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Gratitude, Happiness, and Optimism

Gratitude, happiness, and OptimismWith Thanksgiving and the Holiday season quickly approaching. We wanted to touch on a few skills and thoughts that may be helpful in this season……

Gratitude, Happiness, and Optimism
Adapted with permission from the presentation-
Happiness: How Positive Psychology Changes Our Lives by Lynn Johnson, Ph.D.


Gratitude prayers are the best at producing happiness

  • Write down some people who have been kind to you. What did they do for you?
  • How do you feel when you review those memories?

Gratitude Experiment

  • Jot down 3 things, in the past 24 hours, that you feel good about and would like to see continue
  • Jot down one or two things you did that you feel were good, right, ethical, or noble, some things you approve of
  • Rate your feelings before/after 0-10

Gratitude for Challenges

  • Jot down something that upset you
  • Now try to brainstorm: How might this be a blessing in disguise? How could I turn it to my advantage? What could be good about this?
  • Rate your feelings now: 0-10

Gratitude Diary

  • Each day, write 3-5 things that you liked
    • What happened to me? Why did it happen?
    • What did I do right? Why did I do that
  • Then write one thing that you didn’t like
    • Ask yourself: “And how is it also good, a blessing in disguise?”
    • Find two or three ways it helps you

Random Kindness

  • One day per week, do five acts of kindness
  • Write about it in your diary

Future Diary

  • Describe your future state
    • The present tense “I am doing X, achieving Y….”
    • How did I do it? Break down into discrete steps
  • Write on this once per week
    • Six months to five years in the future, 10 years in the future

Future Diary- Miracle Question

  • How would things be if your problems were miraculously transformed into solutions?
    • So if the current negatives actually ended up as a benefit (solution) in the long-run
  • What would you do? What would others see you doing? How would others know the miracle had occurred, without you telling them?
  • Write on this once per week

Smile Assignment

  • Practice smiling more on random days
    • Magic coin flip technique
      • Flip a coin- heads you purposely smile extra that day and document in your diary, tails you smile normal and document in a diary
    • Recall happy times, and then smile
  • How does smiling more affect you?
    • Track experiences in your gratitude diary
    • How do I feel?
    • How do others respond to me?


  • Focus on the sensory impressions in a moment-to-moment fashion
    • Food
    • Activity (walking, running, sports)
    • Conversations
    • Friends
    • Recall & Nostalgia
    •    Notice anxiety
    • Do not attempt to change or stop it
    • Notice the feelings, thoughts, fears, changes in your body

Reducing Trauma

  • 15 minutes of “Mindful breathing” reduced reaction to stress and improved mood.
  • Even 5 minutes 2x’s per day has significant benefits.

“What went well” diary

  • Can I make it happen again?
    Diary of when you said thanks – what happened?



In these times resiliency has become a necessity. This blog touches on ways you can practice and improve your own resiliency.

In the June 1st edition of Time Magazine, there is an article on resilience – the quality of being able to rebound from setbacks. The newest research summarized confirms much of the way I approach healing and growth in my practice and in the workshops I facilitate. The article lists 10 things people can do to build more resilience in their lives.

Here they are with my own editorial comments:

Develop a core set of beliefs that nothing can shake.
I could quibble with the inflexibility this statement implies, but the message I take from this is: What is my WHY? How do I make meaning? How do I want to walk the world? Often, my clients begin therapy with only a hazy idea of the answers to these questions. Intently wrestling with these questions helps develop a solid ADULT voice inside our heads that can mediate and lead the discussions (arguments?) that occur frequently in all our brains.

