Saturday, August 27, 2011


The sunflower blooms beside the sweet peas,
Bushy abundant, dozens of blossoms.
Descended from a lineage of Riverdale sunflowers
How the line started, nobody remembers.

Its cousins have rooted in cracks along driveways,
In patches of clay where no hand will remove them
One tiny flower adorning each stem
Producing enough tiny seeds to keep going.

But once in a blue moon a seed will drift onto
A spot where the rain can begin to ignite it.
And then if the humans too late with their weeding
Continue the nurture as if they had planted it,
Then one in a million old Riverdale sunflowers
Will grow as a tree sprouting multiple granches
Resplendid with blossoms, the radiance of joy!
The parent of ten million new possibilities,
The infinite future of Riverdale sunflowers.

Lucky are we at those magical hours
To witness the good that can come from nurturing
Ideals and talents and people and sometimes
The visiting seed of a Riverdale sunflower.

Friday, August 26, 2011



Chronic Physical Pain: I don’t like to be paranoid, but I believe the people at the Hope Foundation are out to get me. They’re putting on more of those hope and strengths groups for my sufferers. They’re bringing in positive emotions to work against me. It’s not fair.
Awe: isn’t that amazing? A few years ago nobody would have thought you should pit positive emotions against chronic pain. And now, here’s Pain, claiming it’s not a fair fight.
Gratitude: That’s something to be thankful for.
Joy: How absolutely delightful. I’m thrilled.
Amusement: I think it’s rather funny. Chronic Pain is such a monster that not even the medical profession can vanquish it. And here it is whining about fairness.
Pride: Yes, it is most satisfying to see how much attention we positive emotions are getting in the psychological research. Barbara Fredrickson says we broaden the repertoire of potential responses and build resources. It seems like people who have us find more options for themselves and more ways of getting the things they need. That’s why we’ve been asked to square off against Chronic Pain. There are people out there who believe we can really make a difference.
Pain: But it’s not fair. Here we have ten positive emotions fighting against little old me. I have been around a long time, and I know that ten to one fighting is not fair. I say you make it a fair fight. Choose one positive emotion. One to one. That’s fair.
Inspiration: I have an idea that might solve this. If Pain insists on having only one opponent, we should send Hope. Hope is the most complex of us all, and the only one that’s equipped to focus on the future. People with chronic pain need to be able to hope for a good future. Yes, I do believe that Hope can go in alone. Raise your hands if you agree,
Hope: Not so fast. I have my doubts about the wisdom of sending me in alone against Pain.
Serenity: Don’t worry. Hope always has doubts. That’s what distinguishes it from positive thinking and optimism.
Pain: I hope they don’t send Hope. It gets people thinking that they could have a good future, and I find that very threatening.
Hope: But I still don’t want to go in alone. We positive emotions have done it together and it has worked out well. I wouldn’t want to try it without your support. You’ve all been there to help. I am a helpful conversation piece. People can think about me, and talk about me, and make me the centre of activities, and it’s good when they feel me.
Pride: Actually, you have a bit of each of us in you.
Hope: That may be true. But each of you makes a special contribution. I say we all go together. Usually there’s more than one way to get what you need. Is there some other way of thinking about Pain’s complaints?
Inspiration: I suggest we send interest over to have a look at Chronic Pain. Maybe Interest will be able to notice something that will help us decide who should join the fight. Go on over, Interest. Take a look.
Interest: hello Chronic Pain. I’ve come over for a closer examination of your corner. Now that I have a better view, I see you’ve been misleading us a little. You are hardly here alone.
Pain: Of course I am. It’s just me against all of you. Not fair, I say.
Interest: Oh no you’re not. You are taking all the credit. But some others are acting alongside you. Fatigue is over here, tiring out the people who have to live with you, and Disappointment is demoralizing them when they try to find solutions. Hiding behind you I see Isolation, keeping your sufferers away from their friends and routine activities. And who is this over here on the left? Is it Despair? Why, yes it is. How are people supposed to take advantage of opportunities and resources if they don’t expect anything good to happen? And there’s Depression keeping its head down, making people feel like they’re not worth helping. Shame on you for whining. You aren’t alone at all. I say it’s a fair fight. Positive emotions against you and your team. We all should go in.
Awe: Nice job, interest. A case well stated.
Pain: okay okay. So I admit that my sufferers might be feeling more than me alone. But it still won’t be a fair fight. The leaders of the Hope Foundation groups are against me. They don’t give me a fair hearing. It starts on the first day.
