Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Promised List of Resolutions

I’ve noticed some resistance to putting this list together as I thought about it this week.

My mind kept saying things like “If you put that out there, you’ll have to either do the things on your list or admit that you aren’t willing to put the effort into it.”

Incidentally, I’ve stopped talking about “being motivated.” Moving in a valued direction (after all the root of “motivation” is the same as “movement”) is about wanting what you are headed toward more than you want to stay where you are. Or, to paraphrase an old saying about therapy “The pain of staying the same has to outweigh the pain of changing.” It’s about valuing. So, either I value the changes I say I want enough to put in the work, or I don’t. Assuming, of course, I picked the right resolution to build the habit I say I value. I can move with vigor in the wrong direction, or expend a great deal of effort on a resolution that doesn’t move me the direction I want to go. So, I’m compassionate and flexible with myself about this.

Anyway, Here they are, organized by topic and month in a nice little spreadsheet:

Shaun’s Happiness Project Resolutions

A few notes:

I settled on 4 broad resolutions that break down into 3 or 4 specific behavioral “to do’s” each day: Strengthen the Marriage, Lighten Up (this is one of Rubin’s too), Be a Better Friend, and Be the Parent I Wish to Be.

Marriage: I want to be more affectionate, stop griping when plans change, do my part to keep the house tidy, and join my wife in a goal to trim a few pounds.

Lighten up: I tend to be grumpy in the mornings, so I will get up 30 minutes before the children to jog, do some yoga, meditate, or have a quiet cup of coffee. Also, I will work to laugh more and to be more silly with the children and my spouse.

Friends: Like most men, I tend not to put enough effort into cultivating strong friendships. So I will offer warm greetings to neighbors and acquaintances (I have a tendency to be shy), check in with one friend every day, and find people to exercise with.

Parenting: I want to look my kids in the eyes more. Looking them in the eyes helps me to tune in to them and them to listen to me. I want to take my own advice and play 15 minutes with each of them on their own terms. And to give attention and support to their positive emotions. I’m good at naming and helping soothe the negative, but I want to teach myself and them to savor the positive.

What about you? Are you working on your own list? What’s on it?


What I’m “reading:” The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project

Hi there! and happy Monday Morning. (Ouch.)

My favorite little “business expense” is my subscription. Once a month, on the 22nd, I get a new credit to download an audiobook. Since I have a 25 minute (but who’s counting?) commute to the office, I get to listen to my new book to and from work. Usually, I get something about mental health or positive psychology. Sometimes it’s something from one of the contemplative spiritual traditions. This month, it’s been Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. 

Ms. Rubin, riding the subway one morning, was struck by the realization that she wasn’t as happy as she wanted to be. There was nothing particularly wrong–actually, life was pretty good–she just wasn’t experiencing the happiness she wanted. So she set out to learn and try out as many tricks and habits of happiness that she could in a year. She got a bunch of books (kindred spirit: my automatic thought when in distress is “there must be a book that will help!”), written by everyone from ancient philosophers to modern psychological scientists. Then she made herself a list of goals.

I commend the book to you. More than that, I commend her method.

If you’re like me, you have your ups and downs, your satisfactions and disappointments. But most of the time, unless a moment brings intense joy or pleasure or painful sadness or unease, you just kind of go along, doing one thing after another, picking up the kids’ toys, doing your job, going to the pool or the trail or the grocery store, never really paying attention much to the larger questions.

“Is this the way I most want to be living my life?”

“Am I treating this one precious life, these few precious people with the care and attention it all deserves?”

“Am I doing what I can to savor the good, let go of the bad, and grow?”

Gretchen Rubin asked herself and answered, like I and I imagine most of you would; “sometimes.”

Here’s the magic, though. She got serious about changing it. She thought about what areas of her life bring the most happiness and set specific, measurable goals that would improve her happiness. Exercise. Organize the closets (“no!”). Make scrapbooks of the kids’ pictures. Check in with extended family regularly. Try new things. Lighten up (“YES!”).

She made a chart.