Try to find meaning in whatever stressful or traumatic thing has happened.
Try to maintain a positive outlook.
Take cues from someone who is especially resilient.
Don’t run from things that scare you: face them.
Be quick to reach out for support when things go haywire.
The research is abundantly clear: successful, happy, and fulfilled people develop and use support systems: They are able to ask for help. This flies in the face of an American culture that idealizes independence and self-reliance. There is nothing wrong with these attributes – unless they keep us from asking for help when we could use it.
Learn new things as often as you can.
Find an exercise regimen you’ll stick to.
I have blogged and podcasted several times with regard to The Big Four: those things we all have direct and personal control over that can vastly improve our physical and emotional health. Exercise is one of them.
Don’t beat yourself up or dwell on the past.
I call the internal voice that does this The Critic. We all have this voice and it can be, for some, the dominant voice in our heads. It has a purpose: to protect us from the standpoint of who we were growing up. As such, this voice can have urgency and make meanings that are skewed or simply untrue. One tip for this tip is to develop the habit of thanking the critic for its input – not with sarcasm, but with sincerity, and then deciding what to do from your ADULT voice. Another important piece to this tip is mindfulness. The Time article points out that the newest focus of research and advice on health centers around mindfulness – being aware of my feelings and thoughts while also being aware of what is going on around me. When I dwell on the past, I am not in this moment. Mindfulness takes practice. I have blogged and podcasted several suggestions on how to exercise this skill.
Recognize what makes you uniquely strong – and own it.
This implies that it is important to develop the voice within us that sees what is right – what is positive and true about me and the world in this moment. I call this voice the Nurturer.
Like most lists of tips, these simply tell you what to do – not how to do them. Much of the help I provide my clients is getting clarity and removing the inner blocks that may prevent or inhibit choosing to do any or all of these things.
Credit: Time Magazine and Christopher Mathe, Ph.D.


Exercise with a friendRegular movement of your body provides a whole host of physical, mental, and emotional benefits.


  • Start slow and incrementally
  • Multiple benefits accrue to regular exercise
  • Mixing it up
  • Staying motivated

Exercise – Start slow and incrementally

  • Like all parts of the Big Five, small changes in your exercise routine can lead to large changes in your physical, mental, and emotional health
  • If you are sedentary, talk with your doctor about any suggestions to exercise they have or any limitations
  • Walking, biking or their indoor equivalents is the easiest place to start
  • Start small – give yourself easy goals
  • If you already have an exercise routine, look for ways to changing it up and incrementally improving your performance

Exercise – multiple benefits

  • Our bodies were designed to move
  • Physically, all our systems work better when we get regular exercise
  • Mentally, our balance, concentration, and many other brain functions are improved with regular movement
  • Emotionally, the regular movement stimulates the generation of hormones and neurotransmitters that help us feel better and more engaged in life

Exercise – mixing it up

  • The body is stimulated by change
  • A mix of cardio and resistance exercise is best
  • Add balancing aspects to your resistance exercises
  • Core” exercises are important for stability and balance

Exercise – staying motivated

  • Make it routine
  • Get a buddy or buddies
  • Join a team
  • Track it!
  • Establish goals
  • Know your “why”

Exercise – summary

  • The effects start today.
  • Start small.
  • Make it a practice.
  • Mix it up


9 Steps to Forgiveness  



  1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a trusted couple of people about your experience.


  1. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.


  1. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning of their action. What you are after is to find peace. Forgiveness can be defined as the “peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story.”


  1. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes – or ten years – ago. Forgiveness helps to heal those hurt feelings.


  1. At the moment you feel upset practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body’s flight or fight response.


  1. Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you. Recognize the “unenforceable rules” you have for your health or how you or other people must behave. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, peace and prosperity and work hard to get them.


  1. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt seek out new ways to get what you want.


  1. Remember that a life well-lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you. Forgiveness is about personal power.


  1. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive.


Positive Journaling


Writing can help us minimize the intensity of negative emotions and can also increase our level of positivity and life satisfaction. It can help us find greater meaning and value, increase motivation, and feel more contentment. Uncovering ways to incorporate and focus on positive ideas, whether, through writing, music, or movies will make a major difference in your life.

Write about future life goals. By writing down where we want to be in the future it can help you visualize and move toward this desired state. Writing down goals makes them much more concrete and tangible, and can lead to a greater sense of hope and optimism for the future.

