One of my long-time friends from graduate school in the 1980s had lots of corny, pithy, and funny commentary on life. He was adept at noticing when professors repeated themselves, often snarking that particular professors had graduated from the “Department of Redundancy Department.” I enjoyed his commentary so much that I forgot to snarkily notice the redundancy of his jokes.
Somewhat later, another colleague told me of his educational motto: “Redundancy works!” After years of counseling and doing presentations, he decided that most people aren’t listening very well and so saying things over and over gives teachers and counselors a better chance of being heard and remembered.
Back when we lived in Great Britain for several fortnights, we learned that the Brits used the term redundant to refer to employee layoffs. For example, when employers cut staff, they referred to staff as having become redundant (or unneeded), and consequently, unemployed.
I bring up redundancy today because I’m posting two things here that are almost exactly the same as what I posted earlier this week. Yesterday and today, I had and have the honor of presenting to STEM graduate students from Montana Tech (yesterday) and the University of Montana (today) on how to integrate a few happiness skills into their lives. The handouts (below) are virtually identical to those I provided on Monday (for the Belgrade Teacher presentation) . . . and so you should bear in mind that I’m clearly a graduate of the Department of Redundancy Department because I’ve learned that Redundancy Works! . . . and I’m hoping I’ve not quite become redundant myself.
Back in May I received an email from a Belgrade High School AP Biology teacher asking if I could present to Belgrade teachers on mental health. The details have worked out. I’m super-excited to do this for several reasons:
I’m very passionate about supporting teacher mental health and well-being. For as long as I can remember (but especially during these past three years), teachers have been over-stressed, over-worked, under-paid, and under-appreciated. I even happen to have a grant proposal submitted that would give teachers access to very low-cost graduate credit on an Evidence-Based Happiness course. Happiness knowledge and mental health support for teachers is essential.
Education is the central “plank” on my personal political platform. IMHO, to quote myself, “The road to economic vitality, the road to environmental sustainability, the road to excellence in health care and social programs, and the road to good government always has and always will run through education.” We need excellent teachers and we need excellent public education. We need it now more than ever.
Belgrade is conveniently located just off I-90, a freeway that I regularly drive on my way from Missoula to Absarokee and back again.
And best of all, I’ll get to see the famous Nick Jones. Nick is a cool Aussie transplant, a former Carroll College basketball player, and a graduate of our M.A. program at the University of Montana. He also happens to be a school counselor at Belgrade High School.
My big theme will be that although advice is cheap, knowledge is power. We all benefit from knowing more about mental health and happiness. One of my main topics will involve information on understanding sleep. . . because we all have better mental health when we sleep well.
Next week, the Montana Happiness Project and the Families First Learning Lab have a variety of educational offerings. I’ve listed them below, along with links that can provide additional information.
If you’re a STEM grad student at the University of Montana, and you want to attend a short (2.5 hour) evidence-based happiness workshop on Friday, August 26 (and get a free lunch), click on this link for more information and to register. https://umt.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_3yjFgwKqfmE7Qt8
As you can see below, I’m doing the same workshop for Montana Tech in Butte on Aug 25.
If you’re working with an organization that might want a speaker on happiness or strengths-based suicide assessment and treatment, you should check out the Montana Happiness Project “Speaker” page: https://montanahappinessproject.com/speakers . . . and contact us to let us know of your interest.
Okay. Here’s the list of events for Aug and Sept.
August 23, 2022 – John Sommers-Flanagan presents on “The art and science of happy teachers” to the Belgrade School staff. Belgrade, MT.
August 25, 2022 – Dylan Wright presents on “Parent Engagement” to the Youth Dynamics staff. Webinar.
August 25, 2022 – John Sommers-Flanagan presents on “Evidence-based happiness skills” to the Montana HOPES Project at Montana Tech. Butte, MT.
August 26, 2022 – John Sommers-Flanagan presents on “Evidence-based happiness skills” to the Montana HOPES Project at University of Montana. Missoula, MT.
September 1, 2022 – Dylan Wright presents on “The Art, Science, and Practice of Meaningful Happiness” for Mountain Home staff. Missoula, MT.
September 20, 2022 – John Sommers-Flanagan presents on “Suicide assessment and treatment: A strengths-based approach” for the Wallowa Valley Center for Wellness. Enterprise, OR.
Albert Ellis used to offer “Five Buck Friday” night presentations in New York. What a cool idea. People would show up and he would teach them Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).
