Tag Archives: Happiness

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Habit #3: Three Good Things

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

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

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

Happy Habit #4: Create an Alternative Reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Habit #5: Meditation and Relaxation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Transitioning to Online Teaching: Three Successes

CA and FreudLike many academics and teachers, over the past two weeks I’ve spent WAY TOO MANY hours transitioning from face-to-face to online teaching. In the process, I’ve experienced several epic fails, and, although I’m tempted to list them, instead, I’m following the principles of positive psychology and listing my successes. Woohoo!

Let me explain the woohoo. According to B. J. Fogg, a positive habit researcher, we should make gestures and say things like “Yessss!” and “Woohoo” to help instill the habit. He says that doing so releases dopamine in the brain and consequently serves to reinforce the habit you’re trying to establish. Despite the fact that I despise the over-focus on neurophysiology in general and the over-focus on single neurotransmitters in particular, I’m still going with Dr. Fogg’s recommendation.

Aside from painful and exhausting failures, my decision to use the words Moodle, Zoom, and Powerpoint as profanity, and the virtual absence of technical assistance, I’ve had three big successes. All three came in the form of videos. All three are now available on Youtube.

First, as many of you may know, at the end of an especially long and failure-filled day, I recorded myself doing a mood-enhancing happiness dance to M.C. Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This.” Not surprisingly, my students ignored my efforts to regale them with erudite knowledge, but they universally lauded, shared, and liked my happiness dance video. Here’s the link to this 1 minute sensation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fippweztcwg

Second, in an effort to bring life to powerpoint lectures, I interspersed various videos of myself making profound comments. Generally, the response to these videos was a collective “ho-hum.” However, my use of two action-figures, Captain America and Freud  to illustrate the pain of unrequited friendship and romantic love garnered rave reviews. You can view this masterpiece in less than 4 minutes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkDdG3aMr94

Third, inspired by Nick Heath’s Twitter-page, instead of a traditional (and boring) Moodle-based quiz, I decided to organize and deliver a Livestream Happiness Pub Quiz using Zoom. My discoveries: I loved doing the (Sober) Happiness Pub Quiz, and got great and positive feedback from the 30 participants. Although Zoom failed to record the session (Zoom does some things very well and other things, very badly or not at all), I made a rough and embarrassing recording using my iPad. This 55 minute soon-to-be viral classic is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8auhzm1SFx8.

I present these video resources to you not because I’ve become a successful online instructor, but because I’ve become–through repeated failures and frustrations–a better online instructor who can now brag about three strategic successes.

Have a fabulous weekend, while staying safe, being socially distant, and regularly washing your hands and your brain.

 

Happy Habits for Hard Times

Smoothies

Being that we’ve been hanging out together (aka sheltering in place), Rita and I are teaming up to offer a series of videos with accompanying written materials and activities. We’re calling these videos and resources the “Happy Habits Series.”

We’ve written these materials and produced these videos with COVID-19 in mind, but please know that we know there are lots of other excellent resources available for coping with COVID-19. By no means do we have a corner on the market on how to be happy and healthy, nor do we think that what we’re offering is particularly special.

You might be wondering, “So, why are Rita and John doing this?” For the answer, go back to the first sentence, and then combine that sentence with the fact that we’re not sure what else we can do to be helpful (other than washing our hands, practicing social distancing, and sheltering in place).

And now, a word from our sponsor: The Happy Habits Series is a production of the University of Montana College of Education and Rita and John S-F.

Here’s installment #1. For the accompanying corny video, click here.

Two Habits that Involve Taking Control of What You Can

You can control many components of the physical space around you—things outside yourself, but within your control. You can change visuals, sounds, smells, temperatures; you can even move locations. If you’re like most of us, you know you can proactively make these changes, but sometimes, you forget. Here are a couple of reminders.

Happy Habit # 1

Using Music

Let’s start with something simple. Music. You can pump an upbeat song into your headphones or in the airwaves around you. Music triggers emotions and memories. Sometimes our emotional responses are all about the music itself. Other times they’re about personal associations or memories. For example, when Grandpa Pancake listens to We are the Champions by Queen, he’s transported back to positive college football memories, whereas the song, “Put the Lime in the Coconut” always returns him to a summertime automobile crash he experienced with his sister. You can probably guess why.

