Tag Archives: Happiness

Happiness is Coming . . .

From M 2019 Spring

There’s hardly any place more beautiful than Missoula in the spring. . . which, despite the looming winter, will come to the University of Montana in January (we call Jan-May “Spring” semester). In the past, UM has been rated as the most “Gorgeous” campus in the U.S. Just saying.

Although I love UM, UM also sometimes gives me frustration. That’s natural. Last month, I submitted an op-ed piece to the campus newspaper, “The Kaimin.” I never heard back. Hmm. Oh well. I’m not TOO frustrated, because I know an alternative and exciting venue where I can get it published for sure. . . right here!

Just so I reach my audience, please share this with all the Kaimin readers you know, or other college/university students.

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For many students, college life is a blissful state of intellectual growth, social relationships, and recreation. My memories as a graduate student at the University of Montana are some of the best of my life. But, to be honest, I also recall going to the campus health center (way before it was called Curry Health) with heart palpitations; I also went to individual counseling and participated in a therapeutic group. Life was good, but it wasn’t all roses and chocolate.

The truth is, the college years are times of great stress and strain for most students. Earlier this year, based on data from over 67,000 undergraduates, researchers reported: “College students face unprecedented levels of distress that affect their mental health” (Liu, Stevens, Wong, Yasui, & Chen, 2019). They detailed the stresses, noting that depression, anxiety, suicide, and other mental health problems are on the rise among college students. These data happened to coincide with an area of professional interest for me: I’ve often wondered, what makes people less depressed and less anxious? Or, put in more positive terms, what creates happiness or fulfillment? What factors contribute to a sense of well-being? What makes for a well-lived life?

As many of you already know, my explorations in this area have led to Rita and I developing a course I’ll be teaching this spring titled, “The Art and Science of Happiness.” In this course, we’ll explore the scientific research on happiness and psychological well-being. We’ll debunk some happiness myths. The class will also include an applied “Happiness Lab,” and all the students will be assigned personal happiness consultants. How cool is that?

In the happiness lab, students will meet in small study groups (about 10 students) to experiment with research-based techniques designed to promote emotional well-being. Examples include mindfulness (we’ve got a great egg-balancing activity all ready), savoring (did you know there are specific techniques people can use to extend and elaborate on their positive experiences?), and methods for cultivating gratitude (we’ll explore how to do this live and in-person, and through social media).

Courses on this happiness and well-being have sprung up across the country and across disciplines. From Harvard and Yale to small community colleges, the classes have not only proven popular, but are also shown to have positive effects on self-reported happiness and well-being. I’m looking forward to offering this class at UM, hopefully adding our own Griz flavor to the existing materials.

The Art and Science of Happiness will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11am to 12:20pm. You can register for it on Cyberbear (Google Cyberbear). If you have questions you want answered before you to take the plunge into a happier life, email me at john.sf@mso.umt.edu.

G is for Gratitude . . . and Gayle

Gayle Peggy and John

My family of origin had its own mythical creation story.

In the beginning, we (my two sisters and me), were playing cards in my mother’s stomach. Somehow Gayle won (I suspect she cheated), and got to be born first. Peggy won the second round (more cheating) and was thereafter dubbed first loser. Being lonely for about 33 months, I finally managed to win a game of solitaire, and was officially born second loser (aka Pokey II).

My parents named Gayle, Gale Caren. Being smart, independent, and convinced she knew better than anyone, at about age 12, Gale protested. She convinced my parents to take legal action to spell her name correctly. Who does that? From then on, she was and is Gayle Karen. I will always remember her spelling it, loud and clear, G-A-Y-L-E. Whenever the speech-to-text function on my phone misspells her name, I immediately change it. From early on, Gayle knew what was right. As it turns out, according to the Freakonomics dudes, children who grow up with oddly spelled names experience worse educational and achievement outcomes. Duh! G-A-Y-L-E knew that back in 1964, took matters into her own hands, and changed the arc of her destiny.

As we know from developmental research, girls who grow up with a clear sense of identity and an assertive (I know what I want) style, do well in life. Gayle knew what she wanted. She became known as the “bossy” one. But Gayle was much more than bossy; she was a leader.

