Positive Psychology

Paris Pitt a la Assumptions

While walking with my husband on a street in Paris last spring, I noticed a couple guys sitting on some ancient church stairs with a Pitt Bull by their side. I approached the guys and the Pitt immediately started wagging her tail. I asked, in very broken French, if we could love on her a bit as we hadn’t seen our sweet doggers in a few weeks. One of the guys indicated that she was VERY friendly and loved attention. I kneeled down, let her sniff me and then went in for an ear scratch. Her mouth pulled back into that goofy Pitt smile that always melts my heart. She then rolled onto her back so I could rub her belly.

My joy turned to horror when I saw a red, raw scar running from the Pitt’s chest to her belly. As I looked closer I saw that she also had a series of small scars running across her muzzle and a ragged torn ear. My thoughts jumped to the conclusion that she had been used as a fighting dog. My eyes locked onto the owner as I asked if he fought her. He motioned to his own face which displayed a nasty set of scars running ear to ear. He explained that she had saved his life. My mind created a terrifying narrative involving the French mafia, high level crime, drug trafficking and my face ripped to shreds by this now scary animal at the snap of his fingers.

What my brain found confusing was that this dog was seemingly so friendly and gentle. The guys appeared kind, approachable and genuine. He noticed my reaction and went on to explain, “that’s what happens sometimes when [...]

Constructive and Destructive Stress

“What would you think if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me? Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song, and I’ll try not to sing out of key. I get by with a little help from my friends, I get high with a little help from my friends, gonna try with a little help from my friends.” The Beatles

Healthy, constructive stress is like a friend who gives you perspective and focus while shining a light on the your strengths, perseverance and vision. This friend reminds you “Keep going, you will get through this, you can do it.” You walk away from the interaction feeling a renewed sense of clarity and possibility.

Damaging destructive stress is the frenemy who smiles (or maybe it’s actually a sneer) and reminds you “Don’t to sparkle too much, dream too big or live life out loud because it isn’t safe, people may judge or laugh. You could fail.” You walk away from the interaction feeling defeated, powerless and small.

Your mind is a messy interplay of thoughts, feelings and actions. You can’t control the thoughts that pop into your head or the subsequent emotions that lift you up or tear you down. You can, however, improve your awareness of both constructive and destructive thoughts and the emotions that follow.

Your Friend (Constructive Healthy Stress) helps you:

Focuses on solutions to problems you control
Sees problems and life as it is
Be mind full and effective in the present moment
Prioritize solvable problems
Motivates you to take action and get stuff done
Recognize that you care about the outcome of the stressor
View stress is an uncomfortable feeling
Pursue hopes and dreams
See the [...]

I still fall on my face sometimes and I can’t color inside the lines

“I still fall on my face sometimes and I can’t color inside the lines. I’m perfectly incomplete. I’m still workin’ on my masterpiece.” Jesse J.

As the story goes, Thomas Edison failed over 10,000 times before he invented the light bulb. During this process, a well-intended colleague said, “Tom, give it up. This will never work.” Gritty Tom replied, “Dude, I’ve discovered 9.999 ways NOT to make a light bulb. Why stop now?”

Grit is a fundamental component of success in all areas of life. Grit involves staying the course despite failure, adversity and progress plateaus. Too often when a goal or task feels challenging or uncomfortable, we back away and/or give up. Life limiting, what-if thinking reinforces our fear of failure.

“What-if I look stupid? What-if people laugh at me? What-if it never works? What-if I fall on my face?”

Thomas Edison’s light bulb illuminated the world. His grit helped him kindle a flicker of hope despite numerous failures. I imagine his what-if thinking embraced a light at the end of the tunnel.

“What-if I learn from my failures? What- if I take myself less seriously? What if I am more than the sum of my failures? What-if I feel afraid and do it anyway?”

In the spirit of honoring Tom and improving my grit, I proudly present my Beautiful Failure Resume. It is complete with typos, incorrect dates and subjective experiences of reality. Ironically, reflecting on and writing my failure resume gives me the feeling I have finally turned on the lights.

 
Beautiful Failures Resume
Laurie Boussom, LISW-CP, FVHB
Early Formative Failures: 1968-1980

Believed Guerrilla warfare was being fought with actual gorillas (It was around the time Planet of the Apes was released.)
Asked my parents why [...]

Everyday Grateful

“I want to thank you for giving me the best day of my life.” Dido
On the morning commute to my office I am greeted by the ever-changing panorama of the mountains. I silently breathe “Thank You” to the universe for creating such majesty. I often use the remainder of my drive to count my blessings. I am grateful for the breath that keeps my body and mind alive and engaged, grateful for the music that has validated my pain and joy, grateful to own a car, engineered by experts to enhance my driving experience, grateful to have attracted a diverse, genuine, fascinating mix of people into my life.

