Tag happiness

Thanksgiving in Trumpland

As anyone who has experienced them knows, negotiating holiday meals that involve combinations of families, generations and single adults can be exceedingly challenging. This may be even more true this year as so many of us are divided around our politics. Let me offer suggestions.

Try to avoid:

√ Idealistic expectations. Like Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, many of us can develop idealized expectations regarding how these days should go off. We so look forward to them, especially given how hard we work. We so invest in preparing. We so much love some of the people we’ll see. And, we so much miss spending time together. All of this can cause us to create expectations that mere mortals would have a difficult time realizing. When people then let us down (i.e., act like humans), it can cause us to feel hurt, angry or sad. Best to just expect the speed bumps and enjoy whatever blessings come along.

√ Conflict resolution. Once the day kicks into gear (and especially if the wine starts flowing), it’s easy to be tempted to try to let so-and-so know about his or her significant opportunities for growth. However, rarely do people welcome such unsolicited counsel, no matter how sagely conceived and expressed; in fact, they may then be tempted to return the favor, and then others may join in, creating the psychological equivalent of a food fight. Best to keep such thoughts between yourself and your guardian angel, at least during these get togethers.

√ Intoxication (i.e. transient brain dysfunction). Ok, this one is already pretty clear so I won’t go on and play the role of Dr. Obvious.

√ Pressing other people’s hot buttons, especially this year. Trump supporters may be tempted to do an end zone dance in the face of Trump detractors. Trump detractors may be tempted to question the decency and humanity of trump supporters. As both sides offer evidence and rhetorical constructions supporting their point of view, tension rises. Plus, even if a winner could be declared, what’s the prize? An empty bag, resentment and a compromised day. Best to let it go for now. If you’re concerned this could happen, here’s a draft email to work off of: I have a favor to ask regarding Thanksgiving Day. Would it be okay with you if we did not discuss politics? Some of us have some very strongly held views that are not in agreement with each other. I’d like to make the day not about discussing those differences, or trying to win debates, especially during this time of national division. Instead, I’d just like to focus on things that are uplifting. Please respond back to the group and let us all know if that’s okay with you and your family.

√ Displaying irritation or anger. How often does expressing such emotions turn out well oncheerful-family-copy turkey day? Sure, even a broken clock is right twice a day. But, we’re talking odds here. Best to belly breathe, change the topic, or use whatever you may to calm yourself down.

Try to embrace:

√ Opportunities to express gratitude. Gratitude focuses our mind on the good parts of our lives and has been found to offer many psychological benefits. Write a gratitude letter (click here for my blog entry on gratitude letters), pull someone aside and let him or her know what he or she means to you, express thanks for what you see before you or what is true about your shared lives, and so forth. (Two cautions: don’t offer such expressions with the expectation of a response, and don’t pressure anyone to offer such thoughts and feelings, especially teenagers.) Finally, you can also express gratitude to the hosts by offering to share in the day’s labor (those sporting a y chromosome may need to overcome a biological imperative to collapse in front of a TV once tryptophan crosses the blood-brain barrier).

√ Opportunities to let others strut their stuff. Many people derive validation from having loved ones recognize and value their accomplishments. Ask others for their favorite memories from the year or what they are most proud of. Then, let yourself come aglow with happiness for them. (To an ambivalent listener, this can seem like bragging. But, even when it’s bragging, what’s the harm? Just imagine someone crawling towards you, begging for a drink, and you have a bucket of water in your arms. Would you not do the kind thing?)
√ Adaptive thinking. I have two suggestions here. First, try to remember that crisis = pain + opportunity. Opportunity is pain’s Siamese twin. So, if things don’t go off as planned, or some unfortunate event happens, look for the opportunity imbued within. (The classic movie A Christmas Story manifests a great example of this in how the family responds to the fact that invading hounds have gulped down their holiday meal.) Second, try to remember that we’ll all blink three times and be looking back at our lives from the perspective of our death beds. Just think, when you’re at the end of your life, how much you’d give to come back and relive the day at hand. As death’s gift to the living is perspective, such thinking can help you to find your wisdom.

shutterstock_223597855√ Empathy. Those you are with may express sadness or share other failings or frustrations. Empathy and agreement are different things. Being empathic says that you care, even if you privately disagree.