The famous existential group psychotherapist, Irvin Yalom (who, by the way, at age 88 will be keynoting again for the American Counseling Association in San Diego in April), says that group leaders are, by default, role-models and norm setters. Whoever takes the lead, implicitly and explicitly sets behavioral standards for everyone else. As group members, we cannot help but be influenced by the leader’s norms and behaviors. Group leaders show us the way.

In my family, more often than not, Gayle showed us the way.

In her early teens, Gayle designed and produced a neighborhood newspaper. Who does that? At age nine, I got to be the neighborhood sports reporter. Gayle mentored me as I wrote my very first publication. How many nine-year-old boys get big sisters who publish their first article?

Gayle organized backyard carnivals. Among the many backyard activities, we had fishing booths; fishing booth are like portable walls that carnival attendees sling ropes over. Then, two people behind the wall who are running the booth, grab the rope, and use clothes pins to clip on the “fishing” prize. These were big events. Gayle was a legacy in the neighborhood; she was a genius at organizing events and willing them to happen. Gayle was often the force that led us to organize ourselves into a family team that made things happen.

Not only did I learn skills of leadership from Gayle, I also learned skills of followership. Put in terms used by the famous psychological theorist Alfred Adler, Gayle taught me how to be in a community and how to cooperate. Gayle didn’t (and still doesn’t) know Adler or Yalom or any other famous names in psychology, but sometimes when I study them, I think to myself, ah . . . I started learning about these things before I turned 10, from Gayle.

Sometimes Gayle made mistakes and taught us things we shouldn’t do. Older siblings are great for that. I remember and tease Gayle for some of her quirks. But I think the only reason I get so much delight in remembering a few of Gayle’s neurotic behaviors is because they were exceptions. Most of the time (and I’m talking directly to you now Gayle), you weren’t just the bossy one; you were the  smart one, the  organized one, the relentlessly focused one, and the one who helped your subordinates (Peggy and me) learn how to be smarter and how to contribute to the good of the family and neighborhood.

Later in life when you experienced challenges and sadness, you modeled for me how people can cope with unplanned hardships and come out stronger on the other side. You were (and are still) a role model for me for that, and for so many other things. But in particular, your ability to sift the wheat from the chaff and focus like a laser on what’s important in the moment is illuminating.

Somehow, despite no college education, you took yourself from waitressing at Earl Kelley’s buffet diner, to being a bank teller, to being a bank vice president, and on to becoming an IT leader with AT&T and Blue Shield of Oregon. You are the epitome of American success. You worked your way to the top.

I hope you know that I know, despite me having a Ph.D., and Peggy (who bit me) having a Master’s degree, in our family, you were always the smart one. You were always the leader. You could discern the right and moral direction without a compass or a Bible. I am amazed and humbled at your success. I am happy and grateful to have been led by you, to follow you, and to learn from you. I am forever grateful that you cheated in our first card game, because, really I was the winner; I won the prize of having you as my big sister.

G is for Gratitude. G is for Gayle. G is for a tie (with Peggy, even though she bit me), for the Greatest sister of all time.

Happy late birthday from your brother, who, as you know, is usually late in all things.

Happy, Happy, Thanks

Turkeys in Yard

Yesterday several naïve turkeys gathered outside our front window, apparently oblivious to the upcoming holiday. My not having a turkey hunting license or a shotgun made them safer than they might have been otherwise. Today, along with a thin blanket of new snow, I’m wishing them a happy day.

Having started reading “There, there” by Tommy Orange has added complexity to my urges to offer the traditional American Happy Thanksgiving greeting. I’m just speaking for myself here. These are personal reflections, not political reflections. As the late William Glasser (1998) liked to say (paraphrasing here), trouble tends to start when people discover, not only what’s right for them, but also what’s right for others. To honor Glasser (and avoid trouble), I feel compelled to write: I recognize that my own personal reflections may or may not be relevant or meaningful to you, and that you should celebrate as you like.

Here are some words (among many) from the prologue to There, there, that complexify my Thanksgiving Day greetings:

“In 1621, colonists invited Massasoit, the chief of the Wampanoags, to a feast after a recent land deal. Massasoit came with ninety of his men. That meal is why we still eat a meal together in November. . . . But that one wasn’t a thanksgiving meal. It was a land-deal meal. Two years later there was another, similar meal meant to symbolize eternal friendship. Two hundred Indians dropped dead that night from an unknown poison.”

