HAPPINESS: AN EXPLORATION AND A ROAD MAP
HAPPINESS: A 16-WEEK PROCESS GROUP
A Two Paper Alternative Department Thesis
Presented to the Faculty
California State University, East Bay
In Partial Fulfillment
Of the Requirements for the Degree
Master of Science in Counseling
Paper One examines various perspectives of happiness from different fields of psychology and treatment plans for marriage and family therapists in helping their clients to gain a greater measure of it. These include: quality of life, subjective well-being, finding a sense of flow in one’s life, as proposed by those in the positive psychology movement, and the strategy of focusing on personal strengths. Attention is also given to dispelling popular myths about happiness, genetic factors in people’s ability to be happy, finding happiness in one’s work, and the subjective nature of this emotional state. This study will assist MFT counselors in clarifying both for themselves and for their clients this state of the human heart that has been so difficult to define. It will also provide a potential roadmap for different ways to find more happiness in clients’ lives.
Table of Contents
Paper One: Happiness: An Exploration and a Road Map…… 6
Genetic Happiness Set Point……… 8
Materialism and Happiness……… 9
Quality of Life……… 10
Quality of Life and Subjective Well-being……… 12
Subjective Well-being……… 13
Strength-based Approaches……… 17
Positive Psychology……… 21
Happiness with Work……… 25
Religion / Spirituality……… 26
Measuring Happiness……… 27
Core Exercises……… 28
Paper Two: HAPPINESS: A 16-WEEK PROCESS GROUP…… 35
Group Format & Objectives……… 36
General Session Outline……… 36
Session One……… 37
Session Two……… 38
Session Three……… 39
Session Four……… 40
Session Five……… 42
Session Six……… 44
Session Seven……… 47
Session Eight……… 48
Session Nine……… 52
Session Ten……… 54
Session Eleven……… 56
Session Twelve……… 58
Session Thirteen……… 60
Session Fourteen……… 62
Session Fifteen……… 64
Session Sixteen……… 66
Thesis Conclusion……… 68
Appendix One……… 71
Appendix Two……… 72
Appendix Three……… 76
PAPER ONE: Happiness: An Exploration and a Road Map
What is this thing that we call happiness? Countless songs have it in their titles. Most of us of the Beatles’ generation have heard the tune, “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.” This noun in question appears to be a state that many, if not most of us desire. Thomas Jefferson wrote about having the right to be in pursuit of it. But again I ask, what is happiness? It seems like such a simple word, and yet people get tongue-tied when trying to define it. If we ask our clients what it is that they want from their work in psychotherapy, a sizable percentage may answer that they would like to feel happy more often. The state of happiness serves as a counter-weight to depression and anxiety. It is what we associate with smiles and laughter and the best of times. We cannot buy it. And it does not appear to be more prevalent among the rich or the educated or those endowed with a strong IQ. For those who work in the counseling field, it appears to be a piece of the Holy Grail, the pot of gold at the end of the psychotherapeutic rainbow.
After having waxed poetic over this popular word, we are left with two simple and still unanswered questions. What is happiness and how do our clients conceptualize it. There are multiple definitions for happiness, but the actual meaning of happiness is no more than a foundation or a launch pad from which our work with our client begins. So much depends on the image in the minds of our clients of what it means to be happy. A large piece of the therapeutic work that needs to be done, in some cases, is uncovering all the lessons learned, over the course of a lifetime, about what this happy state will look like once we get there. For some, this image is one forged in the fires of fairytales, having little if any grounding in the adult world. This image may involve being rescued by a prince in shining armor or finding the perfect replacement for the mother one never had. In such cases, a therapeutic goal might be to help the client redefine what it means to attain some measure of happiness, which is achievable as an adult within a healthy adult context.
In Webster’s New World Dictionary (Simon & Schuster, 1982), happiness is defined as “a state of well-being characterized by reflective permanence, by dominantly agreeable emotion ranging in value from mere contentment to deep and intense joy in living, and by a natural desire for its continuation” (p636). In The Newbury House Dictionary of American English (Heinle & Heinle, 1999), the definition contains the statement that “happiness results from the possession or attainment of what one considers good” (p.395). In the mental health field, it is defined in different ways. Some view it as related to quality of life, while others as related to subjective well-being . People involved in the positive psychology movement, which focuses on developing positive self and life-image, would describe happiness as being in touch with ones’ inner-strengths. The Dalai Lama, on the other hand, noted that in Buddhism, happiness is viewed merely as being a state of mind (Crocker, 2000).
There are also genetic explanations for why some are happier in disposition than others. In this paper, I will first address these different definitions of happiness. Therapists need to have a clear understanding of what this state of mind/being/emotion/genetics is if we are to help guide our clients in the direction of attaining it. Then, in the second part of this paper, there will be an exploration of a variety of therapeutic techniques, drawn from different fields of practice, to help those in search of happiness get closer to their goal.
Genetic Happiness Set Point
Lykken and Tellegen (1996) examined the role of genes in determining one’s degree of satisfaction in life. In their study comparing happiness data on 4000 sets of middle-aged identical and fraternal twins, they concluded that 50% of the satisfaction that people feel comes from their genetic programming. In this study, they used a well-being (WB) scale of a Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire. Results showed that the well-being of one’s identical twin, either now or in the past, is a far better predictor of one’s self-rated happiness than is one’s own level of education, income or status. Other studies have been done on the genetic influence on personality dispositions, such as having an easygoing demeanor, how one deals with stress, and feeling low levels of anxiety and depression. Lykken and Tellegen found that factors such as marital status, income, religion, and education contribute only about 8% to one’s overall well-being. The remaining percentage is chalked up to “life’s slings and arrows.”
They went on to propose the idea that each of us has a happiness set point, similar to our set point for body weight. Regardless of what happens in our lives, we tend to return to our set range. An example is of the many people who lost their homes in the California East Bay fire of 1991. In the first few weeks after having lost everything that they owned, many were either in shock or depressed. But six months later, most returned to their standard emotional state. And this same point can work in reverse. People who have won large sums in a lottery, for example, do not wind up being significantly happier in the long run (Wallis, 2005).
There are two life events that appear to have a deep and long term impact on people’s level of life satisfaction. Solberg, Diener, and Robinson (2004) found that the loss of a spouse and the loss of a job could bring people lastingly below their happiness set point. It can take years to recover from these types of losses, assuming that the lost relationships had been deeply valued. And while Diener and Lykken believe that to some extent we are genetically predisposed to a certain happiness set point, they also support the premise that we can change our happiness levels significantly. The question is how do people do that?
Materialism and Happiness
With the onset of the industrial revolution and the resulting improvements in public health and manufacturing and distribution of goods, many came to believe that happiness would come from the pleasures associated with greater material wealth. This has been a big piece of the American dream – home ownership, being able to retire in comfort at age 65, along with all the luxuries of the 21st century. Interestingly, with all the riches that we enjoy in the industrialized nations, living in relative peace and security, with a life-span twice that of some of our great grandparents, people do not seem to be more satisfied with their lives today than they were before (Csikszentmihalyi, 1999). If material well-being is the key to happiness, why are so many in today’s society in need of drugs to help fall asleep, wake up, stay slim, or avoid feelings of depression or anxiety? Why is it that there is such a high rate of suicide and loneliness in countries such as Sweden, where socialist policy guarantees its citizens significant material health and security (Csikszentmihalyi)?
As for material well-being, Myers and Diener (1995) documented cases of people who had won the lottery and concluded that after a period of six to eight months, these people were no happier than they were before. It became clear that having more money does not equate with a greater degree of satisfaction with one’s life, assuming that all the basic life necessities, such as food and shelter, are initially met. Moneta, Schneider, and Csikszentmihalyi (2001) observed that children of the lowest socioeconomic strata tend to report the highest happiness, and upper middle-class children generally report the least happiness. Theirs was a longitudinal study, following 1,165 6th through 12th graders for four years. The participants completed daily self-concept scales that focused on self-worth and affect. 44.8% of the participants were boys and 55.2% were girls. The ethnic distribution was 55% whites, 15.6% Hispanic, 22% African American, 6.3% Asian American, and 0.9% Native American. 53.8% of the participants came from a traditional family structure, 18.8% from single-parent families, 13.3% from reconstituted families, 3.2% from other types of families, and 10.8% from unknown family structure.
And while evidence seems to indicate no correlation between material wealth and life satisfaction, our society clings to the notion that with a bigger SUV, a better cell phone, an address in a classier neighborhood, and a more fashionable wardrobe, most problems should fade away and we should be happier. As with any addiction, too much of a good thing can be harmful. More is not necessarily better. Myers and Diener (1995) showed that other conditions, such as a rewarding family life, having close friends, and putting energy into activities that give one’s life meaning are far more related to creating happiness. In knowing this information, that materialism is not the answer, part of the psychotherapist’s work needs to involve providing some measure of psycho-education by gently encouraging our clientele toward the challenges in life that will bring more emotional rewards.
Quality of Life
In much of the literature, quality of life is frequently cited as a source for what most consider happiness. This includes aspects of emotional, intellectual, and cultural satisfaction that people have in their daily lives. While material comfort may also be a component in quality of life, it is by no means required (Crocker, 2000). In conducting research and attempting to measure quality of life in individuals, Matikka (1996) described four aspects of quality of life as perceived by participants. They are: (a) the affective aspects of happiness; (b) having a positive view of and satisfaction with life; (c) general degree of distress in life; and, (d) satisfaction with specific life domains, including the discrepancy between what a person has achieved versus the unmet needs and desires. Clearly, these are subjective measures, reported on a regular basis by participants in the study. McKevitt and Redfern (2003) pose similar questions about equating quality of life and happiness. They conducted a study involving 1572 healthcare professionals working with patients recovering from strokes. While this study may be focused on how the concept of quality of life influences the delivery of stroke care, many of the points made can easily be generalized to the larger population. In the results of their study, quality of life was defined in terms of ‘happiness’ by 72% of the health care professionals polled. The definition of happiness in the study, which was given to the health care workers in the poll, consisted of a list of life qualities, including: enjoyment of life, life satisfaction, feeling that life is worth living, having life choices, personal dignity, a sense of achievement, well-being (including spiritual well-being), and living a life free of worry.
McKevitt and Redfern (2003) noted that a recent review had illustrated the significant variety of measures for quality of life, arguing that there is little standardization in their use. Fewer than half of the health care professionals polled in their study identified standardized measures as the best way to assess quality of life, while more than half of those polled identified ‘observing patients’ as an effective way of assessment. They noted that “the definitional and operational problems reported here suggest that more needs to be done to clarify the concept (of quality of life) and how best to incorporate it into research and care” (p.869).
Szymanski (2000) also explores quality of life and issues of happiness studying mentally retarded individuals. He discusses limitations in designing an accurate measure of quality of life that is linguistically based, as participants of this population have varying levels of receptive and productive ability. One challenge with this group is that participants want to please their interviewer, frequently answering yes/no questions with an affirmative, and hence the importance of asking information questions. Then the questions have to be worded in a way that does not favor those with any kind of linguistic advantage. Indeed, the challenges of developing accurate measures of happiness and quality of life need to account for individual differences.
Quality of Life and Subjective Well-being
Helm (2000) notes that there are significant subjective factors that relate importantly to happiness. Included in his list of internal or personal factors that his participants considered necessary for happiness are: a sense of self-worth, a perception of personal control, quality of interactions with others, learning to cherish, and the presence of nurturing elements, such as productive work, adequate rest, good leisure activities, and the presence of goals. Crocker (2000) goes on to reflect on the “intensely subjective or felt aspect of happiness with almost a feedback-like mechanism” (p.321). People tend to see the world through the glasses they choose to wear. If their choice is rose-colored lenses, then that is what they shall see. By waking up and declaring that today is going to be a great day, for many people, according to Crocker (2000), and others, it will be. It is the interpretation of the quality of life that is important here, not the actual quality. Our subjective view of our world plays a central role in our capacity for fulfillment, as well as our positive perceptions.
