Tag Archives: Happiness

What’s Happening at the Montana Happiness Project: The 2021 Annual Report

Montana Happiness Project – 2021 – Year End Report

Despite global exhaustion from wave after wave of the coronavirus pandemic, and despite immense national and local loss and suffering, amazing examples of resilience continue. At the Montana Happiness Project, we believe in facing, validating, and working through individual and collective pain and suffering. We believe everyone needs time and space to be with, and gain insight from, their emotions. This is one side of the truth of living.

On the other side is the need to stay strong, positive, and resilient. Although it’s human nature and therapeutic for individuals and communities to be with their emotions, we also benefit from focusing on strengths, positivity, gratitude, and kindness. In an ideal world, we do both. We take time to be with our painful emotions and learn from them. We also intentionally turn toward wellness and happiness. This is part of the balance that facilitates well-lived lives.

The year 2021 remained challenging for many Montanans. This brief Year-End Report describes activities associated with the smaller and larger ways in which the Montana Happiness Project made efforts to nurture wellness within our Montana communities. To summarize our activities, we’ve organized this report into several sections: (a) Happiness Funding, (b) Bimonthly Activities, (c) 2022 Goals and Organizing Principles, (d) Outcomes, and (d) Gratitude.

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Just in case you don’t want to read the whole 7 page report, I’ve pasted the Executive Summary below.

Executive Summary

In our first complete year of operations, the Montana Happiness Project, L.L.C. provided substantial contributions to wellness awareness and happiness promotion throughout the state of Montana and beyond. Highlights of 2021 include: (a) reaching well over 1,000 Montanans with high-quality educational presentations on suicide prevention and happiness promotion; (b) offering seminars, classes, and trainings viewed by over 50,000 professionals around the globe; (c) delivery of a 2½ day retreat for 15 professionals committed to implementing a strengths-based approach to suicide assessment, treatment, and prevention in Montana; (d) data collection and continued scientific research on the effectiveness of strengths-based suicide assessment and treatment workshops for professionals, happiness classes, and happiness workshops; (e) initiation of collaborative programming with the University of Montana, Families First Learning Labs, and other community organizations.

If you’d like to read the whole report, send me an email (john.sf@mso.umt.edu) or message me here and I’ll get one out to you.

Have a great day.

John

For a Win-Win-Win on Giving Tuesday – Support College Student Mental Health

After facing an overwhelming number of choices on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, now we’re faced with another litany of excellent choices for Giving Tuesday. There are so many wonderful charities to support. You can’t go wrong with supporting food banks, shelters, and other organizations that push back against poverty. You also can’t go wrong supporting children, minorities, education, and the environment . . . these are all huge needs.

Along with the preceding charity types, this year Rita and I are wholeheartedly supporting college student mental health. We’ve seen the struggles firsthand and we believe college students can benefit from greater access to mental health services. Specifically, we’re supporting a University of Montana Foundation project called “The University of Montana Mental Health and Happiness Fund.” We see the University of Montana Mental Health and Happiness Fund as a win-win-win. Here’s why.

The first win is that the funds will go to provide more hours of mental health counseling for college students. Unfortunately, more than ever before, college students are stressed and experiencing mental health struggles. These struggles can include suicidal thoughts and behaviors. As far as age groups vulnerable to death by suicide, the college student age group is among the highest (along with older males). Supporting college student mental health can literally save lives and help college students graduate and become significant contributors to their communities. Currently, Counseling Services at the University of Montana needs more counselors to meet increased needs.

The second win is about “workforce development.” In Montana, and around the nation, we need a continuous flow of competent and capable mental health professionals. That’s why the first priority of the University of Montana Mental Health and Happiness Fund is to support a ½ time Counseling Intern for UM’s Counseling Services department. Funding an intern means that the intern gains valuable experience and supervision and can then go out and contribute to mental health in the community. If we receive more funds than expected, we will either fund a second ½ time counseling intern or we will fund happiness promotion projects at UM and within the Western Montana area.

The third win is basic economics. College students contribute to local economies. When they graduate, college students also create capital. College students become entrepreneurs, scientists, grant writers, community leaders, parents, and grandparents. In all these roles, college graduates will do better and be better if they have better mental health.  

Our 2021 fundraising goal is $45,000. We’ve already raised over $22,000. Please help us reach our goal so we can contribute to positive mental health and happiness at the University of Montana.

If you’re interested in joining Rita and me in supporting the University of Montana Mental Health and Happiness fund here are the instructions.

  1. Click on this Link for Support
  2. As you complete the donation form, about halfway down the page, you will see “Designation Choice.” Choose “Other.”
  3. In the Additional Comments/Info Section – type/write University of Montana Mental Health and Happiness Fund

Thanks for considering college student mental health for this Giving Tuesday!

Research is Hard: Procrastination is Easy

Before and after a quick trip to NYC (see the photo), I’m teaching the research class in our Department of Counseling this year. This leads me to re-affirm a conclusion I reached long ago: Research is hard.