Interest: Tell us more about what happens.
Pain: The sufferers come in, thinking mostly of me. Then the leaders just ignore me. First they make people feel welcome.
Love: That’s where I begin, with the warm welcome.
Pain: Then, instead of acknowledging me and giving me the right to speak for every sufferer, they get people to introduce themselves in ways they never expected. They don’t even mention me.
Joy & Amusement: Yes, it is a pleasure to be there for introductions. We’re always there at introductions.
Pain: After they get going, the leaders help them brainstorm about hope. I can’t stand it when the sufferers start brainstorming ideas about hope. Pretty soon they all think they are poets or something.
Hope & Inspiration: It does set a lovely tone, doesn’t it?
Pain: Near the end of the first session they start talking about hope suckers. I’m usually on the list of hope-suckers they mention, of course. But even then, I hear people giggling. How can I have power if people don’t take me seriously?
Amusement: Laughing and being truthful at the same time. They’re mentioning their discouragements and laughing at the idea of hope-suckers. I love it.
Pain: Sometimes nobody mentions me at the end of the day. I feel so small when that happens. But the second day is just as bad, or maybe worse. They start making those hope collages. It wouldn’t be so bad if they’d stick to picking pictures of things they hope for. I could definitely get in the way of that. But then they start picking out pictures of beautiful scenery.
Awe: That’s me at work.
Pain: It’s disgusting. They start choosing pictures of happy families.
Love: That’s my territory.
Pain: They’re always showing pictures of things they like to do.
Joy: It does get very pleasant.
Pain: Worst of all, it seems to be contagious. All that pleasantness and awe starts spreading. It’s like a disease and it’s hard to stop once it gets going. And there’s always something about peace and patience in those collage pictures. Don’t bother saying anything Serenity. I recognize your hand in it.
Amusement: Pain certainly is going on and on. It’s being positively chronic.
Gratitude: Thank goodness we sent Interest over to stir things up. I now see that we all have a part. Hope ought not to have to face it alone.
Pain: Pay attention to me. I am not finished yet. On the third day those leaders get going on strengths. Depression has a terrible time with that. You can almost see people getting bolder, prouder.
Pride: Oh, I love it. Depression is my worst enemy.
Pain; But that’s not the end of it. By the fourth session, they’ve started paying attention to me. But are ,my sufferers complaining, letting me have the day? No! They’re making lists of resources, sharing information on ways of putting me down. All sorts of things come to light. One person knows something and pretty soon everybody knows it.
Awe: They actually start talking about things that help them.
Interest: And they get excited about searching for options.
Pain: How am I to defend myself against all that?
Gratitude: Can’t you just be happy that they’re dealing with you? You were complaining about being ignored.
Pain: The worst thing about the strengths and resources is that they start to build up Hope.
Amusement: I get a kick out of watching Hope sneak in, growing a little bigger all the time. Maybe on the first week Hope is the subject of a little amateur poetry. But on the last day, people are laughing about the future and imagining all sorts of adventures. Hope seems to be running the show.
Love: Don’t forget about me. The people with pain always say they hate to leave. They get rather attached to each other, and to the leaders, and to us. They remember that Isolation made them lonely and they don’t want it back. I guess they really aren’t too keen on facing Pain alone.
Pain: I don’t see why. I’m not nearly as powerful at the end as I am at the beginning. All those positive emotions release hormones that work against me. The sufferers aren’t nearly as willing to bow down to me. They’ve got their new friends and their new resources. They’ve got funny things to remember and pictures to look at. They’ve got ideas of things to try. Even if I stay around, I am not nearly the force I used to be.
Interest: Well, Pain, I have assessed the situation from many perspectives and I do believe you are justified in being fearful. Over the next few years there will be a lot more research that will help us find more effective ways of handling you. The medical people are working on it, and the psychology people too.
Hope: Sounds like there’s good reason to have me. When it comes to your future, Chronic Pain, I think you can expect to meet some stiff opposition. In the meantime, we positive emotions, your sufferers and the Hope Foundation leaders will be at the Hope Foundation on Tuesdays this fall, waiting to take you on.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


What do counsellors of broken people have in common with forest fire spotters who study the landscape from lonely towers?