Journal about the positive experiences you had today. Many people keep journals or diaries to process their emotions and make sense of their life. By incorporating positive experiences into these entries we can increase our psychological well-being and satisfaction. The idea of a gratitude journal relates to this notion. Keeping a log of what you appreciate and feel grateful for each day will open your eyes to the blessings that surround you.

Start a blog about things and ideas that inspire you. Learning and sharing information with others is a wonderful source of self-growth and enrichment. When we learn something valuable that provides us a sense of joy, amusement, or inspiration, having a source to share this with others can be very gratifying.

Write a happiness essay about your life experiences. Choose a positive and wonderful memory you have and write about this experience in as much detail as you can. Often peoples’ negative and traumatic memories are what is most easily triggered and focused on. Making an effort to revisit and concentrate on your positive memories can offer a way to bring more positive emotions into your life.

Write a happy and positive song or poem. Often artistic outlets are considered to be a source of catharsis for emotional turmoil and angst, but there are many poems and songs full of positive messages about love, joy, happiness, and resilience. We can use our creativity to be more positive and to instill this in others’ lives.
Instructions: For each day, write down some positive experiences or thoughts. The categories below can help you to think of examples. You don’t have to write something down for every category. It’s okay to just fill in a couple for each day. But try to write down as many as come to mind.

1. Some things that made me smile today are:
2. Some things that I’m grateful for today are:
3. Some things that I accomplished today are:
4. Some kindnesses that I gave or received today are:
5. Some experiences that I savored today are:
6. Some things I feel optimistic about today are:
7. Some ways that I was strong today are:
8. Some ways that I encountered beauty today are:
9. Some good self-care choices that I made today are:
10. Some ways that I connected with others today are:
11. Some things that I like about myself today are:
12. Some other positives today are:

Body Scan Mindfulness Exercise

Mindfulness Exercise

1. Sit in a chair for breath awareness or lie down, making yourself comfortable, lying on your back on a mat or rug on the floor or on your bed. Choose a place where you will be warm and undisturbed. Allow your eyes to close gently.

2. Take a few moments to get in touch with the movement of your breath and the sensations in the body

When you are ready, bring your awareness to the physical sensations in your body, especially to the
sensations of touch or pressure, where your body makes contact with the chair or bed. On each
out-breath, allow yourself to let go, to sink a little deeper into the chair or bed.

3. Remind yourself of the intention of this practice. Its aim is not to feel any different, relaxed, or calm; this may happen or it may not. Instead, the intention of the practice is, as best you can, to bring
awareness to any sensations you detect, as you focus your attention on each part of the body in turn.

4. Now bring your awareness to the physical sensations in the lower abdomen, becoming aware of the changing patterns of sensations in the abdominal wall as you breathe in, and as you breathe out.
Take a few minutes to feel the sensations as you breathe in and as you breathe out.

5. Having connected with the sensations in the abdomen, bring the focus or “spotlight” of your awareness down the left leg, into the left foot, and out to the toes of the left foot. Focus on each of the
toes of the left foot, in turn, bringing a gentle curiosity to investigate the quality of the sensations
you find, perhaps noticing the sense of contact between the toes, a sense of tingling, warmth, or no
particular sensation.

6. When you are ready, on an in-breath, feel or imagine the breath entering the lungs, and then passing down into the abdomen, into the left leg, the left foot, and out to the toes of the left foot. Then, on the out-breath, feel or imagine the breath coming all the way back up, out of the foot, into the leg, up through the abdomen, chest, and out through the nose. As best you can, continue this for a few
breaths, breathing down into the toes, and back out from the toes. It may be difficult to get the hang of this just practice this “breathing into” as best you can, approaching it playfully.

7. Now, when you are ready, on an out-breath, let go of awareness of the toes, and bring your awareness to the sensations on the bottom of your left foot—bringing gentle, investigative awareness to the sole of the foot, the instep, the heel (e.g., noticing the sensations where the heel makes contact with the mat or bed). Experiment with “breathing with” the sensations—being aware of the breath in the
background, as, in the foreground, you explore the sensations of the lower foot.

