What is Positive Psychology?

The Psyche
What is Positive Psychology? Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Positive psychology offers an alternative to the mental illness model.

Traditional mental health services focus on a deficit model. Initially, only two categories of mental illness were identified. Over time additional “mental illnesses” have been identified and described. Today the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual fifth edition) lists over four hundred separate recognized mental illnesses. It also provides for at least another four hundred possible conditions that can be diagnosed.

There are many counseling theories that seek to explain what causes these mental illnesses and how they can be treated. With all this focus on what’s wrong with people, there has been very little focus on the positive end of the spectrum until recently. Not enough attention has been paid to what people should do to have a happy, contented, or flourishing life.

Physical health and mental health are organized differently.

Increasingly physical health systems are recognizing the importance of treating chronic illnesses. Preventative care has become a significant part of physical health programs. Mental health continues to be provided only to severely ill clients. With very few exceptions, you will need to be extremely “mentally ill” for insurance companies to pay for treatment. The primary focus is on treating mental illness rather than promoting mental health.

Positive psychology examines positive experiences.

Positive psychology is a separate branch of psychology that began about twenty years ago when Martin Seligman became president of the American Psychological Association and chose positive psychology as his presidency’s theme. The new positive psychology movement builds on numerous past philosophers and psychotherapists. What was new and novel about this movement was its emphasis on identifying ways to increase positive functioning rather than focusing on negative impairments.

Positive psychology emphasizes having a good life.

The “good life,” which is the focus of positive psychology, involves a great deal more than merely increasing temporary “happiness” or pleasure. I should mention here that “anhedonia or loss of pleasure” is one of the primary symptoms for the diagnosis of depression. What we do know about treating depression is that merely adding short bursts of pleasure does not cure depression. I want to talk more about pleasure, happiness, and the many pathways for reaching a good life in future posts.

How many strengths do you have?

One of the things many counselors and therapists are told to do is identify the client’s strengths and encourage people to use those strengths to improve their mental health. What is often missing from that training is any comprehensive list of strengths or ways to identify the client’s strengths. My experience has been that people who have severe mental illness, anxiety, and depression often have difficulty identifying any strengths they may have.

In 2004 Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman wrote a book which, at over 700 pages, is a very comprehensive compilation of characteristics that are pretty much universally accepted as desirable personality traits. The title of the book was Character Strengths and Virtues. Much of the research in the field of positive psychology is based on this classification system. Unfortunately, defining universal characteristics using words can lead to a lot of misunderstandings.

I remember a very long time ago in elementary school when we were taught how to have “good character.” Those values primarily involved being honest, truthful, and compliant with rules. People who disagreed with authority were thought of as having “bad character.” Virtues, of course, at least back then, took on the connotation of being morally right or wrong.

Neither of those interpretations appears to me to be the things Peterson and Seligman meant by using the words strengths and virtues. Their usage describes characteristics of people’s personalities that were both useful and beneficial to that person.

The book lists twenty-four character-strengths divided into six general categories of “virtues.” For example, the virtue of “wisdom” consists of the character strengths of creativity, curiosity, judgment, love of learning, and perspective. I have spent the last few weeks reading research articles on a couple of these character strengths. As I’m able to digest this information, I plan to write some additional blog posts this year about what’s been learned about these character strengths and how you might utilize and cultivate those strengths.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seems like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Has happiness alluded you?

Happy faces
Happiness. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Happiness has three essential parts.

The statistics tell us that depression is at an all-time high. Recent events have harmed almost everyone’s life. But even when times are good, depression is a lot more common than authentic happiness. With everyone looking for happiness, why is it so difficult to find?

If you want more happiness in your life, become a happiness expert.

The human brain seems to be biased toward remembering negative, painful experiences. Remembering the bad and forgetting the good may have given humans an evolutionary advantage. Say your distant ancestors were walking through the jungle and then found some red berries on a bush. Before grocery stores and refrigeration, humans were always hungry, so your distant ancestor ate those berries. If they got sick and died from those berries – well, you wouldn’t be here, now would you? But if they ate those berries, got sick, and then recovered, they would have remembered those berries forever and avoided eating them again.