As a nation, we’ve not been good to Native or Indigenous peoples. That’s obvious, even based on most (rather whitewashed) history books. Our historic oppression of Indian people has been horrific. That’s a fact I find important to acknowledge. I’m an Italian-Austrian-French-English Jewish-Catholic mostly white male. It’s doubtful than many or any of my ethnic/racial peoples were particularly good to the Indigenous Americans. I feel sad for that.

But somewhere in my brain I hold onto the idea that maybe Thanksgiving can still be meaningful. Giving thanks, showing gratitude, and being generous are behaviors that improve communities and enhance physical and emotional health. All the happiness researchers repeatedly say that we should be repeatedly grateful, and that expressing gratitude offers bidirectional short- and long-term benefits. Both the giver and the receiver of gratitude are on the receiving end of increased health and wellness.

For today, I offer gratitude to my Native American and American Indian friends and students and brothers and sisters. I’m grateful to have learned from you and to have you in my life. Although I cannot fix past wrongs, today and in the future I can recognize your value, contribute to your causes, appreciate your culture, and be grateful for what you bring to the world. For many reasons, we now find ourselves in this together. I hope to be gracious and helpful as we live together in peace and equity. There will be bumps in the road; my hope is that we can smooth the bumps together. Just because the narrative around that first Thanksgiving was fictional, doesn’t mean we can’t build a future that includes coming together and sharing our lives in important and meaningful ways. It’s possible that I and many of my ethnic/racial peoples can be particularly good to the Indigenous Americans in the future. I feel happy for that hope.

Happy, happy, thanks to everyone.

Resources: Huffpost published a nice article on six things non-native allies can do for Thanksgiving.    https://www.huffpost.com/entry/ally-to-native-americans-on-thanksgiving_l_5ddc4237e4b00149f7223b30?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuaHVmZnBvc3QuY29tLw&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAAjPZEONsO8kbskt8Qfrnm4VaVkk0kZo1hmmiYv9dANmXAL4aKKHsfcH-Oj5-HBI917vRV6-BSQGvu4G0fWSxIYxK1_hdfDrPqlEXqKCdjh9CysuPHTMZbjJAolZJ0JjfwDpdocP_pYGzuKejzZjKVZwbROe-8HyHfA7-itWaale

In today’s Missoulian there’s an article on the Happiness class Rita and I are developing and that I’ll be teaching this Spring semester at the University of Montana: https://missoulian.com/news/local/happiness-there-s-a-university-of-montana-class-for-that/article_7789f0fd-cb94-505d-a708-ab4bc214a4ff.html

Positive Psychology for the Weekend

Rock People

Yesterday I happened to meet up with a guy in a coffee shop. We recognized each other immediately. While chatting, we got coffee, sat down, and talked about positive psychology.

The meeting was neither random nor happenstance. We planned it. I know it’s silly to say that something goes without saying, and writing that something goes without saying is sillier yet, but I’m writing it anyway: Planning and intentionality are very good things. Without intentional planning, I never would have met my coffee-buddy, and I’d be less smart today than I am now.

This guy (I’ll call him Carlton, because that’s his name) was inspired to reach out to me with an email because I’m teaching a Happiness Class at the University of Montana this spring semester. He has a Master’s degree in positive psychology. He wanted to talk. Positive psychology people are like that. After using my impaired scheduling skills to mess up our first planned meeting, we were able to get together on our second try.

Carlton was abuzz with positive energy even before he drank his Americano, but that should be no particular surprise. He told me about taking red-eye flights from Seattle to Philadelphia to complete his “commuter” M.A. in positive psych. Clearly, he’s high on life, which made for an episode of fast talking and listening that got cut short by my need to drive east to Absarokee. So, what happened during this short, speedy conversation that made me smarter?

Turns out, we’re from the same hometown. I’m sure that made me smarter. After all, that was the town where I read nearly every Norman Vincent Peale book ever written. Apparently, I learned that growing up in Vancouver, Washington creates a need for positivity. But, of greater relevance was the fact that he was (another non-surprise) a treasure of information about positive psychology.

Carlton told me of some of his favorite positive psychology ideas and activities. I took notes. I’m not going into the details. Most of the information is top-secret and you’ll have to take my Happiness class to get the down low. Instead. I’m presenting you with one highlight to take with you into your weekend.