√ Loving kindness. It’s amazing how operating in accord with these two simple words keeps one on a high road, promotes joy and expands meaning. If in doubt about what to do, it rarely fails to respond in accord with whatever insights this question offers, “what’s the loving and kind thing to do?”

May God, or your Higher Power, or the universe, bless you and yours during these challenging days for our nation.


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Geography of Happiness

happiness signA national survey study recently listed the region where I live, Northeastern PA, as the least happiest US metropolitan area among the 177 surveyed. In response to this article, and the dialogue it generated in my region, I wrote this op-ed for the Scranton Times-Tribune titled “The Geography of Happiness.” I thought I’d share it here as well. 😉

Six Tips for Finding Your Kid’s Strengths

dance, coolWhile I don’t have the space here to share the statistical theory that supports this assertion, all kids, barring significant brain injury or dysfunction, possess at least one top strength. Using this strength, or strengths, in ways that matter, is a major component of any child developing a sense of personal competence and efficacy, which then heavily influences the development of self-esteem. The problem is that many youth have no idea that they possess such a strength, and have little or no experience wielding it in the world. Below are six suggestions for identifying and promoting your kid’s strength(s).

#1: Just like plants grow their branches around obstacles towards the light, kids’ behaviors will often gravitate towards their strengths. So observe what s/he does when not sedentary. Sometimes these behaviors are on the beaten path (e.g., she likes to shoot baskets) while at other times they are not (e.g., he likes to write poetry), but keeping an eye out can be a very important part of a strength development program.

#2: Consider arranging for your child to complete an online evaluation. These tools generate theories abpuit your child’s top personality strengths, which can then help to point you in a given direction. For example, The Values in Action (VIA) Strength Survey for Children can be taken by youth ages 10 to 18; it is available, at no charge, at www.authentichappiness.com (find it under the tab labeled “Questionnaires”). StrengthsExplorer For Ages 10 to 14: From Gallup, the Creators of StrengthsFinder is a book that includes an access happy aa boycode to an online assessment tool; it is designed for ages 10 to 14 (older adolescents may take StrenthsFinder 2.0; a 10th Grade reading level is required). However, be careful to not view these reports as tablets coming down the mountain. Such tools are most helpful when they are used to develop theories about your child’s personality strengths.

#3: If your child has identified a top strength, try to put it into action. The more s/he uses it the more resilience will accrue to him or her, among other benefits. Also, there are few moments that are more joyful in parenting than observing your child wield a top strength.

#4: While (of course) there is nothing wrong with engaging an activity that isn’t a top strength (or else I would have to quit golf), it would generally be a good idea to look for independent confirmation that the skill at hand is a top strength before sacrificing significant 2 happy teens, african-americanfamily resources on its altar. We parent-lunatics are often not the best appraisers of our kid’s strengths. So, seek feedback from experts that are willing to be straight with you before investing in it to a degree that hurts; also, keep in mind that experts who stand to benefit financially from a positive review may sometimes not be objective. Of course, if the strength involves participating in competitions, how your child does in those can also tell you a lot, especially as your child competes beyond a local level.

#5: We should be mindful of the costs that can be involved with pushing too much or too little. Once we find our child’s top strength, it will need to be cultivated if it is to flourish. Sometimes this cultivation necessitates engaging activities that don’t feel fun to our child or which require discipline. As is the case so often in parenting, we do well to strive for the middle ground. Too little engagement on our part and our child may not develop his or her ability to do things when s/he adaptdoesn’t feel like it or develop the strength at hand. Too much engagement and our relationship can become conflict laden and our child may come to despise the activity. Of course, finding this middle ground isn’t always easy as it usually moves as our child matures or regresses, making listening and adaptation very important.