8. Now allow the awareness to expand into the rest of the foot—to the ankle, the top of the foot, and right into the bones and joints. Then, taking a slightly deeper breath, directing it down into the whole of the left foot, and, as the breath lets go on the out-breath, let go of the left foot completely, allowing the focus of awareness to move into the lower-left leg—the calf, shin, knee, and so on, in turn.

9. Continue to bring awareness, and gentle curiosity, to the physical sensations in each part of the rest of the body in turn – to the upper left leg, the right toes, right foot, right leg, pelvic area, back,
abdomen, chest, fingers, hands, arms, shoulders, neck, head, and face. In each area, as best you can, bring the same detailed level of awareness and gentle curiosity to the bodily sensations present. As you leave each major area, “breathe in” to it on the in-breath and let go of that region on the out-breath.

10. When you become aware of tension, or of other intense sensations in a particular part of the body, you can “breathe in” to them—using the in-breath gently to bring awareness right into the sensations, and, as best you can, have a sense of their letting go, or releasing, on the out-breath.

11. The mind will inevitably wander away from the breath and the body from time to time. That is entirely normal. It is what minds do. When you notice it, gently acknowledge it, noticing where the
mind has gone off to, and then gently return your attention to the part of the body you intended to focus on.

12. After you have “scanned” the whole body in this way, spend a few minutes being aware of a sense of
the body as a whole, and of the breath flowing freely in and out of the body.

13. If you find yourself falling asleep, you might find it helpful to prop your head up with a pillow, open your eyes, or do the practice sitting up rather than lying down.

14. You can adjust the time spent in this practice by using larger chunks of your body to become aware of or spending a shorter or longer time with each part.

Forensic Psychology


DNA and the brain

Contemporary books about the relationships between crime and mental illness have been written by psychologists, psychiatrists, attorneys and journalists.  Books have been written for a variety of audiences including a general audience as well as students, scholars and practitioners in psychology, psychiatry, law and criminal justice.  Crime is an important topic in our society and interrelates with social problems like homelessness, prison overcrowding and victims’ rights.   Crime is a popular topic with the public, as evidenced by the prevalence of TV shows and movies about crime and by the sales of some of these books.

Books that are written for a general audience tend to focus on sensational crimes, celebrity criminals or single themes like the use of neuroscience in the courtroom.  Examples include Canter (2010), Davis (2017), Ewing & McCann (2006), Samenow (2014) and Vinocur (2020).

Textbooks written for graduate or undergraduate courses in psychology and criminal justice cover a wide range of topics at an introductory level.  Examples include Bartol & Bartol (2019), Green & Heilbrun (2019), Howott (2018), Huss (2013) and Shipley & Arrigo (2012).

Books written for scholars and practitioners in the field presume that the reader already has an advanced level of sophistication in the law and forensic psychology.  These books to fall into two categories:

(1)  Large tomes with a wide scope.  Examples include Melton, Petrila, Poythress & Slobogin (2017); Cutler & Zapf (2014); and Weiner & Otto (2013a, 2013b).  The latter three books are edited and contain contributions by well-known authors, most of whom have university affiliations.

(2)  Smaller books of narrower scope that are directed toward single topics like the assessment of risk, deception and specific types of crimes like filicide.  Examples include Heilbrun (2009); McKee (2006); Meloy & Hoffmann (2021); Otto & Douglas (2010); Quinsey, Harris, Rice, & Cormier (2015); and Rogers & Bender (2018).

