The Pursuit of Happiness by Dr. Mike Olson

Portrait of FamilyAs a licensed marriage and family therapist, I was trained to assess, diagnose and treat mental and emotional illnesses in individuals, as well as relational patterns/problems in couples and families. The standard reference for classifying diseases (nosology) is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-V)(1). This manual provides a standard system for naming and categorizing (nomenclature) mental and emotional illnesses.
Competence to make sense of complex physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms in a manner that can lead to successful treatment is of paramount importance in healthcare. There is, by necessity, a place for the deductive and circular reasoning that guides professionals in helping clients.
This approach, while critical to the formation of an accurate clinical picture, is insufficient. What do I miss when I only wear the glasses of pathogenesis and psychopathology? I may miss some of the key factors that can lead to health, wellness, and ultimately, happiness. The term “salutogenesis” is a term coined by Aaron Antonovsky, a professor of medical sociology. He used this term to describe an approach that focused on factors that support human health and well-being, rather than on factors that cause disease. He also argued against falsely dichotomizing or separating health from illness but rather thought of this as a continuum (2). Antonovsky pointed that more than just disease and illness need to be considered in our scientific approaches to help others. The pursuit of happiness is a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S. An article published by Forbes revealed that Americans spent 11 billion dollars on self-improvement books, CDs, seminars, coaching, and stress management programs in 2008, alone, a 13.6% increase from 3 years previous. We are clearly looking for happiness in a lot of places, but is there a science to uncovering it? A branch of psychology, called “positive psychology,” is beginning to shed light on this question. In a “Psychology Today” post by Christopher Peterson, Ph.D., he states “positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living. It is a call for psychological science to be as concerned with strength as with weakness; as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst; and as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling as with healing pathology.”(4) Positive psychology, he points out, is not to be confused with untested self-help, footless affirmation, or secular religion, no matter how good these make us feel. Peterson cites a few of the findings from positive psychology science, which include:
1. Most people are happy.
2. Happiness is a cause of good things in life and not simply along for the happy ride. People who are satisfied with life eventually have even more reasons to be satisfied.
3. Most people are resilient.
4. Happiness, strengths of character, and good social relationships are buffers against the damaging effects of disappointments and setbacks.
5. Crisis reveals character.
6. Other people matter mightily if we want to understand what makes life most worth living.
7. Religion matters.
8. Work matters if it engages the worker and provides meaning and purpose.
9. Money makes an ever-diminishing contribution to well-being, but money can “buy happiness” if it is spent on other people.
10. As a route to a satisfying life, eudaimonia (Greek origin, referring to a state of having a good indwelling spirit or being in a contented state of being healthy, happy and prosperous) trumps hedonism.
11. The “heart” matters more than the “head.” Schools explicitly teach critical thinking; they should also teach unconditional caring.
12. Good days have common features: feeling autonomous, competent, and connected to others.
13. The good life can be taught.
Attractive couple portrait.This last point speaks to the reality that one can learn to be happy and it is not simply, as Peterson put it, “the result of a fortunate spin of the genetic roulette wheel.” A physician colleague of mine often starts his conversations with his patients with a simple question, “What do you want your health for?” or “What gives your life meaning or purpose?” What a brilliant and simple way to change a focus in a system that often starts with “What seems to be the problem?” I’ve thought about practical ways to introduce this into my own life and family. An easy starting point for me was asking my children, “What was the best or most meaningful part of your day today?” This doesn’t mean we don’t talk about issues/problems that have come up and work to develop solutions for them; it just means I intentionally shift our focus to the good, the resourcefulness, the beauty, and the strength that lies within each of us and those around us.
References:
(1) http://www.psychiatry.org/practice/dsm.
(2) Antonovsky, A. “Health, Stress and Coping” San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1979.
(3) http://www.forbes.com/2009/01/15/self-help-industry-ent-sales-cx_ml_0115selfhelp.html.
(4) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-good-life/200805/what-is-positive-psychology-and-what-is-it-not.