Seriously, a chart, friends. With daily check-boxes to keep her thinking of the goals she had set for herself. I love this. Take it from  guy who works every day to help people make changes: change is hard. It takes sustained, focused effort. The people in the AA movement suggest that once a person gets de-toxed from an addictive substance, they should go to 60 12-step meetings in 60 days. Of course it’s a hassle. Of course it’s all you have time to do.

But that’s what it takes.

So, for people like me who are pretty happy, but who want to really wake up and appreciate this one good life, it might take making a list and checking it daily.

I’m working on my list this week. I’ll try to put it up for you soon.

What I’m Listening To: Rainy Morning Playlist

This is my Dreary Morning Playlist. Inspired by Alicia, who was, I think, inspired by Brene Brown, I was trying to think of my “theme song.” But I love music too much to pick one.

“Captain Kirk,” I said first; “I just wanna feel good. I don’t want to hurt nobody. I just want to get a good time out of my life,” goes the chorus. As a recovering unboundaried, compulsive do-gooder, this was my theme song several years back as I began to let go of the need to fix, um, well, everything.

No, wait, “Pride,” by U2. That balances the other song; showing courage in the name of love (rather than in the name of filling up an insecure ego).

But, “Sons and Daughters,” with Colin Meloy’s utopian “here, all the bombs fade away,” always brings tears to my eyes. Squishy as it sounds, I really do pray for world peace. Every day. With my children.

But speaking of prayer, John Prine’s chorus,” Father, forgive us for what we must do; You forgive us and we’ll forgive you. We’ll forgive each other ’til we both turn blue,” just about sums up most of my other prayers.

Which got me to thinking about how we deal with our hurts: Holding space both for the inevitable pain of life and the beautiful grace that emerges when we sit compassionately with ourselves and others, committed to transforming our pain instead of transmitting it; that’s my definition of the good life.

So, I added Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” Colin Hay’s “Beautiful World,” Rancid’s “Fall Back Down,” Mumford and Sons’ “Lover of the Light.” I was on a roll.

To round out with the quiet joy and gratitude I feel when I settle down to appreciate the life I’ve been given, I added Jack Johnson’s “Better Together,” and Josh Ritter’s “Snow is Gone,” Which reminds me to add a couple more right now.

So, what’s on your playlist?

Men’s Shame (and how to kill it)

10272567_10203620278335393_6146136852354296547_oI’ve mentioned Brene Brown’s work before, but I want to share a story I heard her tell that changed my marriage and my work. I first heard it on Krista Tippett’s wonderful podcast, On Being, last December.

She tells a story of a man in a yellow golf jacket who approached her after a talk on shame.

“I noticed you don’t talk about men,” he said.

“Oh, I don’t study men,” she replied–although you really should listen to her tell the story

“That’s convenient,” he told her. “Because men have shame. But before you talk about all those mean fathers and coaches, let me tell you that my wife and daughters, who you just signed books for, would rather see me die on my white horse than get down off it.”


I was riding home from a visit to my mom’s house with my wife and daughters when I heard this, and I stopped the podcast.

Did you hear that?” I asked my my wife.

“Yeah.” She said, kind of casually, like “ok, what’s the big deal?” ( should interject here.  Contrary to what people usually say about men and women and feelings, I am the drama king in my marriage. My wife is less reactive, more able to take the long view, and much more able to hold on to perspective when things get heated. I need to take breaks to get my head back on when I get upset. She may have suspected I was having a moment.)

“I’m not laying any blame on you for this, but that thing she just said–that phrase about you would rather see me die on my white horse than come down off it–that is maybe the truest thing I have ever heard about about the way I and my friends experience shame.” My voice was thick. It is so hard to say those things out loud.

OK, guys, here’s the dirty little secret:

Shame keeps us silent and distant from our loved ones and our lives and our best, strongest selves by getting us to believe one big lie: It is not OK to be weak or to let people think you are weak. 

I sit with lots of men and teen boys in my practice. And I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth or tell anyone’s secrets, but let me just say one thing about men: I’m convinced that this shame is one of the root causes of much of the violence, aggression, depression, disengagement, emotional unavailability, blowing off school, disrespect for women, and materialistic greed we see in men and boys.