I have selected ten of these books for closer review.
Please click here to download the full text

4th of July Celebrations

Fourth of July food

While for some, Fourth of July celebrations can be a time of excitement, excess, and fun, for others, it’s a trigger for an underlying mental health issue. With eating and drinking being the focus at the majority of these parties, those who are susceptible to addictive behaviors may find it difficult to take part without consequence. If you find that the pressure to eat or drink excessively has left you feeling out of control, consider the following five tips:

  1. Open up to Family or Friends: If you feel comfortable doing so, let your friends and family know ahead of time what you’re going through. Opening up about substance use or disordered eating problems can help prevent a lot of awkward and unnecessary interactions, and it can make it easier for you to stay true to your path of recovery.
  2. Make a Plan, and a Back-up Plan: Structure is important when you’re recovering from an addiction. The unknown can present unforeseen obstacles so make sure you have enough information about the celebration to know what you’re walking into, or who. If you know that the hotdogs and hamburgers offered will quite possibly be a trigger, stick to your own routine. Eat a meal you’re comfortable with beforehand and bring a cooler with some snacks that will keep you energized throughout the night. If you’re worried about people offering you a drink, have a cup with you filled with water, soda, or another beverage so you can easily deflect and let them know you’re already all set.
  3. Focus on Celebrating What Really Matters: Too often we follow a pattern of behavior without much thought. Why do we celebrate the independence of our country by guzzling beer and grilling food? Focus on your sobriety or your recovery. Those things are truly worth celebrating and if you’re not in the mood for a party, have your family take a hike or spend the day swimming at the beach. There’s no one way to celebrate, and creating your own healthy traditions may make this your best 4th of July yet.
  4. Have a Set Time that You’ll Leave: Most celebrations get more out of hand the longer they run, so enjoy your time but set a reasonable time for departure. It’ll also help you to avoid traffic and the traffic accidents which are a common occurrence on this holiday weekend.
  5. Be Selfish: Sometimes, being selfish is critical. And if it involves your health and your continued recovery, make the choices that you need to support them. If it means not going at all, or just dropping by to say hello, know that you are the most important thing. Your friends and family will still enjoy their night, no matter how bad the guilt trip is that they gave you.
During this holiday, remember that your decisions have an impact on your quality of life. Opt to continue making decisions that benefit your health and those that love you most.
© 2021 MindWise Innovations, a service of Riverside Community Care.

10 Breaths Exercise

10 Breaths Exercise

This is a very simple exercise to help you relax and also to keep you calmer throughout the rest of the day. Practice this as often as you can remember. Even just pausing during your day and taking only 1 deep breath will add up and you’ll get the benefit.
1. Close your eyes.
2. Take a deep breath in.
3. Let the breath out.
4. After the exhale say in your head “one.”
5. Take a deep breath in.
6. Let the breath out.
7. After the exhale say in your head “one.”
8. Continue until you reach approximately 10 breaths.
Don’t worry about how deep the breath is or how long you hold the breath. Just breathe easily and comfortably. At some point your attention will wander to other things. When this happens do not be critical or judgmental. Just notice that your attention wandered and then calmly shift focus back to your breathing and saying “one” after each exhale.

The Attitudinal Foundations of Mindfulness Practice

Authentic Counseling Blog The Attitudinal Foundations of Mindfulness Practice

1. Non Judging
Mindfulness is developed by assuming the stance of an open minded witness to your own experience. To do this requires that you become aware of the constant stream of judging and reacting to inner and outer experiences that we are all normally caught up in, and learn to step back from it. When we begin the practice of paying attention to the activity of our own mind, it is common to discover and to be surprised by the fact that we are constantly making judgments about our experience. Almost everything we see is labeled and categorized by the mind. We react to everything we experience in terms of what we think its value is to us. Some things, people, and events are judged as “good” because they make us feel good for some reason. Others are judged as “bad” because they make us feel bad. The rest is categorized as “neutral” because we don’t think it has much relevance. Neutral things, people, and events are almost completely tuned out of our conscious thought. We usually find them the most boring to give attention to.

