Category Archives: Happiness

Happy Habits . . . Episodes 7 and 8

Big Turkey

Hi All,

As the turkeys were strutting around our house in Absarokee, Rita and I finished the final two episodes of Happy Habits for Hard Times. Please share these and the other Happy Habits episodes with people who you think might be interested. https://coehs.umt.edu/happy_habits_series_2020/default.php

Here’s Episode 7: Stop, Look, and Listenhttps://coehs.umt.edu/happy_habits_series_2020/hhs_module_seven.php

Here’s Episode 8: Persistence, Resilience, and Joyhttps://coehs.umt.edu/happy_habits_series_2020/hhs_module_eight.php

Our BIG thanks for inspiration and assistance on this project to Adrea Lawrence, Dean of the Phyllis J. Washington College of Education of the University of Montana, Eric Vorkoeper and Breanna Niekamp, both of UMOnline.

Have a fabulous weekend.

Happiness Homework: Emotional Journaling

Tippet Rise

After taking a detour away from my happiness class and toward the Happy Habits series, I’m circling back to this week’s assignment for my Art and Science of Happiness course at the University of Montana

Emotional Journaling

What if there was a simple procedure that could help you obtain the following benefits?

  • A reduced need to go see a physician
  • Improved immune functioning
  • Fewer physical ailments or symptoms
  • Less distress
  • Less negative affect
  • Less depression
  • Improved GPA
  • Less absenteeism from work

According to social psychologist and prominent researcher, James Pennebaker, a simple procedure to provide you with these benefits is right at your fingertips. Literally. All you have to do is write about hard, difficult, or traumatic experiences. Here’s an example (summarized) of his instructions:

For the next three days write about your very deepest thoughts and feelings about an extremely important emotional issue that has affected you and your life. When writing, really let go and explore your deepest emotions and thoughts. You might want to tie your writing into your relationships with others or to your past/present/future, or to who you’ve been, who you are, and who you’d like to be in the future. You can write about the same topic every day or a new one every day. Keep your writing confidential. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, etc., just write for 15-30 minutes straight. (adapted from Pennebaker, 1997)

I’ve been impressed with Pennebaker’s research for three decades. However, I also think it’s important to remember that Pennebaker is a social psychologist; he isn’t a clinical or counseling psychologist, a clinical mental health counselor, or a clinical social worker. As a consequence, I’m not asking you to leap right into his assignment without support. In fact, most researchers, including Pennebaker, believe you can gain the same benefits by talking about painful emotional experiences with a counselor or psychotherapist. One additional caveat: Pennebaker has also found that when writing or talking about traumatic experiences, often people feel distressed or emotionally worse to start, but over time they begin feeling even better than they did at the beginning.

To do this assignment, I just want you to think about Pennebaker’s method and his claims, and then tell me (a) what you think of his idea, (b) whether you would ever like to try his technique, and (c) if you would prefer writing or talking about your emotionally difficult events.

If you eventually decide to try Pennebaker’s method, be sure to remember that you could feel worse first, and that having someone you trust to confide in about how you’re feeling through the process might be a good idea.

If you want to dive into Pennebaker’s method, you should use one of his books as a guide. Here’s one example: https://www.abebooks.com/Opening-Writing-Down-Expressive-Improves-Health/22531442075/bd?cm_mmc=ggl-_-US_Shopp_Trade-_-new-_-naa&gclid=CjwKCAjw4pT1BRBUEiwAm5QuR4ZmBWoiw2FhWHexwZiPtAnyDc9frTptZr9dimZhEWcsE4HUl70gzxoCd60QAvD_BwE

Thanks and happy Sunday.

John S-F

 

 

Happy Habits for Hard Times: Gratitude and Inspiration

Snow Angel

Episode 6 of the Happy Habits for Hard Times series was posted yesterday on the College of Education of the University of Montana’s website.

But it’s probably still relevant today.

The written portion of episode 6 is below.

You can get to the video via this link: https://coehs.umt.edu/happy_habits_series_2020/hhs_module_six.php

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You are what you focus on. When you remember what you’re grateful for and notice what inspires you, your day will be much better.

Humans tend to repeat behaviors that work out well for them and tend to stop doing things that don’t turn out well. Usually, when you get rewarded for something, you keep doing it. Of course, it’s more complicated than that, but today’s topic is all about introducing two new behaviors that we hope you’ll find rewarding.

As you know from previous episodes, there are behaviors (strategies) you can engage in that are likely to boost your mood. In this episode of Happy Habits, we elaborate on two strategies, but we’re confident you can think of more on your own. We are also aware that for some strange reason, even though these behaviors are rewarding, it’s still hard to get started doing them. That’s a topic for another day. For now, trust us and try these. There’s a reasonable chance that when you do them, you’ll feel better, and you’ll want to keep doing them.