The best part—amongst many good parts—was being re-introduced to one of the biggest positive psychology names of all time. Although I knew about Christopher Peterson in a distant sort of way, I’d never really plunged into his work. Maybe that’s because I figured if I knew about Martin Seligman, then I didn’t need to know much about Chris Peterson. Or maybe it was because sometimes I have a limited and narrow take on the world. Somehow, sometimes, I presume that if I don’t know about something, it must not be all that important, or I would have already learned it. I recognize that as a terribly self-centered perspective, but it can creep into my psyche anyway, leading me down a road where I think I already know everything I need to know. When that happens, I need to do work to get around and past or through my own narrow mental world.

Carlton not only offered to lecture in my Happiness class (yet another reason to register now!), he also helped open my mind to deeper issues in positive psychology. He told me about a video where Peterson boils everything about positive psychology down to three words. The three words, “Other people matter.”

Being a big fan and proponent of Adler and social interest or Gemeinschaftsgefühl, I experienced deep and immediate love for Peterson’s three words. They were simpler and deeper than other positive psychology words and ideas I’d experienced previously. And remember, I spent most of the late 1970’s reading Norman Vincent Peale. In addition to The Power of Positive Thinking and You Can If You Think You Can, both of which I now consider mostly a load of crock (I’m not quite sure what a crock is, but I’m using crock as a euphemism so I can claim that at least some of my blogs are profanity-free). I even read some of Peale’s less popular works, like, Sin, Sex, and Self-Control. . . the reading of which may partially explain my interest in having at least some profanity-free blogs.

This morning I looked at my notes and I looked up the Chris Peterson video. Spoiler alert, my favorite part is when Peterson says:

“Sometimes when I give a talk, I tell the audience, if you really don’t want to listen to me for the next hour, listen to me for five seconds, because I’ll tell you what positive psychology is all about. Other people matter. Period. I’m done with my talk.” (Chris Peterson, Ph.D., from an interview and shown as a part of a Positivity Project video that you can watch here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEc2W8JVuRw).

Obviously, that’s an awesome quotation, and an amazing five-second talk, but I like this next Peterson quotation even better. The story is that one of Peterson’s research buddies, Nansook Park, asked Peterson how or why he gave so freely of himself to others. Peterson responded, “Other people matter and we are all other people to everyone else.”

I know everyone reading this won’t feel the tingle I feel, but I love the statement, “Other people matter and we are all other people to everyone else.” Peterson’s message is circular. If I want to be loved, then I love. Okay, maybe it’s just a knock off of the Golden Rule, which may be a knock off of ancient Egypt’s “Do to the doer to make him do.” Even so, I find the statement that “Other people matter and we are all other people to everyone else” an empowering way to think about how important it is to lead with love and kindness and respect. It’s important for them, and it’s important for us.

Now that I’ve quoted and re-quoted Peterson several times, I’m sensing that this blog is moving toward its natural conclusion. But, just like it’s hard to find the natural origin of the reciprocity maxim (i.e., Golden Rule), it’s also hard to find the natural conclusion. I could end with Adler (always a solid choice). In his boldly titled book (What life should mean to you) from 1931, Adler said that the meaning of life was to have “interest in others and cooperation.”

Alternatively, I might end with a quick summary of a 75-year longitudinal Harvard study. The researchers concluded: “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.”

Instead, I’ll point you to a video written by Tiffany Shlain and Sawyer Steele, titled 30,000 Days. I discovered this video while in pursuit of information on Christopher Peterson (instead of being in the pursuit of happiness). Watching the 11 minute 30,000 Days video is one way to launch your upcoming fantastic weekend. Here’s the link: https://vimeo.com/226378903  

 

 

On the Road to Billings . . . and Well-Being . . . and Happiness

Baby Laugh

Tonight I have the honor of offering a public lecture in Billings. Situated as a part of a series of community suicide-related talks, my title is “Psychological Well-Being and the Pursuit of Happiness.” I suspect somewhere between 3 and 30 people will be in attendance. Although I’m hoping for 30, I’m realistically assuming that Rita and the program’s host will show. Counting me, that makes three!

To help get attendance over 3, someone suggested I edit this post to include the time and location. I’m on at 7pm till 8:30pm on the second floor of the MSU-B library, room 231. Hope to see you there.

Below, I’m pasting the handout for tonight. Being in the green lane, I’m trying to save paper and make these products available online. Here you go!