Guys, we have got to start talking about it. Shame dies when we say it out loud to a person who cares enough to look us in the eye and say , “yeah man, me too.”

Maybe I’m being a drama king again, but I really think this is how we change the world for the better.

Mindfulness Links and Instructions

Mindfulness Links and Instructions


If you’re here because you saw me on WMAZ, then welcome!

What is Mindfulness?

Simply paying attention to what is happening right now without trying to change it. That’s it. There are two parts:

1. Repetition of a focus of some sort–breath, a prayer, a focus on the body, a sound, or (more advanced) whatever thoughts pass in your awareness. 

2. Acceptance of what is. Whenever thoughts, distractions,  worries, the grocery list, physical pains, or any other kind of thought grabs your attention away from your focus, the moment you notice it, you gently return your attention to the focus. The hard part is is to accept that you have been distracted, in pain, worried, or wandering around in your thoughts. Do not judge it as good or bad. “It is what it is,” as people say. 


The link above is to the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center’s free mindfulness downloads page. If you are starting out, these are great, short mindful practices you can do every day. Try it daily! 3 minutes a day is better than 20 minutes once a week. The point is to practice frequently to train your mind to be present and non-judgmental.

What if I’m not into “Eastern Religion?”

This is not an Eastern thing. This kind of practice appears in all faith traditions. Much like the Golden Rule, it just makes sense to Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, and people of all faiths and people of no particular faith at all. If you want a specifically Christian practice, look at the centering prayer page here. While you are there, have a look at the Lectio Divina practices, too. 

I tried it and I’m not good at it!

Yes you are. You are supposed to be distracted. The gentle act of will you engage when you turn your attention back to the focus IS the practice. If you have a million thoughts or distractions in three minutes, you have a million times to practice moving your attention back to the present moment. Inner silence may come in brief moments after you’ve been doing this a long while, but it’s impossible to stop the mind from making thoughts. It’s what the mind does. Just like the stomach digests, the mind makes thoughts. The work here is moving your attention back to the focus. The only way to do it wrong is not to do it! 

More links:


The Harvard research team:

Jon Kabat Zinn lecture:

A TED talk by Daniel Seigel:

Have an experience to share? Post the comments! I’ll try to moderate and approve them as they come in. 



Not my goose, not my bottle, not my problem


I often tell the Story of the Goose and the Bottle. I first heard it as part of the Harvard Mind Body Medicine curriculum. Here it is:
A seeker climbed a mountain to ask the teacher for wisdom. “What is the secret to a happy life?” He asked.
“Tell me how to get a goose out of a bottle,” she replied.
So the seeker returned home to think about it. A week later, he returned and suggested; “smash the bottle to get the goose out.”
“No,” the teacher said. “You must not harm the bottle.”
The seeker returned home for another week to think. He climbed the mountain again and proposed; “crush the goose.”
“No. You must not harm the goose,” the teacher replied.
After another week thinking, the seeker returned a third time. But this time the teacher was not home. So he left a note.
Later that day, the teacher found the note with 9 words on it:
Not my goose.
Not my bottle.
Not my problem.

Put Your Child In Charge

Your Child 6/25/13

The 15 minute parenting prescription: once a day with each child, set aside 15 minutes during which he is completely in charge of what you do. As long as it is safe and within your house rules.

The Rules for You:

Be Fully Present. Treat this time as sacred.

No taking over! Probably you will just comment on what she is doing: like a play by play announcer:

“I see you have the blue block on top of the red one.”

“You look like you are being a kitty.”

“The guy in your video game is building a wall.”

Resist the urge to judge it: You might be tempted to say “I like how you stacked the blue block.” Don’t. Just comment. It could be your child does not like how the block is stacked. You don’t want to say it’s good if s/he thinks it’s not.

Resist the urge of ask lots of why questions. How questions are good: “You want me to pretend to be Catwoman. How does she act?”

What are the benefits?