Happiness Habit: Expressing Gratitude

Although it’s true that nearly everyone experiences gratitude, most of us don’t intentionally create time and space to express it. Expressing gratitude is a smart thing to do. It reminds you that you have positive things you are grateful for, it feels good to say “Thanks” and often, you make someone else feel good. Expressing gratitude makes for a nice, positive loop.

Along with the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be tempting to think we have little to be grateful for. While this may be true, it won’t help to dwell on the negative and feel sorry for yourself. Someone once said, “Oh, you think you have nothing to be thankful for? Take your pulse.” Now is a good time to use your brain to force yourself to think and behave with positivity.

Try the following steps:

  1. Identify someone toward whom you feel or have felt appreciation and gratitude. You may have plenty of options. It’s helpful to choose someone toward whom you believe you haven’t yet expressed enough gratitude.
  2. Write a gratitude note to that person. Include in the note why you feel gratitude toward to the person. Include specifics as needed, as well as words that best express your sincere heartfelt feelings toward the person.
  3. Find a way to express your feelings directly to your gratitude target. You can read the note in person, over the phone, or send it in whatever way you find best.

Your plan is to express gratitude. That means you need to drop any expectations for how the recipient of your gratitude should or will respond. Don’t focus on their response, instead, focus on doing the best job you can expressing the gratitude that you sincerely feel.

If the person loves hearing about your gratitude, cool. If the person is uncomfortable, or not positive, or silent, that’s okay. Your goal should be within your control—meaning: all you can control is your end of the communication and not how the communication is received.

If you get inspired, feel free to repeat this gratitude experiment a second or third time. You may find that gratitude begets gratitude.

Happy Habit: Notice Something Inspiring

Inspiring things are always happening. People are caring for the infirmed and elderly, risking their own health. People are volunteering, donating, and doing what they can. The word inspire comes from the Middle English enspire, from the Old French inspirer, and from the Latin inspirare ‘breathe or blow into’ from in- ‘into’ + spirare ‘breathe.’ The word was originally related to a divine or supernatural being, in a sense, ‘impart a truth or idea to someone’.

You can go pretty much anywhere on the internet right now and find inspiring stories. But instead, if possible, we want you to go live, in real time. We want you to watch for and then closely observe something inspiring that’s happening in your daily life.

The inspiring action that you notice may be small or it may be big. It might give you a tiny lift, or be jaw-droppingly inspiring. The key is that it involves intentionally watching for that which will inspire. Keep all your sensory modalities open for inspiration. Then, if you’re up for it, jot down what inspired you, or share it with someone else. What was it like to intentionally pay attention to things that might inspire you? The key is attitude. For whatever time you devote to this exercise, you’re focused on noticing positive actions and events. You’ve given yourself a little respite from the bad news lurking in every corner right now.

Inspiration can lift you up. Try it out. See what it can do for you.

Happy Habits for Hard Times: Your Best Possible Self

Burned Tree

They say that failure is good for the soul, or maybe they say it’s good for developing character. I don’t know who “they” are, but they forgot to say that failure is good for learning. I think that’s the best thing.

My favorite football season of all time was my senior year in high school, when my team when 0 – 10. That’s right. We lost every game, and we lost most of them very badly. The next year, my team, Mount Hood Community College, went 10 – 0. It was great; almost as good as the year before.

I don’t LOVE failure, because I’m not that weird. But I do like failure. I like it because of the learning that comes along with failure.

Today, Episode 5 of the Happy Habits series goes live. You can click on it below. The topic is: Your Best Possible self. Keep in mind that only by failing and improving ourselves can we begin to approach the best possible version of ourselves.

Onward!

Other People Matter, And You Matter Too

Bill-Withers-GettyImages-71302174

As I type here on my blog, I can hear Rita playing Joni Mitchell’s Circle Game in the background. Joni is singing to me:

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time

I’m reminded of how repetitive life can be and am catapulted backward and forward in time.

Back in the spring of 1976, at Mount Hood Community College, I signed up for Basic Piano, but never made it very far, and dropped the class. I still feel sad for that.

Somehow, someone (I’m not sure if it was Andy Stokes or a guy named Bo from the baseball team), taught me to play a few chords from Bill Wither’s Lean on Me. Every once in a while, I feel the impulse to circle back and play those chords, and pretend I can sign.