Compton (2001) defines subjective well-being as life satisfaction. Szymanski (2000) also observes that quality of life is closely related to subjective factors perceived by people, such as a sense of well-being, achievement, and love. He goes on to state that it has become increasingly accepted that perhaps the most important factor, or measure of a person’s happiness is that individual’s own subjective feeling of contentment, well-being, and satisfaction with life. These personal perspectives may not coincide with objective observations that can be scientifically measured. For example, in the realm of counseling clients in search of a romantic partner, it is important to keep in mind that intimacy is defined by each individual in his own particular way. There are some clients who place a very high value on having time and space to be by themselves. In the process of counseling such individuals, it is essential that therapists take into consideration the clients’ own particular requirements for insuring their life satisfaction. That may involve clients keeping their own living space separate from that of their partners’, even though the society at large may assume that committed long-term relationships should involve cohabitation.
As happiness is a subjective experience and not a static state, researchers have a challenging task in setting out to measure it. Even those who lead generally happy lives have their blue days, and conversely, those who are chronically depressed may have happy moments. Given the subjective nature of happiness, social scientists have taken different approaches toward assessing it. Diener (2004) has created a commonly used tool, the Satisfaction with Life Scale. Though some question the validity of this simple, five-question survey, Diener has found that it correlates well with other measures of happiness, such as impressions from friends and family, expression of positive emotion, and a low degree of depression. How did Diener come to this conclusion? Csikszentmihalyi, on the other hand, came up with an interesting method of using beepers and handheld computers to contact subjects at different times of the day, to ask what they were doing at that moment, how they felt about it, and if they were alone or not. But these measurements of moment-to-moment subjective reflections lead one to consider the difference between momentary happy moods versus more lifelong global happiness (Wallis, 2005).
Kahneman and Riis (2005) designed a different tool for measuring these day-to-day happy moments and then compared the findings with studies on more global reports on well-being. In his day-reconstruction method, a total of 900 women in Texas maintained detailed daily diary entries, noting all activities, the feelings associated with them, and whom they were with at the time. Results showed the five most positive activities for women were (in descending order) sex, socializing, relaxing, praying or meditating, and eating. Exercising and watching TV were not far behind eating. “Taking care of my children” was far down on the list, below cooking and just a bit above housework. The irony here is how often people cite their children as their greatest source of joy (Wallis, 2005). So the key question here is which type of data are more important – global reports on well-being (“My children are my greatest joy”) or more specific data on day-to-day experiences (“I had an awful night last night! The kids got us out of bed eight times.”) Apparently, these two perspectives on happiness are quite different and do not correlate well. As is evident with the Kahneman study, “overall happiness is not merely the sum of our happy moments minus the sum of our angry or sad ones” (Wallis, 2005, p. 39).
Seligman (2002) takes this investigation one step further. He sees studying moment-to-moment experiences as putting too much focus on passing pleasures and displeasures. For him, the question appears to come down to memory, and how we edit, or, with time, reinterpret many of our negative moment-to-moment experiences in favor of a more positive global view of things. An example might be the terrible pain women go through in child labor, swearing that they will never do this again, only to happily have more children years later. Seligman is one of leading figures in the field of positive psychology, a field that places far more emphasis on our general attitude toward life, than on mere momentary pleasures, as most might assume.
On the other side of subjective well-being, is how we deal with the rough spots in life. In examining people’s ability to recover from trauma, such as losing one’s home in a fire, as well as contending with the regular “slings and arrows” of everyday life, the topic of resilience must be addressed. There have been many different definitions for it in the literature. Block and Block (1980) defines resilience as “resourceful adaptation to changing circumstances and environmental contingencies”(p.48); while Garmezy (1991) views it as “the capacity for recovery and maintained adaptive behavior that may follow initial retreat or incapacity upon initiating a stressful event”(p.459); and then Rutter (1987) describes it as “the positive pole of individual differences in people’s response to stress and adversity”(p.316).
Within the realm of positive psychology, Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000) stress the importance of studying “human strengths and virtue” in gaining a greater understanding of resilience. There are also those who argue that one can witness such strengths best in the aftermath of human suffering and loss. People that are resilient, and therefore capable of weathering such hardships, report a greater sense of self-worth after realizing their ability to cope with these difficulties (Miller and Harvey, 2001). Miller (2003) notes that in light of resilience, psychological growth occurs simply because of a person’s ability to persevere a difficult situation, even though most would not have thought it originally possible. To quote the famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche: “That which does not destroy me only makes me stronger.” Certainly, resilience must be an element in the happiness question.
Miller (2003) notes that in research and clinical settings, the way in which resilience is defined is by an absence of a psychological disorder, such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD, following a negative life event or events. Those who can weather the difficulty are considered to have resilience, while those who cannot, and develop some type of psychopathology, are deemed not to have it. The most common adult population in resilience literature are veterans, who have experienced the trauma of combat. Some of them develop PTSD while others, with the same exact war experience, do not. Another example, as Miller (2003) points out, is that of the character of David Helfgott from the movie Shine, based on a true story. His tale differs somewhat from the standard definition of resilience as noted above. This brilliant pianist, despite having had a very difficult childhood and resulting psychological damage, persists in realizing his two dreams, to find romance and to become a professional pianist. Despite his mental illness, he persevered and overcame his challenges, despite what most would have originally expected. While much of the literature focuses on studies in which individuals do not develop major psychological problems after a traumatic situation (e.g., war, sexual assault, poverty), more recent studies have focused on those, like David Helfgott, who have managed to succeed, despite their history or hardship and resulting current mental illness. His ability to “bounce back” and gain some measure of happiness is a measure of his resilience.
Under the same rubric of resilience also falls the “search for meaning,” when trying to cope with a difficult situation. Miller (2003) describes the case of Monica Iken, whose husband was killed on September 11, 2001, in the World Trade Center. After this tragedy, Ms. Iken founded an organization called September’s Mission, whose mission is to support the development of a memorial park on the site of the former World Trade Center. Here is an example of how someone is grappling with an unexpected loss, transforming a negative experience into a positive project. Finding meaning in the death of a loved one, exhibiting some measure of resilience, does not necessarily translate into having to “let go” of the past. Nolen-Hoeksema (1998) points out that losses become a part of our identity. The question for those in the MFT field is to monitor our clients “walk(ing) a fine line between not simply ‘moving on’ and not excessively ruminating about the event”(p.218). Our challenge is to know and be able to identify the difference between obsessing over a loss and going through the normal, healthy process of mourning and eventually assimilating this life event into the client’s self-identity (Miller, 2003).
The self-strengths that are discovered as our clients move through the challenges of life can become a focus in therapy. Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000) suggest that therapists can help their clients by pointing out their personal strengths and what they are doing well, rather than focusing on weaknesses or shortcomings. Some clients go through their day having multiple little successes, whether it is diffusing a potential argument with a coworker or making dinner for the family, without any appreciation for these small accomplishments. The therapist needs to draw out these strengths so that they become clear to the client. A powerful intervention can be to let clients know that they have far more tools available to them than they previously realized. Solution-focused therapy centers on the clients’ strengths and encourages them to continue doing what is working, rather than to focus on what is broken.
There is a relatively simple way for MFT therapists to measure resiliency. People who are able to weather hardship, or bounce back from adversity and continue to live a productive life, can be said to have such a strength. It can be found both in their attitudes and their behavior. Therapists need to show their clients such successes and triumphs in their lives, particularly when facing hardship. Part of the path to happiness is seeing what is good in life. If our clients have some of the tools necessary for facing adversity and continuing with their lives, they have already taken a significant step in the direction of finding some measure of happiness (Miller, 2003).
While the emphasis in resiliency literature is on how people endure and overcome hardship, studies in the positive psychology movement focus more on when things are at their best in our lives. Csikszentmihalyi (1999) examines “peak” moments, in which people are so engrossed and so thoroughly enjoying themselves that they loose track of time. People are willing to do such activities just for the sake of doing them, without expecting any compensation whatsoever. The term that Csikszentmihalyi uses for these experiences is flow. The types of pastimes frequently associated with flow include: creative activities, music, sports, games, and religious rituals. When people are in a state of flow, they loose track of everything other than the task on which they are focused. Another expression associated with flow is “being in the zone.” One associates flow with those moments in which all of one’s talents and energy and enthusiasm are trained in on a single challenge, one which can be extremely stimulating and rewarding for that specific individual.
Flow can be found in perfectly ordinary pastimes, such as studying, playing with or instructing a child, or doing an art project. Csikszentmihalyi (1999) sites three sets of common characteristics with these kinds of experiences. First, people frequently, though not always, have a clear sense of what to do from moment to moment. This could be following established steps in a game or notes to be played in a musical piece. It could also be when people use their skill and judgment to make a set decision, such as how much salt to throw in a recipe or where to place a tennis ball on the court at a specific moment in the game. The second set of characteristics involves getting immediate positive feedback from the action taken, such as tasting the recipe just after having added the salt, or seeing the effect of the previous play on one’s opponent in the tennis game. The third set is a balance between one’s skill set and the challenge of the situation. If the challenge is too great, then some degree of anxiety will result. If there is too little challenge, there will be boredom. When people find that perfect balance between challenges and skills, they can get lost in the activity, resulting in flow.
What is the relationship between flow and happiness? People are generally not feeling happy when in the state of flow, as they are far too absorbed in the activity to be cognizant of their subjective state. If they were aware of their happiness, it would distract them from the current task at hand and break the stream of concentration. It is afterward, when the experience is over, that people find themselves in a strongly euphoric state, in addition to having the feeling that their lives have some measure of purpose and meaning.
This concept of flow is useful in understanding the subjective nature of happiness. Each person is going to relate differently to preparing the same recipe or playing a game of tennis. It is not the activity itself, but what individuals bring with them to such events. If people can experience flow while working on an assembly line, chances are that they will experience some degree of happiness. On the other hand, if a couple is not experiencing flow while sitting on a Mexican beach, sipping margaritas, then chances are that they will not experience any happiness in that moment (Csikszentmihalyi, 1999). The bottom line for clients in psychotherapy is to reconfigure their strategy for finding happiness. Many people see it as something that is external to themselves, gained through the acquisition of certain things, such as a romantic partner, a better salary, or position of respect among peers. The psycho-education that therapists provide needs to address the issue of flow and how the clients throwing themselves into activities that genuinely interest them will get them one step closer to finding some measure of happiness.
How can we assist our clients in finding experience with flow in their lives? Csikszentmihalyi (1999) suggests encouraging them to get as actively involved in life activities as is possible. We need to encourage finding this measure of flow in pastimes that are not only fun and engaging, but also provide the potential for growth and the development of new skills. Wealth is not a determining factor, as many might assume. In Hunter’s work with adolescents (1998), he demonstrated that those from more affluent backgrounds actually experience flow less often. Though they may have more material possessions than those with less money, it turned out that they also spent less quality time with their parents. Here we see the core element of meaningful engagement with loved ones, which positive psychologists believe, among others in the field, is necessary for leading a happier life.
In that happiness is viewed as a concept seen through the lens of satisfaction with one’s own life and oneself, positive self-image is an essential ingredient. This requires an understanding of the areas in which one excels, as well as an understanding and acceptance of those areas in which one does not (Szymanski, 2000). Being actively engaged in relationship with others is considered a key component to achieving some measure of happiness. His perspective on positive self-image, or as he terms it, idealized image of self, is that it is formed within the context of expectations of the important figures in one’s life, usually one’s parents and, later on, peers and the society at large. He sees acceptance and approval by these figures to be necessary in the process of building an idealized image of self. Of course, an important developmental step is in learning to differentiate between one’s own perceptions of self in contrast to the perceptions of others.
