This Week’s Happiness Homework . . . Acts of Kindness . . . from the University of Montana

This is the assignment for my happiness students at the University of Montana. Check it out.

About a decade or two ago, the concept, “Random acts of kindness” gained traction. Now, about a decade or two later, I’m a little sad that random acts of kindness has become the most common way we talk about kindness. I say this despite the fact that I’m a big fan of randomness.

For your assignment this week, I’d like all of us to break away from the randomness mentality and embrace intentionality.

Intentional acts give us—as actors in the grand theater of life—greater agency. Instead of being stuck with a script someone else wrote, when we embrace intentionality, we become the author of every scene. Rather than randomly responding to opportunities with kindness, we can exert our will. What this means is that when an opportunity for kindness pops up, we already have a plan . . . and that plan involves creatively finding a way to respond with kindness. How cool is that?

Let’s think about this together.

Toward whom would you like to demonstrate kindness? A stranger? If so, it might feel random in that you might act kind in a moment of spontaneity. But your spontaneity—although wonderful—is a moment when your intentionality (to be a person who acts with kindness) meets opportunity. In this way, even acts toward strangers that seem or feel spontaneous, will be acts that reflect your deeper values and character.

Maybe you’d like to intentionally be kind to a friend, a parent, or a sibling. Again, this requires thought and planning and the ability to step outside yourself. Assuming that others want what you want can backfire. You’ll need to step into another person’s world: What would your friend, parent, or sibling appreciate?

To stay with the theater metaphor, you’re the script-writer and you’ve written yourself into this performance. For this week, the script or plan includes a character who values kindness and who watches for opportunities to share that value with others. You’re that character.

Your job is to translate your kind character into kind action. I don’t what that will look like for you. Maybe you don’t either. That’s the magic—where opportunity meets planned spontaneity.

Your other job is to write a summary of this experience (100 to 300 words) to Dan and me and to post it in the correct Moodle destination.

Have a fabulous week!

John SF

This is a photo of the James River in Richmond, Virginia this past Sunday evening.

James River Richmond

 

 

Hanging out with the Virginia School Counseling Association in Richmond: The Extra Handout

Richmond Statue

I just had an awesome day with about 260 Virginia School Counselors. You know who you are, and you know you’re incredible.

Just FYI, the state of Virginia is making a big investment in adding school counselors. . . which IMHO, is a very smart and reasonable decision. Other states might want to take note and follow their lead. The problem is that many school age youth are suffering from extremely challenging home, neighborhood, and school situations. Having more competent school counselors available to support student success, student mental health, and teachers is a wise move.

For all of the VSCA members I met today, thank you for coming, but more importantly, thanks for the deeply important commitment you make to the well-being of students in your schools. You are amazing!

Here’s the extra handout, with more details than the powerpoint slides: VSCA 2020 Extra Handout

 

What the World Needs Now is Gratitude — Your University of Montana Happiness Homework for the Week

Globe

Gratitude Homework

Although it’s true that most everyone experiences gratitude, most of us don’t intentionally create time and space to express gratitude. That’s why this week’s happiness assignment is all about intentional expressions of gratitude.

This assignment is part contemplation, part writing, and part action. Use the following steps:

  1. Identify someone toward whom you feel or have felt appreciation and gratitude. You may have plenty of options. It’s likely a good idea 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.

Remember, your plan is to express gratitude. What that means is that 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 that all you can control is your end of the communication and not how the communication is received.

Turn in a short report to Dan and me about your gratitude experience and put it in the appropriate Moodle bin. Tell us, (a) what it was like to write the gratitude message, (b) what it was like to deliver it, and (c) how it felt to express your gratitude. If you get inspired, feel free to repeat this gratitude experiment a second or third time.

Like last week, your report to us doesn’t need to be long—unless writing it is a pleasant experience for you—in which case, you can linger and write longer.

Good luck and although I know I can’t control the outcome of this experience, I hope you find it fun and meaningful.