2. Patience
Patience is a form of wisdom. It demonstrates that we understand and accept the fact that sometimes things must unfold in their own time. A child may try to help a butterfly to emerge by breaking open its cocoon. Usually the butterfly doesn’t benefit from this. Any adult knows that the butterfly can only emerge in its own time and that the process cannot be hurried.
In the same way we must develop patience toward our own minds and bodies when practicing mindfulness. There is no need to be impatient with ourselves when we find the mind judging, or when we feel tense, agitated or frightened, or because nothing positive seems to be happening. The art of being mindful allows us the room to have these experiences. Why? Because we are having these experiences anyway! When they come up, they are our reality, they are part of our life unfolding in this moment. So we treat ourselves as well as we would treat the butterfly. Why rush through some moments to get to other, “better” ones? After all, each one is your life in that moment.

3. Beginner’s Mind
The richness of present moment experience is the richness of life itself. To be present in the moment means that we focus our attention on what is happening in the here and now rather than on what has happened in the past or on what may happen in the future. Too often we let our beliefs about what we “know” prevent us from seeing things as they really are. We tend to take the ordinary for granted and fail to grasp the extraordinariness of the ordinary. To see the richness of the present moment, we need to develop what has been called “beginner’s mind,” a mind that is willing to see everything as if for the first time.

4. Trust
Developing a basic trust in yourself and your feelings is a basic part of meditation training. It is far better to trust in your intuition and your own authority, even if you make some “mistakes” along the way, than always to look outside of yourself for guidance. If at any time something doesn’t feel right to you, why not honor your feelings? Why should you discount them or write them off as invalid because some authority or some group of people think or say differently? This attitude of trusting yourself and your own basic wisdom and goodness is very important in all aspects of the meditation practice. It will be particularly useful when practicing yoga, because you will have to honor your own feelings when your body tells you to stop or to back off in a particular stretch. If you don’t listen, you might injure yourself.

5. Non striving
Almost everything we do we do for a purpose, to get something or somewhere. But in meditation this attitude can be a real obstacle. That is because meditation is different from all other human activities. Although it takes a lot of work and energy of a certain kind, ultimately meditation is a non doing. It has no goal other than for you to be yourself. The irony is that you already are. This sounds complicated and a little crazy. Yet this may be pointing you towards a new way of seeing yourself, one in which you are trying less and being more. This comes from intentionally developing the attitude of non striving.

6. Acceptance
Acceptance means seeing things as they actually are in the present. If you have a headache, accept that you have a headache. If you are overweight, why not accept it as a description of your body at this time? Sooner or later we have to come to terms with things as they are and accept them, whether it is a diagnosis of cancer or learning of someone’s death. Often acceptance is only reached after we have gone through very emotion filled periods of denial and then anger. These stages are a natural part of coming to terms with what is. They are all part of the healing process.
However, in the course of our daily lives we often waste a lot of energy denying and resisting what is already fact. When we do that, we are basically trying to force situations to be the way we would like them to be, which only makes for more tension. This actually prevents positive change from occurring. We may be so busy denying, forcing and struggling that we have little energy left for healing and growing.

7. Letting Go
They say that in India there is a particularly clever way of catching monkeys. As the story goes, hunters will cut a hole in a coconut that is just big enough for a monkey to put its hand through. Then they will drill two smaller holes in the other end, pass a wire through, and secure the coconut to the base of a tree. Then they put a banana inside the coconut and hide. The monkey comes down, puts his hand in and takes hold of the banana. The hole is crafted so that the open hand can go in but the fist cannot get out. All the monkey has to do to be free is to let go of the banana. But it seems most monkeys don’t let go.

In the meditation practice we intentionally put aside the tendency to hold on to certain aspects of our experiences and practice observing them from moment to moment. Letting go is a way of letting things be and accepting things as they are. When we observe our own mind grasping and pushing away, we remind ourselves to let go of those impulses on purpose, just to see what will happen if we do. When we find ourselves judging our experience, we let go of those judging thoughts. We recognize them and we just don’t pursue them any further. We let them be, and in doing so we let them go. Similarly when thoughts of the past or of the future come up, we let go of them. We just watch.


Source: Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat Zinn (1990)