Szymanski (2000) goes on with his exploration of the developing positive self-image in the process of noticing one’s own shortcomings. This may seem counter-intuitive, but in fact, it is a normal part of the regular development of a healthy ego. As we grow up, we realize that there are some areas in which we excel and others in which we do not. In those fields where we lack strength, we either try out different strategies to overcome these hardships or simply come to terms with the fact that no one is perfect at everything. We can console ourselves that we have our particular area of strengths where we demonstrate our inner-talents. The bottom line here is the process of development of a sense of self, of how I am in comparison to my peers, both in my talents as well as in my deficits. Hopefully, the talents and the lack thereof balance one another, with the talents compensating for the shortcomings.
Szymanski (2000) also focuses on coming to terms with one’s personal challenges. The point that he is making here applies to everyone. For example, while an adolescent client is struggling with math class and looking on trigonometry as an albatross around his neck, the therapist points out the client’s skill with his English assignments. As he moves through junior high school, the sense of balance becomes clearer to him that he can seek help with math from his friends who excel in that field, and they in turn can come to him for help with issues in the humanities. In this process, a developing positive or idealized sense of self starts to emerge. In the field of positive psychology, this process of understanding one’s own strengths and acceptance of one’s personal challenges is at the heart of the therapeutic process.
Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000) question the rationale behind our historic focus on the negative; on pathology. The authors propose a few possible answers. The first is that negative emotions and experiences may be more urgent and require immediate help, therefore overriding the more positive emotions and experiences. Another possibility is that negative experiences create powerful reactions and in turn, a strong desire to take action, to search within in order to find some solution. There is clearly going to be more potential buy-in on the part of the client when there is pain rather than when there is no pain. Negative emotions are symptoms of immediate problems or possible dangers, warranting immediate attention.
In the field of mental health, we have focused, understandably, on those who require our services and help. In contrast, when things are going well, there does not seem to be any need for alarm or therapeutic attention. Experiences that either promote or suggest a state of happiness do not appear to require our services. That has been the primary view of positive feelings and life experiences in many past theoretical orientations. This is what makes the field of positive psychology so very interesting. Its focus on strengths and virtues in a well-structured series of interventions puts it in a unique position to supplement other more traditional modalities in the quest for helping our clients to get closer to their goal of achieving some degree of happiness.
Positive psychology is the study of positive emotion/having a pleasant life, having an engaging life, and having a meaningful life; these are the three basic ingredients for attaining what most of us would call happiness. While the people who are advocates of this particular theory favor an approach of studying happiness and all its associated emotional states, they also acknowledge the value in studying suffering, as well as how these polarities interact with one another. In the pursuit of relieving psychological pain, a better understanding of both realms is necessary. Seligman, Steen, Park, and Peterson (2005) pose the age-old question, “How can we become lastingly happier?” Then they note that the sole guiding question in the field of psychology has usually been “How can we reduce suffering?” These researchers believe that much has been learned in the quest to answer the question on suffering, but that limiting us to this one question in turn limits our scope of study into the human experience. It is a noble goal to be in the pursuit of lessening depression, anxiety, and anger. But why stop there? Many clients want more than simply an absence of pain; they want to be happy.
Peterson and Seligman (2004) discuss six general virtues that can be found and are endorsed in almost every culture around the globe. These include: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence. Under each of these virtues, they identify a total of 24 particular strengths (see Appendix 1) As the six virtues can be found in almost all cultures, empirical studies show that the 24 character strengths are also shared by adults around the world, the most common ones being: kindness, fairness, authenticity, gratitude, and open-mindedness. This ubiquity of valuing similar personal virtues and strengths may indicate something about universal human nature and/or the essential character building blocks for establishing a functioning society (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005).
So what is the importance of developing and recognizing these strengths and virtues within us? Park, Peterson, and Seligman (2004) make the point that the strengths “of the heart” – zest, gratitude, hope, and love – are more associated with life satisfaction than the more intellectual strengths, such as curiosity and love of learning. Longitudinal studies indicate that those who have such “heart” strengths are predicted to have more life satisfaction (Park, Peterson, & Seligman). Furthermore, those with the greatest degree of satisfaction are the people who have pursued all three of the central qualities, held as necessary in the field of positive psychology, particularly in having an engaged life and a meaningful life. With this evidence in hand, therapists have a possible roadmap with which they can maneuver their clients toward finding some measure of happiness. But before moving on to the issue of treatment, it should be noted that happiness is both causal and caused. Lyubomirsky, King, and Diener (2005) showed that happiness brings far more benefits than simply feeling good. Happy people tend to be healthier, more successful, and more socially engaged. The causation clearly runs in both directions.
Happiness with Work
As most people spend more than 40 percent of their waking hours at work, finding some measure of satisfaction with one’s livelihood is an important piece of the happiness equation. People who love their jobs feel challenged by their work, appreciated by their managers and co-workers. Part of the challenge is learning to see our work as an extension of what we naturally want to do. If we are doing what genuinely brings us pleasure, then the details of what we are getting from the job, in terms of material gain and position, seem less important (Thottam, 2005). This falls in line with the concept of flow. If we get so focused on what we are doing that we loose track of time and feel that our skills are matched with the challenge, flow happens, resulting in greater sense of happiness with our lives. Harter (2003) notes that individual disposition accounts for only 30% of the difference between those employees who are highly engaged and those who are not. The remaining 70% is shaped by the various daily interactions with fellow workers, managers, and customers. I imagine that it is also shaped by personal attitude.
Harter (2003) found that beyond a certain minimum level, it is not one’s salary or the benefits that matter most; rather, it is the quality of relationships with co-workers and management. When people responded with a strong positive to the statement “I have a best friend at work,” for example, that turned out to be a powerful predictor for engagement at work and connection with customers, indicating a high-level of belonging. This ties in well with the second essential component of leading a life where one is engaged in a positive way with others.
For the growing number of people working for themselves at home or telecommuting for an employer, there seems to be a mixed bag of results. On one hand, while they may be enjoying the autonomy that they have always wanted, they also lack the supportive interactions of their co-workers, which now appear to be a critical piece of job satisfaction for most people (Harter, 2003). Engagement is indeed a powerful piece in the happiness puzzle. If people are not able to get it with their work, then they need to try to find it in other parts of their lives.
Religion / Spirituality
Csikszentmihalyi (1999) observes the alternatives to a focus on materialism. Some call it “psychological,” while others call it “spiritual.” Most if not all cultures have developed drugs ranging from peyote to heroine to alcohol to antidepressants to gain some improved quality of life through chemical means. Csikszentmihalyi offers the view that chemically induced well-being lacks a vital ingredient for happiness: the knowledge that one is responsible for having achieved it. He views happiness not as an external force that acts upon us, as when one takes a pill, but more as something that people actively make happen. In some cultures, drugs are taken in a ceremony and appear to have lasting beneficial effects, but Csikszentmihalyi notes that these benefits are most likely the results of performing the ritual, of participating in a community rite, rather than just the effects of a chemical compound entering the bloodstream. No one denies the power of drugs in affecting the metabolism and mood. The question here is of a lasting benefit; long after the body has synthesized the drug.
Various faiths tackle the issue of finding inner-happiness in different ways. Some do it with the promise of a heavenly paradise after death, while others focus more on controlling the stream of thoughts and feelings, editing out negative content from consciousness. With Buddhism, the premise is that all suffering comes initially from desire and the resulting frustrations. By giving up the desire, there are less disappointments to endure, reducing unhappiness. Regardless of the message, spiritual faith has the potential to enhance subjective well-being. Surveys generally show a low but consistent correlation between following of a religious faith and happiness (Csikszentmihalyi, 1999). What is not clear is the differentiation between the benefits of having the actual beliefs and participating in communal ceremonies, feeling engaged with and connected to a larger family.
Seligman, Steen, Park, and Peterson (2005) set out to do a random-assignment, placebo-controlled study of five exercises that form a core program for gaining a greater measure of happiness. Before starting this study, they came up with a measure for both happiness and depression so that they could gauge the efficacy of these exercises. For the measurement of depression, the research team chose the Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression Scale (CES-D) symptom survey (Radloff, 1977). But finding an instrument to measure all three categories of happiness (positive emotion, engagement, and meaning) was far more challenging. The tests out in the field that measure general levels of happiness would not yield the specific data that was necessary, particularly with the category of meaning. So it became clear that these researchers would have to create their own measure. The Steen Happiness Index (SHI) was modeled after the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), except that the measure was of upward changes in happiness levels. The items on the test reflect the three kinds of happy lives (the pleasant and pleasure-filled life, the life in which one loses the self in engaging activities, and participating in meaningful activities). The SHI contains 20 questions, each with a range of five possible answers, from a negative (1) to an extreme positive (5). The initial trial tests showed scores that were very close to scores on other happiness measures, such as Lyubomirsky and Lepper’s (1999) General Happiness Scale (r = .79) and Fordyce’s (1977) Happiness Scale (r = .74), though the results with the SHI were actually more bell-shaped than with the previous two measures.
There is another scale, one that examines positive emotions, created by David D. Burns (1996). While this scale does not address the issue of meaning, as in the SHI, it measures other factors such as degree of: freedom from fear, hope, and spiritual awareness; categories not covered in the SHI. The Burns Positive Feeling Index is broken down into eight categories, including: self-esteem, feeling good about others, happiness, productivity, playfulness, freedom from fear, hope, and spiritual awareness. Each category contains a total of five questions. For each question, there are five possible answers, ranging from “not at all” (0) to “moderately” (2) to “extremely” (4). (see Appendix 2)
In the process of treatment planning, for positive psychologists, attention toward both encouraging the development and self-recognition of positive emotion, engagement, and meaning are primary. The five exercises, mentioned earlier, form the core of the treatment program for gaining a greater measure of happiness, as studied by Seligman, Steen, Park, and Peterson (2005). The first exercise is “the Gratitude visit,” in which participants are given one week to write and then deliver a letter of gratitude in person to someone who had been especially kind to them but had never been properly thanked. The second is termed “Three good things in life.” Here, participants write down three things that went well each day, as well as their causes each and every night for a week. The third exercise involves the participants writing about a time when they were at their best, which in turn provides an opportunity to reflect on their personal strengths. The fourth is called “Using signature strengths in a new way” and requires participants to take a set inventory of character strengths online at www.authentichappiness.org and receive personalized feedback about their top five “signature” strengths (Peterson, Park, & Seligman, 2005). At that point, they then make use of one of these strengths in a new and different way every day for one week. The fifth and final exercise consists of identifying those signature strengths. This one is actually a shortened version of the fourth exercise, without the instruction to use the strengths in new ways. Here, they simply note their five greatest strengths and then use them more often in the coming week(s). In addition to these five exercises, there is also a placebo control exercise, in which participants are asked to simply write about their earliest memories every night for one week.
In the study by Seligman, Steen, Park, and Peterson (2005), the second exercise, “three good things in life,” and the fourth, “using signature strengths in a new way,” increased happiness and decreased depression for six months and beyond. “The Gratitude visit” caused more initially positive changes, but only for the first month. The two other exercises, plus the placebo control were somewhat effective, but for a much shorter period of time. In this study, participants were contacted in one-week, one-month, three-month, and then six-month intervals following the initial one-week exercise. It is important to note that long-term benefits were both augmented and maintained when subjects continued the second and fourth exercises beyond the initial seven days. Part of the reason that the long-term scores with these two exercises were as significant as they were was because many of the subjects voluntarily chose to continue long after the initial week. In continuing to do these exercises, people appear to be building skills that require regular practice. Since many of the participants chose to continue doing the exercise(s) beyond the originally specified time, we can conclude that many find such activities fun, as well as self-maintaining. With such information, these two simple exercises can easily be assigned as supplemental homework for psychotherapy clients. They also offer a positive psychologist’s view of how little it can take to gain some measure of happiness.