Your brain is no different than those ancestor’s brains. Something bad happens to you, and your brain doesn’t want you to ever forget that. But what about the opposite result? If that distant ancestor had eaten the red berries and enjoyed them, they may not have remembered what they look like. Just because they liked the berries once doesn’t mean they would ever encounter them again. So why use up space in memory remembering things that might not ever happen again?

It’s almost as if negative, painful experiences cut a groove into our brains, so we hold onto them forever. At the same time, happy experiences can easily slide right off your brain and disappear.

If something good happens, you need to pay attention to that happiness. If your child does something cute, or you walk by a beautiful flower, you need to stare at that positive event for perhaps as much as thirty seconds to give that information time to soak into your brain and be fully absorbed.

If you want more happiness in your life, you need to study it and become an expert on it. Unfortunately, most of us spend most of our lives studying pain and misery rather than joy and happiness. As you’re studying happiness, it’s important to realize that most experts believe there are three critical parts to having an authentically happy or, as some positive psychologists call it, a life that is flourishing and full of subjective well-being. What are the three parts to this authentically happy, flourishing life?

Pleasure is necessary, but not enough to ensure happiness.

Pleasure is essential to having a good life. Our bodies and nervous systems are designed to experience pleasure when we do things that benefit us. If you’re hungry, eating brings you pleasure. Physical affection is also a great source of pleasure. The pleasure system is designed to get humans to do more things that benefit them.

Unfortunately, pleasure by itself will not result in genuine happiness. When you engage in something pleasurable, you become satiated. Twice as much food does not make you twice as happy. To maintain the same level of happiness, humans need ever-increasing amounts of pleasure. One piece of chocolate cake is good tasting. Eating a second chocolate cake may not even be enjoyable. Eventually, you reach a point where more of a pleasurable experience doesn’t add to your happiness. So, what else is necessary for maintaining authentic happiness?

Engagement is essential for maximum happiness.

Engagement, sometimes referred to as flow, is also an essential ingredient for happiness. Engagement involves developing and using the skill of curiosity. It’s also intimately connected with the character strengths. It was initially called vitality but has been renamed zest in the more recent positive psychology research.

Vitality seems to imply both physical and emotional energy or drive. This makes sense because physical vitality and emotional zest are intimately connected. People who are in poor physical health have difficulty maintaining their zest for living. Conversely, people who lack engagement in life are at increased risk of developing many physical ailments.

Vitality or zest goes by many other names, including passion, enthusiasm, flow, or my favorite “being on the jazz.” Vitality is so connected to the use and perfection of other personality character strengths and virtues that I plan to write some posts specifically on this ingredient, which is missing from so many people’s authentically happy life.

Meaning and purpose are necessary for authentic happiness.

Regardless of how much pleasure you have for something or how enthusiastically you pursue it if when you reach your goal, it has no meaning it won’t take you to the place most of us call happiness. Positive psychology describes this state as a life that is “flourishing.” If you’d like a life that goes beyond temporary pleasure, then discovering your life’s meaning and purpose is an essential activity.

Many of the people who arrive at the counselor’s office, experiencing depression, anxiety, or another mental health issue, say they are there to “find themselves.” In the process of living life, the pain has often overwhelmed the positive. Frequently, people tried to drown their sorrows and alcohol. They may have experimented with drugs, sex, or gambling, only to find that the temporary spikes in dopamine provided by pleasure didn’t lead to authentic happiness or a life that was flourishing.

So how should you go about finding yourself? Where should you look for that meaning and purpose? Many people find the answers to those questions by doing their own personal work with the counselor. In upcoming blog posts, I want to give you some hints about ways to find yourself and discover your meaning and purpose.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seems like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Happiness.

Happy faces
Happiness. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Happiness.

Sunday Inspiration.     Post by David Joel Miller.

“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”

― Abraham Lincoln

“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”

― Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land

Wanted to share some inspirational quotes with you.  Today seemed like a good time to do this. There are an estimated 100,000 words in the English language that are feelings related. Some emotions are pleasant, and some are unpleasant, but all feelings can provide useful information. If any of these quotes strike a chord with you, please share them.

Look at these related posts for more on this topic and other feelings.

Emotions and Feelings.

Inspiration

Happiness

Positive Psychology

You can change your personality.

personality disorder

Can Personality Change?
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Your personality is not as fixed as many people believe.

