Category Archives: Happiness

Reality Therapy: Developing Effective Plans

With Wubbolding

Thanks to Molly Molloy, the Montana Office of Rural Health, the Montana Flex Program, and the Montana Hospital Association, I had a chance to present as part of a “Rethinking Resiliency” series this morning. One question that came up had to do with how we can make better plans to facilitate our self-improvement. The best answer I could come up with was to follow Robert Wubbolding’s guidance on effective planning, from a reality therapy perspective. All of the preceding leads me to posting a section from our Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories textbook on Reality Therapy and Planning.

Here we go:

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Wubbolding (1988, 1991, 2000, 2011 . . . and pictured above) has written extensively about how reality therapists help clients develop plans for making positive life changes. Therapists help clients make positive and constructive plans. Wubbolding (1988) uses the acronym SAMI2C3 to outline the essential ingredients of an effective plan:

S = Simple: Effective plans are simple. If a plan generated in reality therapy is too complex, the client may become confused and therefore not follow through.

A = Attainable: Effective plans are attainable or realistic. If the plan is unattainable, the client can become discouraged.

M = Measurable: Effective plans are measurable. Clients need to know if the plan is working and if they’re making progress.

I = Immediate: Effective plans can be enacted immediately, or at least very soon. If clients have to wait too long to implement a plan, motivation may be compromised.

I = Involved: Helping professionals can be involved with their client’s or student’s planning. This should be done ethically and in ways that promote client independence.

C = Controlled: The planner has exclusive control over effective plans. Avoid having clients develop plans that are contingent on someone else’s behavior.

C = Committed: Clients need to commit to their plans. If a client is only half-heartedly invested in the plan, the plan is less likely to succeed.

C = Continuous: Effective plans are continuously implemented. When the process is going well, reality therapy clients have continuous awareness of what they want and of their plan for getting what they want. This high level of awareness reminds us of mindfulness or conscious-raising therapeutic techniques.

Wubbolding (1988) also recommended that individuals learning to conduct reality therapy develop a plan for themselves. He noted that to be effective reality therapists, practitioners should obtain consultation and/or supervision from certified reality therapists (in addition, we recommend that you practice living your life using choice theory rules; see Putting it in Practice 9.3).

Putting it in Practice 9.3

Living Choice Theory: The Four Big Questions

Four questions have been developed to help students and clients live the choice theory lifestyle (Wubbolding, 1988). These questions are derived from Wubbolding’s WDEP formula. During one full week, do your best to keep these four reality therapy questions on your mind:

  1. What do you want? (Wants)
  2. What are you doing? (Doing)
  3. Is it working? (Evaluation)
  4. Should you make a new plan? (Planning)

Every day you’re operating with a personal plan. The plan may or may not be any good and it may or may not be clear. The point is this: You’re thinking and doing things aimed toward getting your basic needs met. Therefore, consistently ask yourself the four preceding questions. This will help make your plan and choices more explicit.

Wubbolding’s four questions are powerful and practical. Think about how you might apply them when doing therapy with a teenager. Now think about how you might apply them as a consultant for a local business. Whether you’re consulting with a teenager or a business leader, there are hardly any other four questions that are more relevant and practical.

In the space that follows each question, answer the four questions for yourself today.

  1. What do you want? ________________________________________
  2. What are you doing? _______________________________________
  3. Is it working? _____________________________________________
  4. Should you make a new plan? _______________________________

After you’ve answered the questions, go back and think about what you’ve written as your answer for Question 1.

To Mask or Not to Mask: Making America Rational Again

Make America Rational Again

About 4 years ago, I made a MARA hat. MARA stands for “Make America Rational Again.” My hat was in honor of the late Albert Ellis, a famous psychologist who relentlessly advocated for rational thinking. Given that some folks are doubting Covid-19, while others are passionately accusing health officials of infringing on their God-given liberties, I’m thinking my MARA hat from the last presidential election is still in style.

Way back when I was a full-time therapist working mostly with teenagers, I developed a method for talking with my teen-clients about their freedoms. When they complained about their parents infringing on their rights—those damn parents were pronouncing unreasonable curfews, alcohol prohibitions, and other silly mandates—I’d say something like this:

“Really, you only have three choices. You can do whatever your parents think you should do. That’s option #1. Or, you can do the opposite of what your parents think you should do. That’s option #2. Those are easy options. You don’t even have to think.”

Hoping to pique the teen’s interest, I’d pause and to let my profound comments linger. Sometimes I got stony silence, or an eye-roll. But usually curiosity won out, and my client would ask:

“What’s the third choice?”

“The third choice is for you to make an independent decision. But that’s way harder. You probably don’t want to go there.”

Actually, most of my teenage clients DID want to go there. They wanted to learn, grow, develop, and become capable of effective decision-making. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case today. All too often, Americans are basing their decision-making on poor information. For example, when people are gathering the 411 on whether they should mask-up in public settings, to where do they turn? The rational choice would be medical professionals and virologists. But instead, people are turning to Facebook, Twitter, and even worse, Fox News, where misinformation from Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity is offered up with nary a shred of journalistic ethics or integrity (for a fun and fabulous SNL Parody with Kate McKinnon as Laura Ingraham, check out this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XezLiezWN0E).

A related question that’s especially pressing right now is this: “How should we respond to coronavirus deniers and rabid anti-maskers?” Speaking for myself, I’ve been struggling to find the right words. Saying what I’m thinking—which usually starts with “WTF!? Have you been listening to Tucker Carlson instead of Dr. Fauci?”—seems too offensive and unhelpful. Instead, I’m making a commitment to letting go of the outrage, putting my 2016 campaign hat back on, and making myself rational again. Instead of being angry, my plan is to retreat to rationality. I’ll say things like this: “Hey, I’m curious, have you read the latest article in the New England Journal of Medicine titled, “Observational study of hydroxychloroquine in hospitalized patients with Covid-19?” or, “What are your thoughts about the chilblain-like lesions doctors are finding on patients with Covid-19?” or “According to the CDC and Dr. Fauci and the American Medical Association, the cloth face coverings—although imperfect—statistically reduce the likelihood of spreading the coronavirus.”

I invite you to join me in gathering good data for our personal and social decision-making. Together, we can Make America Rational Again.

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.

 

 

 

Happy Habits, Episode 2: Wash Your Hands and Scrub Your Brain

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**To watch the accompanying video, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFWdcyY1rWU

Humans are thinking beings. You can try arguing the opposite, but that would require thinking, and you’d lose the argument. Sometime around 1637, René Descartes said, “Cogito, ergo sum.” The English translation, “I think, therefore I am.” After several decades of studying psychological theory, and now assisted by Google translator, we’re ready to offer an expanded version of Decartes maxim: “Cogito ergo sum ego possit cogitare et in tempore angustiae triumphi.”

Or, in English, “I think therefore I am able to think myself into trouble or triumph.”

We all have a few mental habits that don’t contribute to happiness or well-lived lives. We can overthink, underthink, make up excuses, feed our paranoia, gather false evidence to bolster our irrationality, and fail to consider authentic evidence that contradicts our perspective. We can dwell on and inflate the negative and literally worry ourselves sick. There are endless lists of thinking errors. If you want to make yourself miserable, you could diagnose yourself by doing an internet search for your particular irrational ways of being. But for now, we hope you’ll put your brain to work on these Happy Habits instead.

Happy Habit #3: Three Good Things

One of the most well-known evidence-based happiness assignments is Martin Seligman’s Three Good Things activity. Here’s what to do: Every night, for at least a week, before you go to sleep, identify and write down three things that went well for you during the day. Then take a minute or two and reflect on why they went well. Seligman doesn’t say this, but we think it might be a good idea to then fold the paper, give it a little kiss, and tuck it under your pillow. That’s where the tooth fairy left you money, right? Who knows what magic lurks under there?

Just in case you want to hear it from the horse’s mouth, here’s a one-minute video of Seligman describing the activity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOGAp9dw8Ac .

Seligman claims that after doing this for a week, most people just keep doing the three good things activity it because it’s a positive experience that reorients the brain toward wellness. We hope this is true. We suspect it requires self-discipline. Let us know!

Happy Habit #4: Create an Alternative Reality

As we noted in a previous post, our surroundings aren’t always comforting. In fact, sometimes they’re obnoxious, boring, frightening, threatening, or disgusting. The sad truth is you cannot always go Forest Bathing and you can’t listen to music 24/7. But you live in your brain, no matter what. You can use your imagination to change your focus and reduce the impact of the less desirable aspects of your surroundings.

The first thing to do is build up your supply of mental happy places. The goal is to create or remember a beautiful, relaxing scene or two—imagined or real surroundings that you personally find awesome. It can involve a river, a mountain-top, a sandy beach, or a lovely garden. It can be your bed, all warm and comfy. It can be your favorite pub, with your favorite drink in front of you and your friends all around. It can be church, with everyone singing. It can be a basketball game, a concert, a museum. Build these scenes in your mind to fit your definition of safe, relaxing, happy places.

Don’t worry about what “should” be your happy places. The important thing is to elaborate your visions. Add in all the details (sights, smells, sounds, and physical sensations). And then practice going there. This is one way some people survive trauma, combat, abuse, or unthinkable deprivation. They use their minds to go elsewhere. It’s an amazing human ability, and can be helpful in situations far less compelling than traumatic ones. You can use your happy places to disrupt the drag of daily life.

Got a dirty diaper to change? Imagine the soft breeze and the light green grass. Got someone in need of you sitting by their bedside? Hold their hands and drift back to that concert you attended. Smile with your eyes. Got people who need you to feed them? Remember the cheese dogs at the fair. Have an impossible amount of internet work to do? Take five-second breaks and imagine that spectacular three-pointer that won the game last year. To keep these places fresh and available, tell someone about them, or write them down, or sketch them. You can also boost their power if you take a minute and consider what makes them safe and happy. These are sanctuaries of your own making. Use them, not to avoid life, but to provide yourself with pleasant breaks from challenging times.

There are many sites devoted to using imagery. Two examples include: https://www.mentalhelp.net/stress/visualization-and-guided-imagery-techniques-for-stress-reduction/

https://www.wikihow.com/Be-in-Your-Happy-Place

Happy Habit #5: Meditation and Relaxation

In 1975, Herbert Benson of Harvard University published a ground-breaking book titled, The Relaxation Response. Now, thousands of publications and websites are available to help you relax your mind and body. Some resources advocate mindfulness meditations. Others focus on physical relaxation. We’re big fans of relaxing, especially in stressful times. Stress depletes your immune system. Relaxing builds it back up.

For some people, trying to relax triggers anxiety. This could stem from self-consciousness or performance anxiety. It can also be hard for people with trauma histories to relax. If this is true for you, take it slowly. Be patient with yourself, involve a support person if that helps, and realize that time and practice will help overcome your obstacles. Finally, remember all Happy Habits are about self-care. You get to be the judge of which ones work for you. Don’t take our word or anyone else’s word for what should work for you without testing and practicing it yourself.

Here’s a simple relaxation guide, similar to what Benson wrote about:

  1. Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Relax your muscles, beginning with your toes, progressing up to the top of your head. As you move through your muscle groups, try to keep everything relaxed.
  4. Breathe through your nose. Become aware of your breathing. As you breathe out, you might choose to say a simple word or count your breaths up to four. There are differing opinions on this. Breathe easily and naturally. If your mind wanders, come back to your breath.
  5. Try to set aside at least 10 minutes. More is better; less is acceptable if that’s all you have. If you need to be precise with your time, set your phone alarm, but only with a very gentle, pleasant sound. Leave a few minutes to just sit and mentally return to the here and now. Don’t rush back into your hectic life if you can help it.
  6. Accept yourself. Don’t judge. Try to have a passive attitude. Watch yourself relax. Let thoughts come and go. No scolding! Offer yourself mindful and nonjudgmental acceptance for your efforts.
  7. Practice this as often as you can. Daily practice can make a huge difference in your stress level. You’re teaching your mind and body that it is possible to chill, let go, and relax.

Here’s a 20 minute guided practice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIr3RsUWrdo

Roughly 2000 years ago, the philosopher Seneca wrote, “There are more things to alarm us than to harm us, and we suffer more often in apprehension than reality.”

It’s your mind. Give it a good scrub. And then use it to stay healthy.

Here’s the Rita and John video that goes with this post: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFWdcyY1rWU