Gratitude is defined as a thankful appreciation for what we receive, whether tangible or intangible. When we are grateful, we acknowledge what’s right and good in our lives and the world. Often we recognize that the source of goodness lies, in part, outside of us. This element of gratitude helps us to connect to something larger than ourselves. These connections can be a connection with other people, nature, or a higher power.

The research from positive psychology shows there is a consistently strong link between gratitude and well being/happiness. Gratitude helps us experience more positive emotions, savor good experiences, improve our health, cope better with adversity, and develop stronger relationships. Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman (the father of Positive Psychology) had students write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who hadn’t been fully thanked for their kindness. After writing, delivering and reading the letter, these students showed a huge increase in happiness scores with benefits lasting a month.

Below are my top five ways to lean into everyday gratefulness:

Write a thank you letter to someone [...]

Little Green: Becoming Mindful in a Mind Full World

“Just a little green, like the color when the spring is born.
There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow.”
— Joni Mitchel
When did you notice, REALLY notice, the magnificent transformation into spring? Did you smile when you saw the happy daffodils that popped up overnight? Maybe your skin delighted in the first kiss of a warm breeze? Perhaps the earthy aroma of freshly spread mulch ignited a memory? Possibly you haven’t paid intentional attention to these everyday, magnificent phenomena at all?

We tend to run on the high-octane fuel of MORE, BETTER, FASTER. Our minds become “full” of to-do lists, plans for the future and worries about the past. Over time “MIND FULL “ can cause stress, anxiety, burnout and depression. We unknowingly disconnect from the present moment and overlook the everyday magic and beauty around and in us.

Mindfulness is a practice of paying attention, in the moment, on purpose. When we choose to intentionally become mindful it improves our physical and mental health as well as our subjective feelings of well-being. Starting a routine of everyday mindfulness is as straightforward as an increased awareness of the metamorphosis of spring:

Challenge yourself to notice one or two new things each day. Look for trees starting to develop buds or bloom. Notice changes in others as the weather warms. Observe a subtle sense of renewal in yourself.
Take a moment to examine (as if you were a scientist) the intricacy of a flower, the magic of a smile, the joyful chorus of birds.
Savor the first bite of your favorite spring food. Deeply inhale the scent, notice its texture and color. Describe the taste and note the sensation as you chew. Attempt to use descriptive [...]

Calling Card

“My heroes had the heart, to live their lives out on a limb
And all I remember is thinking, I want to be like them
Ever since I was little, ever since I was little it looked like fun
And it’s no coincidence I’ve come and I can die when I’m done 
But maybe I’m crazy, Maybe you’re crazy, Maybe we’re crazy 
Probably”
                                                                                      —  Gnarls Barkley

I see crazy people. The crazy beauty of vulnerability buried beneath the aggressive challenge of bad-ass, hidden behind eyes cast downward in defeat, shrouded by the illusion of perfectionist control…thinking….I’ll finally be ok when…. The pull…attraction …desire to be known, really known, inside out known, good, bad, ugly known, overshadowed by the risk, pain, uncertainty, rawness of being known.

I feel the crazy grip of terror when spoken through a waterfall of tears as deeply mired beliefs of unlovable, not enough, irrevocably damaged bubble to the surface. The crazy hopelessness that EVERYONE ELSE has been given the Tiffany key… the golden ticket….the secret decoder ring with the answers to this thing…..called… life.

I honor the crazy courage to admit “I fucking don’t know, I fucking don’t care, I fucking don’t want to live……….another day, with the shame, the pain, knowing, hating, battling the thought “nothing….. will……. ever……. change.“ Destined, doomed, fate, karma, bad luck, life sucks and then you die.

I kindle the small, crazy spark of hope, the shaky voice that whispers “maybe,” the Little Engine That Could……of [...]

Mac and Cheese for 33 (with a side of nasty “b”)

“Am I wrong for thinking out the box from where I stay? Am I wrong for saying that I choose another way? I ain’t tryna do what everybody else doing, just cause everybody doing what they all do. If one thing I know, I’ll fall but I’ll grow. I’m walking down this road of mine, this road that I call home.”
– Nico and Vince
We have four options when faced with any challenge or painful situation

Solve the problem
Change your perspective
Radically Accept the situation
Stay stuck

The following is an example of my 11-hour journey through all four (and back again.)

A few weeks ago I agreed to host the entrée portion of our neighborhood progressive dinner. When I made the commitment, 7 people had registered to attend. I would prepare gourmet Mac and Cheese and Tomato Soup. I’m a casual, laid back hostess. Food and adult beverages are self-serve. I use only the best paper plates, bowls and plastic ware for easy, no fuss cleanup. What a simple, easy, fun meal to make and great way to meet new people. I’ve got this.