For Bossy Pants, the Simon and Garfunkel song “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is the most reassuring tune ever, though also quite nostalgic. She also plays Eva Cassidy for hours on end. Whether mood-altering or memory-inducing, music is a powerful tool in the toolbox for living well. In fact, researchers report that engaging in musical and dance activities are associated with increased subjective well-being.

Give this a try:

  1. Select a song that triggers positive emotions for you. If you really feel like picking one that makes you cry instead, that’s okay. Emoting either direction is helpful, but we’re all about focusing on what you can do to elevate your mood right now.
  2. Listen to the song at least two or three times and just let the song do its work. Sing along or dance a little. Or both.
  3. Pay attention to memories and positive feelings. Smile. Tear up. React in whatever ways feel natural. Welcome your emotions.
  4. Play it again or move on to another favorite. Maybe even play something new. You’re building resilience for the rest of the day. If you find yourself humming your song in a Zoom meeting or while doing the dishes, so much the better.
  5. And though this suggestion belongs in a later Happy Habit, send a mental thank you out to the musicians and all the people involved in bringing those tunes to your ears.

Happy Habit # 2

Forest Bathing

Music is one method for altering your outer environment. Now let’s move on to something physical: Forest bathing. Yes, forest bathing brings to mind naked nymphs flittering around a crystal pond or, for some of us, skinny dipping in Seeley Lake. In Montana, beautiful outdoor scenes are everywhere. If you’re lucky enough to be able to do social distancing by immersing yourself in some naturally awesome surroundings, do it. But even if you can’t get out to the perfect spot, we encourage you to try this. Here’s the scoop:

In 2018, happiness researcher Dr. Qing Li wrote a book called Forest Bathing which includes this guidance:

In Japan, we practice something called forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku. Shinrin in Japanese means “forest,” and yoku means “bath.” So shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through our senses.

This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.”

First, find a spot. Make sure you have left your phone and camera behind. You are going to be walking aimlessly and slowly. You don’t need any devices. Let your body be your guide. Listen to where it wants to take you. Follow your nose. And take your time. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get anywhere. You are not going anywhere. You are savoring the sounds, smells and sights of nature and letting the forest in.

The key to unlocking the power of the forest is in the five senses. Let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands and feet. Listen to the birds singing and the breeze rustling in the leaves of the trees. Look at the different greens of the trees and the sunlight filtering through the branches. Smell the fragrance of the forest and breathe in the natural aromatherapy of phytoncides. Taste the freshness of the air as you take deep breaths. Place your hands on the trunk of a tree. Dip your fingers or toes in a stream. Lie on the ground. Drink in the flavor of the forest and release your sense of joy and calm. This is your sixth sense, a state of mind. Now you have connected with nature. You have crossed the bridge to happiness.”

Japan is a tad more crowded than Montana. If they can manage forest bathing there, we have no excuse. Dr. Li is an impressive researcher. Forest bathing can be a great habit to establish and maintain. To watch a forest bathing video from CBS News, click here.

Music and forest bathing are the first two Happy Habit activities in our Happy Habit Series. If you’re interested, you can watch our encouraging (and home-made) video, try these assignments, and pay attention if they work for you. Have an open and observant attitude. Nothing works for everyone, but these are well-researched strategies. Feel free to chime in with a blog comment or two. Nice, positive comments of course.

Once again, here’s the link to the video: https://studio.youtube.com/video/KPw7KncPQXc/edit

Thanks for reading and I hope you’re finding just the right balance of social distance and social connection.

Happiness Lecture 10 — Social PPT Video

Hi All,

This is a video that accompanies COUNSELING 195 – The Art and Science of Happiness. Due to social distancing, I’m putting my lectures online, and the Moodle shell at the University of Montana rejected the file for being too large, so I’m trying this.

The audio is wonky, but the video focuses on components of the social dimension of well-being and happiness.

Be safe. Be well. Be distant, but stay connected!

