Sunday, November 23, 2014

Why is it So Hard to Be Happy?

"Why is it so hard to be happy?" 

"I work hard, try to be a good parent, pay attention to my diet, and try to do the right things.  But it just doesn't seem to be enough, no matter what I do.  There's always something more or different that I could do, should do, am expected to do, and wish I could do.  Other people get promotions and rewards that they don't seem to deserve and people around me do things that negatively impact me. All these things happen, and much of the time there doesn't seem to be anything I can do about it." 

Does any of this sound familiar? So often we live much of our lives in the pursuit of happiness and peace by becoming more "busy". We get busy acquiring more money and objects, working harder and longer hours, getting involved in more activities, getting immersed in watching our favorite TV shows or games. Then in our down time, we find ourselves "numbing" our pain and boredom. We come home and have that glass (or 2) of wine, pick up that six pack of beer, drink that shot of whiskey in order to relax and make the frustration of the day go away. We become dissatisfied with those around us and try to make them do what we want or give us their time, love and attention in the time frames we have available. And, yet, happiness still seems to be elusive. We experience it here and there and then something negative happens and our happiness is suddenly replaced with frustration, anger, fear, or sadness. It seems like happiness is based on our circumstances. "I'll be happy when this or that happens".

As a culture we tend to work harder, acquire more, and expect that our every need will and should be met. When our needs are not met we sometimes get upset and forget to open our eyes, look around us, and see the beauty and wonder that is there in nature and in our relationships. 

This post is the first of 5 looking at the question of "Why is it so hard to be happy?".  Each post will address a different aspect of this seemingly elusive pursuit.

Today we ask the question, "Is happiness perhaps already there and you just need to open your eyes and see it? Is it possible that it's always there and doesn't need to be chased or caught as though it were a wriggly little hamster or a cunning fox?"

The following story is one of my favorites and sheds a bit of light on this question.
One day a fisherman rowed his boat into shore and stepped out on to the beach holding a bucket containing a large number of fish.  He then laid down on the beach, cast his line back out into the ocean, propped up his pole, and began to enjoy the warmth of the afternoon sun and the possibility of catching another fish or two. 

About that time, a very rich and successful businessman came walking down the beach trying to relieve some of the stress of his workday. He noticed the fisherman sitting on the beach with his bucket of fish and his fishing pole and was intrigued by what he saw.  The businessman asked the fisherman, “How long does it take you to catch so many fish?”  The fisherman replied, “Only a short while”.  “What do you do then?” asked the businessman.  The fisherman replied, “Usually I sit on the beach for awhile and then take my fish home to my family.  I spend some time with my wife and kids, we eat our fish for dinner, and then I come back here the next day and fish, sit on the beach, and then spend time with my family again.” “Have you ever tried catching more fish?” asked the businessman.  “Nope” replied the fisherman. Astonished at this, the businessman decided to help the poor fisherman out by sharing some tried and true advice.

“I am a very successful and rich businessman and I am positive that I could help you to become a more successful person. From now on, you should spend more time at sea and try to catch as many fish as possible. When you have saved enough money, you could buy a bigger boat and catch even more fish.”

The fisherman looked up at the businessman, smiled and replied, “Why would I do that?”

The businessman, not expecting this question, answered, “Well, because then you can sell your fish, buy a bigger boat, and hire some people to work for you!”

“And why would I do that?” repeated the fisherman.

The businessman, beginning to become confused and irritated by these questions, stated “Don’t you understand? You can build up a fleet of fishing boats, sail all over the world, and let all your employees catch fish for you!”

Once again the fisherman asked, “And why would I do that?”

The businessman was now quite frustrated with these silly questions and raised his voice as he said, “Don’t you understand?  You can become so rich that you will never have to work for your living again! You can spend your days sitting on this beach, looking at the sunset. You won’t have a care in the world!”

The fisherman, still smiling, looked up and said, “And what do you think I’m doing right now?”
 Original Author Unknown but adapted from Classic Mexican and Brazilian Folklore

So, sometime today stop whatever you are doing and notice the people you are with, the activity you are doing, the sounds, smells, and movement in your environment.  Notice what you are feeling and notice what you are thinking.  Then notice the world outside of you again and acknowledge, out loud if possible, the experience you are having at that very moment.  

