Dr. Sam Goldstein: “Learn and practice ways to fortify your stress hardiness”

Learn and practice ways to fortify your stress hardiness. Develop effective communication and other important relationship skills. Develop solid problem solving and decision-making skills. Establish realistic goals and expectations for yourself. Learn from both success and failure. Mistakes are a valuable source of knowledge. It sometimes feels like it is so hard to avoid feeling […]

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Learn and practice ways to fortify your stress hardiness.

Develop effective communication and other important relationship skills.

Develop solid problem solving and decision-making skills.

Establish realistic goals and expectations for yourself.

Learn from both success and failure. Mistakes are a valuable source of knowledge.


It sometimes feels like it is so hard to avoid feeling down or depressed these days. Between the sad news coming from world headlines, the impact of the ongoing raging pandemic, and the constant negative messages popping up on social and traditional media, it sometimes feels like the entire world is pulling you down. What do you do to feel happiness and joy during these troubled and turbulent times? In this interview series called “Finding Happiness and Joy During Turbulent Times” we are talking to experts, authors, and mental health professionals who share lessons from their research or experience about “How To Find Happiness and Joy During Troubled & Turbulent Times”.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Sam Goldstein.

He obtained his Ph.D. in School Psychology from the University of Utah and is licensed as Psychologist and certified School Psychologist in the state of Utah. He is also Board Certified as a Pediatric Neuropsychologist and listed in the Council for the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology. He is Fellow of the American Psychological Association and the National Academy of Neuropsychology. He is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, the University of Utah School of Medicine. Dr. Goldstein has authored, co-edited, or co-authored over fifty clinical and trade publications, three dozen chapters, nearly three dozen peer-reviewed scientific articles, and eight psychological and neuropsychological tests. Since 1980, he has served as Clinical Director of The Neurology, Learning and Behavior Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, the only child of immigrant parents. I loved math and science, eventually deciding I wanted to be a brain researcher. However, after completing my Masters, I decided I liked people better than rats! I shifted my study of attention in animals to children and completed my Doctorate at the University of Utah eventually starting a Neuropsychology Clinic with a neurologist 41 years ago. The clinic has seen over 500 children and adults every year since then. In my Tedx talk, The Power of Resilience, I describe our Clinic as helping “Job’s” people, as the folks coming to see us are typically facing multiple physical, cognitive and emotional challenges.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

I always liked to help others. As I young child I remember asking my mother who was helping the elderly woman living next door to us in our apartment building. She told me we could knock on her door and ask if she needed any help. Turns out she needed help gathering up some unneeded things to give to charity. We helped her put a bunch of clothes into a bag. Then my mother and I took them to a local charity drop off. I still recall this woman telling my mother what “a good boy I was”. Without realizing it my academic path led me to a helping profession. Long before research confirmed that helping others is a resilience or protective factor for the helper, I experienced a sense of satisfaction and perhaps happiness by helping others

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

One of the most encouraging people through my childhood was my mother. You can imagine that as an only child I was my mother’s “twenty-year project”. Often, I was annoyed at what I felt was my mother’s intrusive activity in my personal, social and academic life. Looking back, however, I judge myself lucky for her involvement. I was a very conscientious student in High School but once as a Senior I skipped a class to go to lunch with some friends. The Dean called my mother and scheduled a meeting for us. He began by telling my mother what an excellent student I was and even though this was my first infraction in nearly four years of high school he wanted to make sure this was not the beginning of a slide into “mediocrity”. I sat there anticipating that I was about to receive a tag team admonishment from the dean and my mother. Wow was I surprised when instead of lecturing me she looked the Dean in the eye and told him he must have better things to do than to “harass” one of his best students! She stood up, took my arm and we left before he could utter another word.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

Forty-five years ago, during my training I worked with a boy I was told had a “bad habit” of repeatedly making noises while simultaneously grimacing. At the time, my supervisor explained that these were habits that had developed and the best way to help the child was have his parents remind him to stop every time they observed this behavior. Not surprisingly every time they told him to stop, he stopped but over a few weeks the behavior increased! We know now know this boy suffered from Tourette’s Disorder and these were tics. Not only was “reminding” him to stop ineffective but it actually increased his tics.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

My new, co-authored book, the fourteenth work with Dr. Robert Brooks, Tenacity in Children: Nurturing the Seven Instincts for Lifetime Success, has been hailed by prominent child development giants such as Dr. Maurice Elias as a book that “will change our approach to mental health and parenting, and how we conduct civic life.” I am also completing a revision of my Autism Spectrum Rating Scale, one of the most widely used assessment tools for Autism in the world. But I think I am most excited about my musical collaboration with Craig Clyde and Graham Russell of the band Air Supply. Our third musical theater show, Dead Certain, will have its world premiere next year.

You are a successful leader. Which three-character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

As I have discussed with you in a past interview, first and foremost is intuitive optimism. This requires starting with the belief that success is only attainable if you begin with such a belief. If you begin any task with the thought that success is elusive, as the child who told me that “he just knew he would fail the math test” then you will fail. The second is intrinsic motivation. This is motivation that comes from an inner drive to succeed and the experience of success, rather than from external, material rewards. If your only reason to work is for a paycheck eventually you will feel burdened and unhappy. Finally, genuine altruism, the drive to help others only for the sake of helping is an equally powerful force. I want to add that the amazing aspect of these three traits is that they can be shaped and developed beginning in early childhood.

