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On a Grumpy Day…

written by Dave Shearon 17 March 2008

Dave Shearon, MAPP, applies positive psychology to both law and education. Dave writes articles about applications of Positive Psychology to law and education at his site. He co-authored the recently published book, Smart Strengths: Building Character, Resilience and Relationships in Youth. Full bio.

Dave's articles are here.


I’ve been a bit of a grump today.  Not a bad, grump.  Just some tacky, negative comments.  I said as I started out this morning that I was feeling that way, and I know I was a bit terse with my staff a time or two during  the day.  When I got home this evening, I was still a bit on the grumpy side, although more in a joking sort of way.

“So what?” you ask.  The “so what” is that my family noticed and I noticed, and I don’t think either of those things would have happened before MAPP.  Both my wife and younger son let me know quickly I was being a grump.  I didn’t feel right to me, and I felt a need to start changing it.  I’ll be particularly dilligent about writing Three Good Things tonight, I can assure you. 

At just about this point in 2006 when I was doing the Masters in Applied Positive Psychology at Penn, I wrote a blog post entitled, “What good is a Masters in Positive Psychology?”  One of the interesting things about putting stuff on the web is that it can be there years later for you and others to read.  I have, occasionally, had something I’ve written thrown back at me.  Not surprising since I put up my first web site as I ran for the school board here in Nashville almost a decade ago.  (Wow!  Could it be that long?)  But, in the case of this post, the following language rings even truer today than it did then:

“It’ll take creativity, imagination, vitality, and a certain amount of risk-taking to translate the opportunity represented by the MAPP program into real changes in your life.  But, I think I can say with confidence that you, personally, are far likelier to be in a position to exercise those qualities as a result of your experience in the program.”

I am a happier, more optimistic person because of MAPP.  I am better at taking my ideas and moving forward with them.  I handle adversity better.  I have friends I treasure and colleagues I enjoy working with as a result of MAPP.  And, I have so few grumpy days that when I do get off kilter, it stands out to me and those around me. In one of the very first Continuing Legal Education (CLE) programs I did based on positive psychology, there was a middle-aged lawyer in the back of the room, slouched forward in his chair with his arms crossed and a grim look on his face.  Somewhere in the second hour, he raised his hand and asked, “Were you this happy when you were practicing law?”  The answer is no, and I wasn’t this happy after I left the practice, either!

Too heavy...

Too heavy...

Earlier this year, my wife and I had the opportunity to travel to Australia and do some sightseeing before I went on to spend 12 days a Geelong Grammar School as one of a group of facilitators for their training in resilience and positive psychology.  On the morning of December 31, with our flight set to leave about 6 pm, I suddenly realized that the luggage limitation that I thought only applied on one of our tours actually applied on all of them!  These were backpacker tours, and we both had to pack for 17 days in 32 pounds!  I weighed a suitcase and it was over 14 pounds, empty!  Bit of a shock!  However, after a bit of discussion, I just went out and bought a couple of very basic, light-weight, nylon duffle bags.  We packed the tour stuff in them, my clothes for Geelong in a suitcase to stay at the hotel where we would finish, and were ready to go.  As we were wrapping that effort up, my older son said, “Dad, you’ve changed.  Before you did that program, it would have been, ‘*#%$!  *#%$!’ and you would have stomped and stormed around.  Now, you just adjust and deal with it!”  Pretty neat when your kids see the change!

Is it a conscious effort with me?  You bet it is!  I take my own medicine.  I do Three Good Things.  I try to engage my strengths and the strengths of those around me.  I remember that things I don’t do well, others do nearly flawlessly practically every time, and I’m grateful for that.  I try to act like other people matter.  I notice and try to create High Quality Connections in casual encounters as well as at work and home.  When I think about writing a sarcastic, negative, and hyper-critical post or email, I stop and ask what I expect to accomplish, and I virtually always either don’t write it, or delete it.  Oh, I can still on occasion point out what I see to be a weakness or failure.  But I’m far more careful about when and how I do it, and I often decide to forego sharing such observations entirely.

The post I referenced earlier was mostly about what a MAPP degree might open up professionally, and there have been a number of things in that area for me over the last two years.  But, what I didn’t expect when I went in, and what I now wouldn’t trade for anything, is the difference the experience made in me as a person.  So, when I read some of the backlash pieces on positive psychology such as the one my colleague Sherri Fisher posted about recently, I just smiled. 

I am reading Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath.  It’s about what makes ideas “sticky.”  One component is credibility, and one way of establishing credibility is by making falsifiable claims.  That’s a claim that folks can test for themselves, such as the famous “Where’s the beef?” commercials for Wendy’s in the 1980s.  Positive psychology make falsifiable claims.  Having tested them myself, as well as having read the literature, my thoughts are not focused on defending what positive psychology has developed so far, but on putting it to work.  I wish for you the will and opportunity to travel that same road!




Heath, C. & Heath, D. (2007). Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. Random House.

Grumpy WTS courtesy of 11950mike
Suitcases courtesy of Phineas H

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Jeff Dustin 18 March 2008 - 1:47 am


I’m still asking “where’s the beef” when it comes to personalizing PP exercises. Lyubomirsky has come the closest in her popular book. Two issues immediately spring to mind.

1) How much emotional pain is a growth stimulus and how much is wallowing? (This question addresses “when” to use a PP exercise such as disputing).

2) How do you know if an exercise is a good fit? Does the concept of fit really even exist?