We used to think that you were born with a specific personality characteristic. You might be an introvert or an extrovert. Long-term studies have shown that people’s personalities do change across the lifespan.

Some personality traits change more readily than others. But why those personality characteristics change has been unclear.

Some personality characteristics change as you age.

One research paper – Trajectories of Big Five Personality Traits: A Coordinated Analysis of 16 Longitudinal Samples examined these changes.

Extraversion, conscientiousness, and openness all decline with time. Not every person shows the same level of decline, and various studies have come up with different results. Neuroticism, on the other hand, seems to be the highest in both the very young and the very old. I read other research which tells us thoughts of death are highest at those extremes also. It would seem that the very young and the very old have more to worry about.

Life experiences can alter your personality.

Research has detected a significant number of cases in which is a result of life experiences people’s personality changes. If you are forced into a situation where you have to interact with a large number of people every day, and you can’t escape that situation, over time, you may become used to this, and gradually you might become more extroverted.

One of the treatments for various fears and phobias is exposure and response prevention. This treatment is especially effective in treating obsessive-compulsive disorder. Something that initially was scary, and overwhelming, becomes less fear-inducing the more you’re exposed to it, especially if that exposure is in the company of someone who reassures you.

People who have a fear of public speaking and take a class in public speaking often get over that fear. There are also groups you can join to help you overcome your fears.

Which parts of your personality change most readily?

Most researchers study personality using the Big Five Personality Characteristics, Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Some of these characteristics change more readily across the lifespan as a result of life experiences.

Can you deliberately change your personality?

Recent research in the area personality conducted by Nathan Hudson at Southern Methodist University and his colleagues, some aspects of personality change more readily than others. It’s not enough merely to wish that your personality was different. Some of these characteristics, like muscles, require exercise to develop. Taking deliberate, intentional action to make yourself a better person can also result in a change in your basic personality.

The two traits which most people wanted to change were neuroticism and extraversion. People would like to be more emotionally stable, that is less neurotic. And most people wish they were more comfortable in social settings and, therefore, more extroverted. Interestingly, in one study of how people could deliberately change their personality, almost no one wanted to become more agreeable.

Tasks that challenge one of your personality characteristics, such as openness, vary in difficulty just as exercise for muscles can vary in difficulty. The more difficult the task you undertake, and the more often you undertake a behavior of any difficulty, the more likely it is to shift your personality.

The conclusion of the study was:

“The single largest implication of our study,” said Hudson and his team, “is that actively engaging in behaviors designed to change one’s personality traits does, in fact, predict greater amounts of trait growth across time.”

There were some qualifications in this study. People who tried a task but were unsuccessful in completing it moved their personality in the opposite direction from what they intended.

There’s also a limitation to this study in that it was conducted over fifteen weeks. While it’s likely that some people would continue to undertake tasks to improve themselves in a particular direction, whether these changes would last over a long period or be overridden by typical life experiences is still an open question. The participants in the study were psychology students, presumably young and with an interest in the outcome. I have to wonder if personality may be more changeable in young people both because of their lack of experience and the larger deliberate efforts that it would take among people farther along in the lifespan.

What do you think about changing your personality?

Are you happy with who you are and your personality characteristics? Is there some part of your personality you’d like to change? If you could change something about yourself, what would that be? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below or feel free to use the contact me form.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

How to get people to believe a big lie.

 

Telling the big lie.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

You can use conspiracy theories to get people to believe almost anything.

If you can convince people that others are out to get them and that you are telling them the truth, you can get them to sign on to believe almost any lie. Trying to get people to accept things that aren’t true isn’t a new idea. Propaganda has been used to push political and religious beliefs as far back as we have recorded history. Marketers and advertising specialists try to convince you to buy their product or give them your money.

But the use of conspiracy theories, the blaming of other people for all your ills, is a recurring phenomenon. Dictators and totalitarian regimes have always used the big lie. The battle between truth and the big lie isn’t a new one. But in the age of social media, the big lie can be spread rapidly. Groups of people using multiple social media accounts and encouraging everyone to share their posts, whether they read them or not, can spread untruths so far and wide the people begin to believe them. Here are some of the ways manipulators convince people to think something bogus.

If you tell your lie loudly and often enough, it gets believed.

