Back in May I received an email from a Belgrade High School AP Biology teacher asking if I could present to Belgrade teachers on mental health. The details have worked out. I’m super-excited to do this for several reasons:
I’m very passionate about supporting teacher mental health and well-being. For as long as I can remember (but especially during these past three years), teachers have been over-stressed, over-worked, under-paid, and under-appreciated. I even happen to have a grant proposal submitted that would give teachers access to very low-cost graduate credit on an Evidence-Based Happiness course. Happiness knowledge and mental health support for teachers is essential.
Education is the central “plank” on my personal political platform. IMHO, to quote myself, “The road to economic vitality, the road to environmental sustainability, the road to excellence in health care and social programs, and the road to good government always has and always will run through education.” We need excellent teachers and we need excellent public education. We need it now more than ever.
Belgrade is conveniently located just off I-90, a freeway that I regularly drive on my way from Missoula to Absarokee and back again.
And best of all, I’ll get to see the famous Nick Jones. Nick is a cool Aussie transplant, a former Carroll College basketball player, and a graduate of our M.A. program at the University of Montana. He also happens to be a school counselor at Belgrade High School.
My big theme will be that although advice is cheap, knowledge is power. We all benefit from knowing more about mental health and happiness. One of my main topics will involve information on understanding sleep. . . because we all have better mental health when we sleep well.
“Never work just for money or for power. They won’t save your soul or help you sleep at night.” – Marian Wright Edelman
Recently, I was struck by the concept of influencer. As far as I can tell, influencers are all about working for money and power; maybe most of all, they’re working for attention.
Today on NPR, I listened to a woman talk about vision boards. I won’t mention her name. She said lots of influencers are using vision boards. Vision boards are all about envisioning what you want to get it to manifest. Other than the fact that vision boards are extremely self-centered, I’ll keep my comments about vision boards out of this blog. I wasn’t surprised that influencers are using all the woo-woo powers they can to get what they want. Okay. I know. I’ll stop talking about vision boards and influencers.
Or maybe not. At least I should acknowledge that all this is terribly Adlerian. When people don’t feel useful, or as if they belong, they can get overly preoccupied with attention, power/money, and revenge. I’m sure Adler would have had something to say about vision boards, had they been around in the early-to-mid 1900s.
Of course, I’m jealous of influencers. Beginning in high school, I had a wish to be featured, as a professional football player, on a United Way advertising. At the time, the NFL and the United Way had a collaborative thing going and I loved the idea of promoting the United Way from a place of power and influence. Of course, my football-playing days ended in 1979, but my fantasies of being able to reach people with the message that mostly we should focus on helping each other still deeply resonates in my soul. It’s too bad so many influencers are all about superficial qualities like fashion and appearance.
I do have tiny bits of influence here and there and I hope I try to wield that influence in ways consistent with my initial wishes to be in one of those old United Way adverts.
For this week and next week, you’ll likely see my pathetic efforts to be an influencer. I want people to enroll in our Art & Science of Happiness course at the University of Montana. I believe engaging in the class can make people not only feel happier, but also begin experiencing less depression and more engagement in meaningful lives. Here are a few comments from previous course participants.
From a young man who described himself as depressed: “After a couple of weeks of participating and attending class I noticed that the slides and the activities really helped me out. I was able to finally have someone explain what feelings I was going through, why I felt this way, and what we could possibly do to improve. At first, I didn’t think any of this was going to work, but after trying meditating and positive thinking I noticed my overall mood was changing.”
From a young woman who really loved savoring: “One of the most influential activities for me was the activity on savoring. I found that mutual reminiscing had a really positive effect on me. After mutual reminiscing with my friends, I gained a lot of gratitude and appreciation for my friends and the experiences I have had in my life. This activity had a really positive influence on me and is something that I plan to try and do often after leaving this class.”