 

Apple Core, Baltimore, Who’s Your Friend? #NASP2020

 

Camden

I’m in Baltimore this week for the annual meeting of the National Association of School Psychologists. Although I’m not a school psychologist, I’ve been invited the past 5+ years to offer workshops on “Tough Kids, Cool Counseling.” I’ve also had the good fortune of being invited to present professional workshops for state school psychology associations in California, Montana, Ohio, South Carolina, and Washington.

I’ve worked many different professional groups (clinical psychologists, mental health counselors, school counselors, teachers, childcare workers, and more). All of these groups are amazing, but every time I work with a group of school psychologists, I walk away thinking that maybe school psychologist are my favorite professional group of all.

Notice I said “maybe.” I don’t want to start an inter-disciplinary competition for my official endorsement.

NASP in Baltimore was typical NASP. An intense group of very smart people who are dedicated to the psychological and intellectual well-being of K-12 students everywhere. They swarm the exhibition hall looking for resources and at my workshop they asked incredibly good questions and made insightful comments.

To be honest (not a bad policy), maybe the fact that I got a standing ovation from 300+ school psychology attendees in Columbus, Ohio (after 6.5 hours of presenting) is part of the reason I love school psychologists. For minor league professionals like me, that’s about as good as it gets . . . and that was pretty fantastic.

The links that follow include my presentation powerpoints and handouts for my workshop sessions in Baltimore. If you were there, thanks for your commitment to improving the lives of children and teenagers. If not, I hope to see you next time around.

NASP Workshop I 2020 for Handout

NASP Workshop II Advanced 2020 for Handout

NASP 2020 Extra Handout Introductory

NASP 2020 Extra Handout Advanced

By the way, the next big gig is March 1 in Richmond, Virginia with the Virginia School Counselor Association . . . which is just another chance to spend some time with another fabulous group of very cool people.

 

The Day the GOP Died

Mad Bomb

There’s a new song on the internet. An appalling remake of an old song.  Aside from making me depressed when I’m working on happiness, listening to the new song reminded me of an old blog post I wrote in June, 2018. I used words and imagery from Don McLean’s American Pie to write of my disappointment with the GOP. Although I submitted this piece to a few news outlets, there was only one taker: Me. That makes sense because I almost always publish my own blog posts.

Skip this if you’re sick of political stuff.

The Day the GOP Died

By John Sommers-Flanagan, Ph.D.

A long, long time ago, the Grand Old Party stood for family values, moral standards, and apple pie. Now, with Trump as leader, it’s more like family torture, infidelity, and borscht.

Less long ago (Thursday, May 31, 2018), former House Speaker John Boehner quipped: “The Republican Party is kinda taking a nap somewhere.” Boehner was drinking a bloody Mary at the time, so maybe we shouldn’t blame him for not noticing that his former party’s nap has already lasted nearly two years.

Given there’s no chance the GOP will get woke, it’s time to say, “Bye, bye American GOP.”

The GOP was mortally wounded on a Super Tuesday back in September, 2016. In seven states, the Party of Lincoln voted to nominate Donald Trump for President. Sure, “Lying Ted” won a couple states and a few #NeverTrump folks were hanging on, but the die was cast, probably in some Trump casino, where the GOP’s mortal soul was traded for unlimited gaming opportunities. No longer was the GOP about marriage, civility, and moral virtue. Instead, along with Trump, so-called Republicans were embracing race over rights, disrespecting gold star families, degrading and sexualizing women, and undermining family values. And there was that White Nationalism thing. His crown stolen, Lincoln would have been apoplectic.

Resuscitation attempts failed. The Access Hollywood recording created a ripple of discontent and the gnashing of a tooth or two. But hey, it was locker room talk, and everyone knew who had the votes and who had the money. Jeff Flake and “Liddle Bob Corker” gave us hope, but our hope quickly gave way to calling respectful Black football players sons of bitches and making parents cry and children scream. Opposing Trump was too costly. Not only would there be hate mail, hate email, hate instant messages, and hate signs posted on your lawn, there would also be death threats, lost fundraising revenue, and lost elections. Republicans like balanced budgets. Opposing Trump did not pencil. #NotWorthIt. DJT would refuse to yield.