Psychological Well-Being and the Pursuit of Happiness

John Sommers-Flanagan, Ph.D.

Following is a summary of key points for John Sommers-Flanagan’s presentation for the Big Sky Youth Empowerment Program and Montana Social Scientists, LLC, Billings, MT – November 7, 2019

Introduction: Happiness can run very fast. So, let’s chase well-being instead

  1. The Many Roads to Well-Being. You can find well-being on emotional, mental, social, physical, spiritual/cultural, behavioral, and environmental roadways.
  2. It’s Natural, but not Helpful, to do the Opposite of What Creates Well-Being. If we want to catch well-being, we need to actively plan and pursue it.
  3. The Pennebaker Studies. Writing or talking about deeper emotions and thoughts will make you healthier (better immune functioning) and happier. Choking off our emotions is inadvisable.
  4. The Cherries Story. It’s not what happens to us . . . but what we think about what happens to us . . . that increases or decreases our misery. Focusing on your good qualities can be difficult, but doing so helps build a strong foundation.
  5. Savoring. Use the power of your mind to extend and expand positive experiences.
  6. Why Children (and Adults) Misbehave. When people feel a deep sense of belonging and socially useful, the need to misbehave and feelings of suicide diminish.
  7. Exercise is the Solution (No matter the question). Exercise reduces depression in youth and offsets the genetic predisposition toward depression in adults. You can stretch or lift or do cardio, but get moving!
  8. Holding Hands and Hugging is a Chemical Gift (or not). Consent, timing, and desirable companionship are foundational to whether touch contributes to health.
  9. If You Can’t Catch Happiness or Well-Being, Start Chasing Meaning. Regular involvement in spiritual, cultural, religious, or social justice groups will feel so good that you might experience happiness and well-being along the way.
  10. Remember gratitude. All too often we forget to notice and express gratitude. Put it on your planner; both you and the person who receives your gratitude will thank you for it.

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John Sommers-Flanagan is a Professor of Counseling at the University of Montana. For more information, go to his blog at johnsommersflanagan.com. John is solely responsible for the content of this handout. Good luck in your pursuit of wellness.

Happiness and Well-Being (in Livingston, Montana)

Cow

Yesterday, at the fabulous West Creek Ranch retreat center just North of Yellowstone Park, I introduced community leaders from Livingston, Montana to a man named James Pennebaker. It was a brief meeting. In fact, I’m not sure anyone remembers the formal introduction.

I should probably mention that James Pennebaker wasn’t in the room. The meeting consisted of me putting a short and inadequate description of one of his research studies up on a screen. The study went something like this:

Back in 1986, Pennebaker randomly assigned college students to one of two groups. The first group was instructed to write about personally traumatic life events. The second group was instructed to write about trivial topics. Both groups wrote on four consecutive days. Then, Pennebaker obtained health center records, self-reported mood ratings, physical symptoms, and physiological measures.

Pennebaker reported that, in the short-term, participants who wrote about trauma had higher blood pressure and more negative moods that the college students who wrote about trivia. But the longer term results were, IMHO, amazing. Generally, the students who wrote about trauma had fewer health center visits, better immune functioning, and overall improved physical health.

Pennebaker’s theory was that choking back important emotions takes a physical toll on the body and creates poorer health.

Since 1986, Pennebaker and others have conducted much more research on this phenomenon. The results have been similar. As a consequence, over time, Pennebaker has “penned” several books on this topic, including:

  • Opening Up: The healing power of expressing emotions
  • Writing to Heal: A guided journal for recovering from trauma & emotional upheaval
  • Expressive Writing: Words that heal
  • The Secret Life of Pronouns: What our words say about us
  • Opening Up by Writing It Down

As most of you know, after a couple decades presenting on suicide assessment and treatment, Rita and I have pivoted toward happiness and well-being. The coolest thing about talking about happiness and well-being is that doing so is WAY MORE FUN, and it results in meeting and laughing with very cool people, like the Livingston professionals.

Speaking of Livingston professionals, just in case you forgot that you met James Pennebaker, here’s a link to my powerpoints from yesterday: Livingston 2019 Final

I hope you had as much fun listening as I did talking.

On the Road from Suicide to Happiness: Please Send Directions!

IMG-5436

Buddhists often say that life is suffering. Some days, for many of us, that feels about right.

