Sunniness: Better By Monday

“Happiness is an inside job. Don’t assign anyone else that much power over your life.”  -Mandy Hale

Many of us believe in the pursuit of happiness. When we set a goal, we have begun a pursuit of something we hope brings us more happiness. Pursuing something creates energy.  However, when the goal stays out of reach, or we fail several times on the journey, we discover that happiness can be elusive.

There is more than one type of happiness. My positive energy increased just looking at some synonyms (there are 994 at like; delight, pleasure, joy, bliss, enjoyment, contentment, satisfaction, ecstasy, glee, exhilaration, amusement, well-being, and nirvana.

If we take this short list of happy words and put them on a continuum which assumes the level of energy required or generated for that type of happiness, we will see three different levels of feeling happy.

The lower energy level words are contentment, satisfaction, and well-being.  Middle energy level words are delight, pleasure, enjoyment, and amusement. Higher energy levels include joy, bliss, exhilaration, ecstasy, and nirvana.

You may reject the idea of only three levels or dislike my inclusion of some of the words in one of the categories – make your levels of happiness continuum work for you.  This discussion, so far, is to create awareness of how happiness is more than a single experience.

The next step I want to take in this article is towards your happiness, at least at level 1, being purposeful and available daily. You can start a habit that will increase your happiness without the patience long-term goals require.

When we focus on the positive, it helps us appreciate the better things in life. You may “pay closer attention to positive events down the road and engage in them more fully—both in the moment and later on when you can reminisce and share these experiences with others. Reflecting on the cause of the event may help attune you to the deeper sources of goodness in your life.” (GGSC, The Science of Happiness, 2014)

The happiness creating exercise reported to make a real life difference based on studies conducted by Positive Psychology experts, Seligman, Park, Peterson, and Steen, is included at the end of this article.

One Thing to Do: Make positive thinking a tradition. The exercise (below) is from The Science of Happiness course available through the Greater Good Science Center.

Happiness Practice #1: Three Good Things.

Each day for at least one week, write down three things that went well for you that day and provide an explanation for why they went well. It is important to create a physical record of your items by writing them down; it is not enough simply to do this exercise in your head. The items can be relatively small in importance (e.g., “my co-worker made the coffee today”) or relatively large (e.g., “I earned a big promotion”). To make this exercise part of your daily routine, some find that writing before bed is helpful.

As you write, follow these instructions:

  1. Give the event a title (e.g., “co-worker complimented my work”)
  2. Write down exactly what happened in as much detail as possible, including what you did or said and, if others were involved, what they did or said.
  3. Include how this event made you feel at the time and how this event made you feel later (including now, as you remember it).
  4. Explain what you think caused this event—why it came to pass.
  5. Use whatever writing style you please, and do not worry about perfect grammar and spelling. Use as much detail as you’d like.
  6. If you find yourself focusing on negative feelings, refocus your mind on the good event and the positive feelings that came with it. This can take effort but gets easier with practice and can make a real difference in how you feel.


Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.

Growth: Better By Monday

“Tolerating the pain involved in growing; mobilizing yourself toward growth you value and aspire to; soothing your own hurts when necessary, without excessive self-indulgence; supporting rather than berating yourself.” –Dr. David Schnarch

Differentiation, as Muray Bowen described, is the ability to recognize “self” with realistic dependence on others, having thinking which is “rooted in a careful assessment of the facts.” The choices are based on a thoughtful process not a reaction to pressure, it is not pushy or wishy-washy but oriented by a strong sense of self and relation to others.

To be more differentiated is to know yourself very well. Because you know who you are, you know what you accept. This orientation helps you reject being controlled, manipulated, or bullied into a decision by others. It also helps you not over-function for others or be overpowering.

We live in a social context and therefore get to know who we are by the ways we are different from the people around us. An important aspect of differentiation is being able to “hold onto yourself” through personal growth, as defined by Dr. Schnarch in the quote at the beginning of this article.

He includes: not avoiding pain (such as the emotional pain of learning you hurt people sometimes), pursuing growth within a belief you value, self-soothing when things don’t go your way but not dropping into a victimized narrative, using positive self-talk instead of harsh criticism.

