Tag Archives: mental health and happiness


By Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

In the few months before my father’s death I had an unusual experience with time. My wristwatches and I didn’t seem to be getting along. I would put one watch on only to have it fall off my wrist later in the day. As I moved into different time zones another watch seemed to reset on its own volition. One watch simply stopped working all together.

After I had enough of these experiences I finally stopped to think and consider what was happening. “I’m running out of time!” This realization hit me like a ton of bricks. I immediately changed my plans. I re-prioritized my calendar and immediately went to my parent’s home for an extended vacation. 

And I changed my thoughts and words. “I have all the time in the world.”

waitingwomanI realized I wasn’t running out of time, but I was running out of the immediate opportunities to spend with my beloved father. Although he is no longer in this earthly plain, my strong relationship with my father continues. And yet, I’m so grateful that I paid attention and changed my focus and my energies of how and where I spent my time during the days and weeks of my father’s life. I don’t know if I was running out of time, but I did have all the time in the world because I made this happen.

How is your relationship with time? Do you spend energy trying to manage your time? How is that going?

The reality is that of course you can’t manage your time. You can only manage how you spend your focus and energy in the time we are all given. Time is the great equalizer because all of us, no matter our nationality, religion, color, gender, age, sexual orientation have the same amount of time. And time marches on.

Here is a different idea. How about if you change how you think and talk about time. Try your own experiment to see what effect changing your relationship with time has on your Mental Health & Happiness.

Here’s how you start. Listen and note your out loud thoughts, what you say, about time. Here are some possibilities:

            I’m running out of time.

            There isn’t enough time.

            We are going to be late. If we want to be on time we need to leave now!

            This traffic is going to make us miss our train.

            Our days are numbered. 

This is just a sampling. Perhaps you have your own unique thoughts or experiences as you rush through your day to try and squeeze in all you must during this day (another measurement of time).

Now make a list of how you think and talk about time. Instead of referring to time as a scarce and limited resource change to an abundant point of view.

There is more than enough time

            I have all the time in the world

            The world is filled with more time, more love and more peace.

            I can always make time for what is important.

            I arrive on time with joy and grace.

            This traffic gives me a chance to be grateful for all the time I have this day.

            I will make the most of all the days in my life.

Add your own thoughts, ideas and statements about time as an abundant resource.

The next time you hear yourself thinking or speaking about the scarcity of time switch to a statement from your list of time as an abundant resource. Now notice what effect this change has on your Mental Health & Happiness.

Today I cry . . .

By Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

(In loving memory of Dr. Ken Larsen, 1939-2016)

Today I cry. A dear friend of mine has died. He was kind, gentle, intelligent and loving. I never heard him say anything unkind or negative about another person — remarkable!

Today I feel grateful. I was friends with a man who was kind, gentle, intelligent and loving. I never heard him say anything unkind or negative about another person. This friend inspired me to be a better person because of who he was.

Today I’m reminded of my loss. I go on Facebook expecting to see his “likes” and comments about something I posted, something he posted, or something that someone else posted. Logging onto Facebook has become painful because I am constantly reminded of the loss of him.

Today my  heart is heavy. My sympathy and sorrow is with his family for their loss. My sympathy and sorrow is with the world-wide Glasser family for our loss of a friend and colleague.

And my sorrow and sympathy is with us, the Mental Health & Happiness community. Dr. Ken Larsen, fellow founder, partner, blogger and videographer of the Mental Health & Happiness project peacefully died in his sleep Monday, February 22, 2016. That day his final blog was posted.

Not long before his death Ken asked,

If Choice Theory is the answer
What is the question?

Here is one question he devoted his time, talent and energy to. How do we develop, improve and maintain Mental Health & Happiness? We are so lucky that he did. In honor of Ken we will be reposting many of his Mental Health & Happiness blogs over the next two weeks. This will give us all an opportunity to read and be inspired again by Ken’s ideas and words.

Another question where he devoted his faith, actions and love:


Thank you Ken, for all you gave to all of us. You are loved and missed.

Between stimulus and response there is a space…

By Dr. Ken Larsen

Remember that quote from Viktor Frankl?  ““Between stimulus and responsethere is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”  I’ve been working on acting on this insight.  I’ve recognized that sometimes my response is more “reactive”, more of a knee jerk, reflexive reaction, such as the unkind words that tumble out of my mouth in a moment of minor road rage.  Or the quick judgmental opinion that comes to mind when I hear someone speak from values that I don’t share.  These unchosen reactions are a detriment to my mental health and happiness, not to mention the negative impact on others.