But on other days, the inverse also rings true. Life is joy. Joy is the dialectical sunshine that intermittently breaks through clouds of suffering to interrupt our melancholy.

Don’t worry. Even though there’s currently a September Winter Storm Warning happening in Montana, I’m not going all weather on you. Besides, there’s not much I love more than clouds, rain, and winter storms. Also, to be fair, Buddha and the Buddhists recognized long ago that there’s a road we can take to get away from storms of suffering.

Maybe it’s my penchant for bad weather that’s drawn me, for the past two years, deeply into the professional monsoon of clinical depression, suicide assessment, and suicide interventions. What’s odd about that is that I don’t believe that depression or suicidality should be as pathologized as they have been. I’m a proponent of the right to die. I also find light and hope in the existential perspective that encourages us to embrace and integrate our darker, depressive sides, so we can emerge more whole and, as the existentialist Kirk Schneider likes to say, experience a Rediscovery of Awe.

For the past two years, focusing on suicide has felt very important. Our society isn’t very good at discussing suicide in an open and balanced way. All too often, suicide gets inaccurately conflated with illness or shame or moral weakness. These inaccuracies have inspired me to talk openly about suicide whenever given the opportunity.

But, to be honest, talking and writing about suicide—even from a professional perspective—isn’t all that fun. Those who know me know how much I like to tell funny stories. For years, I’ve had an untreated addiction to showing Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes cartoons during presentations. You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find suicide cartoons that are workshop-worthy. When I show my cartoon with the white rat in the cage hanging itself and the lab scientist saying, “Looks like discouraging data on the antidepressant” if there’s any laughter it’s a painful and strained laughter, at best.

I do have one amazing depression cartoon; it’s a Gary Larson Far Side scene of a sad looking man on a bed in a messy room with the caption, “The bluebird of happiness long absent from his life, Ned is visited by the Chicken of Depression.”

But let me get out of my addiction and to the point. In my work on suicide prevention and intervention, I’ve slowly realized that we need to paddle upstream. I won’t stop talking about depression and suicide, but I want to more explicitly acknowledge that disabling depression and tragic suicides are often the inverse of well-being or happiness turned upside down. To address this effort at integration, I’m preparing materials to teach and present on the science of happiness. This is where I need your help. Yes, please send more suicide and depression cartoons, but even more importantly, send me happiness cartoons! I’m expanding my focus, and getting ready to spend more time talking about how we can all live happier and more meaningful lives. One way I’m doing this is by teaching a new “Happiness” course this spring at the University of Montana.

As background, I should let you know that I’m familiar with the Yale Happiness Class, the Penn Positive Psychology Center, and other popular resources. Although I’ll use this mainstream material, I want to do something different.

Here’s how you can help.

I’m looking for lecture material and happiness lab activities. Examples include,

Lecture content

  • Video clips
  • Songs with meaning
  • Demonstration activities
  • Quirky/meaningful stories

Lab activities

  • 30-60 minute specific experiential activities that can deepen student learning
  • Evidence-based experiential activities that demonstrate how to counter depression or embrace meaning

Because I’ll be delivering the course to undergraduates, as you contemplate sending me a map with directions to happiness, please put on your 19-year-old hat and help me find destinations with academic substance, but that will still appeal to the college-age generation.

As always, thanks for reading. I wish you a weekend (and life) filled (at least intermittently) with the sort of happiness and joy that’s palpable enough to sustain you until the next bluebird of happiness lands on your shoulder. And if you live in Montana, be sure to stay warm in the winter storm.

John S-F

When Happiness Ran Away: Thoughts on Suicide and the Pursuit of Happiness

Elephant

Several days prior to driving across the state to a party with her family, a friend met up with Rita and me. We talked about happiness. She said she liked the word contentment, along with the image of hanging out in a recliner after a day of meaningful work.

Following the party, she wrote me an email, sharing, rather cryptically, that her party planning turned out just okay, because,

“Sigh. Some days happiness runs so fast!”

I loved her image of chasing happiness even more than the image of her reclining in contentment.

As it turns out, being naturally fleet, happiness prefers not being caught. Because happiness is in amazing shape, if you chase it, it will outrun you. Happiness never gets tired, but usually, before too long, it gets tired of you.