3) I think some pain is unpleasantly helpful. How can I judge between functional and dysfunctional pain?

I find myself relating to “On a Grumpy Day” because a few hours of every day I become irritable and the productivity and the experience of it are unhelpful.

Jeff Dustin 18 March 2008 - 2:05 am

This is an open question for anyone.

Which of the PP exercises are the most efficient in terms of return on behavioral investment? Which exercise/intervention/basic theory gives the most “bang for your buck”?

Like most question, there are variety of ways to answer, ranging from mostly objective (gratitude is .5 correlated to…) to more subjective (well, I’ve seen this work with clients…)

Wayne Jencke 18 March 2008 - 3:26 am

The most powerful technique I teach people is mindfulness. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to appear as a PP intervention

Take away the judgment about being positive (or negative) and life is a lot easier

Dave Shearon 18 March 2008 - 10:00 am


Here are some thoughts on “fit” that are implicit in how I structure some of my recommendations in presentations I make. Basically, I put positive emotions first. If an individual feels bad, is “down”, has few goals and little commitment to the ones she can claim, lacks energy and cannot see a way forward, it is clearly time to do something. Depending on severity, this might include finding a good therapist and getting an assessment for depression. Assuming, however, the participant is not clinically depressed (and even if she is, these activities are unlikely to hurt), some of the proven activities such as Three Good Things, Using Your Strengths in a New Way, and the Gratitude Letter can increase positive emotions, thereby broadening the thought/action repretoire available to the individual (Fredrickson).

Also in the category of creating a base of well-being from which to act, I recommend regular exercise and mindfulness activities. Very moderate amounts of exercise seem to be sufficient to produce noticeable results (30 minutes of brisk walking, three times per week). I’m not sufficiently versed in mindfulness approaches to provide guidance here, but there are a number of proven approaches with trained instructors in most communities. So my suggestion to an individual seeking a way forward is, “pick one.”

With a building base of energy and broadening outlook on life, I recommend re-assessing resources. Some of this will be happening automatically with Three Good Things as often these will revolve around relationships. However, identifying strengths comes in here also. The VIA is one approach, and I like to couple it with Gallup’s Strengthsfinder. The recognition of previously under-considered resources can add to the base of energy and continue to upward spiral.

For me, this is when it makes sense to start assessing goals in various domains of life. The positive emotions and increased sense of well-being make it likely that one is now in a position to think broadly and creatively and feel ones way forward to new goals that will feel personally captivating.

With some goals in mind, I’d asess resilience and hope and, if necessary begin to build both so that progress toward goals can become more steady and faster. That progress will then feed pleasure and energy back into the effort, especially through routines such as Three Good Things and mindfulness.

My final comment about “fit” is, “Ready, Fire, Aim!” It’s a journey, so most folks are going to have some idea what attracts them in these activities and I suggest they just get started. Course corrections are part of the journey and they will be easier to see and make as energy and openness increase.

Dave Shearon 18 March 2008 - 10:05 am

TO Wayne Jencke,

Wayne, Tal Ben-Shahar very explicitly include mindfulness in his talks on positive psychology. Jon Haidt also lists it as one of three proven approaches to depression (along with drugs and cognitive therapy). Dr. Ben-Shahar also usually points out that the non-drug approaches to depression have significantly lower relapse rates.

You may be noticing a lack of research on mindfulness by many of the most-often quoted positive psychology researchers, but my impression is that this is due to the fairly substantial body of research which already exists to establish the effectiveness of such activities.

Kathryn Britton 18 March 2008 - 10:06 am


I’d really like to hear more about your observation that mindfulness is the most powerful technique that you teach people. It would be great if you’d offer to write a guest article and go into this in more detail.

But I’m not sure I understand your comment that mindfulness doesn’t appear as a PP intervention. It has certainly been written about here – I particularly associate mindfulness with Jordan Silberman (who is also most insistent about good fit).


It’s not like there’s a fixed official canon of positive interventions. We’re all in the process of collecting possibilities — which can then be further evaluated empirically. Is what you mean that there hasn’t been empirical study of mindfulness as an intervention

I know that Barbara Fredrickson has been doing some research on positive emotion and meditation.

I also found this paper that you might find interesting:

Kostanski, M. & Hassad, C. (2008). Mindfulness as a concept and a process. Australian Psychologist. Vol 43(1), pp. 15-21

The use of mindfulness meditation as a therapeutic intervention has been strongly promoted in the last few years. To date there has been limited opportunity for open discussion and sharing of knowledge in relation to theory, practice or outcomes. The purpose of this paper was to provide psychologists with an understanding of the theoretical underpinning and evidence base for incorporating mindfulness practice into their lives and work. Primarily, mindfulness is presented as a cognitive style that facilitates development of a heightened sense of awareness of thought processes and emotions, and utilisation of this awareness to cultivate the ability to engage actively in being rather than reacting or doing. Further, it is noted that the learning of mindfulness meditation is believed to empower the individual to find release from depressive rumination, anxiety and stress in their lives. Current limitations, potential implications and contraindications of utilising mindfulness meditative practice are also discussed.

Wayne Jencke 18 March 2008 - 12:48 pm

Bad choice of words when I said that it doesn’t appear as a PP intervention. I have undertaken several positive psych causes and only 1 mentioned mindfulness very briefly. Likewise did you cover it in your masters program? It seems to take a back seat to the other interventions.

Its interesting that mindfulness is about promoting a positive emotion called calm – subtle but powerful



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