What I want for myself is to pause in that space that Frankl describes and choose my response based on a perceptive interpretation of what I want.    Do I want to dump a load of reflexive anger, or do I want to respect myself and the other enough to make a better choice?


This is easier for me to think about and talk about than to actually do it.  What helps me is the growing understanding we have of how our brain has developed reactions to experiences that might be seen as threatening.  One of the most basic of these reactions is the “stranger danger” reaction.  When we encounter someone or something that is unfamiliar and unknown our first response is often self-protective.  This is not a bad thing.  This is part of our inherited survival instincts.  This first response is a “fight/flight/freeze” response which bypasses the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain where we make choices, and sets us up for a defensive or offensive reaction.  I think some of what we have labeled “prejudice” is this sort of autonomic reaction to an unfamiliar situation.  With this understanding, I believe we need to cut ourselves and others a bit of slack when encountering the unfamiliar.

I can learn to recognize a reflexive reaction and I’m finding that if I can find that “pause” place until my pre-frontal cortex comes on line, I can make a kindlier considered response which is more reflective of my chosen values to be respectful and to “live and let live.”

In our growing understanding of the development of our brain we can find a new freedom to choose a better way to relate to ourselves and others.  Rather than condemning what we now know as survival adaptations, like the reactive response to a perceived threat, we can learn to become more aware of what is reflexive and what is chosen behavior.  With that awareness we can focus our conscious attention on choosing behaviors that move us toward what we want.  The more we can fulfill those inner Quality World pictures that are our sense of what we want that will meet our needs, the more we will enjoy a higher quality of mental health and happiness.

Books! Books! Books!

by Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

“Where are we?” my youngest high school age son asked me as he awoke from his nap. We were sitting together at the back of the plane on our way to a family vacation.

As usual you managed to sleep through the entire flight. We are about to land. While you were sleeping there was a murder committed on this plane!” 

That woke him up!

“Yes, I’ve been reading this book while you slept and one of the main characters was murdered.” 

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One of my greatest parenting delights was discovering that my children love to read! They are avid book readers. And they read books in almost every genre. For me this has been a dream come true. I love to read and I love books! Truth be told, I like people who love to read books better than people who don’t.


Are you a reader?

If you are I hope you are taking advantage of all of the books, books, books in the world.  There are wonderful books that are hot off the presses and volumes and volumes of  classics from yore. There are books that teach, entertain, inform, and just make you laugh! There are books that spark your imagination and books that inspire you, books that allow you to take a great adventure in foreign lands without ever leaving home. There are books about murder and mayhem, some based on the reality of the world and some conjured by an author’s imagination. There are books that can heal and mend your broken heart and spirit. There are books to help with your Mental Health & Happiness as self-help books and others that are biographical or autobiographical.

Are you a member of your local public library? If not, stop reading this blog and RUN to your closest one. Public libraries may have been the best invention and creation ever! There is information about anything you could ever want to know, and books and reference material about things you don’t even know that you want to know, all to be borrowed for FREE!

There are now many places where you can find books, not just your public library. And there are books in all sorts of formats: audio books, books for your electronic device, ebooks, graphic novels (I use to call them comic books), books for specific age categories (some of my favorite books are from the Young Adult category), picture books, to name some additional varieties to the standard hard or soft cover books.

Here’s a tip for perhaps the greatest, deepest, and most expansive resources available to you as you continue to develop, improve and maintain your good Mental Health & Happiness. Cultivate your relationships with books!

So many books
So little time
— Frank Zappa

It’s not doing our best. It’s knowing what to do, and then doing our best

By Dr.Ken Larsen

Our friend, Bob Hoglund, publishes the quote in the above title on his emails.  It is from W. Edwards Deming, the management genius who is credited with guiding the successful reincarnation of Japanese industry following WWII.

whatThe first time I saw it I was not impressed.  Seemed a bit simplistic.  Through the last couple of years, however, I have had a chance to digest the wisdom in what Deming said.  I can see many ways that knowing what to do is more helpful than just struggling along in ignorance.

I could start with awareness of why we do what we do.  If we are blind to what is triggering our behavior, we are helpless to change it.  Putting forth energy and effort, “doing our best” is a non-productive approach unless we know what to do to change.  Much of knowing “what to do” is working to gain an awareness and an understanding of ourselves.  Dr. Wm. Glasser, author of Choice Theory, has given us a collection of insights that have been helpful to many of us.  He has shown us that it is what is going on inside of us that we need to pay attention to in our efforts to grow and change.