#6: If you’d like tailored help for this consider seeking out the services of a qualified child psychologist. For a referral, click here.

Good luck helping your progeny to soar!

Using Positive Psychology in Parenting

happy Asian familyPositive psychology (PP) is that branch of psychology that studies what promotes emotional experiences of joy and cognitive experiences of meaning. Instead of asking the question that clinical psychology traditionally asks (i.e., “how can problem x be healed?”) PP wonders, “what can each of us do to feel happy and satisfied?” As parents we do well to both model and teach these strategies to our kids.

Parenting walk and talk are both important. However, the walk seems to matter more. In this context, how happy we are has a great deal to do with how much energy we have for parenting and how often we parent with intention (i.e., doing and saying those things that we most wish to do and say, instead of reacting out of fatigue or pain). Moreover, our kids our affected by our modeling in profoundly impactful ways, and often in a manner that is outside of their awareness The type of world we live in (i.e., mostly happy versus something else) predicts the type of world they live in and the type of world they will live in in the future.

Below are my 10 favorite PP strategies to practice and to teach your kids about:

• Practice gratitude. This can be by way of a daily, weekly, monthly or intermittent practice. This can be an internal event (e.g., counting one’s daily blessings before bed or in the shower) or a specific exercise (e.g., writing a gratitude letter).

• Practice acts of kindness. The “helper’s high” is an empirically established happy black woman backgroundphenomenon. This can be done in simple ways both with strangers (e.g., paying for the coffee of someone behind you in the drive through) or loved ones (e.g., doing someone else’s chore) or can be more elaborate (e.g., volunteering at a pet shelter, taking a loved one to a vacation spot they’ve been aching to visit).

• Think adaptively. This can involve using coping thoughts to lift your mood (i.e., keeping true thoughts in mind that give you energy) or thought testing to reduce the impact of painful thoughts that are not true.

• Use your strengths. This supposes that you know what your top strengths are. You then make sure to use them on a regular basis, preferably weaving them into your vocational life.

• Be mindful. This involves tuning into the details of the moment of time you are in—and I mean all of the minutia of the moment. Cognitive and affective pain tend to live in the past and the future while peace tends to live in the present.

joyful couple• Live by the crisis = pain + opportunity formula. When hammers hit give them their due (i.e., experience the pain without denial or suppression) but then look for the opportunity that is always there, and to a dose that usually surpasses the dosing of the pain.

• Forgive. Forgiving is like flushing a toxin out of the body. It can also produce profound experiences of meaning.

• Sleep, eat and exercise well.

• Be kind to yourself. If what you tell yourself about yourself were all written out in a book what would the overall tenor be? This strategy includes talking to yourself the way you would have others talk to your child.

• Practice the serenity prayer. (You can be an atheist and benefit from this.) This practice combats codependency and helps you to have an adaptive response when you experience injustice. (I’m convinced that the more a person lives a high road life the more that person will experience injustice.)

Want to learn more about these strategies? I have three suggestions:glasses and book

#1: Enter what you want to know more about in the search bar above. I’ve written articles on several of these techniques; some of those blog entries also include suggestions for further reading.

#2: Read my parenting book. I end each chapter with specific exercises for parents from the positive psychology literature.

#3: Sorry, this one is only for people who live by me in Northeastern PA. This June and July (2014) I will be running an 8-session happiness seminar. To learn more, visit www.explorehappiness.com.

Good luck!

 

To Err is to Parent

working momThis week I’ve had a lot of parental guilt crossing my path. So, I thought I’d encourage us all to reflect  on that and a few related issues. .