One Thing to Do: Think about what helps you with your growth goals. Use the following questions to self-assess your hesitancy or readiness to take action towards personal growth.

  1. Is my fear keeping me from taking action?
  2. Am I accountable to myself for the actions I take or don’t take?
  3. Have I let others change my plans?
  4. Does the action I want to take add value to my life?
  5. Can I handle the setbacks which might occur once I take action?
  6. What words can I use to stay realistic and motivated?


Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S, LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.

Self-defeating: Better By Monday

“…people’s sense of knowing is beyond their control and cannot be easily argued away. It’s a powerful pull for them to remain as they’ve always been, even when they are engaging in self-defeating behaviors.”  – Robert Burton (As quoted in Insecure in Love)

As we develop our sense of self, over time, we create preferred behavior patterns. These behaviors become our “way” of being ourselves. If we like the labels associated with our chosen style of self – we are likely to continue repeating the patterns which feel safe because the patterns have become known as “me.”

Stacy is a girl, daughter, sister, partner, and mother. She is also described as warm, open, kind, intuitive, real, and serious-minded. There are many other lists I could make which would add to an understanding of her, but a listing of all attributes would be too long for this article.

The first list is an order of roles assumed by Stacy based on categories she occupies. She learned about being a daughter while she was one. The second list is made up of qualities she has chosen and cultivated. Learning which behaviors are associated with qualities she prefers becomes a repertoire of being.

Sometimes a dysfunctional behavior (such as worrying) becomes associated with the desired quality (serious-minded). If Stacy likes being serious-minded, she probably likes behaviors such as sincerity, purposefulness, and thoughtfulness. When we overuse a “good” behavior it may mutate into an undesired experience.

The combination of over-thinking plus being over-purposeful turns into worrying. This mutation of serious-mindedness is made up of two beneficial things which when overworked can become problematic for Stacy. She may find herself worrying all the time but not feeling more solid – which is what her thinking used to achieve.

Worrying is self-defeating. My grandmother used to say, “Worrying is like rocking in a rocking chair. You use up energy, but you don’t get anywhere.”  Worry can take up time and energy. It can take over and become ruminating which may lead to a constant feeling of anxiety.

One Thing to Do: How are you self-defeating? Is the way you defeat yourself an extension of something which started out as a good or useful behavior?  Dr. Gilmore and Dr. Fraleigh developed the Friendly Style Profile for personality assessment. Below is a small sample from the Friendly Syle Profile of the ways we move from a useful quality to an excessive version of that quality.

Routes to excess

Flexible slips into Inconsistent and then drops into Unreliable

Careful slips into Wary and then drops into Obsessive

Eager slips into Impatient then drops into Driven

Hopeful slips into Disillusioned and then drops into Despairing


Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.

Powerful: Better By Monday

“And yet the dance of anger and forgiveness, performed to the uncontrollable rhythm of trust, is perhaps the most difficult in human life, as well as one of the oldest.” – Maria Popova

Anger is the emotion which arrives pushing our personal power forward like a forgotten best friend who must step up to the moment or regret the missed opportunity. That opportunity is using our personal power to right a wrong, perceived or real, which allows us to trust ourselves again. Anger feels like an ally because she reminds us that we do not have to receive the blow of being wronged (harmed and/or offended) with surrender.

However, when anger is misunderstood as a vehicle to overpower others (take back something we believe has been taken from us), we miss an opportunity to trust our self-respect.

Martha Nussbaum philosopher and author of, Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice, helps us recognize that “wrongdoing” is often a misperception by the receiver. “Notoriously, however, people sometimes get angry when they are frustrated by inanimate objects, which presumably cannot act wrongfully… In 1988, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article on “vending machine rage”: fifteen injuries, three of them fatal, as a result of angry men kicking or rocking machines that had taken their money without dispensing the drink. (The fatal injuries were caused by machines falling over on the men and crushing them.)”

The men who raged against the machine, the vending machines, may have felt a complete loss of control over an object which could not be reasoned with. There was no argument which could persuade, there was no rising tone of frustration which would convince the thing to change its mind and this reality rendered the buyers helpless. The men thought they were getting a fair exchange and expectations were simple.