In the U.S., we’ve got an unhealthy preoccupation with happiness, as if it were an end-state we can eventually catch and convince to live with us. But happiness doesn’t believe in marriage—or even in shacking up. Happiness has commitment issues. Just as soon as you start thinking happiness might be around to stay, happiness suddenly disappears in the night.

Maybe our preoccupation with happiness is related to that revered line in the U.S. Declaration of Independence about the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Grandiose words indeed, because, at this point in the history of time, I’m not so sure any of us have an inalienable right to any of those three wondrous ideals.

But don’t let my pessimism get you down. Even though I’m not all that keen on pursuing happiness, I believe (a) once we’ve defined happiness appropriately, and (b) once we realize that instead of happiness, we should be pursuing meaningfulness, then, (c) ironically or paradoxically or dialectically, happiness will sneak back into our lives, sometimes landing on our shoulders like a delicate butterfly and other times trumpeting like a magnificent elephant.

Another reason not to feel down is because next Tuesday, October 1, I’ll be in Red Lodge, Montana as the speaker of the month for the Red Lodge Forum for Provocative Issues.

How cool is that?

My Red Lodge Forum presentation is: Suicide, Suicide Prevention, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Just in case you’re passing through Red Lodge or happen to know someone in the general vicinity, below I’ve pasted the promotional email for the event. Please come if you can. There will be a fancy dinner, which inevitably involves a full stomach, which, even though I’m talking about suicide, might provide you with a twitch or two of happiness.

Here’s the promo:

From: Red Lodge Forum <redlodgemtforum@gmail.com>
Sent: Sunday, September 22, 2019 2:13 PM
To: ‘Red Lodge Forum’ <redlodgemtforum@gmail.com>
Subject: Tuesday October 1st Forum for Provocative Issues. Dinner reservations open

Forum for Provocative Issues

Suicide, Suicide Prevention, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Tuesday, October 1

PROGRAM

Beginning in 2005, death by suicide in the U.S. began rising, and despite vigorous national and local suicide prevention efforts, suicide rates have continued rising for 13 consecutive years. Depending on which metrics you prefer, suicide rates are up from somewhere between 33% and 61% from their levels at the turn of the century.

In Montana, we have the dubious distinction of the highest per-capita suicide rates in the U.S., at about 29.0 per 100,000 Montanans. Why? What is so peculiar about Montana?

But suicide is about much more than numbers. Join us on Tuesday, October 1 when Distinguished Professor at the University of Montana, John Sommers-Flanagan talks about what contributes to suicide, why Montana’s rate is so high, what’s wrong with suicide prevention efforts, and how we should talk with friends about suicide. Although suicide is a difficult, emotionally charged, subject, John will explore emotions that can create and sustain happiness.

FORUM CATERER CHANGE

In the next section, you will notice our caterer has changed. Martha Young, who has faithfully served our delicious meals for eight years, first at Café Regis, and more recently at the Senior Center, is unable to caterer our October meal. Prerogative Kitchen, an outstanding local restaurant,  has agreed to stand in.

DINNER RESERVATIONS NOW OPEN

Dinner at the Red Lodge Senior Center (13th St and Word Ave) will start at 5:30 pm and our program shortly after 6. If you plan to have dinner, email RedlodgeMtForum@gmail.com (no text or calls) with:

  • your reservation request,
  • your general meal choice (meat/fish, veggie, non-gluten), and
  • your cell number

If you don’t receive an email confirmation of your request promptly, please resubmit it. When I know specific dinner choices later this week, I will ask you to confirm your choice.

If you plan to attend the forum but not eat, come around six but donate $5 to help defray room rental and other expenses.

The price for this  dinner is $18. Please bring a check written prior to your arrival to Prerogative Kitchen for $18 per person. It will reduce traffic at the door, seat everyone faster, and make our cashier’s job easier.  If you want to leave an additional gratuity, simply leave cash on the table. Do not include gratuities in your check.

If you have friends who are interested in attending the forum, feel free to forward this message.

HAS YOUR EMAIL CHANGED?

If you change your email address and want to continue receiving forum notices, remember to send the change to RedlodgeMtForum@gmail.com.

INFORMATION ABOUT UPCOMING AND PAST FORUMS

For quick access to all news about upcoming and past programs, become a member of our Facebook group page, which supports FPI programs.  To access the page, simply search “Forum for Provocative Issues.”  This is an open group, but we carefully screen applicants to avoid potential problems by asking three simple questions.