The answer lies in this quote: "You can't go there to find yourself. You have to like yourself," (Tim Klein, Alberta's provincial wildfire detection co-ordinator, Edmonton Journal, Aug. 21, 2011.)

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Me: You seem a little down today. What’s up?
Myself: Oh, nothing really. I’m just a bit worried about retirement.
Me: Retirement! Worried about retirement?
Myself: Yes. I’m worried that I might not be happy in retirement.
Me: Okay. Let’s just think about this for a minute. We’re now on the second to last day of a 3-week holiday, right?
Myself: Right.
Me: And we have had a wonderful time doing relatively simple things at low cost. Right?
Myself: Right.
Me: We’ve had time to read. Right?
Myself: Right.
Me: We’ve had time to write. Right?
Myself: To write? Right.
Me: We’ve had time to garden. Right?
Myself: Right.
Me: We’ve done some fabulous exploring. We even learned a lot of new things on the free tour of downtown. Right?
Myself: Right.
Me: Sounds like good practice for retirement.
Myself: Right.
Me: When are you thinking we would retire?
Myself: Oh, we’re not ready for retirement yet. We still love working, at least I do. I am quite certain that retirement is a long way off.
Me: So tell me then. Why are you worrying about whether you will be happy in retirement?

This blog post sponsored by AWRY (Associated Worriers about Retirement Years)

Friday, August 19, 2011


Pirate: I have some concerns and perhaps we ought to discuss them.
Me: Oh. What’s on your mind?
I see you’ve been reading Internet articles about how to deal with dogs who dig.
Me: Yes.
Pirate: Is it because of that cute new hole I started in the lily patch?
Me: Not entirely.
Pirate: Is it because David caught me digging up the gladioli?
Me: Well, not entirely.
Pirate: Is it because David fell in the hole I dug in the raspberries.
Me: Well, maybe that’s part of it.
Pirate: You aren’t still mad about the holes I dig in the lawn every spring, are you?
Me: Don’t be ridiculous! You know I’ve never been one to hold a grudge. But I do wonder why it isn’t enough for you to have the three holes we’ve allowed you to dig behind the peonies.
Pirate: What does the Internet suggest?
Me: It says you might be bored, or anxious. It says we should install electrice fences, or put balloons in your holes to scareyou when you dig, or go out in thenight and dig up all the things you bury.
Pirate: And ...
Me: It suggests that we spend more time playing with you, build you a sandbox to play in, take you to behavior classes, give up gardening when we are in your sightline, or give you to people who don’t mind a few dozen holes in their yards.
Pirate: Perhaps you should be told that, at this point in life, I’d rather not be given away.
Me: Okay.
Pirate: And I’d rather not be shocked by a fence.
Me: Okay.
Pirate: And I already know that you garden. So there’s no pint in sneaking out to do it in secret.
Me: Well, actually, I thought as much.
Pirate: What did it say about yelling and spanking your dog?
Me: It said not to bother.
Pirate: And did it say that all dogs like digging?
Me: No. It said that terriers like to dig more than any other dog.
Pirate: And I’m part terrier. Right?
Me: Well, that’s what the vet said.
Pirate: In that case, I guess I’ll have to forgive you.

