Waters of March – [Nova Version]

Ziggy Says – Ziggy Marley

Goodbye 2020 . . . You’re Nothing but History Now

Happy New Year!

As a method for putting 2020 behind me and focusing on a hopeful 2021, I engaged in some forward thinking (rather unusual for me) and wrote an op-ed piece for the Missoulian newspaper to be published TODAY! Below, I’ve pasted the beginning of the article, along with a link to the whole darn thing in the Missoulian. If you feel so moved, please share and like this. . . and I hope you experience the return of happiness in 2021.

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The Return of Happiness: Your 2021 Guide

Usually a great source of snarky humor, the Urban Dictionary lists its top definition for 2020 as, “The worst year ever.” Sadly, even the Urban Dictionary couldn’t find creative inspiration from the horrors of 2020. Goodbye, 2020; you will not be missed.

. . . for the rest of the article, click below:

Details on The Return of the University of Montana Happiness Course

Did you know you can enroll in my Art & Science of Happiness (COUN 195) course through the University of Montana as a non-credit community participant? The course is fully online via Zoom.

When: Live on Zoom every Tuesday and Thursday from 1:00pm to 2:20pm (MST), beginning January 12 and ending April 27.

What: You’ll hear and see lectures, demonstrations, video clips, small group lab activities, and role-plays.

Format: Because the course is online, live attendance isn’t required. Although I encourage live attendance, you can watch the course on your own schedule.

Cost: For community participants, the cost is $150 for the whole semester. That’s about $3.50 per instructional hour.

Why: You’ll get an amazing educational experience that just might increase your happiness in 2021. To enroll, go to: https://www.campusce.net/umextended/course/course.aspx?C=627&pc=13&mc=&sc

Please note: if you’re a University of Montana student (or want to become one) you can enroll in the course for three (3) semester credits. Go to Cyberbear, find the course (COUN 195), and enroll: https://www.umt.edu/cyberbear/.

Assignments: If you’re taking the course for credit, you’ll have quizzes, required assignments, and tracked attendance; if you’re taking the course as a community non-credit participant, assignments and attendance will be optional and ungraded. However, I will strongly encourage you to participate in the small, online lab groups. That’s where you can talk in more detail about your happiness-related experiences.