I believe that all of we engaged parents are crazy people, which is why I prefer the term parent-lunatic to parent. We love our kids SO, SO much that it hurts sometimes. We want only the best for them and often (and sometimes without thinking about it) hold ourselves 100% accountable for their happiness and success. But, inevitably we run into obstacles. Here are six common ones:

1. Research suggests that we are not sculptures of our kid’s personality but are shepherds. Much of who s/he is depends upon the spin of the genetic roulette wheel. This regards things like his or her temperament and vulnerability to physical and mental illnesses. (Temperament refers to biologically based personality attributes that, among other things, heavily influence our kid’s capacity to experience happiness.)

2. Research indicates that over 90% of kids will suffer from a diagnosable mental health problem by adulthood.

3. Secondary to inevitable statistical realities, our kids end up sucking at some important stuff. When they do it hurts them and us (I speculate us worse).teen rolling eyes

4. Getting into conflicts with us is an inevitable part of healthy trajectory to adulthood. Sometimes these conflicts can be sustained and quite wearisome (e.g., my 17 year-old refers to me as a “micromanager”…by the way, there is a t-shirt that we micromanagers can acquire. Just click here).

5. Other adults have a great deal of influence on our kid’s outcomes. And, like all humans, sometimes they do a poor job at it (e.g., I recently had the experience of having a group of teachers acknowledge that it wasn’t possible for kids to do three things in their high school:  a. do a quality job on homework, b. have one extracurricular activity and c. get the amount of sleep that science indicates a teen brain needs).

6. We screw up a ton, including those of us who have authored an award winning parenting book 😉 It is just the nature of being one of these human creatures.

If we embrace being over responsibility for our kid’s outcomes these are some of the results that can occur:

woman's face in hands• We feel excessive guilt and shame. (I say “excessive,” in that appropriately dosed guilt can be useful for correcting things that warrant such.) Excessive guilt leaves us taking responsibility for that which is outside our control and/or beating ourselves up to no good purpose. Certainly our kids are not served when we go toxic on ourselves.

• Denying our kid’s pain. Because we hurt so much when our kid hurts, it can be so easy to deny his or her pain. Indeed, our research suggests that we parents often miss the boat when it comes to recognizing our kid’s internalizing symptoms (e.g., depression and anxiety). Of course, denial interferes with forming helpful remedial plans (e.g., pursuing helpful mental health services).

• Not providing sufficient psychological space for our kids to experience failure. Like the previous point, this vulnerability is fueled by our crazy love for our kid. But because we hurt so much s/he fails, it’s so, so easy to either try to recast the failure as not being a failure (e.g., somebody cheated my kid) or to try to rush past the pain to Pollyannaish statements. The path to wise and helpful reassurances lies through the pain; trying to rush past it, or do an end run around it, dampens our ability to be helpful.

• Turning to our kid for reassurances to quell our parental guilt or insecurity. We can sometimes look to our kid to make statements that we hope can act as a healing ointment for our psychological wounds. However, doing so can put undue pressure on our kid and feel very uncomfortable and weird to him or her.

Here are seven (hopefully) helpful antidotes for excessive parental guilt or shame:

1. Do an hour a week of special time with each of your children that live with you. Click here for a free download on how to do this exercise, or read Chapter One in my book for a more complete account.

2. Meditate on your parenting successes: moments when you were selfless, working momtimes when you made an altruistic decision in service of your kid’s wellness, moments when you skillfully applied wisdom and insight to your kid’s benefit and so forth. Evaluate yourself as you would have your child evaluate his or her parental effectiveness in the future should s/he become a parent (that is after you enjoy images of your prospective grandchildren torturing your child).

3. Meditate on your kids’ successes: s/he got the well-deserved award or recognition, s/he got that important high grade, s/he carried the team to an important victory and so forth.

4. Credit yourself for being able and willing to have such a crazy love for another person. Is there a higher expression of our humanity than love? Is there a purer or truer form of love than that manifested by an engaged parent? Well then, kudos to you!

happy latino couple5. Share your insecurities or doubts with another kind, wise and experienced parent. That person may help you to get relief from irrational thoughts and give you a little air under your wings.

6. Review home movies or pictures. Gosh, we spend so much time and energy creating these suckers. We all do well to pause and actually enjoy them, preferably with our family.