Why are virtues such as kindness, gratitude, and capacity for love tied to happiness? Peterson, Park, and Seligman (2005) believe that exercising such virtues helps make people feel good about themselves. When I am volunteering my time and energy for a good cause, whether it is on a crisis hotline or providing a homebound senior citizen with a hot meal, I am not only distracting myself from my own perceived problems, but also putting more meaning into my life. Simply through the act of giving, I have a greater sense of purpose, since I now matter to someone else. These exercises tie in with the two basic tenants of positive psychology – striving to being more engaged with others and to having more meaning in one’s life. But I am left with one question, which has not yet been answered by the literature. Can one lead an introverted lifestyle, having little if any interaction with others, and still be happy?
For those who are in search of “objective,” quantifiable data, the above study, by Seligman, Steen, Park, and Peterson (2005), may seem fraught with subjective reporting flaws. Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, and Schkade (2005) acknowledge that many happiness researchers accept the notion that people’s experience of happiness is subjective, defined differently from one subject to the next. And while these researchers may be satisfied that self-report measures are the only appropriate measures, they also acknowledge that their subjects might not be very accurate with respect to when and in what types of situations they were happy in the past. Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, and Schkade note that better behavior-based, “domain-specific assessment tools” need to be developed if there is to be improved reliability with studies in this field. One other area in need of improvement in the realm of testing is expanding the norm groups. Many of the subjects in the above studies tend to be well educated, White, and financially stable. People of other socio-economic classes, races, and ethnicities may respond quite differently to these proposed exercises and assessment procedures. To come up with therapeutic interventions that affect people’s level of happiness, if they are to be successfully applied to the population at large, research covering a broader spectrum of the potential client-base is going to be necessary.
People in the field of quality of life and subjective well-being have a slightly different, though still clearly related, approach to treatment planning. Szymanski (2000), in summary of his work, reflects on the basic components of treatment that may include a combination of psychotherapy, psychoactive drugs, habilitation, and other possible “active treatments,” which he also describes as “environmental supports.” This combination of approaches should be aimed at bringing the highest possible level of quality of life and sense of life satisfaction. Achieving these goals might include any or all of the following four steps. The first is an acknowledgement of one’s strengths versus one’s weaknesses and coming to terms with these conditions. The second step is a focus on actually developing the skills and talents, while making efforts to minimize the “impairments.” The third step involves eliminating or reducing maladaptive behaviors and symptoms related to the “impairments” mentioned in the previous step. The fourth and final step, having attained the previous goals, is to develop positive self-image and self-esteem. Since Szymanski’s targeted clientele was those suffering from mental retardation, it is clear in this approach that special attention to the recognition and acceptance of one’s “weaknesses or impairments” is a primary concern. While I do not believe that such a strategy needs to be listed as a discreet step with a higher functioning clientele, developing a more positive self-image should be based in reality, and part of that reality should include the recognition of the areas in which one excels and the areas that one does not.
Paper One Summary
So what is happiness? First of all, we know from some of the above studies what it is not. Contrary to popular thought, it has no connection with material wealth, beyond having the basic necessities, of course. We need to help our clients see past the materialistic myth that more possessions will bring us more happiness. This could be achieved through a variety of methods, the first being a form of psycho-education. Some of the studies sited in this paper could be shared with clients. A second possibility could include looking at various past instances in clients’ lives to see when they desired some particular form of material wealth, achieved it, and then eventually realized that it made no difference in their level of happiness or well-being. There is no correlation between happiness and youth or race or degree of education. Being able-bodied is also not a determining factor, as there are many unhappy souls who are physically healthy. Of the three categories of experience that are viewed as necessary for happiness, according to those in the field of positive psychology, having a life filled with pleasure is far less important than one that is both personally meaningful and filled with engaged relations with others. Yet despite our attempts to define it and establish set procedures and exercises for attaining it, most would agree that happiness is a subjective experience; one person’s garbage may be another’s treasure. Our clients need to understand that what may feel right for one person will be entirely different for another. Some evidence points to the possibility that as much as 50% of our potential for being happy is genetic in origin. But the ways in which we pursue making good use of that other half is a central question for many psychologists and psychotherapists.
As my approach to psychotherapy is integrative, so is my approach with helping clients make their way toward gaining some measure of happiness. This may involve finding areas in my clients’ lives where they can find aspects of flow. This could be found in the search for a new career or in exploring a new hobby. If there are activities in which our clients can lose themselves, effortlessly investing large amounts of time and energy, here is where some measure of happiness can be generated.
In focusing and channeling their energy and skills toward achieving specific goals, one can assume that this process will be helpful in creating a greater positive or idealized self-image. The way in which this is presented to clients depends on their level of education, degree of interest in existential questions, and ability to introspect. One possible way of framing this for some clients would be to start off with them creating a list of what they would have wanted to accomplish by the end of their lives. Grim though it may sound, they might be instructed to imagine themselves at the end of their lives looking back at what were their best qualities and accomplishments and what they might have wanted to have done differently, if they had had the chance.
In educating clients that happiness is a subjective state, they will hopefully grow to see that what might be right for them is unique to them, that “a happy life” is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Another component in their psycho-education would be around the three core elements of what makes for a happy life in positive psychology – pleasure, engagement with others, and meaning; the emphasis would be on the second and the third elements. I may have my clients make use of the two exercises that positive psychologists have successfully employed to help them gain a better appreciation of what is good in their lives, where their personal strengths lie, and coming to terms with the personal challenges that they face. And finally, in addressing their initial perception of what happiness should look like, when they first start in therapy, we can work together on sorting out which are realistic expectations and which are not.
PAPER TWO: Happiness: A 16-Week Process Group
We live in a culture where many believe that happiness can be gained by acquiring specific things, whether it is the ideal house, job, relationship, investment portfolio, automobile, or physique. The first few sessions of the following process group outline will focus on group members discussing what happiness means to them and then providing some psycho-education on what studies have shown, primarily that the acquisition of the above items does not usually provide any lasting measure of a gained sense of well-being.
Solution-focused therapy adopts the theoretical assumption that our clients have far more strengths and resources than they may realize. Pointing out their personal strengths, what they are doing well, and what is positive in their lives, rather than focusing on weaknesses or shortcomings, is the approach advocated by those in the positive psychology movement. In this 16-week process group, the facilitator will draw out and highlight these strengths and positive features so that they can become clearer to the group members. A powerful intervention can be to let clients know that they have far more tools available to them than they may have previously realized. Solution-focused therapy centers on the clients’ strengths and encourages them to continue doing what is working, rather than to focus on what is broken (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). Shimoff (2008) describes a parable about happiness that can serve as a metaphor for the work in this group.
One evening a Cherokee elder told his grandson about the battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between the two ‘wolves’ that live inside us all. One is Unhappiness. It is fear, worry, anger, jealousy, sorrow, self-pity, resentment, and inferiority. The other is Happiness. It is joy, love, hope, serenity, kindness, generosity, truth, and compassion.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one that you feed.”
Group Format & Objectives
The general format of this process group and some of the exercises are drawn from Shimoff’s work (2008), inspired by much of the research in the field of positive psychology. The metaphor that Shimoff uses is building a house, broken down into seven steps. The foundation is based on the understanding that people need to first take responsibility for their own happiness, rather than looking for it in material gain or in the arms of another. The four walls of this metaphorical house consist of understanding one’s feelings, thoughts, bodily needs, and existential or spiritual needs. Finding meaning or purpose in one’s life comprises the “roof.” And finally, in the “garden” of this new home, attention is given to the quality and importance of personal relationships. Each of these seven steps has corresponding psycho-education points and exercises. Each step is covered in approximately two group sessions (a and b). In each session, one or two quotes from famous people will be given, serving as a springboard for discussion and a summing up of that day’s topic. A Post-It flipchart will be used as a visual aid during group brainstorms and mini-lectures. These pages can be saved and put up on the walls in later sessions when information needs to be recycled. The Happy for No Reason Questionnaire (Shimoff, 2008) will be given in the first and final sessions to gauge any progress made in the level of happiness during the 16 weeks (see Appendix 3).
General Session Outline
Check-in with a possible brief discussion of entries in the weekly gratitude journal (in the second half of the sessions)
1st quote of a famous person on the topic of the day
Activities, discussions, and psycho-education on current subject
2nd quote of a famous person on the topic of the day
Summary of that day’s group topic and, in some weeks, assigning of homework
Closing and check-out
Session #1 What is Happiness? (a)
Goal: The focus of this first group is to establish the purpose of the upcoming 16 sessions, set the tone, and create safety among the group participants. We will also start the process of looking at people’s views on happiness. Sessions #1 and #2 will serve as an introduction with overview discussions and explanations to precede the sessions dedicated to each of the seven steps.
1. Facilitator introduction and discussion on rules and procedures
2. Brief introductions with an explanation for why each person chose to participate in this group
3. Exercise: Write across the top of a piece of paper “100 Things to Be, Do, Have,” dividing the paper into three columns. Allow time for clients to fill in the columns with all things that they wish to be, do, and have in their lives. Then have each person circle the 3 or 4 of the most important items on their list. Break into pairs to share what each person wrote. Then report back to the group, sharing the items that each participant circled. See if anyone wrote “happy” under the “Be” column. Discuss how happiness is in any way linked to all the items on these lists.
4. Quote of the day: Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence. -- Aristotle
5. Psycho-education & Discussion: Statistics
· Happy people live longer, are healthier, and have better relationships.
· Happiness leads to more success in every area of people’s lives.
· Less than 30% of people report being deeply happy.
· 25% of Americans and 27% or Europeans claim that they are depressed.
· The W.H.O. predicts that by 2020, depression will be second only to heart disease in terms of global illness.
· Discuss the contrast between our current “improved” life style of material gain in developed nations and our level of happiness.
6. Participants take the Happy for No Reason Questionnaire (see Appendix 3)
7. Explain that a detailed “roadmap” will be given in the next session for what topics are going to be covered in the following 15 group sessions.
8. Discuss the collage assignment on creating a visual depiction of what happiness might look like for each participant, to be presented to the group in session #2. Show an example or two of such a collage.
9. Closing and check-out
Session #2 What is Happiness? (b)
Goal: In this second of the two introductory groups, we will continue to look at people’s views on happiness and set the framework for upcoming 14 sessions.
1. Check-in and discussion of the process of creating the collage assignment
2. Examine one another’s collages with each person describing the various elements s/he chose to include in it and why. Discuss visual themes and patterns in the works.
3. 1st Quote of the day: He who dies with the most toys, wins. -Anonymous
4. Psycho-education & Discussion:
· Discuss “Happiness set-point” and the genetic component.
· 50% is genetic and 50% is not
· Only 10% is determined by wealth, marital status, and job.
· 40% of the happiness set-point can be raised through modifying habitual thoughts, feelings, words, and actions.
· The “myth” of happiness… what happiness isn’t.
· American income rose 250% over past 50 years, but happiness remained the same
· Once personal wealth exceeds $12,000 a year, more money produces virtually no increase in happiness
· The key to more happiness is raising the happiness set-point.
· Happiness is a measurable physiological state
· Discuss the difference between unhappiness and depression.
5. 2nd Quote of the day:
We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.
- His Holiness the Dalai Lama
6. Explain the organization of the following 14 sessions on the following 7 steps, based on the metaphor of building a house.
· Step One: taking responsibility for one’s own happiness
· Step Two: examining our thoughts
· Step Three: examining our feelings
· Step Four: examining our physical state of well-being
· Step Five: examining our spiritual/existential state of well-being
· Step Six: examining our sense of purpose or meaning in life
· Step Seven: examining the quality of our personal relationships
7. Closing and check-out
Session #3 Taking responsibility for happiness, attitude & expansion (a)
Goal: The focus of this session is on how much our attitude in any given moment influences our general mood and how we have some measure of choice on to what we devote our focus.
1. Check-in and possible reflections on previous session
2. 1st Quote of the day:
Most of the shadows of this life are caused by standing in one’s own sunshine.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher
3. Discuss how we sometimes create our own moods, which in turn influence how others treat us. Also discuss our attitudes and choice of focus (glass is half full vs. half empty).