For you: You learn to appreciate the child and develop an internal “love map” of her world. this will help you to slow down and tune in. It’s almost a mindfulness practice.

For the child: S/he will develop confidence and autonomy. By putting the child in charge, you send the message that s/he is competent, capable, and able to direct him-or-herself.

Practicing Gratitude

This also will run in the Jones County News:

I recently heard that people who really experience joy in their lives “practice gratitude.” I was curious about the phrase “practice gratitude,” since I’m used to thinking of gratitude as something we just feel from time to time rather than something we practice like a musical instrument or a sport. Maybe you’re like me; maybe you’ve noticed that if you just kind of operate on “autopilot” all the time, gratitude is pretty far down the list of feelings you notice on a day-to-day basis. But like so many good things in life, if you want more joy, you have to do some work at it. So here is one little trick that won’t require a lot of effort or money that can make a big difference in your happiness. A gratitude “practice” that is actually clinically proven to increase your satisfaction with life. And it will only take you 10 minutes a day. I’ll tell you how first, and then why.

The “What Went Well” (also known as “The Three Blessings”) exercise:
Every night before you go to bed, write down three things that went well and why they went well. They can be big things like “I finally found a job” or small things like “the kids put their dishes away after supper.” Anything that went well. Next to each event, you write why it happened: for the new job you might write, “because I never gave up looking for a job” or “because by brother-in-law knew the HR woman at the company.” For the dinner plates, you might write, “because they do what they are asked,” or “because I have sweet kids.” The only rule is you have to write it down. This is so you can look back over it in a few weeks or years and remember the positive events in your life. I keep one of those black and white composition notebooks on the table right beside my bed. There’s a pen in it so it’s ready when I get into bed for the night. Some nights, there are more than three experiences I want to write down, so I take extra time to write more. Other nights, it’s a real struggle to find three. But it’s important to keep thinking until you can find three things that went well, even if it’s as simple as “I had food to eat for dinner,” or “I kept breathing all day long.”
Why does “what went well” work to make us happier? Because most of us tend to think more about the aspects of life we wish were different or to dwell on the painful aspects of life. WWW trains us to pay attention to the positive. We know that the more we pay attention to what is good, the better we feel. Paying attention to the positive also makes us more likely to notice and enjoy positive events as they happen. And we know that savoring these moments, really paying attention to them as they happen, makes them seem to last longer. I also think WWW helps us to get into the habit of noticing the parts of life that are going well. Over time, trends emerge that can give us clues about what we really treasure about our lives. For example, I’ve noticed that my children make an appearance on my WWW list nearly every night.
WWW is from a book by Martin Seligman, Fourish. Seligman is a former president of the American Psychological Association, professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and a no-nonsense scientist. He actually tested the WWW exercise: 471 people tried it for one week, and six months later were happier, less depressed, and less anxious than people who didn’t do WWW.
So, there you go: WWW is clinically proven to increase happiness in 10 minutes a day.

Hey, I’m going on TV!



Hey, I’m going on TV!

I’ll be on 13WMAZ’s “Your Child” feature next Tuesday, 28 May. We’ll be talking about why a little boredom is good for your child.

(NB: the link is to the WMAZ front page. Yesterday, I clicked on the link and the first thing I saw was an article about the Warner Robins mayoral race. I’m not running for mayor of WR.)

Meet Shaun

Meet Shaun

Shaun P. Kell, MFT, LMFT
Shaun Kell has been in practice as a couple and family therapist since 2007. Earning a bachelor’s degree with majors in Philosophy and Religion from Mercer University provides him a perspective on helping people that moves beyond merely minimizing symptoms to addressing questions about meaning, happiness, and flourishing. He earned his master’s degree in family therapy at Mercer School of Medicine. Shaun has helped individuals, families with children, adolescents, adults, and couples in educational, mental health, and primary medical care settings. Although Shaun has helped people facing a wide range of issues, he has the most experience with problems like ADHD and learning disabilities, anxiety and depression, and coping with chronic illness or disability. Working with a warm and easygoing style, he believes that everyone can make positive changes happen in his or her life and relationships. His job is to find the barriers.