I do lots of presentations. I like to think I do lots of presentations because I’m good at doing presentations, but I also know I’m not a perfect presenter and need to be consistently open to feedback and new learning. Anyway, lately I’ve been doing more consultations with young professionals on how to do presentations. This humbling new “gig” is related to our work on the Montana Happiness Project (click here for to see the MHP website: https://montanahappinessproject.com/). Our MHP vision is: “To help create a world where people listen to and value one another while also living lives that are personally meaningful and saturated with eudaimonic happiness.” To help move toward our vision, Rita and I are doing more training of young professionals who want to help infuse more positivity and happiness into the challenges of life.
The young professionals are amazing. Sometimes I wonder when they sleep. Today, as part of supervising and consulting one of our amazing presenters, I responded to some specific questions he posed in an email.
This is my free blog-version of Ellis’s Five Buck Friday consultation.
The staff of this organization works directly with parents. Some things they struggle with are listed below:
The staff struggles with self-regulation
The staff would like to be able to be curious (and not activated) when a parent is yelling at their kid, etc.
I’m glad you got this information. One key to a great presentation is to dovetail the process and content to meet the group’s specific goals.
Issues 1 and 2 are great topics to focus on in a staff training/presentation. Self-regulation is almost always adversely affected when there are surprise triggers. Although break-out groups would be good for discussing staff triggers, because the director said the staff doesn’t like break-out groups, you could do live polling on the staffs’ “buttons” or triggers. The goal would be for staff to become very familiar with personal triggers so they can develop a plan for their “best possible responses” to their triggers, and then practice their best possible responses with imagery and rehearsals or role plays. You can’t be curious (Item 2) unless you’re READY for the trigger and have a plan for what your curiosity will look like.
The other issue is that sometimes the staff will need to enforce behavioral limits. When presenting, you are the parent/role model; when working with parents, the staff members are the parent/role model figures. They need to be clear on inappropriate parental behaviors and have a plan for setting and enforcing limits will help them (and possibly the parents) with self-regulation. As I sometimes say about nightmares and tantrums, it helps when the adult “looks forward” to the dreaded incident/trigger. I know that sounds weird, but the incident is inevitable anyway and when it occurs, it provides an unparalleled opportunity to try out the new plan.
In the context of Family Based Services, the staff could use help with:
How to engage when parents don’t want to be there.
Going to be transitioning to going back into the homes of clients – this could be hard on clients and counselors.
Using a positive or meaningful frame for parents who are “involuntary” or un-enthused about therapy is essential. Below I’ve listed and described some positive framing ideas and a couple strategies that might help.
Thank the parent for being there.
If the parent appears negative or reluctant, thank them even more sincerely and with empathy by acknowledging the reality in the room (e.g., “I REALLY appreciate you being here especially because I can see you don’t feel like being here.” – Obviously tweak that wording and all other wordings to fit your own style.)
Identify at least one positive reason why the parent showed up (e.g., “You must really love your son/daughter to get yourself here to work with me even when you don’t feel like it.” Or, “Lots of parents don’t follow through on the commitment to show up for these sessions. I really appreciate you showing up. It tells me how committed you are to doing the right thing and being here to do the work.”)
Bring gifts. Find out the parents’ favorite non-alcoholic drinks and bring them along. Find out their favorite salty snack and bring it along. Hardly anything calms irritability better than sincere positive gestures that include food😊.
Listen, listen, and listen to the parent’s perspective and complaints and paraphrase the heck out of them before moving on to issues of substance.
Before, during, and after you share these ideas in your presentation, be sure to be prompting the group to add to the list, while acknowledging how much insight there is in the room.
Consider helping the staff to establish a positive family-based therapy dynamics checklist to think about before doing family sessions.
I like to THINK of myself as not being a complainer, but in reality, I do my share of complaining. One of my personal goals is to complain less and thereby avoid becoming a whining old curmudgeon. That’s a tall order because for me, there are always a few particular moments and experiences when it just feels VERY GRATIFYING to let the complaints fly.
Today, I’m offering some small complaints about the process of publishing in academic journals. I’m limiting my complaining and keeping a positive tone because too much complaining would be inconsistent with my anti-curmudgeon goal AND inconsistent with my topic: publishing happiness research.
Over the past year, I’ve started working on three different happiness manuscripts. We (my research team and I) submitted the first one (Manuscript 1) to a good journal, waited 3+ months and got a rejection. The rejection was understandable, but the reviews were IMHO uninspiring and uninformed. The reviewers critiqued parts of the manuscript that were absolutely solid, raised questions about non-issues, and completely missed the biggest flaw (of which I am very familiar, because I analyzed the data). In response, because reviews should nearly always be two-way, I provided a bit of congenial feedback to Editor 1. Editor 1 responded quickly and we had a cordial and constructive email discussion.