4. Exercise with Expansion versus Contraction:
- Hunch your shoulders, make fists, take short and shallow breaths, put a frown on your face and then think of someone you fear or are angry at. Notice how you feel in your body.
- Now sit up straight, throw your shoulders back, open arms wide, take a deep breath and smile, think of someone you love, admire and enjoy being around. Notice how you feel in your body.
5. Psycho-education & Discussion:
Negative emotions (anger, sadness, fear, jealousy) contract us, making changes in our bodies – our muscles, hormones, blood flow, energy, breathing
Positive emotions expand us and take us in the opposite direction
Movement toward happiness involves creating the habit of focusing on Expansion (carving new neural pathways)
6. Expansion/Contraction perspective in our lives
a) Draw 2 columns on paper with “Expansion” in one and “Contraction” in the other.
b) Think about your life: your job, house, body, relationships, and so on.
c) While considering each item, take a deep breath and feel whether it expands or contracts your energy and list it under the appropriate heading.
d) Review the lists and notice which areas of your life are contributing to your happiness and which are dragging you down.
7. 2nd Quote of the day: Things do not change; we change.
-- Henry David Thoreau, writer/ philosopher
8. Closing and check-out
Session #4 Taking Responsibility for Happiness (b)
Goal: Rather than seeing ourselves as passive players, with happiness coming our way only with a confluence of good events, we now focus on sitting down in driver’s seat and taking ownership of our own happiness. By letting go of taking on the role of the victim, our energy shifts from complaining, blaming, and feeling shame to actively finding solutions and forgiveness.
1. Check-in and possible reflections on previous session
2. Quote of the day:
The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny. – Dr. Albert Ellis, psychologist
3. Discuss the steps toward taking responsibility for one’s own happiness
a) First acknowledging that happiness is possible through a change in one’s habits, rather than waiting for the conditions of life to be exactly right
b) Second is letting go of habits that are standing in one’s way
c) And third, shifting to new habits of thinking, feeling, and acting that serve one better
4. Taking a look at life events
- Whenever possible, we want to arrange events in our lives as we would want to have them.
- But when that isn’t possible, we need to change our response.
- Look at the example of getting stuck in traffic and brainstorm possible reactions.
- Examine other situations in participants’ lives where an attitude shift could be made. (complaining, blaming, feeling shame… contexts that involve contraction, rather than expansion)
5. Psycho-education & Discussion:
Whenever we make an effort to react to life events in an expansive way, creating greater peace and well-being, we’re strengthening our ability to make the same positive choice in the future.
Unhappy people spend a lot of time blaming, complaining, and feeling shame, which robs them of the chance to feel their innate sense of happiness. The key is to get out of “the victim game.”
Complaining and worrying are like a rocking chair; they take up a lot of energy but don’t get you anywhere. A better method would be to applying the same energy toward solving the problem, making use of one’s intelligence and creativity to see the possibilities.
6. Do Solutions Focus Technique exercise on the following page.
7. Discuss forgiveness, not only of others in our lives, but for ourselves as well.
8. Closing and check-out
Solution-Focused Technique Exercise
Write down your answers to the questions below on a separate piece of paper.
1. Think of a situation that you’ve been complaining about. Rate how you feel about it on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is “I’m the least satisfied about the situation” and 10 is “I’m the most satisfied.” ____________
(If you rated your situation a 1, please skip to question 3.)
2. Great, you didn’t score a 1. Write down what you’re doing (as many things as you can think of) that cause you to rate your level of satisfaction at the number your scored and not lower.
3. What would be the first tiny signs that your satisfaction has increased by one point? Think carefully and write down as many things as you can.
4. In light of what you’ve written above, what are the first small steps you could take in the next day (or two) to increase your satisfaction with this situation?
5. Begin to take some of the actions you’ve listed in number 4. Start to notice times when you are a little more satisfied, and build on whatever you’re doing that helps you.
Session #5 Examining Our Thoughts (a)
Goal: The central focus of this session will to examine the concept of automatic negative thoughts and our body’s biological reaction these thoughts. The hope is that group members will gain an appreciation for all the negative thinking that goes on under the radar, so that they can now be more aware of it when it happens, thereby reducing its harmful effects.
1. Check-in and possible reflections on previous session
2. Quote of the day:
The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of Hell, a hell of Heaven
- John Milton, English poet
3. Discuss the negative thoughts that run through our minds. Take a moment for group members to write some of them down and then share some with the rest of the group, whoever is comfortable doing so.
4. Psycho-education & Discussion:
Our minds are made up of thoughts, beliefs, and self-talk
According to scientists, we have about 60,000 thoughts a day, one thought per second during every waking hour.
Of those 60,000 thoughts, 95% are the same thoughts we had yesterday and the day before that. Our minds are like record players playing the same record over and over.
For the average person, 80% of these habitual thoughts are negative. That means that every day, most people have more than 45,000 negative thoughts.
All of these negative thoughts have profoundly toxic physiological effects on us, which can create depression and anxiety, in addition to compromising our immune system.
On the other hand, positive thoughts have a calming, beneficial effect on the brain and the body.
Your thoughts aren’t always true. Don’t believe everything that you think! Realizing that takes away much of the power that these negative thoughts have to create misery.
5. Discuss Cavemen Ugh and his wife
a) They had to pay more attention to potential threats than to positive events to avoid prehistoric dangers, like being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger.
b) Selective attention to negativity is what allowed Mr. and Mrs. Ugh and all of their baby Ughs to survive. If you wanted to live a long life, it was better to react to every single thing that might be life threatening, even if it turned out to be harmless, than to ignore something truly lethal.
c) Through evolution, we’re still hardwired today to pay more attention to negative than to positive experiences. This evolutionary wiring gets in the way of being happy.
d) When we sense any kind of negativity in our environment, whether it’s tension with the boss or a near-accident on the highway, our system floods our brain with the “fight-or-flight” hormone adrenaline, which takes a long time leave our body.
e) Having an overactive alarm system can damage one’s health and significantly lower the happiness set-point, unless we learn to override it.
f) Because of this biological programming, it takes numerous positive experiences to overcome a single negative one. If we receive ten compliments and one insult, which one do we remember? Most would drive themselves crazy, stewing on the insult for hours. Our species has a negativity bias.
g) Fortunately, unlike old dogs, our brains really can learn new tricks.
h) In thinking new, positive thoughts, we are creating new neural pathways, while shrinking the older, negative ones.
i) How do we do this? Don’t believe everything you think!
6. Learning how to be more skeptical of negative thoughts & focusing more on the positive ones.
(This is just a brief introduction here; this topic will be fully covered in session #6.)
· Brief discussion of resulting thoughts from different scenarios
· Looking at automatic thoughts and learning to question them
7. Closing and check-out
Session #6 Examining Our Thoughts (b)
Goal: After having gone over an overview of cognitive therapy theory in the previous session, we are now ready to do exercises around the stories and messages that we tell ourselves in certain scenarios, the underlying beliefs behind such stories, how those beliefs are holding us back, and ultimately how to let them go.
1. Check-in and possible reflections on previous session
2. Quote of the day: There is only one cause of unhappiness; the false beliefs you have in your head, beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them.
- Anthony de Mello, Jesuit priest and psychotherapist
3. Psycho-education & Discussion: Review concepts presented in the previous session.
· When negative events happen to us, we react by creating a story in our head about those events. It’s not actually the events that make us suffer; it’s our story about the events that produce suffering. So when we find ourselves unhappy about something that’s happened, it’s important to question our story to see if it’s true.
· Look at the story and ask yourself: What is my belief behind the pain?
· Once you’ve identified the belief, explore the question if it’s actually true or not.
4. Exercise: The Four Questions, drawn from “The Work” of Byron Katie. Group members need to think of a painful thought or belief and then ask themselves these 4 questions. Go through these steps with members who are willing to share their process with the group.
a) Is it true?
b) Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Can you really know what is best in the long run for your path or another person’s path?)
c) How do you react when you believe that thought? What happens? (How do you treat yourself and others when you believe that thought?)
d) Who would you be without that thought?
e) After asking these 4 questions, members then apply a “turnaround” statement, a sentence expressing the reverse of the original thought or belief, which provides a way of getting a glimpse of the truth of the opposite of what they believe. Then one needs to sit with the “turnaround statement” to see if it is true or truer than the original belief.
5. Look at the parable of a monkey getting trapped. A small hole is drilled in an empty coconut shell, just large enough for the monkey’s hand. Then some rice is put into the coconut for bait, and then tied to a tree. When the monkey sticks his hand inside the coconut to grab the rice, he cannot pull his hand out without letting go of the rice. The monkey is so tenacious about holding onto the bait that it gets trapped. We are equally trapped by our thoughts that we’re not willing to release.
6. Do the Dropping the pen exercise on the following page.
7. Supplemental Exercise (Homework): The Letting Go Process, on the following page.
8. Closing and check-out
Dropping the Pen
First, get a pen
Now hold the pen tightly in your hand.
The pen represents your thoughts and feelings, and your hand is your awareness.
Notice that although gripping the pen is uncomfortable, after a little time it begins to feel familiar or “normal.” In this same way, your awareness holds on tightly to your thoughts and feelings, and eventually you get used to holding on and don’t even realize you’re doing it.
Now open your hand and roll the pen around on your palm. Notice that your pen and your hand are not attached to each other. The same is true of your thoughts and feelings. They are no more attached to you than the pen is attached to your hand. You are not your thoughts or feelings.
Now turn your hand over and let the pen go.
What happened? The pen dropped to the floor.
Was this hard? No, you simply stopped holding on.
That is what it means to let go. (Shimoff, 2008)
The Letting Go Process
Make yourself comfortable and focus inwardly. Your eyes may be open or closed.
Focus on an issue that you would like to feel better about, and then allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling in this moment. This doesn’t have to be a strong feeling. In fact, if you are feeling numb, flat, cutoff, or empty inside, those are feelings that can be let go of just as easily as the more recognizable ones. Just welcome the feeling and allow it to be as fully as you can. (This instruction may seem simplistic, but it needs to be. Most of us live in our thoughts, pictures, and stories about the past and the future, rather than being aware of how we actually feel in this moment. The only time that we can actually do anything about the way we feel is NOW.)
Ask yourself: Could I let this feeling go? This question is merely asking you if it is possible to take this action. “Yes” and “No” are both acceptable answers. You will often let go even if you say “No.” All the questions used in this process are deliberately simple. They are not important in and of themselves but are designed to point you to the experience of letting go.
Ask yourself this simple question: Would I let this go? In other words: Am I willing to let it go? If the answer’s “No,” or if you are not sure, ask yourself: “Would I rather have this feeling, or would I rather be free?” Even if the answer is still “No,” go to the next step.
Ask yourself this simpler question: When? This is an invitation to just let it go NOW. You may find yourself easily letting go. Remember that letting go is a decision you can make any time you choose.
Repeat the preceding steps as often as needed until you feel free of that particular feeling.
NOTE: You will probably find yourself letting go a little more at each step of the process. The results at first may be quite subtle, but if you are persistent, very quickly the results will get more and more noticeable. You may find that you have layers of feelings about a particular topic, so be patient. However, what you let go of is gone for good and you will feel lighter and more peaceful. (Shimoff, 2008)
Session #7 Examining Our Feelings (a)
Goal: The goal here is to segue from the realm of thoughts to those of feelings. In looking at matters of the heart, we explore ways of looking for things out in the world that bring up positive feelings. Then we turn to differentiating between love and fear.
1. Check-in and possible reflections on the previous session
2. Quote of the day: One evening a Cherokee elder told his grandson about the battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between the two ‘wolves’ that live inside us all. One is Unhappiness. It is fear, worry, anger, jealousy, sorrow, self-pity, resentment, and inferiority. The other is Happiness. It is joy, love, hope, serenity, kindness, generosity, truth, and compassion.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one that you feed.”