As we learn about the internal control systems that are operating in our central nervous system and in our ongoing experience of life, we can look at ourselves with understanding and make more effective choices as we seek to “do our best” in dealing with the challenges of life.  In this short blog I cannot begin to do justice to what Dr. Glasser has given us.

I would encourage those of you who have not read Choice Theory to reap the rewards of wisdom and insight that are contained within the book.  For those of you who have read it, there is always fresh insights that come from repeated exposure to the concepts.

I think Bob Hoglund and Deming are giving us a very useful insight that is helpful in our progress to mental health and happiness.




Transform Your Habitual Thoughts

By Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

What time did you wake up this morning? Was it the same or close to the same time you woke up yesterday? Did you need to set your alarm, or do you automatically wake up at about the same time every morning?

What did you eat for breakfast this morning? Was it the same or similar to what you ate for breakfast yesterday and the day before? How about your lunches? Are they close or similar to the same things you eat most days?

What time did you go to bed last night? Was it about the same or similar to the same time you usually go to bed?

How about your wardrobe? Do you wear the same or similar things for work, for play, and for leisure time activities?

None of this is surprising or unusual. We are creatures of habit. And for very good reasons. It is easier to do the same things, eat the same things and follow the same habits repeatedly. Just take a moment and imagine that everything you do, eat, and arrange all day long and each day is a brand new creation. You would be exhausted before the middle of the day!


However repeating the same things over and over again can become monotonous and boring. Every once in awhile it’s refreshing and helpful to change some things, like your usual diet or your usual bedtime or your usual route to work. This change can enliven us, wake us up and add some much needed sparkle to our habitual routine lives.

Would you be surprised to learn that your thoughts and thinking patterns are also in this same kind of habit, rut and routine? Whether you are conscious of it or not, chances are very good that you think the same thing every morning upon awakening. Whether your habitual thought is Ugh, morning came too soon today. When is the next time I can get some more sleep? or Good Morning! Today is the start of another glorious day. I wonder what great adventures await me it is more than likely that these are the same things you say to yourself every day.

The same is true when you receive good news or receive an unexpected bill in the mail. Your thoughts of appreciation, gratitude or grumblings and complaints are also well ingrained habitual thoughts.

Did you know that you have the magical powers to change your level of Mental Health & Happiness simply by cultivating new, happier and healthier thoughts and thinking patterns? The same way you can change your diet, your bedtime or your wardrobe, you can also change what you say and think to yourself. However, this is much easier said than done.

Try this experiment. Change the placement of your kitchen garbage container. Keep the new placement until you can throw garbage away without going to the old place and can now automatically go to the new place. Keep track of how many days this takes. William James, founder of modern psychology postulated that it takes 21 days to change a habit. Try your own experiment to see if that is true for you.

Now conduct another experiment. Change one habitual thought during your day. It could be your grumblings of complaints about the other inconsiderate and incompetent drivers on the road, or you internal accusations about your lazy co-workers, or your impatience with your dawdling child. You must first be aware of the habitual thought that you think. Now compose what thought or statement you want to make instead.

Here are some examples:

Transform: Get your blinker fixed you idiot driver

Into: We all drive cooperatively to get to our destinations safely 

Transform: For once could you do your job instead of leaving it for the rest of us to complete.

Into: I do my work with an open heart and willingness to serve. I appreciate my co-workers who are doing the same.

Transform: Get a move on kiddo so you don’t make me late again.

Into: We have all the time in the world and will each arrive safely with time to spare. 

Remember though, for improved Mental Health & Happiness you must practice your new thought or statement for a minimum of 21 days (or longer) before it becomes automatic and habitual.

Transforming you habitual thoughts will transform you Mental Health & Happiness!

Emotionally Bankrupt

By Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

Have you ever had the experience of being completely and utterly emotionally depleted?  It would be pretty amazing and unusual if this weren’t true for you as it is true for almost all people.

Three years following my father’s diagnosis of terminal lung cancer he died. His passing was not a surprise nor a shock and still it was devastating for his immediate family including me. I was privileged in that I was able to spend two of the last three weeks of his life with him and my mother.

My mother and father had celebrated more than 50 years of marriage only weeks before my father’s death. My mother was devastated following Dad’s passing. As she predicted, Mom  lived another ten years after my father died. However, she was never the same, never really happy again.