7. If your kid is hurting in some sustained way, seek out the services of a lean-mean-healing machine. For a referral, click here.

In closing I’ll share that, to me, parenting, with all of it’s bumbling and stumbling, is living art and that you, when you do your best by your child, are a beauteous beauty. I hope you can give yourself that from time to time, even if you’re a micromanager like me 😉

Six Tips for Having a Thankful Thanksgiving

Ever feel like you didn’t get as much out of Thanksgiving as you wanted? Here are six tips to try to have a truly festive, uplifting and rejuvenating turkey day this year.

• Be mindful. The mindfulness movement blends the best of eastern traditions with western science. In short, it involves paying closer attention to the here and now. It’s remarkable how much doing so can promote peaceful feelings. For example, try eating your first few bites of each type of food slowly. Savor the nuances of the tastes. Try also smelling the food and enjoying its aroma. The same goes for beverages.

• Be calm. Try to create some moments when you breathe deeply into your stomach instead of your chest. At the same time try relax your muscles, settle into the furniture and take in what’s around you. Notice the details: the beauty of someone’s hair, the love you feel for someone, a wonderful smile.

• Be thankful. There are so many ways to do this. Write and deliver a gratitude letter. (This can also be done as a family exercise.) Encourage everyone to say something they are thankful for before digging in at mealtime. Let your Higher Power know about that which you are thankful. Try to linger in the glow of such thoughts.

• Be patient. Thanksgiving often produces stress on those responsible for aspects of the day, on relationships that are not peaceful, and on those who may be hurting going into the day. If irritations flare, try to not react in kind. Instead, try to appreciate the human condition explaining the irritation and be soft and gentle, even if it means turning the other cheek. (By the way the psychological wisdom behind the concept of turning the other cheek recently occurred to me. When one doesn’t turn the other cheek, the resulting activity consumes one’s life.)

• Be affirming. Proportionate and specific praise for things you believe can create uplifting moments for both you and the person you are affirming (i.e., instead of keeping such thoughts to yourself). I know when I’m the recipient of such, I try to create ways to remember the moment so that I can unpack it when I’m soul weary.

• Be kind. So often these days don’t go off as planned. Try to be a person who lets everyone know that that’s okay (including yourself) and even to be expected. Problems are like dust mites, they are woven into our existence. (I like the saying: “People make plans and God chuckles.”)  However, if I clench my fists at the heavens and protest why a problem is happening I now must suffer two kinds of pain: the pain imbued within the problem and the pain of my reaction to the problem. It’s remarkable how often kindness works, both towards oneself and towards others.

Neurotic Parental Guilt

As a child psychologist, dad and friend of many parents, I’ve noted that neurotic guilt is common among we parents. Sometimes these feelings are mere flashes while at other times they are thematic. Of course there are situations in which experiences of guilt are not neurotic as they are helpful (e.g., situations where a parent is abusing or neglecting a child and the guilt feelings motivate change). But, here I’m thinking of instances when we engage excessive self-reproach for having human limitations or for having normative human experiences. In this entry I’ll first describe some common scenarios that evoke such quilt and then suggest seven strategies for coping with it.

The first common scenario is when there is a separation at hand:

• A child leaves for college, especially if the child leaving is the first born. (Many parents report feeling shocked at how quickly this day has arrived.)

• A parent departs for an extended period of time. This commonly happens when mom or dad serves in the military, but there are many examples of it in our run-and-gun culture (e.g., as a phase of relocating to another part of the country).

• A parent is on his or her death bed.

In these and other related situations we can be swept away with thoughts that we did not get the most out of our time with our child. We can mercilessly beat ourselves up with thoughts that we should have spent more one-on-one time, done more shared activities, communicated our love more effectively or just been a better parent. A famous quote by Kahil Gibran comes to mind “Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”

The second common scenario is after some positively anticipated event or period of time is over such as:

• A vacation is finished.

• A holiday period is concluded.