Cheating the men out of their money had occurred, but it wasn’t an act of harm. Feelings of powerlessness resulted from the loss of money but also from the loss of recourse. There was no one to report the loss too. There was no evidence the money lost was actually theirs. No show of self-respect could have made the machine return the money.

The ability to report an offense, be believed and seek restitution gives us hope that even in the event of wrongdoing – we can restore our human value.

“We are prone to anger to the extent that we feel insecure or lacking control with respect to the aspect of our goals that has been assailed — and to the extent that we expect or desire control. Anger aims at restoring lost control and often achieves at least an illusion of it. To the extent that a culture encourages people to feel vulnerable to affront and down-ranking in a wide variety of situations, it encourages the roots of status-focused anger.” –Martha Nussbaum

One Thing to Do: Practice Relaxation. When you care enough about yourself to calm down, using your personal power in a self-respecting way, you remind yourself you’re valuable. Thinking through what happened to make your anger surface is easier when calm.

  1. Breathe slowly. A five-count inhale followed by a five count exhale.
  2. Use a word which promotes relaxing. Say it to yourself as you breathe in/out.
  3. Trust your ability to problem solve once you feel less helpless.
  4. Ask for help solving the problem, if needed.
Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.

Force: Better By Monday

“I bow my head to the heaven within heaven.
Hairline rays illuminating the universe.
The eight winds cannot move me.
Sitting still upon the purple, golden lotus.”
-Su Dongpo, The Song Dynasty poet.

The eight winds Su Dongpo references in his poem about serenity are praise, ridicule, honor, disgrace, gain, loss, pleasure, and misery (Derek Lin,2007).  These are the influences which force us out of our state of inner peace or off balance within yourself.

The winds which seem positive such as honor, gain, pleasure and praise can inflate our ego and cause us to believe we are above others. This state of superiority is then desired and becomes a position to defend.  A person who gets elevated by the four positive winds may always try to stay above everyone and therefore be detached from the love he needs.

The four winds which seem negative are ridicule, disgrace, loss, and misery. Although most people will not seek for any of these to blow into life – they gust their way to us. The moment we are met with a negative wind which knocks us down it becomes our choice to succumb to that moment and stay down. This way we can never be knocked over again.

The other decision is to learn from the personalized impact of the wind. This learning includes which one of the four winds was able to knock us down. It also includes understanding what caused us to be more vulnerable to that particular negativity.

We cannot eliminate the eight winds from our lives. We can pay attention to how we let them affect our balance. Do we seek the winds which elevate us above others or do we allow the force of some winds to push us below others?

One Thing to Do: Let go of the need to prove anything to others. You can hold onto your values and live from them without needing someone else to honor them. And you can hold beliefs you love without letting differences become proof of disrespect.

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.



Vicious Cycle: Better by Monday

“I believe this kind of excruciating self-torture is caused by denied emotional pain leaking into consciousness as tormented thinking.”  – Pete Walker

Self-torture starts with a feeling, which usually has historical significance from childhood, and turns into a heavy emotion accompanied by critical self-talk.  A vicious cycle is created between the self-talk and the emotions which keep churning out negativity. This pattern spans decades of life for some people because it wasn’t stopped at its small and less damaging beginning and now it seems to big to handle.

As children we may learn to be hyper-critical of ourselves because of the way we were parented. Walker explains that we need to, “… release the part of (our) childhood pain that is an accumulation of unexpressed hostile feelings about parental injustice.”

Until we become aware of our internal dialogue – it runs our lives. A woman who hated the way her mother condescended everything she did may repeat all the negative statements in her head, against herself, as an adult. Her self-esteem will plummet with every negative cycle created. With enough practice using negative self-talk, a person’s self-esteem may have little time to resurface in between vicious cycles.

To stop self-torturing thinking we need to start healing the hurt which initiated the cycle. Healing requires purposeful and consistent mapping of our thoughts and feelings. Once we are more aware of how badly we talk to ourselves – we can substitute a fresh thought. Hopefully, we can feel all of our feelings and stop shaming some as wrong. This gives us an opportunity to use words to understand why they are there, which creates clarity instead of despair.