Once Dad died the family all assembled in North Carolina for the memorial service with the fellowship to begin our mourning and healing. Then it was decided that Mom would visit each daughter’s home for awhile before she would return to her own home to begin her life without Dad.

Six weeks after Dad died my mother had a heart attack. I had just returned home after accompanying her back to her home to help her begin this post-Dad part of her life.

canstockphoto0527001I was lying on the couch in my living room when I received the call about my mother’s health. I was told she had a minor heart attack and was stable. My mother told me that her heart was broken.

My sisters and I needed to decide what we were going to do. At this point I couldn’t even get off of the couch. How could I possibly get on a plane and return to my mother’s side?

This was my first experience of being emotionally bankrupt. Sadly, it has not been my last.

There was a “letter” circulating on Facebook recently where an old man explained grief, mourning and loss to a younger person. He described these kinds of life moments as being ship wrecked. Being overwhelmed by all of the sadness, devastation, grief and varying aspects of loss comes upon us as waves. And when the ship is first wrecked all we can do is hang on and stay afloat. Sometimes we hang onto another person, or a thought, a prayer, our faith or a possession.

Eventually these overwhelming feelings are not present 100% of the time. Eventually we have some moments of relief. How soon? There is no way of predicting. And for each person with each loss and each wrecked ship the timing and waves vary.

Eventually the waves become less and less frequent. Eventually we are not devastated by the wave. Eventually our memories become sweet and a source of comfort.

While we are waiting for the waves to lesson, and calm without taking us under, we must be kind, gentle, loving and supportive of ourselves. We must care for ourselves in ways that might normally feel like indulgences:

Take an afternoon sitting on a park bench, under a tree, or on the beach, and do nothing.

Take a hot bath daily, as a ritual.

Be quiet, still, and if needed alone. Let nature be your companion as nature is one of the strongest healers available to us all.

Stop working, at least for an afternoon or morning.

Stop doing for, caring and helping others, at least for an afternoon or morning.

If you have a pet, hug, love and pet him/her. Let your pet soothe and comfort you as you pet and love him/her. If you don’t have a pet, ask to borrow one.

Ask a friend to help you focus on fun, funny and wonderful memories.

Ask a friend to distract you and tell you stories that are completely unrelated to your  present experience.

Spend time holding, hugging, playing and cuddling a baby.

A word of caution about any and all of the above ideas. If you discover that this emotional soothing and regenerating is not working, is in fact contributing to you feeling worse STOP. You can return and try out any or all of these ideas in the future. For now, be gentle, quite and still with yourself.  Concentrate on breathing in, breathing out, breathing in, breathing out with no other expectation or goal.

Honoring your need for rejuvenation during the emotionally bankrupt and tsunami  times of our lives is important and essential for our Mental Health & Happiness.

Alone Time

By Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

How did you spend your time yesterday? What’s on your “to do” list for today? Do you consider yourself to be a busy, hurried and harried person or is relaxed, slow and steady a more apt description?

Nether of the above approaches to your days and life is better than the other. In fact, if you are a high energy hare-type person attempting to handle life as a tortoise you may increase your level of stress.

But with either of these life styles the chances are that your life is very full. Your obligations include work, your many relationships, time and energy spent on maintaining your physical and mental health, and hopefully hobbies and other entertaining activities. In the midst of all of this, how much time do you spend alone?


Let’s clarify that question. How much time do you spend alone without looking at or interacting with a screen? Do you spend any time during your day alone, without looking at your phone, electronic pad, television, or computer screen? Do you ever sit on a park bench simply watching what there is to see? The activities could include other park visitors, children playing, squirrels scampering, birds flying or ducks and pigeons foraging. And if not the park, you could sit at the mall, the lake or beach, community garden, or even your own porch, back yard, or living room.

You don’t need to meditate to gain the benefits of spending time in solitude every day. At first it may feel strange and uncomfortable. But the more you practice quiet reverie the more you may begin a journey into unknown parts of yourself. Nothing profound needs to happen, and yet it might. At the very least taking this time away, time alone for solitary time out may very well  rejuvenate, revitalize and replenish your personal imaginings and even your soul cravings.

The surest way to hear the soft strains of harmony is in the Silence.                                                                                          —      Sarah Ban Breathnach

Try seeking the love, belonging, and connections you desire by spending time every day alone, in solitude. Incorporating this simple yet challenging practice into your life may very well improve your Mental Health & Happiness.

Are Love and Belonging needed for mental health and happiness?