John

 

Happiness Homework: Conduct Two Natural Talent Interviews

Strengths

Back in the 1950s, at the University of California, a guy named Joseph met a guy named Harrington. They were both psychologists and both interested in self-awareness and interpersonal relationships. Together, combining their knowledge and experiences, they came up with a simple way to integrate their ideas about self-awareness and social awareness. Being cool and creative types (I’m guessing about this, because I never met them), to name their concept they fused or integrated their two first names.

You may have studied the Johari Window in Introductory Psychology. Just in case you didn’t, or just in case you’ve forgotten whatever you learned about it, here are a few facts.

  1. The Johari window is pronounced the Joe-Harry Window. . . because Joe Luft and Harry Ingham named it after themselves.
  2. The Johari window is designed as a tool for helping people (like us!) to expand our self-awareness.
  3. The Johari Window has four quadrants or “rooms” (see the Figure below) 

    The Open Area. The top-left room represents the part of the self that that’s wide open. It includes parts of you that are known to you (self-awareness) and those same parts that are known to others.

    The Hidden Area. The bottom left room is the part of ourselves that we know, but that we hide from others. People who are transparent generally have a small private or “hidden area.”  People who consider themselves “private people” probably have bigger hidden areas.

    The Blind Spot. The top right area represents the part of ourselves that others see, but that we don’t see (or hear). Maybe you’ve glimpsed some of your blind spot by watching yourself on video, or listening to your recorded voice, or from getting feedback from other people about how they experience you.

    The Unknown. The unknown is that mysterious part of ourselves that remains hidden to us and hidden to others.

Mostly, the Johari Window is useful as a tool for enhancing self-awareness and shrinking the Blind Spot and Unknown areas. You can think of it as getting to know the parts of ourselves that are unconscious or outside our awareness. As noted in the figure below (which I copied from this internet site: https://www.communicationtheory.org/the-johari-window-model/), there are methods for expanding self-awareness. The main method for expanding self-awareness is to ask others for feedback. Asking others, “What do you think of me?” is a powerful and straightforward self-awareness tool, but it requires social risk-taking and courage. Asking for feedback is a good, but not perfect method for expanding self-awareness because asking others for feedback may NOT expand your self-awareness if that other person doesn’t know you well or sees you inaccurately. Feedback from others is often, but not always, helpful for expanding self-awareness.

Another method for expanding self-awareness involves, ironically, being more open and transparent to others. If we want accurate feedback from others, it’s best to let others get to know us, otherwise the feedback and information they provide will be necessarily limited. To get good feedback from others, we need to provide others with good data about ourselves. Without good data, others can’t give us good feedback. See below for the Figure illustrating the Johari Window.

I’m writing about the Johari Window for educational reasons, but also because it’s a great way to introduce your Spring Break happiness assignment. This is an assignment that I made up about six years ago while teaching a career development class. I call it the Natural Talent Interview. Not surprisingly, because I made it up, I think it’s an awesome assignment that everyone will love. On the other hand, you should be the judge of that, AND, you should give me feedback on this assignment so I can expand my self-awareness!

Here’s the assignment:

Conduct Two Natural Talent Interviews: To do this assignment, identify two people whom you respect and trust. Let them know that you have an assignment to get more in touch with your personal strengths and talents. Then, get a note pad (or commit yourself to making mental notes) and ask them the following question:

What do you think are my three greatest strengths or talents?

As you’re listening, be sure to ask the person for specific examples of each talent or strength. You can take notes if you’re comfortable, or just listen and then soon afterwards document what the person said about you—both your natural talents and examples to support them.

The purpose of this assignment is to get to know your personal strengths and talents from the perspective of others. Maybe you’ve done this sort of thing before. But because things change with time, it’s worth updating the feedback you get from others or worth asking new people for feedback.

At the end, write a summary of what you learned about your natural talents and upload it to Moodle for Dan and me to read.

Thanks and happy Friday.

John S-F

 

 

Spirituality and Happiness: Summarizing the Happiness Class Spirituality Panel

Kid Art

Today we had a spirituality panel in the Art & Science of Happiness class. Featured guests were Community Chaplain, Courtney Arntzen, Lama Tsomo, and Rabbi Mark Hayim Kula. Rita S-F was also featured as the panel moderator. I sat on the side of the room, desperately seeking enlightenment.

Over the years I’ve taken to poking fun at the highly regarded statistical procedure called meta-analysis. I like to make fun of it because, in essence, meta-analytic findings are a summary of a summary of a summary. Today, in our class, the distinguished panelists were given tiny shreds of time during which they offered brief anecdotes, summaries, analogies, and facts about their three spiritual traditions. Providing them with such little time was a disservice that we all tolerated in the service of experiencing 80 minutes of their wisdom. And now, I’ll be doing that disservice a disservice by trying to summarize a few salient points. Meta-analysis never looked so deep.

In this oversimplification of the rich and amazing information we experienced today, I’m including a prequel, a dialectic, and a sequel. Here’s the prequel.

Lama Tsomo began by pointing out that when we stub our toe, our whole self hurts. She followed up with how Tibetan methods are useful for getting us out of our individual ego, and noted that although we should love our neighbors as ourselves, many of us aren’t all that good at loving ourselves. In the end, she put us all together in a metaphoric ocean where we are both all interconnected, but all individuals.

Courtney Arntzen began with a heartfelt apology, “For ways my faith has hurt or wounded you or told you that you’re not enough or not loved.” She followed this with the old testament message of loving the lord with all your heart and soul and strength, combined with the new testament message of loving your neighbor as yourself.

Rabbi Mark asked the students if they’re feeling happier from their experience in the class. Some heads nodded. I wanted to leap up and tell everyone on the class that they God Damn better be feeling happier, but that seemed spiritually inappropriate for someone seeking enlightenment. Then Mark said that his final exam for the class would be “Are you happy?” He went on to discuss how one of the Jewish commandments is to be happy and pursue joyfulness.

Overall, and here’s where my silly oversimplification feels terribly limited, I thought the main messages coalesced dialectics. In case you’re not carrying your counseling theories textbook with you all the time (yet), here’s a definition for dialectic: “A dialectic is a process where learning is stimulated from the integration of opposites” (Sommers-Flanagan & Sommers-Flanagan, 2018, p. 90; yes, quoting myself hereJ).

All three spiritual disciplines featured today emphasized that happiness for the self is directly related to the happiness you offer others. Whether it was all of us being interconnected in the ocean, or the message that to dismiss the other is to negate God’s work, I kept hearing how deeply important it is for us to love ourselves well and to love others just as well. Rabbi Mark suggested that we carry two different messages, one in each pocket. The first, we should pull out when feeling down, “The entire world is was made for you.” The second is good to read when feeling overconfident, “I am a mere speck of dust.” Yes! Learning from dialectics.

Eventually the conversation leaned into forgiveness. Everyone embraced the idea that we can be quick condemn ourselves and others, and that forgiveness is a decision or empowered choice. We need to get beyond who’s right and who’s wrong. We need to accept grace for ourselves, but also for others. None of us is perfect; we are all striving. More dialectics.

Some small fireworks were ignited twice. Rita asked Courtney about her thoughts on whether self-esteem was evil. Turns out, Courtney not only had thoughts about that particular idea, she also had feelings. She made it clear that because we’re all God’s creation, “instead of negating what God loves, I try to be compassionate and kind to myself.” She extended that principle to loving one’s neighbor and to loving and being a steward of the universe.

Toward the end of the panel discussion Rabbi Mark and Lama Tsomo were readying themselves for spiritual combat, but Rita, being mindful of time, transitioned to the next topic. Lama Tsomo lamented that lost opportunity because, “I wanted to debate, because Jewish debate is a great way to get to the truth.”

Although I’m sad to have missed out on a good old Buddhist-Jewish debate, I think we managed to get to some truth anyway.

To end, Lama Tsomo led us all in mindfulness meditation. She gently recommended that we meditate with our eyes open, because we want to go through life with our eyes open (and keeping our eyes open also reduces the chances of falling asleep while meditating).

My take home message for the day was something like this, “I need to meditate with my eyes wide open in order to illuminate my mind to the idea and action that psychological, spiritual, and religious practice is a practice that requires repetition and a commitment to being perfect creations who imperfectly strive to act out values of loving others, loving ourselves, and loving God (aka the great ocean of wisdom).”

Thanks to Courtney, Mark, and Tsomo. Thanks also to Rita and to the Happiness class.

I am grateful.

I am still practicing.

 

 

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

 

 

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.

 

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