One short search of the Internet, one giant defeat for humankind.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


If I didn’t live in Edmonton, I’d come here just for the Fringe. So far we’ve seen:

Ring The Bells, a snappy musical melodrama from the 50’s,
This Is Cancer, a commedy of the funniest kind (deeply serious underneath)
Mrs. Lindeman Proposes, a love storyin Jasper
Firing Lines, an historical play about a journalist covering World War I

And we have seen theatres packed to the limit, a great thing for the actors who make their money off ticket sales. Some people see 30 plays, maybe even 50 at the Fringe. We will be seeing 6. Six plays seemed a lot when we bought the tickets, but now it doesn’t seem excessive. Only the delight is excessive.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


"The best kind of happiness is the happiness one creates for oneself, quite incidentally, out of the everyday materials and commonplace beauty of the world at hand."

(Anne Giardini, The Sad Truth About Happiness, Harpercollins, 2006 P12 of the P.S. Section)

Him: You sure are writing a lot of animal conversations lately.
Me: I know. I’m doing it for Tracey.
Him: Really?
Me: Yes. She likes them.
Him: I know she likes them. She always reads them out loud to me. But she doesn’t think you’d be writing them for her.

Of course she doesn’t think I’d be writing for her. She is, after all, the modest type. That’s one of the things I like about her. Another is her approach to happiness. Tracey has a happiness blog: LIFE, LOVE, HAPPINESS. There is absolutely nothing extraordinary about its content—absolutely nothing except for its focus. The name says it all.
I suppose there are some who would say that blogs like Tracey’s are disingenuous, even misleading. There are those who would criticise them for telling only half the truth, for leaving out the gritty details.
Gritty details definitely have their place. They are the stuff of interesting gossip. They help create narrative tension in the best of stories. But they also shape our emotional response to the world in which we live. When it comes to writing our own diaries, we tend to believe what we read.
The truth is a matter of selection. Of course there are gritty details in tracey’s life. But you won’t read them on her blog. You have to get to know her to know them. Tracey writes this blog for herself, to shape and record an important aspect of her emotional life that might get lost in the daily routine of coping and complaining. She could keep it private, but she makes it available to any of the rest of us who like to know about her life. In a world where upcoming newspeople are taught to shape our reading by the saying “If it bleeds, it leads”, blogs like Tracey’s help to tip the scales a bit. And every time I write an animal conversation, I think of happiness. I picture Tracey, smiling, and reading it out loud to Him.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Pirate: (scratching at the door) Ruff, Ruff!!!
Me: Oh Hi Pirate. Did you miss me?
Pirate: (wagging) Yes, I want to go for a walk.
Me: Just let me put down this suitcase and then I’ll give you a pet.
Pirate: (Jumping on my leg) I want to go for a walk.
Me: Just let me check the messages and then I’ll see if you need some food in your dish.
Pirate, (scratching) I want to go for a walk.
Me: We had a great weekend Pirate. It was the 100th anniversary of the village of Lougheed. We spent so much time visiting with all the relations and many friends.
Pirate: (lying down in front of my feet) I want to go for a walk.
Me: I saw people I haven’t met in 40 years. They had a 45-minute parade, a street dance and an indoor dance. They fed us 2 breakfasts and 2 suppers. We saw all the exhibits at the Lougheed Fair, and we watched the horse show for a bit, and we went through the buildings in the museum. They had a big church service that filled the community hall. We had pie and a drink at the curling rink for only $2.00. Two dollars Pirate. Where can you get a bargain like that? We went to the ice cream shop. We visited the cemetery and spent time with some of dad’s former neighbours at the nursing home in Killam. The weather was fabulous, Pirate.
Pirate: I want to go for a walk.
Me: Okay Pirate. Why don’t we go for a little walk before we unpack.


Friday, August 12, 2011


"Gardening is a way of showing that you believe in tomorrow." (Source unknown)

One: Remember those petunias that I watered because they looked like they might be dying?
Other: Yes.
One: Well, it looks like they are waterlogged. They look deader than they did yesterday and weigh three times as much. Let’s take them down.
Other: And what would we replace them with?
One: The healthy geraniums from the side.
Other: Okay.
One: What are you doing with those petunias?
Other: Putting them where the geraniums were. They’re not quite dead.
One: They will be dead tomorrow.
Other: You don’t give up hope that easily, do you?