Research is hard for many reasons, not the least of which is that scientific language can look and feel opaque. If you don’t know the terminology, it’s easy to miss the point. Even worse, it’s easy to dismiss the point, just because the language feels different. I do that all the time. When I come upon terminology that I don’t recognize, one of my common responses is to be annoyed at the jargon and consequently dismiss the content. As my sister Peggy might have said, that’s like “throwing the baby out with the bathtub.”  

Teaching research to Master’s students who want to practice counseling and see research as a bothersome requirement is especially hard. It doesn’t help that my mastery of research design and statistics and qualitative methods is limited. Nevertheless, I’ve thrown myself into the teaching of research this semester; that’s a good thing, because it means I’m learning.

This week I shared a series of audio recordings of a woman bereaved by the suicide of her former husband. The content and affect in the recordings are incredible. Together, we all listened to the woman’s voice, intermittently cracking with pain and grief. We listened to each excerpt twice, pulling out meaning units and then building a theory around our observations and the content. More on the results from that in another blog.

During the class before, I got several volunteers, hypnotized them, and then used a single-case design to evaluate whether my hypnotic interventions improved or adversely affected their physical performance on a coin-tossing task. The results? Sort of and maybe. Before that, I gave them fake math quizzes (to evaluate math anxiety). I also used graphology and palmistry to conduct personality assessments and make behavioral and life predictions. I had written the names of four (out of 24 students) who would volunteer for the graphology and palmistry activities, placed them in an envelope, and got ¾ correct. Am I psychic? Nope. But I do know the basic rule of behavioral prediction: The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

Today is Friday, which means I don’t have many appointments, which means I’m working on some long overdue research reports. Two different happiness projects are burning a hole in my metaphorical research pocket. The first is a write-up of a short 2.5-hour happiness workshop on counseling students’ health and wellness. As it turns out, compared with the control group, students who completed the happiness workshop immediately and significantly had lower scores on the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale (p = .006). Even better, after 6-months, up to 81% of the participants believed they were still experiencing benefits from the workshop on at least one outcome variable (i.e., mindfulness). The point of writing this up is to emphasize that even brief workshops on evidence-based happiness interventions can have lasting positive effects on graduate students in counseling.

Given that I’m on the cusp of writing up these workshop results, along with a second study of the outcomes of a semester-long happiness course, I’m stopping here so I can get back to work. Not surprisingly, as I mentioned in the beginning of this blog, research is hard; that means it’s much easier for me to write this blog than it is to force myself to do the work I need to do to get these studies published.

As my sister Peggy used to say, I need to stop procrastinating and “put my shoulder to the grindstone.”

To Give Away: One Happy Rooster

Yesterday, Rita posted a free rooster to give away on a local Facebook page. She was surprised that no one claimed him. I waxed empathic, “I don’t understand,” I said, “people always want free things. Getting a free rooster would make the right person very happy.”

We’ve been studying happiness, but not the smiley sort of happiness. We’re into Aristotelian eudaimonic happiness (of course we are). You know, the sort of happiness you experience from living your life in ways that honor others and consistent with your deep values. That just might involve high-quality daily interactions with a free rooster. Think about it.

I was so puzzled by not having our rooster snapped up for immediate adoption that I took to the streets. Really, it was just one street. We’re living in Absarokee for the summer; there are streets, but not very many, and I only spent time on one street.

I cleverly wove the rooster opportunity into my banking business. With only two employees left in the bank on a late Friday afternoon, I asked with great cheer, “Would either of you like a free rooster?” They both quickly said “No thanks,” but I got my transaction processed in record time.

Rita was still in the grocery store (we were dividing and conquering our errands). I marched in, offered to carry her beer, and announced, “Hey. Anybody want a free rooster?” The cashiers avoided eye contact. The bagger started talking about his pigs; they made him happy. He didn’t need a rooster. I guess that proves it’s possible to have too much happiness.

Despite repeated rejections, I’m still convinced that our rooster could bring free happiness to someone. In fact, I think our failed transactions are evidence that happiness is in the eye of the beholder. When I was a teenager, our neighbors got a rooster. We woke up every morning to fantasies of murdering the neighbor’s rooster. I started plotting a late-night abduction. After all, roosters are the mother of opportunity. [I know that’s a wrong and terrible butchering of the saying “necessity is the mother of invention,” and I know that butchering must be the wrong word here, but I’m typing fast and consequently it’s impossible for me to suppress or repress my aggression and mother issues when free associating at this pace. Freud would be happy. But then Freud had his own peculiar tastes regarding what made him happy, which is, of course my point.

The famous Peanuts cartoonist, Charles Shulz, wrote a book titled, “Happiness is a warm puppy.” Although warm puppies likely bring happiness for many people, they’re certainly not the recipe for happiness for everyone. If I recall correctly, for Linus, happiness was a warm blanket.

And I can’t stop myself from thinking that, perhaps, for some lucky person out there . . .

. . . happiness is a warm, free, pet rooster.   

If you’re that person, contact me, because right now, for me, happiness is giving away a free pet rooster.

Sign Up Now for the University of Montana’s Short Summer Happiness Course

Dan Salois is teaching an abbreviated version of the Montana Happiness Class this summer. The course starts in ONE WEEK!

Dan is a doctoral student in the Department of Counseling and a great instructor. The course is noncredit, offered through our campus continuing education unit, and all online . . . so you can get a boost of happiness from the convenience of home.

Here’s the course description:

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, do some short readings, try out research experiments in class, engage in happiness lab assignments, and 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.

The course meets online July 12 – 30, Tuesday and Thursday, 11:00 a.m. – 12:20 p.m. Course fee is $90, which translates to about $10 per instructional hour. . . and a pretty good deal for a dose of happiness.

To register, click on the following link.

The Root of (Most) Misery

For years I’ve been teaching counseling students that the cause of most emotional and psychological misery can be boiled down to one word. To inflame their competitive spirits, I tell them this powerful word starts with the letter E, and offer prizes to students if they can guess the correct word.

Sadly, no one ever guesses that I’m talking about “Expectation.”

Expectation is, IMHO, the biggest source of bad, sad, and maladaptive emotions. I suffer from my own expectations all the time. Just this morning, while trying to listen to a podcast on a walk, I became irrationally enraged with all things Apple. Why? Because my iPhone podcasting app didn’t work in an elegant, user-friendly manner. Even worse is that I’m fully aware of how silly it is for me to justify holding such high—or even modest—expectations when it comes to technology. I have repeated lived experiences that should have led me to know how often I (and others) are thwarted by technology. I also happily rely on and use technology for many hours every day, and although it feels otherwise, most of the time technology provides . . . my computer powers up, my emails get sent, my phone dials the right number, and magical things like Zoom conferences happen without adverse incident.

Here’s the irony: My expectations thwart my happiness far more often than technology thwarts my personal plans and goals. Nevertheless, I’m eager to throw a childish fit when an app malfunctions, but I continue to barely question my unrealistic expectations despite their predictable adverse emotional outcomes. Funny that (as the Brits might say). I resist blaming and changing that which I have some control over (my expectations), while I let loose with relentless complaints about that which I have little control over (technology).

The fortune in my fortune cookie from dinner with my father gave me a nudge toward recognizing and managing my expectations. Panda Express—not usually where I look for guidance—provided me with the wisdom I seek.

If I were inclined to use the word “wiring” when referring to neural networks (I’m not), I might question whether there’s a glitch in my wiring. However, because I’m pretty certain I’ve got no wires in my brain, I’m going after the glitch in my attitude. Sure, as I pursue my attitudinal glitch, my brain may undergo physical, chemical, and electrical changes, but I suspect the fix will be ever so much more complicated than clipping a wire here, and reconnecting another one there.

Thanks for reading . . .

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.   

Free Wiley-Sponsored Webinar

Hi All,

On March 3, the publisher, John Wiley & Sons is offering a free day-long webinar. They’re calling it a “Psychology Thought Leadership Summit.”

Full disclosure, I’m presenting at the 2:30pm-3:15pm (Eastern) time-slot. My presentation is titled: “Interviewing for Happiness: How to Weave Positive Psychology Magic Into the Interview Process.” Here’s my presentation description:

Freud once said that “words were originally magic.” In this interactive presentation, John Sommers-Flanagan will describe how clinical interviewing involves a process of using word magic to shift clients from a locked constructivist state to receptive social constructionism. This presentation focuses on systematically integrating positive psychology (aka happiness interventions) into a standard initial clinical interview protocol. Intentionally and systematically weaving happiness interventions into initial interviews is especially important because many people are being adversely affected by social isolation and challenges associated with the global pandemic.

Some of the other presenters are very notable. For example, Derald Wing Sue is presenting “Microintervention Strategies: Disarming Individual and Systemic Racism and Bias” during the at the 9:45am to 10:45am (Eastern) time slot. Here’s Dr. Sue’s presentation description:

Microinterventions are the everyday words or deeds—whether intentional or unintentional—that communicate the following concepts to targets of microaggressions: 

  • Validation of their experiential reality
  • Value as a person
  • Affirmation of their racial or group identity
  • Support and encouragement
  • Reassurance that they are not alone 

More importantly, they serve to enhance psychological well-being, and provide targets, allies, and bystanders with a sense of control and self-efficacy. 

This session provides participants with the opportunity to learn, practice, and rehearse microintervention strategies and tactics to disarm and neutralize expressions of bias by perpetrators while maintaining a respectful relationship. 

To check out all the specific webinar events throughout the day, click here.

In the following paragraph I’ve pasted the Wiley promo, which includes a link to sign yourself up. . . or just REGISTER HERE. It looks like you’re supposed to register very soon, so check it out.

Wiley     Wiley Psychology Thought Leadership Summit

March 3, 2021            

As one of the world’s leading psychology publishers, Wiley offers trusted and vital resources written by leading subject matter experts in the field.   Join colleagues from across North America for the Wiley Psychology Thought Leadership Summit featuring some of our top authors. Speakers will give inspiring talks and conduct breakout sessions where you’ll gain insight and ideas to bring back to your classroom or practice.   Choose from multiple sessions on March 3, 2021.     Sign Me Up