From a young woman with plans to be a teacher: “This semester of the happiness class has been really wonderful for me. I have two big take-aways. The first applies to my personal life. In class, we learned about how to build new habits, something that has helped me to progress this semester. The second take-away relates to my career. I am pursuing life as a teacher, and being in this class helped me expand my ideas about what we can teach.”
From a young man missing his family during a lockdown: “COVID-19 pandemic changed many things in my life. It changed how I was learning and prevented me from joining my family during Ramadan. But, looking at my situation: I am isolating partly to protect my health and mainly for other peoples’ health. And that is one of the pillars for being happy when you believe that others matter.”
From a 30-something woman who likened the course as a trip down the Yellow Brick Road: “I have grown as a person that was made all the more valuable because I was able to do it with the help of so many. I deeply appreciate the people I came to know through this process. This class will only help people as it gives us the knowledge and skills to appreciate ourselves and the others in our life as we gain a better understanding of what true happiness looks like.”
This last testimonial reminds me of something I said last year. That is, you should consider signing up for happiness class with a friend. Or maybe not. Because if you don’t sign up with a friend, you’re likely to leave with one.
Here’s are the deets on the class and how to enroll:
The course is offered “live” on Tuesdays/Thursdays from 1pm to 2:20pm, beginning on January 18, 2022, ending the week of May 9, 2022. However, because the course is fully online via Zoom, you can also take the course asynchronously.
Problem-solving power refers to a group of parent influence strategies designed to activate, within children or teenagers, a problem-solving or solution-focused mental state. This strategy is best illustrated with an example:
Sonya is busy at her laptop reading an online newspaper while her 6-year-old son plays in the living room. She notices her son working hard on a small puzzle and after he gets a piece into place, she says: “How did you figure out where that piece went?” Her son looks up and replies, “I don’t know. It just fit there.”
This interaction may seem trivial, but the mother, whether she knows it or not, is using problem-solving power to encourage her son to reflect on how he’s getting his puzzle together. This particular approach is based on constructive or solution-focused principles. The underlying belief is that the more we can get our children thinking about how to solve problems, the better they’ll become at problem-solving. Further we are helping them become more optimistic, focusing on solutions and successes instead of pessimistically focusing on failures and problems.
The polar opposite of problem-solving power occurs when parents, in frustration, ask their child something like, “What’s wrong with you?” or after a sequence of misbehavior, “What were you thinking!?” When parents ask these problem-oriented questions, it encourages children to focus on their failures, what’s wrong with them, or on their negative thoughts and behaviors.
Just like solution-focused therapy, problem-solving power is indirect and leading (Murphy, 2008; Steenbarger, 2004). It’s also something we have to train ourselves to do. For some reason, it seems more natural to ignore our children when they are behaving, and to give them attention when they are not. Many parents remain silent and even detached while children play quietly (savoring the silence). This, of course, is the equivalent of ignoring good behavior, which we know from our basic behavioral principles is a great way to extinguish behavior.
Here’s one example of a problem-solving power strategy.
As noted in the “How to Listen. . .” book, parent-generated family rules are an example of direct power. In contrast, when using problem-solving power, parents try to hook their children into generating rules themselves. Interestingly, as family members discuss what they want for themselves and for the family, children often become motivated to contribute to very positive and reasonable family rules. Many authors have written about family meetings or the family council (Croake, 1983; Dreikurs, Gould, & Corsini, 1974).
Problem-solving power is an excellent way to help children reflect on and contribute to family solutions. It’s a method for helping children learn solutions and rules from the inside out—instead of the external or outside-in behavioral approach. Problem-solving power can be used liberally but sometimes parents need to take charge and solve family problems themselves. This is especially true with younger children. As family therapist Carl Whitaker once said (we’re paraphrasing), “Two-year-olds cannot take over leadership within a family unless they’re standing on the shoulders of a parent.” In the end, things go better if parents are the primary leaders in the home who not only allow their children to voice opinions, but also engage their children in the family problem-solving process.
The place to click if you want to learn about psychotherapy, counseling, or whatever John SF is thinking about.