Keep putting that lie out there, even if you must keep changing your story. Spread it on social media any way you can. Encourage everyone who reads it to share it with everyone they know. Keep that bizarre idea live by how often you tell the story and how fiercely you defend it.

When challenged, keep changing your story.

Use contradictory beliefs. Offer lots of arguments in favor of the lie you’re telling, even if they contradict each other. Don’t worry about contradicting yourself, simply present lots of reasons people should believe you. Your goal here isn’t to prove you’re telling the truth. What you want to do is create so many doubts about the reality that the lie seems plausible.

If you get pinned down, tell them that it might be true.

You can avoid responsibilities for your lie if you quote others and say you don’t know, but it might be true. Saying that someone else believes something can be mistaken for evidence that your lie is the truth. You can get away with spreading lies if you don’t take responsibility for what you’re saying.

Tell people to be suspicious of anyone who disagrees with you.

Try to convince people that authority figures always lie to them. Tell them that scientists fake their data. The medical profession is out to cheat them out of their money. Any news media or authority who agrees with the established opinion must be in on the conspiracy. Anyone quoted as an authority it must be part of the secret plot. Keep changing who you blame. The more possible suspects, the more people will believe someone has perpetrated a crime.

Tell them all authority figures are evil.

If you attribute evil motives to everyone else, it’s easier to get people to believe you. You would never lie to them, would you? Accuse anyone who disagrees with you of intentionally harming others to get what they want.

Keep saying the official version is fishy.

Keep telling people something must be wrong. Keep them looking for reasons to believe your lie and disbelieve the facts. Sowing doubt about the facts opens lots of possibilities. You don’t have to prove your big lie; you just have to get people to doubt the truth.

Tell people they are victims.

Keep insisting that someone or something is out to get us. No matter how gigantic the conspiracy would need to be, insist that someone is trying to take advantage of all of us. Blame the rich. Blame the corporations or the government. Blame some hidden secret society.

Tell people not to believe any evidence that disagrees with you.

If you want to sell your lie, well keep telling your victim that everyone else is lying to them. Tell them not to believe anything they read in the news. Insist that all evidence that disagrees with you is just further proof of how vast the conspiracy is.

Keep trying to find patterns even when they don’t exist.

People who promote conspiracy theories, those who try to get us to believe fantastic things, love to look for meaning in seemingly random events. If you watch any compulsive gambler, you’ll see them looking for patterns in the cards or dice. If the number seven hasn’t come up for a while, bet on it, it’s due any minute. Probability theory tells us every number is equally likely. People who are trying to get you to believe a fantastic tale will take evidence from various countries, various points in history, and try to connect them into a pattern and then tell you that some secret power is controlling you.

How do you avoid being the victim of conspiracy theories?

Remember that a secret only stays a secret until one person tells a second person. The idea that massive numbers of people could’ve come together to perpetuate a lie for any reason and then keep a secret from the rest of the world is highly unlikely. People want to manipulate you by lying to you will keep pointing to some unknown force, which is the cause of things. Learn to do critical thinking. What are the chances that all the authorities are wrong, and the person who wants you to believe something else has somehow discovered the secret?

Most of the ideas for this blog post were originally published on:

The Conversation

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

How to become more hopeful.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Hope

Hope.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Hope lies on a continuum from low to high.

In a previous blog post titled Stocking Up on Hope, we talked about how hope lies on a continuum, and people can move from low levels of hope to become a high hope person. If you’re feeling less than hopeful right now, there are some things that you can do to increase your levels of hope.

While hope is certainly a feeling, it’s also an attitude towards things. Whether you’re a high hope person or a low hope person, your hope of achieving a specific goal can fluctuate dramatically as time, and you change. People who lose hope of reaching their goals give up trying and become depressed. Once someone comes up with a plan to reach their goal, their level of hope increases, sometimes dramatically.

Hope appears to have two separate components.

Hope seems to be the result of the interplay of two separate factors. First is your belief that reaching your goal will be the result of your own actions. If you believe that outside factors control your fate, that’s not hope, that’s wishful thinking. The second factor in building hope is developing a plan so that your actions take you where you want to go. Let’s look at these two separate factors.

Believing in your abilities increases the motivation to act.

