Category Archives: Happiness

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.

Your Weekend Homework: The Return to Happiness

As we approach the end of 2020, many of us are looking forward–like never before in the history of time–to turning that calendar to a new page and a new year. Readers of the Washington Post were recently surveyed and wrote, 2020 has been exhausting, relentless, and heartbreaking. Let’s put 2020 behind us and never look back (other than to remind ourselves of mistakes we shouldn’t make again).

In honor of turning the calendar to 2021, I’m working on an Op-Ed piece titled “The Return to Happiness.” The point of the piece is to acknowledge how good it is to move on, but also discuss the nature of New Year’s resolutions and how to make resolutions that have a reasonable chance of being accomplished. In the end, I’ll be making a pitch for everyone to sign up for my University of Montana course “The Art & Science of Happiness.” Well, not everyone, but anyone who wants to have a cool online “university” experience that provides an opportunity to test out the best, evidence-based, approaches to happiness on planet earth.

The course starts in January, and, for the first time ever, will be offered to “community” participants as a non-credit experience. This means EVERYONE can sign up. The catch is that it costs $150. But if you do the math, that’s only $10/week or about $3.50 an hour to discuss, learn, experiment with, and establish new happiness habits for 2021.

Here’s a description of the course:

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, read a popular happiness book, examine scientific research studies, try out research experiments in class, engage in extended happiness lab assignments, and use published instruments to 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.

Other things to know: If you take the course as a community, non-credit, participant, you won’t take the quizzes, or get graded, and assignments will be optional. However, you will be asked to participate in small group lab sessions designed to give you (and others) a chance to talk and listen to each other as you experience and experiment with specific happiness assignments.

If you’re interested, you can register at this link: https://www.campusce.net/umextended/course/course.aspx?C=627&pc=13&mc=&sc

If you know friends who could use a happiness boost for 2021, share this post with them. And if you’ve got questions, you know where to find me.

Have a fantastic weekend.

An Alternative “Mother Goose” version of the Serenity Prayer

Friday night thoughts.

We put the following quote into our forthcoming book on Suicide Assessment and Treatment.

The quote is from 20th century Philosopher W. W. Bartley. Bartley took a break from writing about philosophical rationalism, to put the message of Neibuhr’s Serenity Prayer into a Mother Goose nursery rhyme format.

“For every ailment under the sun

There is a remedy, or there is none;

If there be one, try to find it;

If there be none, never mind it.”

Good advice.

I wish everyone peace and serenity for the weekend and beyond.

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.