And that is how gardening progressed from spiritual pursuit to resurrection theology.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Me: How happy are you, on a scale of 1 to 10?
Myself: How happy am I about what?
Me: About everything. How happy are you in general?
Myself: Right at this minute?
Me: Sure. Right at this minute. How happy are you?
Myself, Well, so-so, I guess. Maybe 5. I certainly can’t say I’m delighted to be answering these boring questions. We are on holidays, you know, or perhaps you’ve forgotten. Seems as if you have us thinking about some pretty serious stuff.
Me: Serious stuff? We’ve been thinking about happiness. How serious can that be?
Myself: Pretty serious when we’re supposed to rate our happiness on a scale of 1 to 10. Looks like psychological research to me, the kind we’d be thinking about at work.
Me: exactly. It is what we’d be thinking about at work, if we were in the mood and if we had spare time. But right now we’re on holidays, and we’re having fun, and we’d got time to think. We’ve got time to be thinking and reading about happiness, which is why I’m wondering how happy you are.
Myself: Well, I’m very happy to be on holidays. I’ve been having a great time seeing friends, working in the garden, spending time with family, having little adventures, finding places in the city that I hadn’t known about before.
Me: So if you are very happy, then that must count for more than 5 out of 10. I’ll raise it to 8, maybe 9. How happy do you think you’d be if we were at work?
Myself: I don’t know. It depends which day, maybe even which hour. It’s just like holidays. One minute you are 5 and the next you are 9. It goes up and down.
Me: the pleasure part goes up and down.
Myself: The pleasure part? What other part is there to happiness?
Me: According to Martin Seligman, 2 other parts, meaning and engagement. In fact, it appears that meaning and engagement may be even more important than pleasure when it comes to being happy.
Myself: Meaning and engagement? What are they?
Me: Meaning is whether you think your life is important, whether it seems to matter. Engagement is about the things you do. Do they seem important?
Myself: Well I guess we must be pretty happy then.
Me: How do you mean?
Myself: Well, here we are, at home on vacation, reading research articles and thinking about things that pertain to work. And in a minute, we’re going to stop this conversation and go to a flower show. Then we are having company over for dinner. Nobody’s making us think about happiness, or go to a flower show. We’re doing these things because we like to. They give us pleasure. And when we go back to work, we’ll tell everyone how much fun we had on holidays. And it won’t matter that we are wasting work time thinking about holidays, because we were thinking about work when we were on holidays. Sounds like a happy life to me.

Schueller, S. & Seligman, M. (2010). Pursuit of pleasure, engagement, and meaning: Relationships to subjective and objective measures of well-being, The Journal of Positive Psychology 5(4) 253-263.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Research psychologists have developed a genuine interest in positive psychology. What better news could there be for a HOPE LADY? It’s hard to say why that interest took so long to develop. But some things are worth waiting for.
Hope is one of ten positive emotions Barbara L. Fredrickson discusses in her book Positivity. The other 9 are: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love. She asserts that positive emotions broaden our repertoire of responses and build our inventory of resources. I was thinking about this theory last Friday night while a thunderstorm raged outside my bedroom. The room was ablaze with flashing and the air roared. All over the city people and pets were trembling with fear. Trees might fall. Power might fail. Gardens might be ruined. Fires might start. Those who were fearful had good reason to be. I was a little frightened myself. I am not certain whether you can decide not to be frightened. You can try to be safe, and still you’ll feel the fear.
While fear is a legitimate response, other responses are also possible. While you are feeling the fear, you might be able to feel other things. I decided to notice what I could feel. I could feel interest—could be interested in the cause of such storms. I could feel awe—be awe-struck at the power of the thing that was happening in my city. I focussed on the awe and the interest as I crawled out of bed to protect the computer by shutting it down. A fascinated person—more resourceful in some obscure way--finds it a little easier to leave the bed for an entry into the uncertainty beyond.
The focus on positive psychology brings with it a shift in perspective regarding emotional life and the role of a professional counsellor. When the primary emotions of interest are anger, sadness, guilt, etc., the professional seeks to help people reduce the emotional severity and subsequent consequences. But when it comes to positive emotions, the professional seeks to produce the positive emotions. The goal is to enliven them, to intensify them so that they can become a vibrant component of emotional life.
The counselling program at the Hope Foundation of Alberta was ahead of its time in the early 1990’s. As a new employee I was asked to do an unusual thing: use all my psychologist skills to create an atmosphere of hope in which problems could be addressed. The atmosphere of hope was more important in the hierarchy than the problem itself. Nowadays this idea would not seem radical, but at the time professional respect for the theory was hard to come by.
In the current research environment a considerable amount of energy is being devoted to the study of basic positive emotions. As we learn more about how they work, counsellors are asking what they ought to do with the information. To THE HOPE LADY, this perspective shift brings joy and a sense of serenity. And—oh yes—it also brings hope.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011