One component of hope, at least according to hope theory, is agency. Closely related to self-confidence and affected by your self-concept, agency is your belief that you might be able to take actions that would lead you toward your goal. Those actions can be all sorts of different things. You might seek out help from friends, family, or a professional. You might begin to develop a plan of action yourself. Any one of these steps is likely to increase your level of hope.

Having a roadmap to take you to your goal increases hope.

The second component in hope theory is developing a plan of action. If you believe there are pathways you can take, which might lead you closer to your goal, this is certain to increase your level of hope. Let’s look at some of the ways that developing a plan of action can increase your level of hope.

Breaking goals into smaller doable steps increases hope.

If you try to eat an elephant in one bite, you’re going to choke. I see lots of people who try to accomplish one big major goal in a short period of time and end up defeated. You decide you don’t like your current job and you’re going to go back to school and get a degree so you can get a better paying job. If you try to take too many classes that first semester, you’re likely to overload yourself, do poorly in those classes, and give up.

One reason people lose hope is that they radically overestimate what they can accomplish over the next year. People who accomplish a lot of their life goals discover that important goals are rarely achieved in a single year, not even in a single step. Those same people often underestimate what they can accomplish in five years. You probably won’t get a college degree in one year. But going a little at a time over five years or so, can result in a college degree and a whole new career.

People often have a goal of getting out of debt and saving for retirement. They try to not spend anything the first month or two using all their money to pay off their credit card. The process becomes so unpleasant that they give up. Changing your spending and saving habits so that each month you spend a little less than you make, and that surplus goes to paying down your past debt can result in being debt-free over a period of years.

More options mean more hope.

People who have only one possible pathway to reaching their goal are likely to get frustrated, become hopeless, and give up. In developing a plan to reach your goal, it’s useful to have multiple options. You might select one option, option A, try that, and if it’s not taking you where you want to go, revise your plan. Multiple options mean you will be more hopeful of eventually reaching your goal.

Goals take time to accomplish.

Most goals, the worthwhile ones, will take time to accomplish. A thinking trap that leads to low hope is the belief that there is some magical action that will produce your goal quickly. If you expect someone else to solve your problem, you’re likely to become disillusioned. Often the solution to the problem requires you to develop specific skills. Even if a family member can get you your dream job, if you don’t have the skills and education required for that job, you’re not likely to keep it very long.

Specific goals are easier to accomplish, then vague ones.

Lots of people have vague general goals. They want to be wealthy. Failure to quantify that goal means that no matter how much money you make, you won’t feel wealthy. Lots of people who say they want to “be wealthy” try to make themselves feel wealthy by spending like a wealthy person. Wealthy people who spend that way don’t stay wealthy long. Being wealthy is about making more money than you spend or said the other way, spending less money each month then you make.

The numbers have changed over the years, but the principle is the same. When I asked students how much money they would need to have to be wealthy I frequently get numbers in the millions or even billions. The truth is that a very small amount of money will put you into the wealthiest of all Americans. More than half of all Americans owe more on their credit cards than they have in the bank. If you can pay off your credit card balance, and save a small amount of money, somewhere between 500 and 1000 dollars, you will rapidly move into the wealthiest one half of all Americans. Depending on the economy somewhere between $3000 and $5000 will move you into the wealthiest one-third of all Americans.

Setting a goal of paying off your credit card and saving even a small amount of money, rapidly increases your security, and takes you in the direction of being a wealthy American.

So, there you have the essential ingredients to having more hope.

For more on this topic, please see the category, Hope.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Stocking up on hope.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Hope

Hope.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Hope lies on a continuum.

The way people talk, and some of the articles I read on the Internet, might lead you to believe that hope is a genetic factor, like eye color, hair color, and so on. In this way of thinking, when your genes are being blended at the time of conception, God, or random chance, decides on what genes you will get from the pool available and, therefore, what you will be like, and you’re stuck with that. While some genes are yes or no, like hair color, even those genes can change in the way they are expressed across the lifespan. My gene for black hair now produces white hair.

Hope is one of those things like your weight, which lies on a continuum. Your environment, early childhood experiences, possibly genetics, may start you off with high hope or low hope or somewhere in between. But throughout your life, a great many factors can move you along the continuum resulting in increases or decreases in hope. This is good news for someone low in hope. But it’s also a caution for those who are high in hope, that they need to nurture that high hope.