3. Psycho-education & Discussion: Dichotomy between Love & Fear
· Generate list on the flip chart of most of the major emotions
· Group members then choose the 2 core ones (love & fear)
· Group members create a new page by putting all emotions from first page under either the “Love” (expansion) column or the “Fear” (contraction) column
· By allowing ourselves to be “led by love,” we are putting energy into expansion, which paves the way to greater happiness
4. Focusing on Gratitude: Discuss looking for the positives in life and then the Daily Happiness Awards exercise, at the bottom of this page. We can start this exercise in the group, looking at some “mini-successes” of the day so far, and then group members will try it out in the coming weeks out in the world.
5. Discuss the format and purpose of the daily Gratitude Journal and how each person will spend five to seven minutes at the end of each day writing a few notes on 5 or more things that they appreciated that day. This can be connected with the Daily Happiness Awards.
6. Closing and check-out
Daily Happiness Awards
Throughout the day, look around you with an eye to giving out awards.
Be creative. For example, as you look at flowers, notice the one that could get the “Most Unusual Color” award or find one that’s had the hardest struggle to survive, but made it, and give it the “Best Blossom of the Day” award. Look for extraordinary smiles, efficient service, or ingenious solutions to everyday challenges. There’s no limit to the type or number of awards you can give in a day.
3. Invite other family members or friends to play this award game, and at the end of the day, tell each other the awards you’ve given out. (Shimoff, 2008)
Session #8 Examining Our Feelings (b)
Goal: Here, we continue with our focus on “habits of the heart,” specifically on understanding the importance and practice of gratitude and forgiveness.
1. Check-in and possible brief discussion of participants’ experience with both the Gratitude Journal assignment and the Daily Happiness Awards
2. 1st Quote of the day: If the only prayer you said in your whole life was “Thank you,” that would suffice. - Meister Eckhart, thirteenth-century German theologian
3. Psycho-education & Discussion: Gratitude
· Happy people don’t necessarily have more in their lives to be grateful for; they simply focus more often on gratitude throughout their day. The difference is where they put their attention. Try out the mantra: “Thank you for everything. I have no complaints whatsoever.”
· People who describe themselves as grateful tend to have more vitality and optimism, suffer less stress, and experience less depression. Happiness is not what makes us grateful; it is gratefulness that makes us happy.
· If you want more goodness in your life, rather than focusing your energy on the problems and obstacles, focus your attention on what’s already good, what’s already working. This automatically draws more goodness to you.
· Laughter can help get in touch with gratitude, which in turn increases endorphins, short-circuits negative thoughts and jumpstarts feelings of happiness.
4. Exercise: Continue discussion about the Gratitude Journal assignment and the Daily Happiness Awards. Psychologists say that it takes 21 days to change a habit, whether it’s breaking a negative one or starting a positive one.
5. 2nd Quote of the day:
To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold peace and
happiness. – Robert Muller, former Assistant Secretary-General to the United Nations
6. Psycho-education & Discussion: Forgiveness
· Many think that feeling hatred, anger and resentment toward the person who wronged them is a way to punish them—but it’s exactly the opposite. Holding onto those emotions is like taking poison and expecting it to hurt the other person. It’s you who’s hurt.
· When you forgive, you heal your own anger and hurt and are able to let love lead again.
· Five reasons why it’s so hard to forgive:
We think forgiveness means condoning the wrong behavior.
We think forgiveness means we have to let that person back into our lives.
We think feeling hatred for that person somehow gives us control, power, or strength.
We feel that if we forgive, we might get hurt again.
We want to punish the offender.
· As it turns out, they’re all wrong. Forgiveness isn’t about the person or people being forgiven – it’s a gift you give yourself that allows your heart to stop being contracted. When you forgive, you release the toxic resentment and anger you’re holding in your heart, finally freeing yourself to get on with your life.
· Forgiveness is neither an erasing of what happened nor a free ride for the perpetrator.
· A big obstacle is that our society expects revenge, as a way of honoring our victims, but our chronic hatred becomes a prison of our own making. A failure to forgive – holding hatred in one’s heart – is actually one of the risk factors in heart disease.
· People who go through just the internal process of forgiving their offender have immediate improvement in their cardiovascular, muscular, and nervous system. So one doesn’t even have to tell the other person that they’ve forgiven him or her to reap the benefits.
6. Read Mary’s Story – “Set free” on the following 2 pages. (pages 52 and 53)
7. (Supplemental Exercise) Forgiveness Process – on this page, below
8. Continue with the Gratitude Journal assignment and the Daily Happiness Awards.
9. Closing and check-out
Sit someplace where you will not be disturbed.
Close your eyes and think of someone you are holding anger, hatred, or resentment toward in your heart.
Take a couple of deep breaths and let yourself feel your feelings without having to do anything about them. Just notice them.
Now, realize that the person’s hurtful action can’t be changed. It’s in the past and there is absolutely nothing that can be done to affect it now. Feel the finality of that.
Also realize that this person may never change. They are the way they are. Take a few deep breaths as you accept the truth of that.
Now, see that the person is the way they are – and did whatever they did – because they have some pain, some lack, some woundedness. They may not even realize it themselves, but it’s there. People hurt others only because they are hurt themselves. See them through the eyes of compassion for their own suffering. Imagine they are a child that is hurting, lashing out at others in their own pain. Can you feel compassion for them?
Sit quietly for a minute or two more, just feeling the expansion that compassion – in any amount – brings to the heart.
NOTE: It’s okay if one still feels angry; the purpose of this exercise is to begin to release the pain in one’s heart, not to excuse others for their actions. Keep repeating this exercise until one feels a shift, however small, in their heart. Forgiveness will grow as one feels more compassion.
Mary’s Story – “Set Free”
For years, my life was not what you’d call easy. Forced to stand up for myself on many occasions, including going through a divorce, I’d learned to be quite a scrapper. The truth is I found myself upset at people and situations – a lot. Unfortunately, this created a great deal of resentment and desire for revenge.
Then, one night in 1996, something happened that made all my previous upsets put together seem trivial in comparison. I woke up to the sound of the phone ringing at 3:00 in the morning. Filled with dread, I picked it up. It was my oldest son, Jay, telling me that my youngest son, eighteen-year-old Robbie, had been shot. “Mom, he’s dead.”
In that moment, I thought my life was over. The pain of losing Robbie was overwhelming. I wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out. But I knew I had to hold myself together for my other children, and to deal with the police, so I put my emotions on hold.
Shawn, the young man who had killed my son, was arrested and charged with murder. Shawn had known Robbie and shot him while the two had been arguing. He pleaded guilty, so there would be no trial, just a hearing at which the plea bargain would be arranged and his sentence handed down. I’d have to wait three long months for that hearing to arrive. I wasn’t allowed to see or speak to Shawn throughout that time, which was probably wise – with my despair and fury at a boiling point, if I could’ve gotten my hands around his neck, I would have strangled him. This was my baby he’d shot!
The day of the hearing finally arrived, and I got my first glimpse of Shawn. As they led him into the dimly lit courtroom, he kept his eyes on the floor. Shadows masked his face, distorting his features and giving him a dark, sullen appearance. I felt a wave of white-hot anger shoot through me. Why had he done it? Shaking with emotion, I decided not to take the stand, but I made it clear to the judge that I wanted to speak to Shawn after the hearing was over.
Since Shawn had pleaded guilty, the verdict was no surprise and neither was the sentence: twenty to forty years in a state penitentiary. As the judge had promised, he summoned me to his chambers to meet with Shawn. I followed the bailiff down the hall, my heart beating faster with each step as I prepared to meet the young man who had taken my son’s life. I’d waited a long time for the opportunity to let Shawn know how I felt about what he had done. Now, filled with rage and hatred, I had no idea what I was going to say, but I knew I wanted to let him have it.
I was frisked and led into a small, paneled office. Shawn stood trembling in the corner with his hands and feet shackled, wearing a baggy orange prison jumpsuit. His head was down, and although he was twenty years old, he was crying like a baby, sobbing his heart out. As I watched this boy, so forlorn – no parents, no friends, and no support – all I saw was another mother’s son.
I asked the bailiff if I could approach Shawn. At this, Shawn looked up, revealing a childlike face stained with tears. Suddenly I found myself asking, “Can I give you a hug, Shawn?” He nodded his consent. The bailiff motioned me toward the prisoner, and I walked over to Shawn and put my arms around him. He just melted into my shoulder. It was the first compassion he’d had from anybody for a long, long time. As I stood there holding him, I felt my anger and hatred fall away.
Still, what came out of my mouth next surprised everyone, including me: “Shawn, I forgive you for this horrible thing you’ve done.” Our eyes connected for a few moments. “I would rather my Robbie be where he is than be going to prison. I will pray for you every day.” I asked Shawn to keep in touch with me, and then the bailiff escorted me from the room.
Soon after that, Shawn left for prison to begin serving his time. I felt little satisfaction at this. Robbie was gone and no sentence could bring him back, yet here was another boy whose life was destroyed. Both his parents said they wanted nothing to do with him, so Shawn and I began corresponding. And for the first five years of his sentence, I was his only visitor. Five years ago, Shawn was transferred to a different prison, and the warden there does not allow victim’s families to visit, but we still write often.
Some people don’t understand how I can do it, but I’ve learned that forgiving doesn’t mean condoning. I believe the compassion I felt in the judge’s chambers that day was a gift from God. I know I could not have healed the deep, dark places of hatred and revenge, embedded within my heart and soul, had I not forgiven my son’s murderer. Forgiveness set me free. It gave me the peace that I needed to get on with my life and eventually come to terms with Robbie’s death. (Shimoff, 2008)
Session #9 Examining Our Feelings & Physical State of Well-being (a)
Goal: Here, we continue with our focus on “habits of the heart,” specifically on understanding the importance and practice of spreading loving-kindness. From there, we segue into looking at our bodies and how physical well-being is connected to happiness.
1. Check-in and possible brief discussion of participants’ experience with both the Gratitude Journal assignment and the Daily Happiness Awards
2. Quote of the day: Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves. - J.M. Barrie, nineteenth-century Scottish novelist
3. Discuss smiling at strangers, the impact it has on them and the impact it has on you. What’s happening when you smile at others? What is it that you’re offering them?
4. Read the short story “In the Grocery Checkout Line” on the following pages and discuss.
5. Psycho-education & Discussion: Spreading Loving-kindness
· Try to give to others without any sense of ego, wanting something in return. Let it be 100% about them, rather than waiting to get something back in return.
· Give what you feel comfortable giving; in some cases, a simple smile can be a gift that can transform someone’s day.
· In some situations, you can give to others without them even knowing it. Watch how these acts of random kindness affect how you feel about yourself.
6. Segue from happy thoughts and feelings to a happy body. Brainstorm the connection between
physical well-being and emotional well-being on the flipchart. Start the process of looking at
strategies for improving physical health.
7. Continue with the Gratitude Journal assignment and the Daily Happiness Awards.
8. Closing and check-out
“In the Grocery Checkout Line”
One day I was waiting in the grocery checkout line, when a woman came up behind me who was clearly having a bad day. Harassed and harried, she seemed irritated at everybody. Her cart was full to the brim and it was clear she wanted to get through the line as quickly as possible.
Normally, I would have tried to stay away from her bad vibes and negative energy. In fact, my first thought was, Look at how nasty she’s being. I don’t want to have anything to do with her. Then I remembered my teacher’s advice. Okay, I thought, she’s really having a tough day today. I know how that feels. Let me think about her happiness. What would help make her happier? I turned to her and said, “It looks like you’re in a hurry.” Startled by my overture, she said tersely, “Yes, I am. I’m running late.” I said, “Why don’t you go in front of me?” Looking at the few items in my scooter’s cart, she quickly shook her head. “No, no, that’s okay.” But I said, “Really, I’m not in a hurry. Go ahead.”