Later, the GOP voted that a generation lost in debt was preferable to confronting their friendship with the devil. Obsequious coveting of the naked emperor became de rigueur. Satanity laughed at tweets about pig’s blood, shitholes, and witch hunts. Fox News had spoken.

Even later, or perhaps earlier, there was Russian meddling, references to Rocket Man, and about 50 departures from the White House staff or cabinet. Going along, the GOP normalized talk about sex, presidential lies, and fantasized audio recordings. There were payments to porn stars, pay to play with China and Indonesia, and open theft of our national morality, with Trump metaphorically riding away in a taxpayer paid for golden golf-cart. The evangelicals were copiously ignoring the growing cracks in their church bells.

Mostly the GOP lay in a Boehner-nap, awakening only briefly for intermittent nips of bloody Marys and rye. A few free market optimists imagined the GOP was saving its strength for one last-ditch effort to #DumpTrump. But, right about then, because the three politicians I admired most were already dead anyway, the rest of the GOP joined them. The Republican Party, upon whom we could formerly count for at least a façade of morality, had its thousand points of light torn away like a Puerto Rican roof. Final confirmation of the GOP’s death occurred in July with continuing news from the Mexico border that made us shiver. John McCain’s angel was in a body cast, because he was “Dying anyway.”

The GOP, having given away its moral authority to speechless speakers, vapid veeps, and the money man, is no longer grand, no longer old, and no longer alive. The Party of Lincoln is dead. Let’s drive our Harleys to the coast and pray that the Party of Trump is short-lived.

*********************************

John Sommers-Flanagan is a clinical psychologist, professor of counselor education at the University of Montana, and author of eight books. The views expressed here are solely the views of John Sommers-Flanagan, and not representative of the University of Montana or Don McLean.

And here’s the youtube link for the new song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQPeVJQaUSw

 

A Letter to My Happiness Class on Why I Called BS on the So-Called Law of Attraction

Adler Heart Brain

[This is a letter to my happiness class]

Hello Happy People,

When happiness class ends, sometimes I wish we could continue in conversation. You may not feel that way. You might be thinking, “Thank-you Universe! Class is finally over.” But as a long-time professor-type, on many days I wish we could keep on talking and learning. I know that it may not surprise you to hear that I’m feeling like I’ve got more to say:).

This week (Tuesday, February 11) was one of those days. Many of you made great comments and asked big questions. But, given that time is a pesky driver of everything, I/we couldn’t go as deep as we might have. Here’s an example of a question I loved, but that I felt I didn’t go deep enough with:

“Do you believe in the Law of Attraction?”

This is a fascinating question with deep and profound contemporary relevance. At the time, if you recall, I had dissed inspirational statements like, “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it” as “just bullshit.” Then, in response to the question of whether I believe in the so-called Law of Attraction, I said something like “I don’t completely disbelieve it” . . . and then pretended that I was in possession of a scientific mental calculator and said something like, “I believe things like imagining the positive can have a positive effect, but it might contribute about 3% of the variation to what happens to people in the future.”

Not surprisingly, upon reflection, I’m thinking that my use of the word “bullshit” and my overconfident estimation of “3% of the variation” deserve further explanation. Why? Because if I don’t back up what I say with at least a little science, then I’m doing no better than the folks who write wacky stuff like, “You can if you think you can.” In other words, how can you know if what I say isn’t “just bullshit” too?

At this point I’d like to express my apologies to Dr. Norman Vincent Peale for referring to one of his book titles as “wacky stuff.” However, in my defense, I read the book and I still can’t do whatever I think I can do . . . so there’s that . . . but that’s only a personal anecdote.