Hope is a way of thinking, feeling, and behaving.

Many people think of hope as a feeling. It’s easy to think that whatever your feelings are, they were caused by outside influences, and therefore you have no control over them. I don’t believe that’s accurate. Hope, like other feelings, is fed or starved by what you’re thinking and by the way you behave.

This connection between thinking, feeling, and behaving, is the basis of cognitive-behavioral therapy, which is one of the most recognized therapeutic approaches. We know that changing the way you think about things can change your feelings. As your feelings change, you are likely to alter your behavior. So, keeping track of your thoughts, avoiding rumination, and challenging unhelpful thoughts can all change the way you’re feeling.

This process also works in the other direction. If you begin to behave in a more positive manner, you begin to feel better, and your thinking about your situation will change. Repeated research has shown that aerobic exercise can treat depression. Depressed people who walk for twenty minutes a day, five days a week or more, even when they don’t feel like walking, often experience a reduction in their depression. This approach is summed up by the old recovery proverb that people who want a different result in life should “act as if.”

High hope people tend to follow this system. Whether they are aware of the value of cognitive-behavioral therapy or not, high hope people repeatedly tell themselves they can do something. These self-statements, sometimes called positive affirmations, change the way they feel about things. These new feelings result in high hope people taking action towards those goals, and as a result, they begin to feel more hopeful.

When you run low on hope you need to replenish your supply.

Once you begin to understand that hope is on a continuum and you’re not stuck with a low amount, the possibility that you can replenish your supply opens up. So, if you are currently low in hope, there are things you can do to increase your level of hope and create a happier, more productive life.

Reaching out for help increases your supply of hope.

Hope is one of those emotions that isn’t reduced by sharing. Sometimes when people can’t see even a faint glimmer of the light of hope, others around them can help them find the hope they are lacking. Just the act of reaching out, talking to your friends, positive family members, or professionals, can increase your supply of hope. Sometimes what you need is an infusion of hope from friends or professionals.

The counselor’s office has a good inventory of hope.

If there’s one thing you don’t want to run out of during these difficult times, it’s hope. If you watch the news too much, you are likely to believe that hope is in even shorter supply than toilet paper. When you need groceries, you go to the grocery store. When you need medication, you should visit a pharmacy. When you’re going through difficult times and running short on hope, there’s no better place to find it in your therapist’s office, whether that office is a physical place or a virtual office. If you’re not finding hope when you talk to your counselor or therapist, then you may be shopping in the wrong place.

What varieties of hope are counselors stocking these days?

Counselors have a remarkably good supply of hope. And no matter how much hope they give to their clients, more seems to arrive each day. When clients arrive at a counselor’s office, just the fact that they made it through the front door often increases their level of hope. Being able to take an action that you think might be helpful raises the possibility you have something to hope for.

In future posts, I want to give you some additional information about hope. We’ll talk a little bit about how to grow more hope, and some of the technique’s counselors use to help clients find the hope they need.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Hope fuels the successful life.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Hope

Hope.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Genuine hope doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

As we go through this challenging time in our history, we all need to hang onto our hope. Not much gets accomplished by people who give up and stop trying. One of the most important things a counselor can do for their clients is to help that client develop a sense of hope.

While there’s a general understanding that hope plays a role in a successful life, there is not a great deal of agreement on what hope is and where you go to get more of it. I decided now would be an excellent time to look at the research on hope, see what it is, and how people go about developing an adequate supply of this scarce commodity called hope.

Lots of unrelated ideas masquerade under the name of hope.

The more dictionaries you look in for the term hope, the more confusing it becomes. Remember, dictionaries don’t start with the one correct meaning for the word. The way dictionaries are created is to look at the way writers use a word and then record what it meant in that context. The more comprehensive the dictionary, the more meanings you will find for any one word.

As I’m writing this blog post, my editing program keeps trying to get me to substitute words such as optimism, faith, belief, confidence, concern, desire, for the word hope. While all those words have similar or related meanings to the word hope, we need to be sure we’re talking about one specific thing.

One of the ways the word hope is used is in a very passive, wishful sense. Someone might say, “I hope nothing bad happens today.” People hope they’ll be rich someday, but they don’t do anything about improving their financial condition. Hope, in this sense, is nothing more than a vague wish, and hopefully, we all know by now wishes rarely come true without action.