The transformation was amazing. She went from being this angry person who radiated negativity and was probably going to chew out the clerk at the cash register to someone who felt validated, cared for, and appreciated. She steered her cart in front of mine, thanking me profusely, thanking the clerk, and when her groceries were all bagged up and ready to go, she left the store smiling.
I felt fabulous. Looking around, I noticed that everyone around me was smiling and friendly and talking to each other. “That was a nice thing to do.” “Hope you have a great day today.” We had all been affected by the interaction. (Shimoff, 2008)
Session #10 Examining Our Physical State of Well-being (b)
Goal: Here, we continue with our focus on how physical well-being is connected to happiness.
1. Check-in and possible brief discussion of participants’ experience with both the Gratitude Journal assignment and the Daily Happiness Awards
2. Quote of the day: Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.
- Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, eighteenth-century French writer and epicure
3. Psycho-education & Discussion: Physical well-being
· Our brains contain an entire pharmacy of natural happiness-enhancing drugs: endorphins (the brain’s painkiller, 3 times stronger than morphine), serotonin (calms anxiety and relieves depression), and dopamine (promotes alertness and a feeling of enjoyment), among others.
· Because your brain’s pharmacy is open 24 hours a day, you can create your own supply of these happiness chemicals whenever you want.
· When your cells are happy, you’re happy
· As your thoughts and feelings affect your happiness set-point, so too does the way you eat, move, breath, and rest.
· Note the difference again between regular unhappiness and clinical depression, as well as the physical and genetic side of depression, which usually needs to be treated professionally.
· Scientific evidence shows that over 90% of all diseases are stress-related. We ignore the symptoms of stress with the use of food, drugs, sugar, caffeine, and distraction.
4. Brainstorm the various ways that we can reduce stress up on the flipchart, making sure to also address the subtle physiological difference between smiling, laughing, and frowning. (Numerous studies show that laughter reduces stress hormones and increases happiness hormones.)
5. Further Psycho-education & Discussion: Physical well-being
· Happy people are 35% less likely to get a cold and produce 50% more antibodies in response to flu vaccines than the average person.
· Individuals who score high on happiness and optimism scales have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and infections.
· People who maintain a sense of humor, an indication of inner happiness, outlive those who don’t, and the survival edge is particularly large for people with cancer. One study showed that a sense of humor cut a cancer patient’s chance of premature death by about 70%.
· It’s a positive feedback loop; improving one will automatically improve the other.
· Imagine feeling the same tenderness and concern for your body that you’d feel for a baby or a beloved pet in your care. That is what needs to be developed if you are to improve the physical piece of the quest for gaining a greater measure of happiness.
6. Brainstorm the various ways that we can improve our general physical health up on the flipchart. Once general categories are established (fluids/diet, exercise, rest, laughter/fun), go into further detail within each category. Tune into your body’s wisdom, constantly asking it what it really wants and needs.
7. Continue with the Gratitude Journal assignment and the Daily Happiness Awards.
8. Closing and check-out
Session #11 Examining Our Spiritual/Existential State of Well-being (a)
Goal: Here we examine the role of spirituality in our lives and its relationship with happiness.
2. Describe my experience of walking through the Koya-san cemetery (in Japan) in the snow. Ask group members to reflect on a spiritual experience/event in their past, and then to share it with a partner. Following the brief pair discussion, everyone comes together to discuss what was so special about these experiences/places that they hold in our lives.
3. 1st Quote of the day: There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. - Albert Einstein
4. Psycho-education & Discussion: Gratitude
· Regardless of what we call it – Spirit, Higher Power, Creative Intelligence, Nature, or God – we’re talking about the same thing. Feeling connected with Spirit is the experience of being connected to energy bigger then ourselves. The more deeply we experience that connection, the richer and more joyful our lives feel.
· Many people who describe having a spiritual component in their lives report having feelings of reverence, wonder, and gratitude for the gift of being alive.
· In having such a connection, they don’t always feel the need to figure everything out or to always be in control; they feel more comfortable having some faith that things will work out.
· Studies show that people who have a spiritual dimension in their lives – defined not as an affiliation with an organized religion, but an internal sense of the spiritual meaning in life – are happier than those who don’t: they have happier relationships, are more effective parents, and in general feel better to cope with whatever happens to them in life. Young people who consider themselves spiritual have higher grades and are less inclined to drink or do drugs.
· Spirituality is good for your body as well. It’s been found to improve blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, and reduce the rates of stroke, cancer, and the heart disease.
5. Exercise: What’s keeping us from feeling more connected with our “Higher Power?” (a hectic pace of life and a focus on material gain and accomplishment) List all the distractions up on the flipchart. What is it in our lifestyle that needs to change if we want to gain a greater sense of inner-peace? (time-outs from our busy lives and a willingness to be quiet) (In that silence, one can both listen and speak to one’s Higher Power, which cultivates a greater sense of acceptance and trust.)
6. 2nd Quote of the day: God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass –
grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls. – Mother Teresa
7. What are some basic ways that one can cultivate a connection to a Higher Power? List them up on the flipchart. (meditation, walks in nature, sitting in silence, listening to inspiring music, prayer) The approach doesn’t matter, so long as it works and that person does it regularly.
8. Continue with the Gratitude Journal assignment and the Daily Happiness Awards.
9. Closing and check-out
Session #12 Examining Our Spiritual/Existential State of Well-being (b)
Goal: Here we continue to examine the role of spirituality in our lives and its relationship with happiness, with a specific focus on meditation.
2. Guided imagery meditation – becoming sensitive to our bodies, our breathing, and the spirit running underneath.
3. 1st Quote of the day: To make the right choices in life, you have to get in touch with your soul. To do this, you need to experience solitude… because in the silence you hear the truth and know the solutions. - Deepak Chopra, MD, physician, author, and speaker
4. Psycho-education & Discussion: Meditation
· Hundreds of studies have been done over the past 40 years showing the powerful effects of meditation on our bodies, minds, and emotions.
· Meditation offers many benefits, including a lowering of blood pressure, decreased anxiety, and improved immune functioning. It’s become an accepted form of stress management across the globe.
· While it may help with reducing stress, it also activates areas of the brain that are associated with happiness and compassion.
· Studies show that people who have been meditating for only 3 months, 20-30 minutes a day, experienced significant physiological changes, reflecting greater happiness and health.
5. Discussion of different forms of meditation and meditative practices, including walks in nature and the “pause practice,” which can be done 6-7 times a day.
6. 2nd Quote of the day: The winds of grace are always blowing, but you have to raise the sail. – Sri Ramakrishna, nineteenth-century Indian saint
7. Psycho-education & Discussion: Prayer
· Like meditation, prayer can take many different forms. When facing difficulty, one can pray for comfort, guidance, and healing, either for ourselves or for those we love.
· At other times, we’re moved to offer prayers of gratitude for what is beautiful and appreciated in our lives.
· What is important is not so much the content of the prayer itself, as the activity, which plugs us into a greater connection with our Spirit.
· Many studies show that praying has a significant impact on happiness, with thousands reporting that it increases their sense of well-being, life satisfaction, and general happiness.
8. Discuss the act of journaling or stream-of-consciousness writing without any censoring, as a meditative practice of looking inward for answers.
9. Continue with the Gratitude Journal assignment and the Daily Happiness Awards.
10. Closing and check-out
Session #13 Finding Meaning & Purpose (a)
Goal: Here we start the process of understanding meaning and purpose in one’s life and what that might mean for each of us in the group.
2. Start with a discussion of “having meaning/purpose in one’s life,” followed by a guided imagery meditation – looking into our imagination for images of our ideal work, what it looks and feels like.
3. Quote of the day: Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful. - Albert Schweitzer, physician/humanitarian
4. Psycho-education & Discussion: Finding meaning & purpose
· Contrary to popular opinion, one’s purpose in life doesn’t necessarily have to be a job or a profession; it is a dedication to doing what is meaningful to each of us.
· Part of finding that meaning involves having goals that emulate core values that you’re working for, that also happen to put a smile on our face.
· Health and longevity studies show that when people live with some sense of purpose, they tend to live longer and healthier lives.
· Only 20% of Americans are passionate about their work, meaning that four out of five people are not inspired by what they do, living pretty much for the weekends. It is an interesting coincidence that a majority of heart attacks occur on Monday mornings.
5. Discussion of the relationship between happiness and our work; is one dependant on the other? What happens if we lose our job or after retirement? Question: Is it the activities in our lives that give us that feeling of purpose or is it the perspective that we bring to those activities? What do you make of the cliché, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade!”
6. Finding your passion: Close your eyes, slow down, take a few deep breaths and allow yourself to really sit with the following questions.
What am I passionate about?
What do I love to do?
What truly matters to me?
The answers to these questions will take the form of a collage, which you will present to your fellow group members in the next group meeting.
7. Read the story of the retired dentist below.
8. Revisit the nature of the collage assignment, with the focus on the above 3 questions. The task should take less than an hour to complete and come from the heart, rather than from your head.
9. Closing and check-out
The Retired Dentist
I learned about doing what you love and loving what you do from my father. Dad absolutely loved being a dentist. He retired at age seventy-two, reluctantly. He wanted to find a new outlet for his talents, so he analyzed what he loved about dentistry. He realized it wasn’t about putting fillings in people’s mouths – it was that he loved working in intricate ways with his hands, in ways he felt were artistic.
So, at age seventy-two, Dad took up needlepoint – and loved it. He became a master needlepoint artist, winning awards throughout California. I remember going home one day for a visit when he was about eighty-five. He’d just begun the biggest and most intricate needlepoint project I’ve ever seen, a detailed depiction of the Tree of Life.
I asked him, “Dad, how long is this going to take you to finish?” And he said, “Honey, I figure at the pace I’m going, it’s going to take me about four years.”
Imagine, an eighty-five-year old man beginning a four-year project – but his passion for expressing his artistry gave him a strong sense of purpose. And did he complete that project? You bet he did! It was his greatest work of all. Today, it hangs proudly on the wall of my mother’s living room in the same house that my parents shared for fifty-three years. My dad taught me that feeling a sense of purpose allows you to bring joy to whatever it is you’re doing.
Session #14 Finding Meaning & Purpose (b)
Goal: Here we continue with the process of finding meaning and purpose, as well as inspiration in life and what it might mean for each of us in the group.
1. Check-in and discussion of the process of creating the collage assignment
2. First, revisit the three questions (in session #13) that served as the inspiration for the collage assignment this week. Examine one another’s collages with each person describing the various elements s/he chose to include in it and why. Discuss visual themes and patterns in the works.
3. Discuss concept of “Flow,” when one gets lost in an activity for countless hours, even if it’s not necessary and you’re not getting paid for it. Allow some time for each person to think of 1 or 2 instances where they experience flow and then share that with the group, and how these 1 or 2 places in our lives may serve as a springboard for finding more direction in where we want to go
4. Do the Identifying Your Passions exercise on the following page and then work with a partner on defining a few things that you want in your life, as well as behaviors that you want to change.
5. Quote of the day: There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why. – William Barclay, twentieth-century Scottish theologian
6. Psycho-education & Discussion: Finding meaning & purpose
· When you have a clearer sense of your passions, that spark can move you forward toward action. You know what you want to do with your life, but you don’t know how it’s going to happen. Inspiration is what will help you find the how.
· Inspiration doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to do what is easy and fun. In some cases it may give the motivation and courage to do things that are challenging and important in exploring how you’re going to fulfill your purpose. It’s much easier to take risks when you’re acting from an inner sense of purpose, rather than doing it out of obligation or to get someone else’s approval.
· “You can absolutely trust that inspiration will carry you from one step to another. In the film The Secret, Jack Canfield talks about the experience of traveling in a car at night, the road lit only 200 feet in front of you by the car’s headlights. He says that even though you can’t see your destination, the lit portion ahead is all you need to stay on the road and get where you’re headed. In life, the fire of your inspiration acts as those headlights, allowing you to see what’s next. Your job is to follow that light.” (Shimoff, 2008)
· You may feel that you have a gift or some passion but don’t yet know how that passion will express itself in your life. If you keep your sights on the lighted road, some opportunity is bound to present itself at some point.