Countdown Mac and Cheese: the weekend before the dinner: The head count of attendees had grown to 33. A dear friend and neighbor offered to host ½ of the entrée crowd at her home. I’d supply Mac and cheese and soup. She would provide a salad (yay!) A frenzy of progressive dinner emails began midweek. Talk of linen napkins, floral arrangements, serving pieces, moving furniture and renting tables to accommodate the growing group ignited my “not good enough” belief. I acknowledged this well-worn, limiting bully in my mind and shoo her away with a rolling pin. I mentally shifted back to “I’ve got this” [...]

High Hopes

“Next time you’re found, with your chin on the ground.
There’s a lot to be learned, so look around
Just what makes that little old ant, think he’ll move that rubber tree plant?
Anyone knows an ant, can’t, move a rubber tree plant.
But he’s got high hopes. He’s got high hopes.
He’s got high apple pie in the sky hopes
So any time you’re gettin’ low, ‘stead of lettin’ go, just remember that ant
Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant”
– Frank Sinatra – High Hopes

I cut my teeth on High Hopes. The silly, Pollyannaish lyrics and remedial melody resonated through the rooms of my family home. While never idyllic, my childhood was pretty good. My personal problems, COULD be overcome by hope, coupled with a dose of diligence. Until the stinkin’ rubber tree scored some Miracle Bloom and grew to momentous proportions.

My dad had his lung removed when I was 15. Prior to his surgery, I sensed that the implications of this event went beyond our predictably sad, yet hopeful, family discussions. Ear glued to the upstairs floor vent, I overheard plaintive late night conversations that chilled me to the bone.

Dad: “I don’t know how we’re gonna make it, hon. I get some sick time from work but not enough to float us.”

Mom: “ I’ll see what I can do, the kids are all in school, I can go back to work.”

Dad:   sounding choked up “I’m sorry hon, I’ll try my damnest to get back to work as fast as I can.”

Mom: “I can do this, Clarence, don’t worry, just YOU get through this.”

At 15, I didn’t grasp the economics of maintaining a family. I did, however, understand this was BAD (with [...]

The Scientific Gardner of Well-Being

“Now I know a refuge never grows, from a chin in a hand in a thoughtful pose gotta tend the earth if you want a rose.” Indigo Girls

Gardening became a love later in life. I appreciate the entire process. I can wile away hours at the nursery, admiring and selecting plants. Soil under my nails is a sweet reminder of an afternoon preparing and planting. Freshly spread cedar mulch light’s up my olfactory smile. I am in awe of the capacity for growth and resilience in these miracles of nature. Even pulling weeds is a cathartic end of the day experience.

While I adore my garden time, I am NOT skilled at gardening. I buy more plants than I need. I plant the wrong stuff in the wrong place. I forget to water my container plants. My garden is a hodgepodge of enthusiasm without education. The contrast was startling after I visited my friend Karen’s fabulous secret garden (it seriously appears to have sprung up effortlessly and organically.)

Karen is a bona fide Master Gardener. She spends considerable time and effort to honing her scientific knowledge and understanding of flora. Despite her wisdom, Karen is unassuming and generous when talking with others about her passion. She is my gardening coach (whether she is aware of this or not:-­?). I aspire to emulate her synthesis of science, passion and kindness in my career.

My professional garden of well-­?being is planted with evidence-­?based, science driven, “not-­?so-­?common sense.” Perpetual curiosity and life-­?long learning keep the soil of my mind rich and engaged. Heartfelt connections are the life-­?enhancing rain essential to thrive. My fertilizer is a blend of acceptance, observation and acknowledgement. This gardener allows the garden it’s own bloom vision.

A [...]

Try

Get your sexy on. Don’t be shy, girl. Take it off.
This is what you want, to belong, so they like you?
Do you like you?
You don’t have to try so hard. You don’t have to, give it all away.
You just have to get up, get up, get up.
You don’t have to change a single thing.
Colbie Calliat

The most enduring relationship we have is with ourselves. How much time and energy do we devote getting to know, value and respect US? As we clamor to fit in, earn praise and avoid confrontation, we lose our SELVES.

Self-esteem, in my profession, is a highly valued, often misconstrued goal. It sounds great in theory, but what is it REALLY? Self-esteem is the synthesis of self-respect and self-confidence. On the wild ride of life there are three levels of self-esteem that can be explored and practiced.

Dependent self-esteem is contingent on praise or validation, as well as comparison to and by others. We see ourselves as worth more when others acknowledge our accomplishments or when we assess ourselves as superior and see ourselves as worth less with the inverse. This mindset can stifle individual thought, belief and creativity in favor of pleasing and/or outperforming others. Dependent self-esteem frequently usurps the amazing discovery of authenticity in favoring of pleasing others. Relative comparison can foster rigid categorization of others into “less than” or “better than” and lead to unhealthy competition.

Independent self-esteem focus is on defining and acting in accordance with our own internal attributes. We measure our value by noting and validating individual improvements, scaling our accomplishments over time and comparison with our past selves. When independent self-esteem is fostered, we are more intrinsically motivated and prone to [...]