USE OF FORUM EMAILS

I never share the emails of forum members. However, I have on occasion sent information about community issues and events that I think members will find valuable.

FORUM SUGGESTIONS

If you have an idea for a forum, email it to RedlodgeMtForum@gmail.com.

FUTURE FORUMS

The dates for our 2019/2020 season follow. Mark them on your calendar now to avoid conflicts.

  • November 5, The Future of Nuclear Energy, Redfoot
  • December 10, Japanese American Internment Camp Conditions in WWII, Russell
  • January 14, Fighting Fires, Saving Homes, Trapp
  • February 4, Apollo 8 and the Race for Space, Dragon
  • March 3, Subject TBD, Darby
  • April 7, Dark Money in Politics, Adams
  • May 5, Genetics and the Future of the Human Race, Gunn

 

 

Confirmation Bias on My Way to Spearfish, South Dakota

Confirmation bias is an insidious cognitive process that typically travels just below our awareness. Here’s how it worked for me today.

I’m on my way to Spearfish, SD to do a “Tough Kids, Cool Counseling” workshop tomorrow and keynote on Friday. My belief is that it’s always hard to pack up and get everything ready and make it to the airport. Usually I hold a negative confirmation bias in my mind. This negative bias involves a belief or working hypothesis that the world will conspire against me and stress me out in the process of trying to arrive at the airport in a timely manner.

First, I’m in my office and about to turn off my computer and my office phone rings. Rarely does my phone ring anymore and it’s even more rare that I answer it with only 10 minutes left before my pre-planned office departure time. But my impulses take over and I answer it. It’s the associate dean and our development officer wondering if I have a few minutes to talk. They rush down and we meet for a few minutes, which puts me only slightly behind as I head to the copy machine for, of course, some last minute copies.

Second, Rita is driving me to the airport. She asks me what route she should take (please note: Rita almost never asks ME what route to take and so this is an anomaly in and of itself). I rise to the bait and tell her my quickest route to the airport.

Third, my best route to the airport begins crumbling when we have to stop for a train.

Fourth, my best route has a back-up option in case of a train. We take it. It leads us directly into road construction.

Fifth, we circumnavigate (I love that word) the road construction and make it to the airport.

Sixth, my confirmation number is in a “pre-check-in” email on my cell phone. I pull out my phone and sort through 53 emails, twice, before concluding that it has apparently disappeared.

Seventh, I get checked in anyway and head through security and upstairs only to discover that Liquid Planet’s espresso machine is broken and I can’t have my pre-flight white chocolate mocha and . . .

Eighth, I have to drag my bags and myself downstairs to use the restroom because the road construction has taken over the upstairs airport bathroom.

But now I’m here, sitting and waiting to board my flight and marveling at how today, for some odd reason, I was able to monitor the universe’s push-back and yet not get sucked into a bad mood. Of course, given that I saw the confirmation bias coming, I was able to simultaneously notice the universe’s positive encouragement as well. After all:

1. The associate dean and development officer are two of the nicest people on the planet and they wanted me to speak at a fancy College of Education and Human Sciences event and that sounds like fun.
2. The copy machine worked perfectly and there was NO LINE!
3. It was a beautiful, sunny day in Missoula as I bicycled back and forth from the University on my perfectly functional bike that didn’t get a flat tire.
4. Rita shared half an avocado with me while at home.
5. The toilet flushed without incident.
6. The car started without incident.
7. The circumnavigation went well and it reminded me of how much I like the word circumnavigation. I was also reminded that Rita is an excellent driver and stupendous conversationalist.
8. The guy at the United Airlines desk was nice and efficient.
9. I got to be in the TSA pre-screening category (not that it makes any difference in the Missoula airport).
10. Instead of getting a white chocolate mocha that I didn’t need I got exercise on my way to and from the restroom.
11. I still got here in time to write this post.
12. And, I’m on my way to Spearfish, South Dakota to have an excellent time with some cool professionals who have dedicated their lives to helping others.

Seriously, it would be difficulty to conclude, despite my usual negative confirmation bias about trips to the airport, that this day (and perhaps my whole life) is anything other than infused with most excellent good fortune.

I wish you all the best with your own confirmation bias challenges. Your homework assignment is to intentionally count the positive events in your life and intentionally not count or dwell too much on the less-positive events.