There’s a field of psychological research called hope theory.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve read quite a bit of research into the area of hope and discovered there’s an entire field of study in psychology called hope theory. A researcher named Snyder has researched and written extensively about hope theory. I’ll try to explain what I got from reading the research and hopefully won’t distort it too much in the process.

Hope is best understood as goal-directed behavior. While not all the researchers agree on all the fine points, there seems to be a general agreement that people who are high in hope are frequently happier, more productive, and are more successful at reaching their goals. People who are low in hope have difficulty taking action, and in my view, this lack of hope creates them not taking action to get what they want out of life. Why would you do anything about your current problematic situation if you believe changing the situation was outside your control?

Hope theory divides the concept of hope into two distinct categories.

Hope consists of two separate processes, agency, and goals. People who are high in hope generally believe that their own actions will affect the outcome. If they want to be wealthy, whatever that means to them, they don’t depend on the death of a rich uncle or expect to win the lottery as their primary path to financial security. What they do is work, spend less than they make and, over time, save their money.

Agency is the belief that your actions matter.

There is a lot of similarity between the idea of agency and things like self-confidence and self-esteem, and self-efficacy. But in this application, the concept of agency seems to be the idea that your actions matter. People who are high in hope have the belief that they are not helpless victims. They generally believe their efforts have some impact on the outcome. They either have the skills to accomplish something, or they think they can develop those skills.

High hope people believe there’s more than one road to their goal.

People who are low in hope get locked into the belief that there’s only one way to do something, and they keep doing it over and over even when they don’t get the result they want. This inflexibility is probably a good operational definition of crazy behavior. People who are high in hope develop a list of alternative ways of reaching their goal. They start work on the most likely method. But if that route doesn’t take them where they want to go, they have the flexibility to alter their approach and try another path.

What are the benefits of being high in hope?

People who are high in hope keep trying until they find a way to be successful. I found research that says high hope people have better relationships. They are more likely to reach their goals. People who are high in hope don’t get stuck in ruts.

Is it possible to increase your hope?

Absolutely it is possible to increase your level of hope. Your current level of hope is not something you’re just stuck with because of your past experiences. But there are two things you must do to develop higher levels of hope. One is to believe that your actions matter. The other is to create multiple pathways towards reaching your goals. In future blog posts, I want to explore this idea and show you how people who seek out professional help, medical doctors, counselors, or therapists, often become more hopeful even before their first appointment with that professional.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Brain myths many people believe.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

PNG of brain.

Brain.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Many things people believe about their brains are myths.

Knowledge in brain science, like other areas, has been growing at a phenomenal rate. The result of this new knowledge is that many of the things we used to think were true about the brain have turned out to be myths.

You lose brain cells as you age. – Not true.

The brain tends to shrink with age, so the nerve cells become closer together. The number of connections between cells influences thinking, and older people have just as many synaptic connections. The idea that you are destined to lose cells and therefore thinking ability as you age turns out to be false.

As an increasing number of people are living long enough to reach old age, we are seeing more people develop brain disorders. With a more significant portion of the population reaching the oldest-old category, brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s have become much more noticeable. But the idea that everyone loses considerable cognitive abilities as they age no longer appears to be true.

Glial cells don’t do much.

When I first studied the brain back in the 1960s, we learned that glial cells were basically “packing material” that kept the brain from collapsing or electrical circuits from shorting out. It turns out glial cells do a whole lot of essential things. Glial cells can influence information processing. They help create and eliminate synapses or connections between nerve cells, which are vital for memory and information processing. Glial cells also appear to be a part of the chemical manufacturing and recycling, which goes on in the brain.

Alcohol destroys nerve cells.

Alcohol destroys the insulation on nerve cells, so they don’t work as well. The brain can rebuild insulation to some extent. Alcohol does affect various parts of the brain in different ways. The frontal lobe, the decision-making part, is most affected by heavy drinking. Dehydration from alcohol contributes to the brain shrinking.

Most people only use a small percentage of their brains.