michael3About the Author: Dr. Michel Olson is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He is the clinical director of both WholeFit and the Centers for Couples and Families in TX. He earned a doctorate degree from Kansas State University and completed a post-doctoral fellowship in Behavioral Medicine at UTMB, Galveston

Literacy: Raising Strong Readers by Audrey Cornelius

readLiteracy. How can I raise my child to be a strong reader? I walk into the living room to find my six year old daughter snuggled up with her normally rambunctious four year old brother on the couch. She is reading her latest treasure from the library and her brother is completely absorbed by the story.

I know that the gift of literacy to my children is a gift of freedom and potential for their futures. So, how did we get to this moment? Did I higher personal reading tutors or lock my children in their rooms with a dictionary and an order not to come out until they could spell every word? No, that would be crazy! Instead I followed some easy, research driven guidelines set out by the Association for Library Services to Children and the Public Library Association. These are some easy ways to promote literacy in your home and give your child a gift that will last a lifetime:

Read to your child, even if you don’t think he is listening. I’ve done my fair share of reading to a dancing, train playing audience. You may not think they are getting anything out of it, but they are. One day they’ll sit through a whole book and you’ll be so glad you stuck with it.

read2Talk to your child a lot, and make sure you use big words. A strong vocabulary is linked to good comprehension skills. Small children can learn big words and they love using them. My four year old son loves to tell me how “hilarious” his preschool friends can be.

Sing to your child. This builds rhythm, pattern, and sound recognition. Besides, sometimes it feels good to belt out “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and end with a good tick session.

Give your child lots of opportunities to draw and write. Paper and crayons are cheep toys so let them exercise their fine motor skills and their imaginations.

Play with your child. This gives you and your child a chance to bond and build positive feelings while at the same time letting them experiment with story and narrative skills. After all, a super hero has to discover her powers first before she can defeat the bad guy and then save the day.

By following these easy guidelines you can build a home of literacy and learning, while building some happy family memories in the process.

audreyAbout the Author: Audrey Cornelius graduated from Brigham Young University with a BA in English. In 2013 she received a Master’s degree in Library Science from Texas Woman’s University. She is passionate about children’s literacy issues.

Fun and Play by Dr. Jeremy Boden, LMFT, CFLE

When was the last time you and your partner really had fun together? When was the last time you were truly playing together?

Family in PoolWhen working with couples at the Center for Couples and Families, one of the most consistent questions I ask to evaluate the current vitality of their relationship is about their level of fun and play. I’ve found in both my therapeutic and educational settings that couples overwhelmingly underestimate the power of play and fun in their long-term relationships. In fact, two findings consistently show up in the research: 1. Couples give too little notice to fun and play in their relationship and, 2. playing together and having fun is a key contributor to marital happiness among couples.

You might contend, “We are too busy for fun.” If this is your sentiment, let me be the first to validate that concern. Yes! our lives have become increasingly busy. Having fun just doesn’t seem productive when there are jobs to go to, rooms clean, kids to feed, and activities to attend. I know. It’s tough. However, humor me and let’s see if I can bring in another perspective to the importance of fun and play in marriage.

MP900309139Dr. John Gottman, an award-winning marital researcher, has interviewed and observed couples in his “love lab” for the last twenty-five years. He found that when couples maintain at least five times as many positive interactions as they do negative interactions their relationship is more likely to be stable. However, few people have wedding vows that state, “I promise to make this relationship stable all of our married life.” At the genesis of most marriages, couples hope for their relationship to be full of vitality and happiness for the length of their lives. Thus, the goal for couples should be to have 10 to 20 times as many positives as they do negatives. I believe the main reason this is important is because during times of tension, conflict, or frustration, if you don’t have a reservoir of positive interactions stored up, the negative interaction can drain any positive feelings you have for your partner and create more tension than the issue probably deserves.