The Association for Psychological Science has released a new report by Psychologist Harold Herzog. In an article entitled Are Pet Owners Healthier and Happier? Maybe Not, Herzog asserts that current research is inadequate to support the popularly held theory that pet owners are healthier and happier than their petless counterparts. Surprised by this finding, I decided to dig a little deeper in search of the truth.
Me: (to Kitty) I’ve just read an article by a scientist who says there is inadequate research to prove that pets improve the health of their owners. I am wondering what goes through your mind as you hear this news.
Kitty: Absolutely ridiculous!
Me: Do you have evidence to support your view.
Kitty: No, and I don’t need any.
Me: (to Pirate the Shih-tsu) I’ve just read an article by a scientist who says there is inadequate research to prove that pets improve the health of their owners. I am wondering what goes through your mind as you hear this news.
Pirate: Ridiculous! When is the last time you got sick?
Me: Do you claim that I am healthier because I have you?
Pirate: Of course. It’s obvious.
Conclusion: 100% of the pets interviewed believe that pet owners are healthier and happier than their petless counterparts. How can you argue with evidence like that?

Monday, August 08, 2011


"Deeply happy people are noticers and thinkers. They are attentive. They are aware of, and appreciate beauty, goodness, and complexity. They find a way to do meaningful work,or have the knack of investing the work they do with meaning. They stay connected with people they enjoy. Happy people believe that the future will be good. A set back is only temporary.”

(Anne Giardini, The Sad Truth About Happiness, Harpercollins, 2006 P12 of the P.S. Section)

Sunday, August 07, 2011


It’s a good week to be writing about happiness—a good week to be feeling it too. There is some happy news. Rachel says she’ll soon be back at work—back from a journey that started in the spring and consumed much of the summer.
Happiness is a complicated condition—layered and nuanced—not so simple as happy versus sad. I was happy while she was gone. I was contented. I had hope. Days were pleasant. Still, something I valued was noticeable by its absence.
The absent thing—the thing that took a rest with Rachel’s leaving, was the glee—that quality described by Anne Giardini as “hopped-up happiness”. Glee takes hold of you. Transports you. It sets you down in a place you had no idea you were about to visit. Glee surprises you. Glee, in my case, is the edge of happiness that announces itself in the sudden entry of a giggler upon a scene that seemed to be benign a moment before. The giggler is irrational, irreverent, often irrelevant. She lies in wait, waiting to burst out, somewhere behind the eyes, ready for a call, a challenge, an invitation. In my reactionary world of relationship chemistry, Rachel is an artist in the medium of giggler invitation.
I have missed the giggler in me—missed having her pop out in the early morning, at lunch, during the most serious of discussions. I have missed Rachel too. So I am looking forward to seeing more of them both, Rachel and the giggler, looking forward, among other things, to an increase in the number of moments of glee.

Saturday, August 06, 2011


"Happiness has many aspects and comes in more guises than we may readily recognize. Contentment is a purring, low-maintenance kind of happiness; it is
happiness without the energy to aspire to joy. Glee is hopped-up happiness, happiness on a tear. Nostalgia is the craft of discerning happiness in the
past, just as hope is all wrapped up in happinesses that are anticipated in the future." (Anne Giardini, The Sad Truth About Happiness, Harpercollins, 2006 P12 of the P.S. Section)