Jane Roberts said, “The emotions will not feel like stepchildren, with only the best dressed being admitted – they will need to cry out for expression, for they will be fully admitted as members of the the family of self.”

One Thing to Do: Give your inner parenting voice better things to say.

A List of Healthy (Self) Parenting Practices.

This list is modified from one available in, The Tao of Fully Feeling, by Pete Walker.

  1. Verbal Nurturance: Willing to entertain all questions. Generous amounts of praise and positive feedback. Eager participation in internal dialogue, hearing everything without shaming.
  2. Spiritual Nurturance: Guidance to help integrate painful aspects of life. Seeing and reflecting the essential good and loving nature. Fostering self-expression and protection of worth.
  3. Emotional Nurturance: Welcoming and valuing full emotional expression. Honoring crying as a way of releasing hurt. Modeling safe ways to release your anger that doesn’t hurt self or others.
  4. Physical Nurturance: Practice balancing rest, play, and work. Responsibility for personal health through diet, sleep, and exercise. Seeing self and being okay.
Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.

Stress Less: Better By Monday

a-stress-balance-mandala“These light and dark halves, Jung thought, revealed not only conscious and subconscious forces – and most usefully to leaders-our positive and negative evaluations of them, forces that, like the deities of the ancients, govern our lives.”  – John O’Neil

Our stress often comes from a negative evaluation of an event more than from the event itself.  Albert Ellis taught that our irrational belief about something causes more stress than the event we attribute that stress too.  We all have things which stress us out – so why don’t we write those things down to better understand them?

In John O’Neil’s book, Leadership Aikido, he encourages balance (chapter four) through the art of creating a Mandala. This is not like the art found in Adult Coloring Books where you simply fill in empty spaces with color preferences. The Mandala in O’Neil’s book is made of opposites-opposing forces which work against each other, in a personal way, within an individual.

He suggests that you identify pairs of opposing forces in your life such as the example of pairs provided below.

Control versus Trust

Diversity versus Unity

Family Needs versus Career Needs

Preference for Thinking versus Preference for Action

Clear Communication versus Creative Ambiguity

If these pairs are related to what stresses you out, include them in your Mandala, or make up your unique pairs of opposing forces. A few other opposite ideas which most of us encounter are Love/Hate, Peace/Chaos, Security/Fear, Mastery/Incompetence, New/Old, and Kind/Mean.

Once you have a list, begin to arrange them in a large, drawn circle across from each other, the level of creativity is up to you. A slightly irregular, hand-drawn circle, will work well enough for this exercise.

The items on the Mandala can be connected through a series of lines drawn from one to the other, across the circle. Additional connections can be made between adjacent words to involve two pairs of opposites into a shared connection.

Looking at the words can create a new perspective about which ideas (values, forces) can influence how you look at the division between the original pair of opposite forces.  For example, if Love versus Hate is adjacent to Peace versus Chaos on your Mandala – how do the items in the second pair influence the ideas in the first pair. This can be done with any two pairs of opposing ideas.

O’Neal said, “Only you are the final judge,” of which forces influence, soften, and change the way you feel.

One Thing To Do: Make a Mandala which identifies your stressors and their opposites. Then explore your drawing by discovering the positive or negative impact some ideas can have on others.  

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.




Intimacy: Better By Monday

“Sex, for instance, is contact par excellence. At its best, two bodies intertwine and two souls join as one. But the sexual encounter can also exemplify non-contact. Two bodies move and touch, but the two souls remain distracted and estranged.”  – Piero Ferrucci

Intimacy (Into me see) can be a shared expression between lovers of self-awareness. To be seen by your partner is to see yourself too. To be safe with yourself, while being seen (physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually) by your partner, is to offer a safe place for your partner to be seen.

A client and I discussed this idea in session recently. A metaphor using an albino cave-dwelling fish which has lost its sight surfaced during the counseling session. It was useful as a way to understand how someone could be blind to their behavior when it is obvious to others.

The eyesight of the fish hasn’t been used and therefore the capacity for vision in the fish atrophied. The fish still have eyes – they just don’t see anything. I believe we all have a capacity for self-awareness but that it can be lost (atrophy) without regular use. Self-awareness is a kind of inner sight or insight that only I can have about me – the same goes for you.

In Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages the work of developing an identity (Identity versus Role Confusion) comes before the work of intimacy (Intimacy versus Isolation), as life stages, knowing self comes before sharing that knowledge with someone.

When I am important enough to myself to learn all about me, I can see what is important about human beings. Then I can connect with others at a deeper level because my awareness of me makes me more aware of you.

One Thing to Do: Start a self-map. Ask yourself how you think about things. Write down what you think about something interesting to you like; power, poverty, pain, or playing. Then write about how you came to think that way. This helps in discovering the origins of your way of thinking.

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.

Charm: Better By Monday

“All charming people have something to conceal, usually their total dependence on the appreciation of others.” -Cyril Connolly, 1903 – 1974.

Charm is a word which is given a positive sense, but it has a negative side. To be charming means to be pleasing and to engage in attractive qualities but it doesn’t include being sincere. A person who has charm but is also sincere is endowed with a different characteristic, the ability to be earnest.

The word, earnest, is less popular, but it is a more desirable quality because it combines being zealous with depth or maturity. It is better than charm, which is an effort for controlling appearances, being earnest is an experience of mutual interest both expressed and felt.

It may be that some people go to social events to be charmed? However, It could be about the more meaningful experience if the people in attendance, at any event, were more earnest and less charming. However, the entertainment value of watching someone practicing charm is different than being with an earnest companion. Charm requires an audience member, and earnestness desires two participants who are designing their joined participation.

We can cultivate more meaningful interactions by engaging with others earnestly. This preference for sincerity doesn’t mean devoid of pleasantness, it doesn’t include pretense either, but what it does include is sometimes misunderstood, undervalued and unknown.

One Thing to Do (in four steps).

How to resist charm in preference of earnestness:

  1. Know that you are worth knowing rather than being an unknown audience member.
  2. Pay attention to how your story is ignored and by whom.
  3. Ask questions which help you discover what others value.
  4. Share what you value just because you value it.


Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S, LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.

Me: Better By Monday

“Our human perceptual habits are remarkably stupid in some ways. We tune out 99 percent of all the sensory stimuli we actually receive, and we solidify the remainder into discrete mental objects. Then we react to those mental objects in programmed, habitual ways.”  -Bhante H. Gunaratana (Mindfulness in Plain English)

One of the objects which can develop in the mind is the concept of self. We use language to differentiate you from me. Language allows us to identify, quantify and qualify all incoming data including information about who we are. Impression management starts when labels are affixed to us like name tags. Smart Dave, Happy Cindy, Lazy Eric, and Debbie Ding-Dong are some combinations of given names with added labels.

Once we are taught the distinction of “me from you” the ability to frame events within the two concepts becomes natural. When good fortune falls at our door – we can exclaim, “I have good fortune!” If this happens enough, others may begin to believe the phenomenon has more to do with the person it happens to and not just the happening itself. The community could bestow upon a person who has consistent good fortune a title of significance, such as Lucky Larry.

The new title may have importance attached to it which fixes the idea of being fortunate upon the person – this could influence the person to start believing, “I’m special.”  There is nothing wrong with wanting to believe we are special but to assign it to something that is out of our control proves to be an unfortunate action.

The trip down the road of wanted (I’m special) and unwanted (I’m not enough) labels is treacherous. Some positive labels tarnish and erode the worth of the people wearing them more than a negative label. The pressure to be smart, pretty, lucky, or happy takes the enjoyment out of the experience.

It seems to come down to how we prefer to self-identify. If I can create a preferred way of being seen or have it given to me by others – I will also find the energy to keep that illusion going.  I become less “me” and more label-able. My ability to keep my perceived positive label is driven by my need for the label to be the truth but while I am trying to prove a label – I am losing touch with my real self.

One Thing To Do: Stay open to the incoming data from the world. Don’t allow the negatives or the positives to become what you must have or must hide about yourself. You can handle the labels thrown at you, without accepting them, by just observing them and deciding if you think they fit or not. Keep a piece of each one to try on and test how much of it remains within you.


Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Eds, LPC

Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S, LPC.

Zest of Life, LLC. Professional Counseling.