MP900289480So, what is a positive interaction? A positive interaction is any pleasant interaction (great or small) where a bond is strengthened and fortified. Therefore, having fun and playing together as a couple is a form of positive interactions. This can include dates, surprises, romantic acts, flirtations, appreciation, physical affection, or just plain silliness. An example of a simple positive interaction occurred the other night between my wife and me. As we were winding down from the day, she found an app on her phone where one can take a picture and manipulate a self-photo with crazy hair, make-up, morph their face, and so on. We sat there for about 15-20 minutes making a variety of different silly pictures of me, her, and other family members. It was fun, silly, and, most importantly, bonding. That simple act, created a positive interaction between the two of us.

In my experience with couples, those relationships that do the best are those that are proactive and intentional about positive relationship habits. Most relationships don’t just accidently succeed but rather it is two partners committed to intentionally nourishing and enriching their relationship daily. So, let me help you be a little more intentional by giving you a little homework or, what I like to call, Home Practice. Tonight, set aside 20 minutes when you are both relatively relaxed and wound down. Then, with your partner, engage in the following activity:
1. Separately write down five ideas of things that would be fun.
2. Together share your ideas and be open to your partner’s ideas.
3. Do your best to engage in activities that are, for the most part, fun for both partners. But also try to stretch yourself a little.
4. Make a plan for this upcoming weekend to engage in one of the activities.
5. Finally, make a point to not shy away from moments in your day together where you could be more spontaneously playful, affectionate, flirtatious, and/or silly.

Make fun and play a healthy habit in your relationship and watch the fruits begin to blossom.

Jeremy2(1) (297x221)About the Author: Jeremy Boden, PhD, LAMFT, CFLE is a therapist at the Center for Couples and Families. He has a PhD in Family Studies and is a Certified Family Life Educator as well as an instructor at Utah Valley University.

Balance by Jamie Porter

?????????????Lately, I have been challenged to find balance. This wasn’t by any particular person’s request or by a class requirement, but by a chain of events that redirected focus onto myself.

What exactly is balance? How does one achieve it? Why is it so important? And how do you do it?

Balance is defined by a state of equilibrium or equipoise (dictionary.com). In biomechanics, balance is an ability to maintain the line of gravity (vertical line from centre of mass) of a body within the base of support with minimal postural sway.[1] Sway is the horizontal movement of the centre of gravity even when a person is standing still. A certain amount of sway is essential and inevitable due to small perturbations within the body (e.g., breathing, shifting body weight for one foot to the other or from forefoot to rearfoot) or from external triggers (e.g., visual distortions, floor translations). (wikipedia.com). The merium-webster.com dictionary defined it as a state in which different things occur in equal or proper amounts or have an equal or proper amount of importance.

An activity I do often with overwhelmed clients, is to have them hold onto a small plate. As I ask them what they have on their plate, I add sugar packets for everything they list. I have a doctor appointment, homework in science, need to wash my car, take my daily medicine, talk to the neighbors about babysitting my dog this weekend, washing clothes, paying the bills, cleaning my carpet, calling back my grandmother….. The list can go on and on and on. When the plate starts to overflow and sugar packets are falling on the floor, I am reminded by the overwhelming fact that there is absolutely no balance and it’s my job to help my clients prioritize, re-structure and build better coping skills.

Now the trick and truth of every therapist, is to not just give sound suggestions, but to follow it themselves.

single 2See the following….
MAKE YOUR LIST AND PRIORITIZE: take a couple of minutes to sit down, write out your list of things you need to get done TODAY, and then start putting numbers on what is most important TODAY. 1 would be most important and the higher the number, the less of importance. The higher numbers may even be done tomorrow or the next day, even set for long term goals.

PRIORITIZE SHORT TERM AND LONG TERM: As you are making your short term goals, long term goals will develop too. Prioritize those too. You may have a project that you want to do, but don’t need to do. If your attention was focused on it today, all the TODAY objectives would never get done and then your project that doesn’t need to be done today takes over the importance.