This morning I’m circling back again, to those few chords, to Lean on Me, and to the Happy Habits series Rita and I are producing with the University of Montana. And so here’s my tribute to Bill Withers, the past, the future, and the present: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0Nju66rif4&feature=youtu.be

And here’s the link to the video and written material that Rita and I produced for UM: https://coehs.umt.edu/happy_habits_series_2020/hhs_module_four.php

Have a fabulous Friday and weekend.

The Three-Step Emotional Change Technique

chicken-head950

Newsflash: I’m asking for a favor. UMOnline (of the University of Montana) is partnering with Rita and me to produce the free Happy Habits for Hard Times video series. Yesterday’s episode was “The Three-Step Emotional Change Technique” (described below). In appreciation for their technical and motivational support, I want to push some traffic to UMOnline. Here’s their link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ji_q-T_SwZE and here’s a link to the series:  https://coehs.umt.edu/happy_habits_series_2020/default.php. Please click, like, subscribe, and share. Our main goal is to help people cope effectively during these immensely difficult times.

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When I first started doing counseling and psychotherapy, I planned to do health psychology or behavioral medicine with people suffering from medical problems. I envisioned working with patients with high blood pressure, asthma, pain, and other physical ailments—all of which can be treated through psychological methods.

But life has a funny way of delivering a karate chop to our best laid plans. Instead of medical referrals, a parade of young people arrived in my office in blisteringly bad moods. They told me I was ugly, that I should fuck-off, and that there was no way in hell they would ever talk to me; sometimes they even threatened to destroy my office or physically attack me.

I also got one referral for a guy in his mid-50s who wanted to work on his high blood pressure. Turns out, the blood pressure treatment process was numbingly boring. To my surprise, I much preferred being pelted with insults by the nasty kids.

Early in the process I realized, these weren’t nasty kids, but instead, these were kids in nasty moods because of their difficult life circumstances. None of their insults or anger or sadness were about me, and so I modified Harold Mosak’s (1985) pushbutton technique, turning it into a simple, three-step emotional change technique to help my young clients deal with their bad moods. Using my creative naming skills, I called it the “Three-step emotional change trick.” I ended up liking the technique so well that I did it in my office, with myself, with parents, during professional workshops, and with classrooms full of 4th and 5th graders. Mostly it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. Here’s how it goes.

Introduction

Before teaching the three steps, I introduced the idea that bad moods were normal and offered a taste of emotional education. I asked, “Have you ever been in a bad mood?” Obviously, all the kids nodded, flipped me off, or said things like, “No duh.” My response was something like, “Yeah, me too.”

Then I’d ask, “Have you ever had somebody come up to you and tell you to cheer up?” All the kids said, “Yes!” and then followed up with how stupid they thought it was when someone told them to cheer up. I would agree and commiserate with them on how ridiculous it was for anyone to ever think that saying “Cheer up” would do anything but piss the person off even more.

At some point, I’d say, “I’ll never tell you to cheer up. Don’t worry about that. If you’re in a bad mood, I figure you’ve got a good reason to be in a bad mood, and so I’ll just respect your mood and let it be.”

Then I’d swoop in with my sales pitch. “But hey. Have you ever been in a bad mood and get stuck there and have it last longer than you wanted it to?”

Nearly always there was a head nod; I’d join in and admit to the same. “Damn those bad moods. Sometimes they last and last and hang around way longer than they need to.”

“If it’s okay with you,” I’d say, “I’d like to teach you this thing I call the three-step emotional change trick. It’s a way for you to change your mood, but only when you want to change your mood, and not when somebody tells you to cheer up. This trick is a way for you to be the captain of your own emotional ship.”

Maybe my memory is warped, but I can’t remember any young person ever refusing to let me teach them the three-steps. I think most people find their moods challenging, and so if you’re selling a technique or trick to give them more control, pretty much everyone wants to learn it. That’s why I’m sharing it with you now.

Step one is to feel the feeling. Feelings come around for a reason. Hardly ever do they come out of nowhere. We need to notice them, feel them, and contemplate their meaning. The big questions here are: How can you honor and feel your feelings? What can you do to respect your own feelings and listen to the underlying message? Over the years, I’ve heard many answers. Here are a few. But you can generate your own list.

  • Frowning or crying if you feel sad
  • Grimacing and making various angry faces into a mirror if you feel angry
  • Drawing an angry, ugly picture
  • Punching or kicking a large pillow (no real violence though)
  • Going outside and yelling (or screaming into a pillow)
  • Scribbling on a note pad with a black marker
  • Writing a nasty note to someone (but not delivering it)
  • Using your words, and talking to someone about what you’re feeling

Step two is to think a new thought or do something different. This step is all about intentionally doing or thinking something that might change or improve you mood. The big question here is: What can you think or do that will put you in a better mood?