• A weekend is over. (I wonder what percentage of neurotic parent guilt happens on Sunday nights.)

In these and related scenarios I might kick myself for moments of conflict, boredom or disengagement. I so much looked forward to having a joyful or meaningful experience with my child. And, when reality almost inevitably falls short of my high expectations–what I refer to as the “Clark Griswold Syndrome”–I kick myself with self-reproach and feelings of guilt.

I believe at the root of neurotic parental guilt is the overwhelming and gut wrenching love that we have for our kids. It is so encapsulating and powerful, that it makes us lunatics much of the time. So, my fellow lunatic, let me suggest some antidotes for this neurotic guilt:

Strategy #1: Use what we psychologists call “coping thoughts.” Coping thoughts are true thoughts that provide comfort. Wearing a pair of jeans that are so tight that they hurt serves no purpose. So, sane people swap them out. This type of neurotic guilt serves no purpose, so we do well to swap it out. Here are some coping thoughts to try on for size:

√ “Everyone has moments of stupidity, impatience and frailty. There is no escaping my humanity.”

√ “I love my kid more than my life. It isn’t possible to love someone more than that.”

√ “I do (have done) all kinds of things for my kid such as….”

√ “Conflict and disengagement are woven into the fabric of human interactions. There is no being together, for any extended period of time, without them.”

√ “Life is not a fairy tale, it’s better. But, that comes with mess for everyone.”

Strategy #2: Imagine you are in the future and your child is a parent. He or she is now coming to you for help with the exact same type of guilt you are now experiencing. What advice would you offer your future child? If your like most, this can lead you to a more wise and kind stance with yourself. (This is also one way to get in touch with what I have referred to as your “wells of wisdom.”)

Strategy #3: If your child is still living with you, or lives close to you. Try hard to do at least one hour of “special time” each week. If you do this exercise consistently you are taking a mighty step towards promoting an effective relationship with your child. (Special time is different from quality time. To learn more about how to do it see Chapter One in my parenting book, or download this article that I wrote.)

Strategy #4: Write a gratitude letter for your child. Click here for a blog entry on the specifics of this method. This can be a most profound human experience. (Be careful not to expect reciprocation though. It’s wonderful if a letter comes back at you later, but no one is served if you experience resentment secondary to a frustrated expectation.)

Strategy #5: Apologize for any real mistakes that you made and, if it’s a pattern, try to both understand the underlying cause(s) and take steps to either improve or resolve the situation. Steps for improving could include such things as spiritual direction, psychotherapy, improving health habits and enhancing your self-care (i.e., parenting from the cross is rarely effective), and I speak as someone who has taken abundant advantage of each of these self-improvement measures.

Strategy #6: A more elaborate version of the coping thought strategy would be to make a list of your parenting strengths and successes. This could be a one-and-done exercise or a weekly effort. It is a list of things you have done, or do, well as a parent. It can also include evidence of good outcomes that your child experiences or has experienced.

Strategy #7: Get helpful feedback. My personal criteria for such a consultant is that (a) he or she is wise about parenting (i.e., by experience, by training or both), (b) he or she cares about me and (c) he or she is as likely to agree as to disagree with me (i.e., someone who is only going to agree with me is of little use for this service).

In closing, and to beat one of my most treasured and favorite drums, if you think you could benefit from speaking with a good child psychologist, pick up the phone! 😉

The Value of Unplugging

I have a confession to make. I don’t walk my talk all the time. In my defense, I own this often in my writing, public speaking and clinical work. But, it usually bothers me, as I guess it does any of us when we don’t parent in the manner that we intend to. Most of the time I avoid excessive self-reproach and try, instead, to learn what I can from my blunders. This blog entry articulates a fresh example.

I write this on page 199 of my parenting book Working Parents, Thriving Families:

Pick one day each month to have a sedentary technology holiday: During this twenty-four-hour period do not allow any electronic entertainment. Such days allow the other opportunities before you and your family to come more sharply into focus. Who knows, you may decide to try it on a weekly basis!