STAY FOCUSED:
A problem that people that ‘do too much’ or ‘focus on too many projects’ run in to, the they often lose focus of what really needs to be done. Some even hyperfocus on one subject, loosing focus on everything else. Additional tips to best manage distractibility might include:

Close-up of four business executives standing in a line and applauding1. SET AN ALARM: if you need to get something done in a short period of time, set your alarm clock.
2. GET A CALENDAR: use your calendar to remind yourself of deadlines. (paper, electronic, both)
3. BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD: cross things off your list done, re-mind yourself what is on your short term, long term goal list, prioritized with numbers of importance and continue to attempt
4. REWARD: It’s only human nature to want to be rewarded when a project is done. Don’t forget to reward yourself with a break, a walk, a treat (food or financial), friends and family, internal gratification, words of affirmation

And remind me again of some things that will help me find balance?

MEDITATION/BREATH: Focusing on one word at a time like the word ‘Calm’, ‘Peace’, ‘Pause’ are very helpful for grounding emotions. Meditation allows the body to slow down, worries to fade and pushes the mind and body to be present in the current moment. Breath from the deepest part of your core, down to the floor in hale deeply, and breath loudly, slowly exhale out of your mouth and repeat. This is a good practice when you feel overworked, overwhelmed, out of balance, stressed. Go ahead, practice. Find a quiet place to sit. Cross your legs or sit in a position where your legs are bent at the knees. Then practice your core breathing, focusing on meditative words. Be completely and fully present.

ART: This is a great way to re-center too. Paint, color, pastels, chalk or other are great ways to get balance. Display your raw emotions on paper, capture a piece of nature, or just doodle/scribble the negativity away, looking for the balance in your revealed masterpiece.
READING: Reading is mindless. It takes you to another place. It distracts in a healthy way. It builds vocabulary. It restores balance.

Athlete Running Through Finish LinePHYSICAL ACTIVITY:
Move! Run, walk, hike, jump….it’s important that we get our endorphins moving to help us find an outlet. Sweat result leaves us with a heightened energy level, healthier body movement, and feelings of accomplishments.

THERAPY: the inside joke is that all therapists need a therapist. But the truth is they do. We have the tendency to focus so much on our own clients that we lose sight of what is important for us and how to manage, especially when overwhelmed with other’s emotions. One of the best ways to manage and maintain balance, is to be honest with yourself, with your therapist, and dig deep. Allow unhealthy emotions of the past to move past the detrimental stage and re-gain balance in your new life. So whether it’s at the most personal level as a therapist, or the personal level as a client, it’s important to not self-neglect.

singer 3PLAY: Don’t forget to play. Have fun. Smile. Play with your kids. Play with your spouses. Play with friends and families. Play card games, board games, pool, park, movies, and/or travel. ENJOY yourself!

BOUNDARIES: it’s okay to say NO! It doesn’t make you a bad person. It helps you stay accountable to the things you can do and can follow through with, versus over-planning and over-committing and not completing a task.

How does this work again? Taking the time to be cognizant of yourself, your emotions and your priorities will help you keep a balance. Balance exists in life, friendships, relationships, work, emotions and functionality. As long as you can PAUSE and reflect on where you’re sitting in the midst of your ‘full plate’, then you are more willing to take care of the things on the plate and the person balancing the plate. A great analogy is that of a waiter with their tray of plates, glasses and food. If one glass slides and all your focus goes onto that one glass, you will lose everything on your tray. If you move the whole tray to help rebalance the glass, than everything else on the plate gets a level of respect and attention that is needed for safety. The greatest of these challenges, is follow through. Take the balance challenge. Are you ready for a life of balance?

jamieAbout the Author: About the Author: Jamie Porter has a Master’s degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from UHCL. She has worked in non-profit settings working with women, adolescents, children, families, couples, and equine assisted psychotherapy. She is currently the Sugar Land Center for Couples & Families office manager, and an AAMFT approved supervisor.