I discovered that kids and adults have amazing mood-changing strategies. Here’s a sampling:

  • Tell a funny story (for example, yesterday in math, my friend Todd farted)
  • Tell a joke (What do you call it when 100 rabbits standing in a row all take one step backwards? A receding hareline).
  • Tell a better joke (Why did the ant crawl up the elephant’s leg for the second time? It got pissed off the first time.)
  • Get some exercise
  • Smile into a mirror
  • Watch funny internet cat videos
  • Talk to someone you trust
  • Put a cat (or a chicken or a duck) on your head
  • Chew a big wad of gum

I’m sure you get the idea. Nobody knows better than you what might put you in a good mood . . . so, when you’re ready, you should use your own self-knowledge to move into a better mood.

Step three is to spread the good mood. Spreading the good mood is based on the fact that moods are contagious. In fact, although COVID-19 is very contagious, moods might be even more contagious. I’d say things like this to my young clients:

“I want to tell you another interesting thing about moods. They’re contagious. Do you know what contagious means? It means you can catch them from being around other people who are in bad moods or good moods. Like when you got here. I noticed your mom was in a bad mood too. It made me wonder, did you catch the bad mood from her or did she catch it from you? Anyway, now you seem to be in a much better mood. And so I was wondering, do you think you can make your mom “catch” your good mood?”

How do you share good moods? Keep in mind that saying “Cheer up” is off-limits. Here’s a short list of what I’ve heard from kids and adults.

  • Do someone a favor
  • Smile
  • Hold the door for a stranger
  • Offer a random act of kindness
  • Offer a real or virtual hug
  • Listen to someone who wants or needs to talk
  • Tell someone, “I love you” (you can even do this while social distancing)

Step four might be the best and most important step in the three-step emotional change trick. With kids, when I move on to step four, they always interrupt:

“Wait. You said there were only three steps!”

“Yes. That’s true. That’s what I said. What’s interesting about the three-step emotional change trick is that it has four steps. It has for steps because emotions are complicated and surprising. And so there are four steps. This last step is for you to teach someone else the three steps.”

The other surprising thing about the three-step emotional change trick is that nobody ever complains that it has four steps. For whatever reason, the complexity of emotions seems to overshadow the need to count accurately. In fact, as you read this, you may have discovered an additional step. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that the three-step emotional change trick actually has five steps. If you’ve got a fifth step, please share!

 

Introducing the Happy Habits for Hard Times Video and Resource Series

John and Rita in Field

I know lots of you think of Rita and I as sophisticated intellectual types.

Okay, maybe not. But if you ever did think of us as sophisticates, our new video series, offered in collaboration with the University of Montana College of Education and UMOnline, will help extinguish those thoughts.

Not long ago, our Dean asked us if we could regularly share some insights on Coping with COVID-19 with the College of Education. Around the same time, a long-time friend asked if we could create brief written materials, and possibly videos, to support and educate nursing home staff. Because we were hoping to find a way to contribute in a positive way to counter the adverse psychological effects of the pandemic, we said yes. Rita and I are now working with some very cool people at the University of Montana (UMOnline) to create video and written educational materials.

You should be forewarned, these educational materials ARE NOT sophisticated. They’re home-made, sometimes goofy, and often embarrassing efforts to share basic information on how to cope with pandemic-distress through evidence-based “happiness” strategies.

To stay with the theme of things not being exactly as they seem, not only are Rita and I shockingly unsophisticated, the evidence-based happiness strategies we’re sharing aren’t really about the emotional state of happiness. In fact, IMHO, the whole “happiness” movement in psychology and in the U.S., is basically a bait and switch program, because happiness sounds way sexier than what we’re really promoting: well-being through intelligent and virtuous living. As Rita has been known to say—embarrassingly and in front of entire classrooms—well-being through intelligent and virtuous living makes you think you, “don’t get to have any sex or fun.” She’s right, we’re not advocating abstinence. Instead, we’re trying to convince people that well-being through intelligent and virtuous living is totally hot. You can guess how that’s going.

In the end, if you tune into the videos or read our materials, you’ll find home-made, blue collar, salt of the Earth, pull yourself up by your bootstraps stuff. As our Montana rancher friends might say, “It ain’t young and pretty.” But then again, neither are we, and neither is COVID-19.

If you know someone who might benefit from viewing the videos or reading the materials, please share. They’re free. They’re designed exclusively as an effort to be helpful.

On this blog, I’ll be posting twice-weekly sneak-peeks for each happy habit module, but the main easy-access staging page for the whole series is here:

https://staging.coehs.umt.edu/happy_habits_series_2020/default.php

I’m wishing you all the best as you cope with this historical time and the unique challenges we’re all facing.