7. Continue with the Gratitude Journal assignment and the Daily Happiness Awards.
8. Closing and check-out
Identifying Your Passions
On a piece of paper list at least ten things that will make your life and your work ideal. Complete the sentence, “When my life is ideal, I am _____________.” For example, “When my life is ideal, I am inspiring others with my love of writing” or “I am feeling healthy, fit, and energetic” or “I am enjoying healthy relationships with my friends and family.”
If you’re stuck, think of things you absolutely don’t want to have in your life, then turn them around. For example, if you feel, “When my life is ideal, I will never be around people who lie, cheat, or steal,” turn it around to “When my life is ideal, I will always be surrounded by people who are honest, have the highest integrity, and love to give.”
2. Now, think of four people you know who are not passionate about what they’re doing in their lives. What do they talk about? Where is their attention focused? How do they treat the people they spend time with? List at least five behaviors you notice in these people. Do you see any of these behaviors in yourself? Can you see how any of these behaviors might sabotage your ability to live a purposeful life?
3. List five things you can do in the coming week(s) to start changing these behaviors and begin aligning your life with the things you wrote down in Step 1 so you can live the passionate, purposeful life you deserve. (Attwood & Attwood, 2007)
Session #15 Examining Our Relationships (a)
Goal: The focus here is on the power of relationships in affecting our mood.
2. Revisit the metaphor of building a house, broken down into seven steps. The foundation is based on the need to first take responsibility for one’s own happiness, rather than looking for it in material gain or in the arms of another. The four walls consist of understanding one’s feelings, thoughts, bodily needs, and existential or spiritual needs. Finding meaning or purpose in one’s life comprises the “roof.” And finally, in the “garden” of this new home, attention is given to the quality and importance of personal relationships. Here we look at tending to ones relationships as one would tend one’s flowers, watering, weeding and fertilizing them on a regular basis.
3. Ask participants if they have ever had the experience of walking down the street and wondered why so many people seem to be looking at them in an interested, friendly way, differently from other days. Examine those stories and discuss what might be creating such a situation.
4. Quote of the day: Whoever is happy will make others happy, too.
– Mark Twain, writer and humorist
5. Psycho-education & Discussion: Relationships
· Studies in the field of positive psychology show that those who score highest on the happiness scales also have close trusting friendships.
· Having friendships doesn’t necessarily mean that people depend on their friends to make them happy. Ideally, people enjoy spending time with their friends and family, but also enjoy spending time alone.
· The key is that we bring our happiness with us to our friendships rather than trying to get happiness from them.
· Our brains are actually wired to relate to others. We have “mirror neurons” that react to those around us. Notice how one person yawning sets off a whole chain reaction of others yawning in the room. This is also connected to our ability to empathize with others, to “feel” their pain or their anger.
· Emotions are contagious, whether they’re positive or negative. Research shows that the more connected we are with someone emotionally, the stronger the influence that they have on us.
· For many of us, our happiness is affected by the energy of the people around us. When we surround ourselves with relationships that support us, our energy expands. When we have a lot of toxic people in our lives, our energy contracts. Here is why we need to tend to our “gardens,” by weeding out hurtful relationships, watering and fertilizing the nourishing ones, and planting new, promising ones.
· Of course, the happier we are inside, the less negatively we may be affected by outside elements, but even the happiest of people limit their negative interactions with others as much as is possible.
6. Brainstorm up on the flipchart personality qualities of people we want to be with and those who we want to avoid (complainers, discouragers, those whose criticism aims to wound, those who are self-absorbed, fearful, judgmental, and manipulative).
7. Discuss strategies for fine-tuning our “inner GPS” for tracking those who are more uplifting versus those who are more toxic. Do a mindfulness exercise by imagining certain people in our lives and noticing how we feel in our bodies when we’re with those people, how we feel when they’re talking to us or when we’re in each other’s company.
8. It isn’t always possible to stop spending time with some negative people in our lives; we may have to work with them or they may be members of our family. How can we manage these relationships, trying to train them how to treat us, while also protecting ourselves from being hurt? Brainstorm the possibilities, making sure to cover the following points:
a) Break the chain reaction: Make use of those “mirror neurons” to your advantage. When dealing with someone in a negative mood, soften your gaze, making an effort to keep your expression neutral and be mindful to not mirror the other person’s body language. By avoiding any mirroring of their behavior, you will be better able to resist taking on their negative mood, as well as escalating any tension between the two of you.
b) Put up an invisible barrier: When you’re in a situation where you cannot leave, imagine building a wall or shield around yourself. This will provide some measure of emotional protection and soften your reactions to the other person’s behavior.
c) Stay on your side of the road: Be careful about avoiding the impulse to try and change the other person, tempting though it may be. Pointing out the “error of their ways” may just heat things up further. The best course of action is to model the kind of behavior that you’d like to see in them.
9. Continue with the Gratitude Journal assignment and the Daily Happiness Awards. Also, reflect back on the work done in the past 15 sessions. In the final session, we will discuss any changes in attitude and life circumstances, as well as things that you’ve learned.
10. Closing and check-out.
Session #16 Examining Our Relationships (b)
Goal: In this final session, we finish up work on relationships, reflect on the daily homework assignments, as well as all the other topics covered, and their possible impact.
1. Check-in and possible brief discussion of participants’ experience with both the Gratitude Journal assignment and the Daily Happiness Awards. In this last session, we’ll look back at the past 9 weeks of doing these daily exercises and reflect on how it has affected the participants, if at all. Ask what the term “gratitude” and “appreciation” mean to them after having spent so much time and effort turning their attention to these feelings.
2. Psycho-education & Discussion: Appreciation for your relationships
· One of the best ways to nurture our successful relationships is to express our appreciation, which reinforces positive behavior and deepens the connection.
· The need to be appreciated is a basic human need. 40% of employees leave their job not because of low pay or an excessive workload, but because they don’t feel appreciated.
· Many of us take our friendships for granted.
· Discuss Gottman’s couple’s theory that successful relationships generally have a ratio of five positive interactions for every one negative one.
· Whenever we are acknowledged, dopamine is released, flooding our system with a neurochemical that is directly linked to being happy.
3. Break into pairs. Each person tells his partner 2-3 things he appreciates about his partner. For example, “You’re kind.” “I feel supported by you.” “You make me laugh.” Switch roles. If the pair wants to, they can do another set of rounds.
4. In the same pairs as before, repeat the exercise, except this time, each person expresses one thing that he appreciates about himself. Switch. Continue switching until each partner has run out of things that he appreciates about himself.
5. Brainstorm other ways of getting support when we feel that we’re not getting as much as we may need from our friends and family. (joining or forming a group that meets regularly) Discuss the various types of focus and support groups available.
6. Marci Shimoff describes a person who created her own “unique support group, which includes Albert Einstein, Helen Keller, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Goethe, Abraham Lincoln, Lao-Tzu, and many more great men and women of the past and present. Nancy has collected their quotes and posted them around her home and office, some displayed in frames, others written on notes stuck on mirrors, next to her computer, her phone, and the kitchen sink. Everywhere she turns, Nancy has inspiring reminders 24/7 from her personal Dream Team, proving that support doesn’t have to be limited by time and space.”
7. Participants take the Happy for No Reason Questionnaire (see Appendix 3)
8. As this is our final session, allow extra time for this closing and check-out, focusing on appreciation for what the other group participants have contributed to the group and how it may have affected each person’s experience. Also opening the floor for participants to share what lessons, exercises, and goals they’ve gleaned from the group and what they intend to do with it.
So what it happiness? We can start off by examining what it is not. Research in positive psychology indicates that material wealth, education, physical health, and social standing all have little bearing on one’s measure of well-being. Three major external events that do have a significant impact on one’s long term level of happiness is the loss of a longtime companion, the loss of a career in which one was deeply invested, and the burden of severe poverty. One factor that influences one’s capacity to experience a measure of well-being is having the resource of resilience, or the ability to weather hardships in life. Another factor is when people are able to experience the state of flow in their lives, in which they loose track of everything other than the tasks on which they are focused. When people have such tasks in which they can invest their energy and creativity, it gives them a sense of purpose and meaning, essential ingredients for gaining a greater degree of happiness. Half of what determines our “happiness set-point,” according to the current studies, is genetic in nature. But that other half is the piece of the equation that can be changed. Here is where we segue into the second half of the thesis and examine possible steps toward increasing the degree of happiness in our lives, in the context of a 16-week process group.
There is no single silver bullet method for achieving a greater measure of happiness. The path resembles more the construction of a dream home. If one is to create a structure that is both safe and aesthetically pleasing to the eye, great care must be taken in each of the steps in building it. These steps include examining our attitudes toward happiness and learning to take ownership of our quest to find more of it; this step serves as the foundation on which our new home is built. The construction of the four walls of this house involve four individual steps; the first is to look at our chronic negative thoughts and to learn how to be more skeptical of them and then to focus on more positive ones. The second is to explore and cultivate our positive feelings of gratitude both for ourselves and for the world in which we live. Part of opening our hearts to the positive in our lives involves letting go of our anger; to do this, we must face those who have wronged us in the past and start the process of forgiving them. One other piece of this second “wall,” related to positive feelings, is how giving to others without any expectation of anything in return can actually fill one’s heart. The third “wall” is related to taking care of our bodies. There is a very clear relation between our body’s chemistry and our experience of happiness. Improving our diet, getting more rest, and exercising more can be significant in gaining a greater sense of well-being. Exploring how we satisfy our spiritual needs comprises the step in building that fourth and final wall. This could involve meditation, appreciating walks out in nature, or simply allowing oneself periodic pauses from a harried schedule, taking a few deep breaths, and checking in with one’s feeling and the surrounding environment. In constructing a good solid roof, finding meaning and purpose in one’s life is addressed. Finding what it is that we’re passionate about may or may not be connected with our job. The key is to look inside to see what creates that spark and then to take the risk of moving in the direction of stoking that fire.
Finally, with the completion of the construction of our dream home, our focus then moves on to creating a magnificent “garden,” in which we plant the seeds for rewarding relationships that support our happiness. Just like flowers, we have to nurture these relationships, watering and fertilizing them regularly. And sometimes we need to do some weeding when we realize that some friendships are hurting us. In some situations, we have to deal with people who are quite negative. There are some helpful strategies for dealing with such people, improving the quality of interactions with them, and not taking on their negative energy.
But most importantly, learning to appreciate what is already nourishing and positive in our lives, both inside and outside, is probably one of the most valuable steps in making our way toward gaining a greater measure of happiness. And with that gratitude for what feeds us, we can continue along that path of recognizing and gravitating toward those things and people that are good for our soul, rather than indulging in old, self-destructive patterns.
Classification of 6 Virtues and 24 Character Strengths (Peterson & Seligman, 2004)
Virtue and Strength
1. Wisdom & knowledge
Love of learning
Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge
Thinking of novel and productive ways to do things
Taking an interest in all of ongoing experience
Thinking things through and examining them from all sides
Mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge
Being able to provide wise counsel to others
Emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal
Speaking the truth and presenting oneself in a genuine way
Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain
Finishing what one starts
Approaching life with excitement and energy
Interpersonal strengths that involve “tending & befriending” others
Doing favors and good deeds for others
Valuing close relations with others
Being aware of the motives and feelings of self and others
Civic strengths that underlie healthy community life
Treating all people the same according to notions of fairness/justice
Organizing group activities and seeing that they happen
Working well as member of a group team
Strengths that protect against excess
Forgiving those who have done wrong
Letting one’s accomplishments speak for themselves
Being careful about one’s choices; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted
Regulating what one feels and does
Appreciation of beauty and excellence
Strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning
Noticing and appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life
Being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen
Expecting the best and working to achieve it
Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people
Having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of life
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