Ok, here’s the confession: I’ve never done it, until this past week.

The context was a family vacation to Bermuda. Before leaving I was having a discussion with my colleague and friend Karen Osborne. I forget how it came up, but I must have let on that I was considering taking my technology with me. Karen’s eyes got big and she said something like this: “If I were your wife there’s NO WAY you’d be allowed to take your laptop with you! That vacation is for you, your wife and your kids. Spending time with them, and not your email, is what it’s for! That stuff will be waiting for you when you get back. There’s no way that’d fly with me! No way!” I saw instantly that she was correct (plus the fact that she is a gentle person who normally doesn’t take a 2 x 4 to my head unless I really need it) and I knew I could never face her when I came back if I did otherwise. (In case you’re wondering why my wife didn’t serve in this role: she’s run out of 2 x 4s.)

So, I didn’t take my laptop and kept the other stuff off unless it was to plan or coordinate a vacation activity or to take a picture (like what you see below).Image

And, my family didn’t have or use their technology either.

I can’t easily describe for you what a remarkable experience it was to be unplugged. It allowed for much, much more of a sense of focused attention and peace. In a remarkable book called The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle argues the same that that many other wise people, across multiple disciplines and traditions, have argued: being in the moment (instead of the past or the future), is an essential element for experiencing meaning, joy and peace. While technology can facilitate being in the now (e.g., a meditation facilitator, music), most of the time it interferes. In my case, when I’m most plugged in, multi-tasked and caffeinated, I’m like a hyperactive hamster on crack. When I was unplugged, and focused on the beauty and wonder before my eyes, especially my family, I became filled with peace, joy and serenity. And, I was able to feel this way even though I had some heavy duty stresses to deal with at work upon my return (i.e., being in the moment allowed me to keep that stuff out of my consciousness 95% of the time).

So, now I’m going to do this more often. How much more, or how regularly,  I don’t know yet, as I’m still catching up from the backlog of being unplugged for five days (including writing this blog entry on a Saturday morning), lol.

Try it for a day, or half a day, or as long as you can. Turn everything off. Observe your mind then try to go to the past or the future. Watch it trying to do so as you might watch a two year old throwing a tantrum. Then, try not to give any power to your mind’s inclination to do that, and just observe the beauty around you, especially your family. If you can do it, I’d be very, very interested in having you write about your experience here.

Manufacture Joy: Focus on Gratitude

Continuing on with this holiday series, I will next review the technique of using gratitude. (This is related, but different, from the technique of writing a gratitude letter that I covered earlier in an individual and a family exercise.) When you are feeling grateful you are probably not feeling sad, worried or angry. You are also less likely to be taking people and circumstances for granted. There are a number of techniques you can use to pull this off. Below are six to get you started.

• Keep a gratitude journal. Pick either a day a week, or a time of the day, to write down that for which feel grateful. If in doubt regarding which practice would be a better fit for you, make entries into the journal once a week. Write down simple pleasures (e.g., the sounds of birds chirping, the taste of a sweet piece of fruit, a smile you received), bigger events (e.g., getting a raise, celebrating a birthday, taking a great vacation) and anything in-between (a fun date night, your kid getting a good grade on a test, seeing a funny movie). Not only does this practice focus your mind on uplifting events but, over time, you create documentation of all that which is working well in your life, facilitating a sense of deep meaning and satisfaction. This practice also keeps you from becoming like Jimmy Stewart’s character in It’s a Wonderful Life, needing a miraculous divine intervention in order to appreciate the value of your life.