It might not be amazing or fantastic.  Maybe it's as simple as noticing the temperature and the feeling of the water and suds moving around your fingers, hands, and wrists while you are doing the dishes after a pleasant meal.  Maybe you'll notice that you are experiencing the privilege of listening to your child, your spouse, your friend, your employer, or your employee.  Maybe they're discussing something that brings them joy or frustration or sorrow...But, they're alive and you're alive and they are choosing to discuss it with you!

Maybe happiness is already there just waiting for you to notice it.  Give it a try!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day Post on Stress in Men

Here's a blog special for Father's Day in the Ames Patch:-)
Men Less Likely Than Women to Believe That Stress Can Have an Impact on Their Health »
Results of Stress In America Survey show men report less stress and emphasize stress management less than women, despite having higher rates of stress-related illnesses.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Ideas to help our Children Identify their Feelings

Learning How to Identify and Communicate Feelings

Feelings are neither “good” nor “bad”.  Feelings just “are”.  Many feelings serve important functions.  For example, anger can keep us safe by keeping people at a distance and fear can keep us safe by helping us leave or avoid dangerous situations.  The difficulties with feelings come up when people have trouble identifying what they are feeling and communicating what they are feeling in appropriate ways.  If we can identify our feelings and other people’s feelings and communicate with each other appropriately about our feelings then many problems can be either avoided or reduced.  The following are some ideas about how to teach and learn about feelings together with your child.

1.      Help your child learn how to put feelings into words.  There are many “feelings posters” on the market that put feeling words to various faces.  However, often children benefit from practicing feelings faces and the words that go with them with their parents through games and activities or through picking out feelings from magazine pictures and making their own “feelings poster”.
2.      Model appropriate expression of feelings for your child.  Pay special attention to times when you are experiencing a feeling of some kind (i.e., happy, joyous, sad, depressed, anxious, scared, angry, frustrated, irritated, embarrassed, etc.) and then use that experience as a “teaching moment” for your child.  Express your feeling out loud so that your child can see how you look and hear the name for the feeling.  Try using “I-feel” statements for your child at these times.  For example, if you are happy about something then you might point this out to your child by saying, “I feel happy because you followed my direction so quickly”.  Another example might be saying, “I feel frustrated because dinner is taking longer to fix than I thought it would”.
3.      Coach your child in identifying and expressing their feelings.  When you see your child experiencing a positive or negative emotion you might ask them, “What are you feeling right now?” or “How are you feeling about that?” or you might be more directive if needed and help them to label their feelings by saying something like, “You look frustrated right now.  Is that what you are feeling?”. 
4.      Encourage your child to keep a feelings journal/record each day.  Your child might write out the top 3 positive and negative things that happened that day and the feelings they had about them or they might draw pictures of something they felt happy, sad, or angry about that day.
5.      Discuss feelings and their events as a family each day.  Find a time of the day when family members are together and have each family member talk about the high point of their day and the low point of their day along with the feelings that they experienced during the event.  Times that might work well for this are dinnertime, bedtime, or driving in the car from school.

Some Games & Activities to Teach and Learn about Feelings

Act As-If
Try to behave as though you and your child are “happy” or “sad” or “angry” or “scared” or “ashamed”, etc. while you and your child play a game, make dinner, do the laundry. It allows modeling of feelings and practicing feelings in a fun way, makes it clear that feelings are a normal part of life, and teaches that we can control our feelings.  For example, have the child stomp around the room as if they were mad. Then have them act out other feelings.
Feelings Charades
Using only facial expressions and body language, take turns showing and then guessing what feelings you and your child are expressing.
Feelings Collage
Provide the child with magazines with people and children in them. Have the child cut out the pictures and glue them to a piece of paper. Have the child tell you how each person feels.  You and your child can then also label each picture with a variety of feelings words and make their own feelings poster.
Feelings Art
Ask the child to create a sculpture with clay, paper, cups, cardboard, paint, etc. that shows "angry" "happy", “scared”, "sad" or some other emotion.
Feelings Faces
Provide the child with a variety of precut facial features from magazines. Have the child glue the features on paper plates to create a face.
Feelings Match
Create a feelings memory game with index cards and stickers.
Feelings Song:  If You're Happy and You Know it
If You're Happy and You Know it, Clap your Hands
If You're Happy and You Know it, Clap your Hands
If You're Happy and You Know it, then your face will surely show it
If You're Happy and You Know it, Clap your Hands

Angry: Stomp your Feet
Sad: say boo hoo
Tired: go to sleep

Drawing Feelings Faces
Have the child draw happy, sad, angry, scared faces or any other feeling face.