Manuscript 1 is now out to a second unnamed journal. We’re closing in on four months and so after recovering from my CACREP virtual site visit hangover (more minor complaining here in the midst of my major complaint) and using my congenial colleague voice, I emailed Editor 2. Again, I got a speedy and pleasant response. As it turns out, academic journal editors are generally lonely people who field so many hostile emails, that they’re very chatty when they get something nice. The editor of journal 2 shared a few frustrations. I responded with commiseration, and Editor 2 let me know we should hear about our manuscript’s status by the end of the week. Just in case you’re a lonely and frustrated academic journal editor and want to steal away this manuscript and publish it before Friday, I’ve pasted the abstract below. My Email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Effects of a Brief Workshop on Counseling Student Wellness in the Age of COVID-19
Counselors-in-training (CITs) often experience stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Teaching counseling students wellness and positive psychology skills, particularly in the age of COVID-19, may help CITs cultivate greater well-being. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of a brief happiness-oriented workshop on CIT well-being. Forty-five CITs participated in either a 2.5 hour online experiential evidence-based happiness workshop or control condition. Eight wellness-oriented self-report questionnaires were administered pre-and post-intervention. Compared with the control group, CITs who attended the online workshop reported significant reductions in depressive symptoms. At six-month follow-up, workshop participants were reported using several of the interventions (i.e., gratitude, savoring, and three good things) with themselves and in their work. Despite methodological limitations, this study provides initial evidence that a brief, online happiness workshop has promise for helping CITs cope with the emotional burdens of graduate school and COVID-19.
Manuscript 2 is based on one of my recent doctoral student’s dissertations. It’s a solid quantitative, quasi-experimental, pretest-posttest design with interesting and positive outcomes. We submitted it to a journal, waited 3 months, and then were informed that they liked the manuscript, but that it wasn’t a good fit for their journal. Being that I’ve become pretty chummy with various journal editors, I emailed the Editor using my happy voice, while also noting that it didn’t seem quite right that we waited 3 months to hear the manuscript wasn’t a good fit. We didn’t even get reviews. . . other than the editor’s mildly positive feedback. Editor 3 got right back to me and essentially agreed with my concerns and shared frustrations about journal editor and editorial board transitions. Just in case you’re tracking the pattern, it appears that academic journal editors are super into professional email exchanges. After getting Manuscript 2 rejected, I decided to start pre-emailing journal editors to check to see if the topic is a good fit for their journals. The responses have been fast and helpful. If by chance, you’re a fancy journal editor who’s feeling frustrated and wants a colleague like me for some email chats, you could increase your chances of hearing from me if you contact me and offer to publish Manuscript 2 . . . and so here’s the abstract.
Effects of a Multi-Component Positive Psychology Course on College Student Mental Health and Well-Being During COVID-19
Even before COVID-19, college student mental health was an escalating problem. As a supplement to traditional counseling, positive psychology (aka happiness) courses have shown promise for improving college student well-being. We evaluated a unique, four-component positive psychology course on student mental health and wellness outcomes. Using a quantitative, quasi-experimental, pretest-posttest design, we compared the effects of the happiness course (n = 38) with an alternative class control condition (n = 41), on eight different mental health and well-being measures. Participants who completed the happiness course reported significantly higher positive affect, increased hope, better physical health, and greater perceived friendship support. In a post-hoc analysis of six happiness class participants who scored as severely depressed at pretest, all six had substantial reductions in self-reported depressive symptoms at posttest. Multicomponent positive psychology courses are a promising supplementary strategy for addressing college student mental health.
I know you’re probably wondering now, about Manuscript 3, which is under construction. The bottom line for Manuscript 3 is that it’s fabulous. Of course, because I haven’t submitted it anywhere yet, I’m the only reviewer offering feedback at this time. Manuscript 3 is the sort of manuscript that, I’m sure, a number of journals and journal editors will get in a bidding war over.
In the end, complaining is mostly unhealthy. Complaining can be like noxious weeds, with the negativity taking root, and spreading into areas where we should be staying positive and grateful. Too much complaining contributes to a sour disposition and outlook. On the positive side, complaining offers an opportunity for emotional ventilation, and can recruit interpersonal commiseration, both of which feel good. But IMHO the biggest potential benefit from complaining comes from social feedback. When people hear you complain, they can provide perspective. And yes, we all need perspective.
Happy Wednesday to everyone! May your complaints be minor and your perspective be multidimensional.
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.
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.