• Use gratitude as a coping thought. What behavior would you next do if you put on a pair of pants you hadn’t worn in a long time and, upon zipping them up, they felt so tight that it hurt? If you’re like most, your next move would be to take them off and put on a more comfortable pair (though you might simultaneously swear, promise yourself to eat less ice cream, or commit to joining a gym ;-)). Imagine what a silly image would be cast by someone walking around wearing uncomfortable pants declaring “Ouch, these pants really hurt! Ouch! I can’t believe how much these really hurt.” Yet, this is exactly what we do when we allow a painful thought to remain on our minds when it serves no useful function (i.e., not figuring out a problem or grieving or doing something else useful, but just pommeling us into the ground). So, if you find yourself chewing on a painful thought with no value just STOP, and turn your mind to that for which you feel grateful of late. Try to savor these thoughts for at least as long as you’ve been inclined to fret over useless and painful thoughts.

• Use your time in the shower each morning to reflect upon what you are most grateful for from the day before.  If you shower in the evening, focus on the day’s events.

• Go through photo albums or family videos with an eye towards remembering what you are grateful for about those events. Printing out some of your favorite images and displaying them around your life can add more value.

• Create a list of the top 10 things you are most grateful for about your life. Better yet, agree with your significant other or best friend (or both) to create your lists and share them with each other over a lunch date at a restaurant new to both of you.

• Write one thank you note a week to the person you felt the most gratitude towards that week. (It doesn’t have to be a heaping dose of gratitude.) Moreover, keep some thank you cards on any desk(s) you work at and put a weekly reminder in your electronic or paper appointment thingy to complete this task.

The point of this series, which you can read by scrolling down on my home page from this entry down, is to review some of the techniques that the science of positive psychology suggests we may use to lift our moods and enhance our experiences of meaning. I hope you will decide to give some of these techniques a try. And, if you do, I’d love to hear about the results as such will become part of my gratitude ritual!

Manufacture Joy: Take a Daily Mini Vacation

As part of this holiday series, I’m next covering the strategy of creating mini daily vacations, an idea I’ve adapted from psychologist Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s book Positivity. The idea is to treat yourself with an enjoyable respite from the busyness of your daily life by doing something fun, meaningful or relaxing. Here are two dozen ideas to get you started:
• Rather than work on a project at your desk, take it to a local coffee shop or bookstore, order your favorite drink, and work on it there.
• Have lunch at a restaurant, whether by yourself (reading something fun or interesting) or with a friend.
• Go to a local library and read or listen to something funny or interesting.
• Start a game of chess with a friend, or a stranger, and make a couple of moves each day.
• Go for a walk with an eye towards paying attention to nature.
• More elaborate, but if you can spare a couple of hours, go see a movie.
• Find a quiet space, put on some headphones, and listen to relaxing sounds on a music player (e.g., ocean waves, rain, birds).
• Click around YouTube.com for some funny videos, then forward any treasures to friends (for my top 10 funny parenting videos click here).
• Read a guide book regarding the location of your next vacation, even if it’s far off. If you don’t have a vacation planned, do that instead.
• Click onto some live streaming of a favorite location (an internet search will yield many options, this is just one example).
• Go to a shop that sells your favorite guilty pleasure (e.g., chocolate, baked goods), order something modest, find a quiet spot and eat the treat very slowly with an eye towards savoring every morsel.
• Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while just to say hey and to see what’s up.
• Read something regarding your favorite hobby.
• Start a file of affirming things people send you, then, over time, read that.
• Eat your lunch while strolling through a museum.
• Look through a file or scrapbook of photographs.
• Watch parts of one of your favorite TV shows or movies (e.g., take a DVD to work, log onto a video streaming service such as Netflix.com).
• Go for a swim in an indoor pool.
• Go play some sets at a bowling alley during lunch, whether by yourself or with a friend.
• Kick your shoes off, get a good drink or snack and read a few chapters of a good novel.
• Play with a pet.
• Visit a florist and buy a plant for your daytime space.
• Find a quiet place, light a candle and offer your Higher Power prayers of gratitude.
• Plant something.
• Make an agreement with your significant other, or a good friend, to alternate giving each other 10 minute shoulder massages. Alternate days if need be.

I would love to hear your ideas for creating a daily mini-vacation.

Other offerings in this series:

Write a gratitude letter

Perform acts of kindness

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