Okay. Back to science. Here’s why I said that positive thinking, as in the so-called “Law of Attraction” might account for only about 3% of the variation in life outcomes.

Back in the 1980s, I did my thesis and dissertation on personality and prediction. At the time I had four roommates and I felt I could predict their behaviors quite easily on the basis of their personalities. However, much to my surprise, I discovered that social psychology research didn’t support personality as a very good predictor of behavior. Turns out, personality only correlates with behavioral outcomes at about r = 0.3 or r = 0.4. You might think that sounds big, because you might think that r = 0.3 means 30%. But that’s not how it works. If you do the math and multiply the correlational coefficient by itself (as in 3 x 3 or 4 x 4) you get what statisticians call the coefficient of determination (in this case, 3 x 3 = 9% and 4 x 4 = 16%). The coefficient of determination is an error-filled effort to predict specific future events, as in, if your r = 0.3, then, if you know r, then you can be about 9% accurate in predicting an outcome.

Please note that everything is error-filled, including science, and including me and my shoot from the hip efforts at estimation and prediction. When I say error-filled, I’m not disrespecting science, I’m just acknowledging its limitations.

Okay. Back to the so-called Law of Attraction. In class I was calculating in my mind that if well-measured personality traits like extraversion or introversion only account for about 9-16% of the variation in behavioral outcomes, then the so-called Law (which I’m inclined to rename as the Hypothesis of Attraction) would likely account for significantly less variation . . . so I quickly did some mental math and “3%” popped out of my mouth. What I should have said is that humans are remarkably unpredictable and that personality barely predicts behavior and situations barely predict behavior and so when we hypothesize what might influence our future, we should be careful and underestimate, lest we appear foolishly overconfident, like many television pundits.

Somewhere around this time, someone asked if I thought the authors of books who advocated things like the law of attraction really believed in what they wrote or just wrote their books for profit. My response there was something like, “I don’t know. Maybe a bit of both.” To be perfectly honest—which I’m trying to be—one of my big concerns about things like the law of attraction is that they’re used to increase hope and expectations and typically come at a price. I don’t like the idea of people with profit-driven motives luring vulnerable people with big hopes into paying and then being disappointed. Sometimes I ask myself, “If someone has their life together so much that they discovered a secret to becoming wealthy by visualizing wealth, then they should already be so damn rich that they should just share their secret for free with everyone in an effort to improve people’s lives and the state of the planet!” The corollary to that thought is that if somebody says they’ve got a powerful secret AND THEY WANT TO CHARGE YOU FOR IT, my bullshit spidey sense sounds an alarm. Go ahead, call me suspicious and cynical.

Now. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of positive thinking. A huge fan. I believe positive thinking can give you an edge, and I believe it can make you happier. But I also think life is deeper than that and multiple factors are involved in how our lives turn out. I don’t want to pretend I’ve got a secret that I can share with you that will result in you living happily ever after with all the money you ever wished for. On the other hand, I do want to encourage everyone to embrace as much as you can the positivity and gratitude and kindness and visions of your best self that we’re talking about and reading about for our happiness class. I want you to have that edge or advantage. I want you to harness that 3% (okay, maybe it could be 7%) and make your lives more like your hopes and dreams.

Later, another student asked how we can know if we’re just fooling ourselves with irrational positivity. Wow. What an amazing question. At the time, I said, we need to scrutinize ourselves and bounce our self-statements or beliefs off of other people—people whom we trust—so we can get feedback. One thing I’d add to what I said in class is that we should also gather scientific information to help us determine whether we’re off in the tulips or thinking rationally. Self-scrutiny, feedback from trusted others, and pursuit of science. . . I think that’s a pretty good recipe for lots of things. It reminds me of what Alfred Adler once wrote about love. . . something like, “Follow your heart, but don’t forget your brain!”

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. I hope your weekend is a fabulous mix of following your heart, and hanging onto the science.

John SF

The place to click if you want to learn about psychotherapy, counseling, or whatever John SF is thinking about.