Dr. Ken Larsen

Let me go back in history to 18th century England.  Scurvy was a terrible disease that afflicted many sailors in the British Navy.  In fact, there were more deaths from scurvy than from combat and enemy action.  This was an unavoidable scourge until James Lind in 1747 observed the connection between fresh fruit, especially lemons, and the healing of sailors with scurvy.  One account I read described this situation: At the end of the six day trial…the pair who had received the lemon supplement to their diet made a staggering recovery and were once again healthy, while the others had worsened.” This proved our need for a regular dietary intake of Vitamin C by seeing the scurvy resulting from a deficiency of Vitamin C.

chair-beachCan we make a similar connection with the declared need for love and belonging?  If this is a need we should be able to see what happens when that need is not met.

I’m thinking of the “failure to thrive” syndrome that has been observed when small children in an orphanage are fed and kept clean but often die because they are deprived of human contact and the touch of a caring person.

If these deprived kids survive their childhood, too often they become the depressed, lonely, disturbed person who tragically lashes out in horribly destructive acts of violence.

Many of these people who have been deprived of love and belonging are diagnosed as being depressed and are given psychoactive drugs, presuming a chemical deficiency in the brain.  Sadly, this effort to help simply doesn’t help and has been implicated in worsening rather than helping the lonely isolation that is so characteristic of this deficiency..

I’m not going to tell you I have the solution.  I can stand with the growing ranks of those who are proclaiming that brain drugs are rarely, if ever, the solution.

The great spiritual traditions have all emphasized the need for love and belonging along with the admonition to provide that need for one another.   This is the “nourishment” we need to enjoy mental health and happiness.  Not to be loved and connected is to be suffering from an emerging and more clearly defined deficiency syndrome.

Here is the challenge.  Can we look at what is really deficient for those depressed, lonely, disenfranchised and often dangerous people?  Can we try to understand the real causes of these conditions that result from not being loved?  Can we learn from what Dr. Glasser said years ago, “we either help these people or we have to defend ourselves against them?”




I was born in a dysfunctional family

by  Dr. Ken Larsen

It was in Nashville.  I was in my Practicum Supervisor certification group.  Dr. Bob Wubbolding, director of Training for the Wm. Glasser Institute,  came striding into our


room, looked around, and then stated, “Let’s get it over with.  We ALL come from dysfunctional families!” We all laughed, sensing immediately the truth in that proclamation.  We all carry unpleasant memories, even scars, from our growing up.  Some are worse than others.  Many of us just carry on, having adjusted to the ways we think about those memories.  Some of us, however, have difficult memories that have become a part of our perceptions in how we see the world.  These memories intrude on our present experiences and can even have an undesirable impact on the ways we relate to others and deal with the normal challenges of life.

Dr. Glasser has made the point clearly that while past events affect our present lives, all we can work with is what is happening now.  We cannot go back to fix the past.

Does that mean we are stuck with the perceptions and memories of past scars that affect our present behavior?

I think these memories will always be with us.  What we can do is shift our focus.  This takes some effort based on insights we can gain from the wisdom of “Choice Theory” and “Reality Therapy”.

This shift involves movement.  Movement toward what we want, and away from what we don’t want.

What we don’t want is to be trapped in maladaptive patterns from our past.

What we do want is the mental health and happiness that comes from making choices that help us get our needs met.

I think our primary need is to be connected to others in caring, life giving relationships.  Some of us have discovered that making those connections requires a certain amount of skill.  Skill in noticing and responding appropriately to social cues.  Sensitivity to what is appropriate and what is not.  If we recognize that we are lacking in some of those skills, we can learn.

Most of us know the story of Temple Grandin.  I read one account of how she worked to learn a basic social skill.  It seems that she did not have a good sense of comfortable social space.  She would sometimes make people uncomfortable by moving too close.  What she did to learn how to maintain a comfortable interpersonal space was to go to the local supermarket where they had doors that opened automatically.  As you approached the door, the door would open when you got within a certain distance.  She learned that the distance required to open the door was just the right distance to maintain an appropriate space between her and others in a social setting.  So she practiced and practiced opening the door until she was able to reproduce that distance in her contacts with others.

The point here is that we can learn what we need to know to move toward what we want in life.

We know that we are influenced by our past, but we also know that there are no future facts.  We are free to make choices that will take us toward the life that we want.

And we can look at our dysfunctional family with an understanding and forgiving point of view, realizing that all of us only do what seems to be the right thing to do at the time.   We are free to shape our future with new choices, having learned the lessons of our past.