Feelings Vocabulary List:


Family Communication

Communication between parents and their children is often one of the most difficult, yet necessary skills for families to master.  So many times we each have our own histories with communication and assumptions about communication (e.g., Children should just do what their told, I'm the parent, My parents never needed to explain their reasoning to me, etc.) that tend to get in the way of effectively talking with our children and, more importantly, creating an environment where our kids and teens feel comfortable talking with us.  The following ideas may help to jumpstart effective communication for you and your children.  Also see the article by Bridget Bencke, published on our blog last year for more ideas about effective communication.

How do You and Your Child Communicate?

Good communication skills are critical between you and your child. It is important that all family members speak to each other with kindness, love, and respect.  It is especially difficult to maintain calm and respectful communication with your child when they are losing their temper and talking to you in a rude way.  When our children are rude, many parents tend to think, “How dare they talk to me that way.  They have no right to talk to me like that.  I would have never talked to my parents that way.”  That may be true.  However, it is at these times, especially, that we need to model polite, respectful, but assertive communication to our children.  This can also keep disagreements from turning to big arguments where nothing gets solved.

The chart below shows communication behaviors that either foster positive communication (DO behavior) or arguments and withdrawal (DON’T DO behaviors).  How would you rate yourself?  What might you work on?

I’m Good at This
I Need to Work on This
Let your child finish talking
Keep your statements brief
Nag and lecture
Talk in a calm voice
Talk sarcastically and mockingly
Make sure you have eye contact with your child
Talk without good eye contact
Sit in a relaxed position
Fidget, move around
Combine visual (notes) and auditory means of talking
Over-talking about tasks or directions
Take your child’s feelings seriously
Discount feelings
Stay focused on one issue at a time
Change the topic
Give 1 direction at a time
Give a series of directions
Give directions as a statement
Give directions as a question
Speak to your child with a respectful voice
Call names or mock or yell
Stay calm even when angry or scared
Share feelings about positive actions and negative actions of your child
Primarily share feelings about negative behavior

Parent/Child Letter

This is an exercise in honest communication between a parent and their teenage child(ren).  The parent writes this letter to their teenager and the teen writes a letter to their parent. 

Write a letter (in letter format) to your child/parent that includes information from the following 9 statement stems.  Please write this independently, do not show it to your teenager/parent, and bring it back to our next therapy appointment.

1.                 What I like about you is …
2.                 The thing that you do that I don’t like is …
3.                 What I want from you …
4.                 What I need from you …
5.                 What I don’t want from you …
6.                 What I don’t want but I am willing to accept because it’s you …
7.                 What I am not willing to accept from you under any circumstances
8.                 What I want for the future of our relationship (My plan for what I want to happen) …
9.                 What I am willing to do to make this plan (#8) come true …
* Developed by Donald Kaesser, Ph.D. for use with couples.  Adapted for use with parents and their teenage children.

Steps for Effective Anger Control

Try out the following set of steps for controlling anger.  I find that making this sort of plan works best if each person in the family uses it and makes their own plan for anger control.  That way, each family member can help the others in controlling anger in healthy ways.

Steps for Effective Anger Control

1.  Learning to recognize anger signs – Help your child learn to recognize these in themselves (i.e., tingling, thumping heart, warm face, voice tone, sweating, rapid breathing).

•Does voice get loud or soft?
•Does body go fast or slow?
•Does body get stiff like a dry noodle?
•Do you breathe faster or slower?
•Do you feel hot or cold anywhere?
•Do your hands get dry or sweaty?
•Do your thoughts go fast or slow?

2.    If your child (or you) feel EVEN 1 of these anger signs then GET OUT OF SITUATION (Calm down space).  DO NOT try to talk or problem-solve until calm.

3.    Learn and use relaxation skills – Teach your child to calm themselves in some way when they notice even one of the above signs

• Take a walk
• Listen to music
• Count to 25
• Splash cold water on face
• Take a shower
• Exercise
• Draw a picture
• Scribble in different colors
• Use deep breathing methods
·        Use cool-down statements (e.g., I have the skills to calm myself down, etc.)

4.  When calm then talk about whatever issue needs to be dealt with.  Resolve the angry situation:

         Use assertive communication

         Use the DECIDE steps