The idea that people use only a small fraction of their brain has been repeated a lot. The idea of saying this was to encourage people to do more with their brains. Think of this as moving from your old apartment into a 20-room house. With so much room, you can spread the furniture out. So, you put the dining table in one room, and each of the dining chairs in separate rooms. While every room in the house is in use, there’s room for a whole lot more. Human brains continue to grow new connections. That’s how we remember things. While you’re using your whole brain, you have a lot of extra space in every one of those parts of your brain to store more information.

There were four brain myths that over 40 percent of the participants in one study thought was definitely true: that the brain is very well designed; that after a head injury, people can forget who they are and not recognize others, but be normal in every other way; that we have five senses; and that our brain cells are joined together forming a vast network of nerves.

For more on brain myths, see the book – Great Myths of the Brain.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Is your thinking full of bad habits?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Is your thinking full of bad habits?
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Poor mental health can be the result of bad thinking habits.

People diagnosed with both depression and anxiety disorders often engage in a lot of thinking behaviors that therapists call “unhelpful thoughts.” Sometimes these unhelpful thoughts are called dysfunctional or irrational thoughts. I prefer the term unhelpful thoughts because when you have them you don’t experience them as either illogical or dysfunctional. What may be missing from these discussions is how often those “unhelpful thoughts” are the result of bad thinking habits.

Recently I have been reading some research on habit formation. When we talk about bad habits, we are usually talking about behaviors. But experimenters have shown that they can influence how people think about events, and with enough practice, people can learn automatically to have very “unhelpful thoughts.” Let me give you an example.

How to create an unhelpful thought.

One way to measure unhelpful thought formation is to have people complete a sentence whose ending is ambiguous. Imagine for a moment that a friend’s child or grandchild has come over to your house for a visit. The child is full of energy and wants to go out in your backyard and play. Let’s assume the back yard is fenced. And that you don’t live in a neighborhood with a lot of drive-by shootings.

After 10 minutes, you look out to check on the child, and what you see is this child is ______.

How did you fill in the sentence? People who are high in anxiety or depression often fill in the sentence by imagining that the child is: missing or dead. If you are high in anxiety and try to anticipate all possible negative outcomes, you are likely to worry about things and imagine the worst possible alternative. People with depression also show bias towards unhelpful thoughts.

People who are lower in worry or depression are likely to complete the sentence with something like – After 10 minutes you look out to check on the child, and what you see is this child is _____, playing with a ball, or excitedly running around chasing the dog.

People whose worry rule is “only worry about the big things” are likely to imagine the neutral or happy endings for the sentence. People whose worry rule is “worry about every possible negative outcome” are much more likely to imagine something terrible has happened to the child.

The way you complete the sentence alters the way you think and behave.

People who repeatedly complete ambiguous sentences with negative or unhelpful endings become increasingly depressed or anxious. You can start to mistakenly believe that by keeping the child in the house, you are protecting them from undesirable outcomes. Unfortunately, children who don’t get to go out in the yard and play and are kept continuously where the adult can see them are often babysat by TVs and electronic devices.

The results of your unhelpful thinking that if the child can play in the backyard, something terrible will happen to them, results in children who don’t get enough exercise and are at increased risk of developing type II diabetes and ADHD.

It’s easier to develop a bad thinking habit than to change them.

When people come for counseling, they tend to believe that if they think something is dangerous, it is. Therapists call that emotional reasoning. And it is an especially unhelpful thought. Most of these unhelpful thoughts people have been practicing for a long time. And just like behavioral habits, unhelpful thinking habits can be hard to change.

The first step in changing unhelpful thoughts is to notice that you have developed certain thinking habits. Becoming aware of those unhelpful thoughts can help you to start challenging them and to develop more helpful thinking habits.

A warning about trying to change thinking habits.

Don’t try to change a negative thinking habit into an unrealistically positive thinking habit. We often use positive affirmations to help people move from negative thoughts to positive ones. But don’t try to fool your brain by lying to it. In the example above of the child playing in the backyard, it’s best to substitute a more neutral outcome for the negative one you habitually think. Don’t try telling your brain that your child is so smart that nothing terrible will ever happen to them. Your brain will know you’re lying and disregard that kind of positive affirmation. He also may want to check on the child every few minutes just to reassure yourself.

Become aware of your thoughts and how unhelpful thoughts may have become a bad thinking habit you need to work on changing.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel