Emily Sallee and I had an excellent (and inspiring) day 1 at the 2022 MASP Summer Institute. The MASP members and other participants have been fabulous. Today, we built a foundation upon which we will build great things tomorrow.
What’s up for tomorrow? Advanced treatment planning using the seven-dimensional strengths-based model. Just in case you’re at the Summer Institute OR you want a peek into what we’re doing, here are some handouts.
Here’s a visual/cartoon with a nice message, despite the outdated language.
And here’s some late-breaking news related to Montana Schools.
Next Monday and Tuesday (June 6 and 7), in Billings, I’m partnering with the amazing Dr. Emily Sallee to offer a two-day workshop for the Montana Association of School Psychologists. This is an in-person workshop—which is pretty darn exciting, especially because COVID cases in Billings right now are low.
The workshop is titled,Weaving Evidence-Based Happiness Interventions into Suicide Assessment & Treatment Planning .
Here’s the description:
In this 2-day workshop you will build your skills for providing evidence-based suicide assessment and treatment. Using a strengths-based foundation, this workshop includes a critique of traditional suicide assessment, a review of an alternative assessment approach for determining “happiness potential,” and skill-building activities on how to use more nuanced and therapeutic approaches to assessment. We will view video clips and engage in active practice of strategies for building hope from the bottom up, safety-planning and other essential interventions. Throughout the workshop, we will explore how to integrate evidence-based happiness and wellness strategies into suicide assessment, treatment, and professional self-care.
Yesterday I submitted a manuscript for publication in a professional journal. The journal portal insisted that the telephone number linked to the University of Montana began with a 770 prefix. For us Montanans, that’s blasphemy. We are 406.
The automated message from the journal portal arrived instantaneously. That was amazing. The fact that the automated message was also copied to a former doc student from Pakistan who wasn’t listed as an author was less amazing. That’s the point now, I suppose. We live in a world where we’re pummeled by glitches and errors into desensitized or over-sensitized submission. Every time I start up my Outlook program it drones on about “Profile error. Something went wrong.” At this point, even Microsoft has given up on figuring out what went wrong with its own programming.
My high school friend who has an answer to everything tells me this is a universal experience wherein our expectations that things will work are repeatedly and systematically crushed. That could be a Buddhist outcome, because we’re forced to let go of our expectations. Unless, of course, we have the anti-Buddhist experience of outrage over our overattachment to things working.
This morning I’m checking in for my flight to Atlanta for the American Counseling Association conference. I’m worried by a message in the fine print from ACA implying that I may need a special adaptor to connect my computer to the conference center sound system. I’m also worried about why Delta has decided to charge me to check a bag, even though I have their coveted American Express Skymiles card.
Good news. My worries are mostly small. If there’s no sound system at the conference center, I can yell and mime the video clips I’m planning to show. I can easily (albeit resentfully) pay to check a bag, or I can reduce my packing into a carry-on. If my doc student from 10-years past gets the email, she’ll be glad to hear from me.
Delta is now telling me that the card I downgraded to a couple years ago—because of minimal travel during pandemic lockdowns—doesn’t include a free checked bag. In response, I have to check my emotional response to my overattachment to not paying a baggage fee. Easy-peasy (maybe).
On a brighter note, if you’re planning to be at ACA, I hope to see you from behind our masks. I’m presenting three times. Here they are:
Friday, April 8 at 11am to noon: The Way of the Humanist: Illuminating the Path from Suicide to Wellness in the Georgia World Congress Center, Room B302-B303.
Friday, April 8 at 3:30pm to 4:30pm: Using a Strengths-Based Approach to Suicide Assessment and Treatment in Your Counseling Practice in the Georgia World Congress Center, Room B207-B208
Saturday, April 9 at 10am to 11:30am: Being Seen, Being Heard: Strategies for Working with Adolescents in the Age of TikTok (with Chinwe Uwah Williams) in the Georgia World Congress Center, Room B406.
There’s a button on the Delta page saying “Talk with us?” I click on it and am directed to pre-prepared answers to common questions. Sadly, none of the common questions are my uncommon question. Like Moodle and Quicken and Microsoft and Qualtrics and Apple and Verizon and Grubhub and Tevera and Garmin and Xfinity and Chase and the many other corporate entities in my life, Delta doesn’t really want to talk with me. I suppose I could get into the weeds here and complain that pre-prepped answers aren’t exactly the same as talking, but we all know how this ends. My high school friend’s hypothesis would be affirmed. My expectations would be crushed, only to rise again, in the form of a rising blood pressure event not worthy of my time.
Speaking of time, as I get older, the decisions over how to spend time get pluckier. Do I write something silly like this, or do I go out to the garden, or do I set up another speaking event, or do I work on our Montana Happiness Project website, or do I volunteer somewhere, or do I wash it all away with family time?
This afternoon, I’ll fly to Georgia, where, on Thursday, I’ll teach my happiness class and engage in various consultations from a hotel, before giving three presentations at the American Counseling Association World Conference on Friday and Saturday, before I fly to Portland to see my ailing father in Vancouver, WA, before I fly back to Billings to get back to gardening. I’ll miss my 8-year-old granddaughter’s play in Missoula . . . and many (I was tempted to say “countless” but as a scientist, I’m philosophically opposed to the words countless and tireless) other possible events.
Irvin Yalom likes to point out that one choice represents the death of all others. Truth. There is no multitasking, there’s only the rush to sequentially tasking as much or as many life permutations as possible to fight Yalom’s existential dilemma of choosing and freedom and the angst and weight of our decisions.
My internal editor is complaining about how many “ands” I’ve used in this speedy essay. Even more sadly, the last editor-friend who told me about my penchant for too many “ands” and too many “quotes” has passed away. I miss him.
As a consistent voice and source of support, Rita is recommending I let go of my rigid hopes and expectations and pay the extra $120 to check my bag. At the same time, I’m resisting the death of multitasking, which is why I’m downsizing my packing for seven days into a carry-on bag.
I suppose that’s what the 1970’s band Kansas might say.
Carry on my wayward son
There’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry no more
At the risk of worrying you all more than I’m worrying myself (I’m doing fine; this is just creative expression or long form slam poetry), I’m in disagreement with that last line from the Kansas band. Don’t you cry no more is terrible advice.
Maybe the lyrics from that old Leslie Gore song fit better.
It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to . . .
That’s not quite right either. It’s more like,
I’ll cry when I’m moved to . . . for Ukraine, for the forgotten children, for the marginalized and oppressed, for my father, for the hungry.
We all have many good reasons we to cry. Grief, whether from the death of friends or ideas or choices, is a process; it comes and goes and comes and goes.
It’s easy to forget that grief is what’s happening in between our times of being happy. Happiness begets grief. And . . . that sounds like something my friend who has an answer for everything might just agree with.
Several months ago, Renee’ Parker Schoening, executive director of the Montana School Counselor Association, all-around master-organizer, and unstoppable inspirational force, asked me if I could provide a closing keynote speech for the MSCA spring conference that was evidence-based, uplifting, and funny. Channeling my internal family systems (IFS) inner scientist and entertainer selves (while ignoring my own good judgment), I quickly said, “Yes. Sure. Of course, I can do that.”
This exchange is an example of saying yes to ambitiously unattainable ideas, and then needing to find people to help me accomplish whatever it is I’ve agreed to do. In honor of my disdain for pithy, rhyming, oversimplification (think of trite things like, ugh, “fight or flight”), I’ve decided to enhance my influencer legacy by delivering profound wisdom using pithy, rhyming, oversimplifications. In the case of today’s description of last week’s questionably unattainable commitment to providing an evidence-based, uplifting, and funny closing keynote speech, I’m saying (and you may want to write this down), “If you’re running out of steam, it helps to have a good team.”
For the potential MSCA debacle, I asked two talented graduate students in Counseling at the University of Montana to help me create closing keynote magic. I suspect, because I’m a faculty member and technically one of their supervisors, the grad students may have experienced my “ask” as an offer they couldn’t refuse. Regardless of (or despite) their internal lamentations, they accepted the offer they couldn’t refuse . . . and planning started happening.
Turns out that Lillian Martz, one of the grad students, has a history of competitive Karaoke. She’s a current doc student, former M.A. student, and former school counselor. In honor of her expertise, I may or may not have suggested we infuse Karaoke into our keynote. You know how it is. With three people together generating bad ideas, it’s hard to discern where the blame belongs. Anyhow, Lillian agreed, later noting in an email that she felt “regret” for having made said agreement. But it was too late to back out; she selected a song, transforming it into a school counseling narrative (apparently that’s what competitive Karaoke people do), and suggested that the other grad student and I provide choreography.
Turns out the other grad student, Dylan Wright, has a strong theatre background, having worked a couple decades for Missoula Children’s Theatre, which is my way of saying Dylan thought him and me teaming to supply choreography for Lillian’s crooning was a fabulous idea, which is my way of admitting to, once again, saying yes to something that I might have had the good judgment to decline. All I remember is hearing Rita’s voice in the back of my brain saying, “Don’t hurt yourself.”
Dylan’s presence on our “closing keynote” team is why, somehow, we decided to weave in a brief improv experience. As many of you already know, I co-invented Karaoke, along with Mike Bevill, Neil Balholm, and Greg Hopkins, back in Mike’s basement back in 1974, and so saying yes to a Karaoke performance felt right. But, I’ve never done improv. Dylan was all-in on the improv, down with the Karaoke, and loved my terrible idea that we should open the keynote by spontaneously breaking into inappropriate songs.
Lest you worry, we did have content. Our main themes were savoring and gratitude, both being evidence-based practices popular in the positive psychology movement.
One of the lessons I’ve learned over the years is that it’s not unusual to end up receiving the gift you’re trying to give others. What I mean is that, at the conclusion of our phrenetic, non-traditional keynote speech, I experienced big doses of savoring and gratitude. Lillian and Dylan were marvelous planners and co-presenters and Renee’ was moved to tears by the video Dylan and Lillian created for the ending. Thanks to being on a great team and thanks to presenting to a generous and amazing audience of nothing-less-than-fantastic Montana school counselors, my savoring and gratitude cup were full all weekend.
Although there may be concrete evidence of the magnificence of this event in the form of video clips and photos, I’ll leave you with two short testimonials.
So much FOMO. I can’t make out any of the audio, but the visuals are very impressive. At one point it seems as though they become Zumba instructors. – UM faculty member, watching via social media video clips
I feel like I’m in a fever dream! – UM M.A. student
One of my biggest delights this semester has been reading my happiness students’ homework assignments. They’ve embraced each assignment with what Zen masters might call “Shoshin.”
Shoshin is a Japanese word referring to beginner’s mind. Beginner’s mind involves approaching experiences with an attitude of “not knowing” and maximum openness to learning. If you already know about something (say meditation), your natural inclination will be to close your mind, because you already have knowledge and lived experience about meditation and so there’s less openness to learning. Shifting from an expert (closed) mind to a beginner’s (open) mind requires intent and effort.
For many of my happiness students, some of the assignments have been old hat. Like when I ask someone with a degree in divinity and an active meditation practice to meditate for six minutes a day . . . or when I ask someone who is a faculty in counseling or a psychiatrist to try a little cognitive therapy on themselves . . . or when I ask university athletes to exercise, breathe, and consider the concept of flow . . . or when I ask a bartender to focus in on listening to others.
Despite me offering up some “old hat” assignments, my students have responded as if they were encountering everything for the first time. So. Very. Cool.
Those of you who aren’t enrolled at the University of Montana may not realize that today is the very end of spring break. Although spring is often about new beginnings, the end of a university semester is often about time management and emotional survival. Tomorrow, after a week or so of a “break” my students and I return to our studies to finish the semester. My hope is that we all return refreshed and with a renewed passion for learning, so we can Shoshin through our next six weeks.
This hope isn’t just for my happiness class students. Far too many painful events and situations are out there happening in the world. On top of that, everyone on the planet is facing unique and personal challenges that I don’t and probably can’t fully comprehend. We have these global and personal challenges AND in the Northern hemisphere, we’re experiencing spring. Even though there will be distractions and we will be imperfect, let’s do our best Shoshin and approach all of spring like a sponge, soaking up all the learning we can.
In 1970, Shunryu Suzuki wrote: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s, there are few” (from, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind).
Let’s stay watchful and open with a beginner’s mind. This is a new spring, a never before spring, with new opportunities. As James Garbarino once wrote: “Stress accumulates; opportunity ameliorates.” Amelioration. What a great word for today . . . and tomorrow.
Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. — Carl G. Jung
This opening quotation from Jung is a good start to a discussion of happiness. As many others have said, a “happy” life is a process and it includes the ability to embrace and experience darkness and sadness. I like the quote because it reminds us to not take happiness in the direction of toxic positivity. We don’t need that. At the same time, we need skills and attitudes to extend and prolong positive experiences and cope with our emotional challenges.
I’ve shared a bit about the Montana Happiness Project before, but it’s time for an update.
The Montana Happiness Project has four BIG initiatives.
We’ve gotten started on all these initiatives, but in particular, Dylan Wright and Lillian Martz have us rolling forward on the Happy Schools initiative. This past Friday, Dylan and Lillian presented their work in Frenchtown School at the “GradCon” event at the University of Montana. They didn’t win the grand prize, but they were in the running. Their work is amazing and I’m proud to have them as a part of the Montana Happiness Project. Given their hard and smart work, it’s only a matter of time until they win some sort of grand prize. To give you a taste of their work and all that’s going on with the project, here are a couple of video clips.
And here’s a link to the Dylan and Lillian’s presentation at GradCon. It’s under 15 minutes and will give you a great taste of the potential of integrating happiness into the lives of high school students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZvHqIMQNGg
Just in case you’re as inspired as I am, after you watch those videos, you’ll want to follow the new Montana Happiness Project YouTube site . . . and then you’ll probably want to go to Facebook where you can follow our new Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100073966896370
Thanks, in advance, for your interest in and support of infusing happiness skills into Montana and beyond.
The Montana Happiness Project (MHP) is rolling along.
After having our first “train-the-trainer” retreat at Boulder Hot Springs this summer, several of our retreat “graduates” are out doing amazing things. . . like offering a class through Blackfeet Community College, teaching happiness activities to youth in Frenchtown, filming a happiness-based television show through Missoula Community Access Television, and more. Although our focus is primarily Montana, we believe in building eudaimonic happiness skills and attitudes everywhere.
If you don’t know what eudaimonic happiness is or you want to learn more about the MHP, we have a brand-new website. The website includes a few videos, information about our mission, vision, and values, a calendar of upcoming events, and other resources.
If you have the time and inclination, we’d love to have you check it out the website and offer feedback. The website is in early phases—and so your feedback can be especially formative.
Last week I got to be part of an amazing conversation with Paula Fontenelle and Stacey Freedenthal. Paula and Stacey are experts in suicide prevention, postvention, and treatment. You can easily find them and some of their great work online using your favorite search engine. They both have books out. Paula’s is: Understanding Suicide and Stacey’s is: Helping the Suicidal Person.
Paula invited Stacey and I onto her podcast (which is also a video production). We all sat in separate rooms in three different states (Oregon, Colorado, and Montana) and talked about, “How on earth” it could be that pandemic-related mental health stress and distress is up (the research says so), and yet suicide rates in 2020 dipped, for the first time in two decades? What a great question!
Between the three of us, we had many answers. That’s good, because death by suicide is always influenced by many factors (in the scientific world, we like to say that suicide is multi-determined). Our answers are speculative, but I think it’s good to be speculative, as long as you admit to the fact that you’re being speculative.
The most fascinating of many fascinating explanations for the recent reduction in suicide rates was our “in real time” discovery that the pandemic relief checks went out in April of 2020. That was important because, year-after-year, the CDC reports that April is nearly ALWAYS the month with the highest suicide rates and in 2020, it was the LOWEST. Why is April always linked to high suicide rates? No one knows for sure, but Paula, Stacey, and I talk about potential explanations for that too. As T. S. Eliot wrote:
“April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.”
If you’re interested in suicide-related phenomena—not everyone is—you should listen or watch Paula’s “Understand Suicide” podcast. You can watch any of the episodes for great info, but for our episode, here are the links.
I was just now finishing up the Moodle (not Poodle) shell for my upcoming Happiness class. While working, I noticed one more person added into the course. . . so there’s still time . . . and I know some of you have been thinking about it.
Whether you take my class or not, you should consider some form of a happiness intervention with yourself. I’m not saying that because I promote toxic positivity. Instead, although I think we should all explore our pain and deepen our understanding of ourselves, we also need tools that will help us feel better on a daily basis and more tools to help us make sure we’re pointed in a direction likely to create meaningful lives.
This leads me to some highlights from happiness class research.
In a small study of 23 undergraduates in a traditional, face-to-face psychology course format, “students reported gains in hope, self-actualization, well-being, agency, and pathway hopefulness, purpose, and mission in life” (Maybury, 2013, p. 62). Note: there was no control group in this study.
In a small study of 18 undergraduates (and 20 control participants who took a social psychology course) in traditional, face-to-face psychology course formats, “the positive psychology students reported higher overall happiness, life satisfaction, routes to happiness, and lower depressive symptoms and stress compared to students in the control course” (Goodmon et al., 2016, p. 232)
In a series of three studies conducted during a COVID-19 lockdown in the U.K., the researchers reported (a) undergraduates in a happiness course had higher mental well-being than a waiting list control; (b) during lockdown, the happiness course did not have significantly positive effects, but participants seemed somewhat buffered from negative effects because they had higher subjective well-being than a control group; (c) a short (4 week), online version of the course used with “university staff and students produced significant benefits across a range of mental and personal well-being measures” (Hood et al., 2021, p. 11). Note: there was no control group in the third study.
In a series of three large studies (n = 500+ for each) of massive open online courses (MOOCs), adult students reported significantly higher subjective well-being than students in an alternative introductory psychology MOOC (Yaden et al., 2021).
We’ve now—at the University of Montana—have collected data on three of our own happiness interventions (one 2.5-hour workshop and two full-semester courses). We have, or will soon, submit these for publication. Our outcomes included:
Study 1 (a 2.5-hour happiness workshop): We had an immediate statistically significant effect on depression symptoms in our workshop group (n = 28) as compared to the waiting list control group (n = 17). At six-months follow-up, over 60% of the workshop participants reported they were still feeling the benefits from the workshop.
Study 2 (Spring 2020 class; half face-to-face and half online, due to COVID-19): We had several positive outcomes for our happiness class members (n = 38) as compared to an alternative course control group (n = 41). Positive outcomes included: (a) greater perceived friendship support, (b) greater hope, (c) fewer/less intense negative emotions, (d) better total health, including better sleep and fewer headaches, and (e) slightly improved mindfulness.
Study 3 (Spring 2021 class; all online): Again, we had several positive outcomes for our happiness class members (n = 36) as compared to an alternative course control group (n = 34). This time, the positive outcomes included: (a) fewer/less intense negative emotions, (b) higher positive emotions, (c) increased hope on both agency and pathways subscales, as well as total hope, and (d) slight increases in perceived friendship support. Unfortunately, we forgot to include the physical health questionnaire.
*In closing, I should mention that I used anthropomorphizing language in this blog’s title. Rest assured, I realize that “research” as a non-sentient activity, is unable to speak, and so if I were to be perfectly honest, I’d say something like “Research says nothing about happiness classes, because research cannot speak.” The reason for my wanton anthropomorphizing is that I’ve noticed this sort of linguistic error in many popular articles that get lots of attention. . . and obviously, I’m trying to attract attention here.
“Never work just for money or for power. They won’t save your soul or help you sleep at night.” – Marian Wright Edelman
Recently, I was struck by the concept of influencer. As far as I can tell, influencers are all about working for money and power; maybe most of all, they’re working for attention.
Today on NPR, I listened to a woman talk about vision boards. I won’t mention her name. She said lots of influencers are using vision boards. Vision boards are all about envisioning what you want to get it to manifest. Other than the fact that vision boards are extremely self-centered, I’ll keep my comments about vision boards out of this blog. I wasn’t surprised that influencers are using all the woo-woo powers they can to get what they want. Okay. I know. I’ll stop talking about vision boards and influencers.
Or maybe not. At least I should acknowledge that all this is terribly Adlerian. When people don’t feel useful, or as if they belong, they can get overly preoccupied with attention, power/money, and revenge. I’m sure Adler would have had something to say about vision boards, had they been around in the early-to-mid 1900s.
Of course, I’m jealous of influencers. Beginning in high school, I had a wish to be featured, as a professional football player, on a United Way advertising. At the time, the NFL and the United Way had a collaborative thing going and I loved the idea of promoting the United Way from a place of power and influence. Of course, my football-playing days ended in 1979, but my fantasies of being able to reach people with the message that mostly we should focus on helping each other still deeply resonates in my soul. It’s too bad so many influencers are all about superficial qualities like fashion and appearance.
I do have tiny bits of influence here and there and I hope I try to wield that influence in ways consistent with my initial wishes to be in one of those old United Way adverts.
For this week and next week, you’ll likely see my pathetic efforts to be an influencer. I want people to enroll in our Art & Science of Happiness course at the University of Montana. I believe engaging in the class can make people not only feel happier, but also begin experiencing less depression and more engagement in meaningful lives. Here are a few comments from previous course participants.
From a young man who described himself as depressed: “After a couple of weeks of participating and attending class I noticed that the slides and the activities really helped me out. I was able to finally have someone explain what feelings I was going through, why I felt this way, and what we could possibly do to improve. At first, I didn’t think any of this was going to work, but after trying meditating and positive thinking I noticed my overall mood was changing.”
From a young woman who really loved savoring: “One of the most influential activities for me was the activity on savoring. I found that mutual reminiscing had a really positive effect on me. After mutual reminiscing with my friends, I gained a lot of gratitude and appreciation for my friends and the experiences I have had in my life. This activity had a really positive influence on me and is something that I plan to try and do often after leaving this class.”
From a young woman with plans to be a teacher: “This semester of the happiness class has been really wonderful for me. I have two big take-aways. The first applies to my personal life. In class, we learned about how to build new habits, something that has helped me to progress this semester. The second take-away relates to my career. I am pursuing life as a teacher, and being in this class helped me expand my ideas about what we can teach.”
From a young man missing his family during a lockdown: “COVID-19 pandemic changed many things in my life. It changed how I was learning and prevented me from joining my family during Ramadan. But, looking at my situation: I am isolating partly to protect my health and mainly for other peoples’ health. And that is one of the pillars for being happy when you believe that others matter.”
From a 30-something woman who likened the course as a trip down the Yellow Brick Road: “I have grown as a person that was made all the more valuable because I was able to do it with the help of so many. I deeply appreciate the people I came to know through this process. This class will only help people as it gives us the knowledge and skills to appreciate ourselves and the others in our life as we gain a better understanding of what true happiness looks like.”
This last testimonial reminds me of something I said last year. That is, you should consider signing up for happiness class with a friend. Or maybe not. Because if you don’t sign up with a friend, you’re likely to leave with one.
Here’s are the deets on the class and how to enroll:
The course is offered “live” on Tuesdays/Thursdays from 1pm to 2:20pm, beginning on January 18, 2022, ending the week of May 9, 2022. However, because the course is fully online via Zoom, you can also take the course asynchronously.