For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of finding joy?

First, we need to agree on the definition of “joy”. I define joy as more than just happiness. Joy is an overwhelming sense of pleasure, satisfaction and most important, connection to others. Joy does not stem from material wealth as might happiness. Joy is the experience of watching your child walk for the first time or graduate from high school. Joy comes not from accomplishments but from the satisfaction of knowing your life makes a positive difference in the lives of others. In my work with thousands of children, adults and families I have found that one of the best antidotes for adversity is the joy that drives resilience and stress hardiness.

Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about finding joy. Even before the pandemic hit, the United States was ranked at #19 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low, despite all of the privileges and opportunities that we have in the US?

The United States is portrayed worldwide as a land of opportunity. A country where hard work is rewarded and anyone can find financial success. As such, pandemic or not, failure to meet the quest for financial and material success is viewed by many as an impediment to happiness and joy. Further if joy as I defined it, is highly related to social connections and life satisfaction, then it makes sense that the United States falls short as we spend more time at work or working than people in most countries.

What are the main myths or misconceptions you’d like to dispel about finding joy and happiness? Can you please share some stories or examples?

As I have said we have confused happiness with joy. Further we have equated happiness with material and financial success. We have assumed that reaching your financial goals, going on vacation, receiving an award or for that matter “deciding” to be happy will bring joy.

I always enjoyed my visits with eleven-year-old Nikko. I began working with Nikko almost ten years ago because from a very young age there had been a disconnect between the hypersensitivity of Nikko’s nervous system and the world around him. By age two, he was literally afraid of his shadow. By age three, he refused to leave his mother’s side. Clowns and circuses scared him. He wouldn’t even consider trying the children’s rides at the local amusement park or tasting new foods. He resisted entering kindergarten. Every year starting back to school was a challenge. Each time he would exclaim that doing these things would make him unhappy. During one visit Niko enlisted me in a conversation about the wonders of computers. Nikko exclaimed, “You know what? One hundred years from now they will find a way to turn our brains into computers.”

“Aren’t they like computers now?” I asked.

“Oh no” he answered. “Someday they will just program our brains while we sleep

and everyone will read well. Not only that, no one will ever worry because computers

aren’t people, they’re not afraid.”

I could almost see the wheels turning in Nikko’s mind so I waited. Then a

somewhat sad look appeared on Nikko’s face. “I guess that wouldn’t be so good

because then we would never be happy. You can’t program a computer to be happy,

it’s just something you feel.”

In a related, but slightly different question, what are the main mistakes you have seen people make when they try to find happiness? Can you please share some stories or examples?

They assume happiness and joy are products or end points. They are not. Happiness and joy are processes that serve as both fuel and motivation to live a resilient life. Resilience explains why some individuals deal effectively with the adversities that life brings them while others are overwhelmed. Resilient individuals are those who have a set of assumptions or attitudes about themselves that influence their behaviors and the skills they develop. In turn, these behaviors and skills influence this set of assumptions so that a dynamic process is constantly operating. We call this set of assumptions a mindset.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share with our readers your “5 things you need to live with more Joie De Vivre, more joy and happiness in life, particularly during turbulent times?” (Please share a story or an example for each.)

What you are asking is the 5 most important things you need to experience joy and happiness. The key is developing and maintaining a resilient mindset. A resilient mindset is composed of several main features. These are my favorite five.

1. Learn and practice ways to fortify your stress hardiness.

2. Develop effective communication and other important relationship skills.

3. Develop solid problem solving and decision-making skills.

4. Establish realistic goals and expectations for yourself.

5. Learn from both success and failure. Mistakes are a valuable source of knowledge.

Possessing a resilient mindset does not imply that one is free from stress, pressure and conflict or guaranteed joy and happiness, but rather that one can successfully cope with problems as they arise. A young woman recovering from a severe traumatic brain injury recently told me that “my view of myself has changed. I’m not who I was and I don’t think that I can do the things I did.” Clearly this woman’s post-accident mindset about herself and her capabilities has changed yet we use the word mindset to capture an important premise. Mindsets can be changed. Though it is not unexpected that mindsets change for the worse following stressful life experiences or severe physical injury, experience can foster new beliefs that can guide behavior and help recovering individuals engage in the process of replacing counter-productive, self-defeating assumptions about themselves with those that will lead to a more resilient, fulfilling life.

What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to effectively help support someone they care about who is feeling down or depressed?

  1. Provide unconditional support.
  2. Listen, listen and listen more.
  3. Refrain from giving advice.
  4. Counsel them to seek professional help.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

The education of our children is a very important issue for me. We have to begin the process of educating children differently. Along with colleagues I am starting a project called Inside Out Schools. We are beginning by asking the question of what schools will be like in 50 years and what we can do today to begin the process of recreating our educational system to truly prepare children for the challenges of a future we will never see. Though we have brought technology into classrooms, we continue to educate children the way we did over 100 years ago. We continue to emphasize content over critical thinking

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

William Bennett. He served as Secretary of Education from 1985 to 1988 under President Ronald Reagan. I think his ideas about education fit well with my vision.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

www.samgoldstein.com

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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