Vividly bring to mind two or three people with whom you are particularly close, then remind yourself how much they care for you, and believe in your ability to make a difference in the lives of others. This provides a double dose of joy: it increases the sense of connectedness with important others, and enhances a sense of efficacy in one’s ability to make a difference in the world. I’ve had clients who found this practice to make all the difference in the world during times when they felt overwhelmed and lost.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Forrest Talley, Ph.D. He is a clinical psychologist and has spent the better part of his career at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center working with abused and neglected children. In 2008, however, he took a one-year break and deployed to Iraq working with a Combat Stress Control unit. Just recently, Forrest left the medical center and opened a private practice in Northern California.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
The pleasure is all mine.
What led me to a career in clinical psychology? Growing up I had dreamt of being a veterinarian. Visions of becoming the next James Harriet, the Yorkshire veterinarian who wrote “All Creatures Great and Small.” Then a funny thing happened… I attended college. Majored in biology. Wake up call. It took several years (because I’m stubborn) of struggling with organic chemistry, microbiology, zoology, and biochemistry, but eventually I reached a clear conclusion. Were I to become a veterinarian, the lives of many animals would be in grave danger. My lack of veterinary aptitude would make me a menace to the four-legged creatures of the world. PETA would have my photo on their “Most Wanted” signs.
I started rethinking my plans. Psychology attracted me. It provided a nice mix of a philosophical/empirical understanding of the human condition, with the application of that knowledge to help those in need. Going into clinical psychology turned out to be a terrific decision.
What does it mean for you to live “on purpose”? Can you explain? How can one achieve that?
Purposeful living requires that we approach each day with intentionality. In turn, our intentions should be directed at those goals we deem most important to a life well lived. Put another way, purposeful living rivets our attention to the question of what we can accomplish so that the world is a better place for our having been a part of it.
Of course, if we are to be successful in living a purpose driven life we need to identify important goals upon which to fix our attention. How do we determine the value, or importance, of the many goals we might focus upon? I think that is done by developing a set of priorities that are harnessed to moral truths.
I know that absolute moral truth is not a popular concept in today’s world. But when we lack conviction that our goals are wedded to the foundations of what is good and right, it becomes easy to lose focus. Persistence in the face of mounting obstacles can feel impossible. Moral conviction roots us to our goals.
Wilberforce, for example, was convinced of the moral truth that slavery was evil. Because of that conviction he unflinchingly toiled for over 25 years to outlaw slavery within the British Empire… and succeeded.
Intentionality and moral conviction are essential building blocks of purposeful living.
Do you have an example or story in your own life of how your pain helped to guide you to finding your life’s purpose?
One struggle that I mentioned earlier involved realizing that a career in medicine was not in my future. This was extremely disappointing, but it also had the happy impact of causing me to rethink the goals I had formed as a teen. It struck me that perhaps the teenage version of myself really wasn’t the best person to be directing career choices for the adult version of myself. This led me to look anew at how best I could use my energies and skills to make a difference in the world.
What had started out in disappointment quickly became an exciting exercise in exploring new possibilities. The eventual outcome was my decision to pursue clinical psychology.
This early chapter in life taught me that every setback has the potential to spark a helpful reconsideration of how best to pursue a purpose driven life. In hindsight, it is difficult for me to think of any struggle I have encountered that has not provided that opportunity. To paraphrase an old saying “Adversity is the diamond dust with which Heaven polishes its jewels.”
The United States is currently rated at #18 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low?
My read on research, and my common sense understanding, suggests that happiness is closely tied to a handful of variables. Three of these are of special importance when thinking about the decline in happiness within the United States. These include an active faith life, a sense of trust, and close interpersonal relationships.
Over the past 20 years the United States has experienced cultural changes that have chipped away at all three of these qualities.
For example, church/synagogue attendance continues to decline. Faith is one of the primary sources wherein one derives a sense of purpose. When faith is weakened, our sense of purpose frequently suffers.
A recent General Social Survey shows that interpersonal trust is also on the decline in the United States. Trust is part of the glue that holds relationships together. When it erodes, our sense of happiness is impacted.
The last thing I would mention is that the quality of our relationships has begun to suffer. More and more we tend to connect with others in ways that are superficial rather than deeply personal. Social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest are examples of such superficial connections. Text messaging is another. Indeed, texting, with its impoverished context and lack of nuance, has crowded out the whispered confidence expressed face to face with a friend who then shares a reassuring smile.
I am not arguing that these forms of communication are bad. Simply that they have a negative impact when allowed to crowd out more personal forms of relating to others.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m very fortunate to have a career that allows me to make an impact on others. This has frequently involved guiding traumatized children out of the painful emotions that have haunted them, and kept them from experiencing the joy they might otherwise know. It has also included working with adults to help them break free from the stranglehold of anxiety, depression and trauma. These emotional states can be devastating.
One of the most satisfying roles I’ve taken on, one that I’ve felt really honored to be able to fulfill, is mentoring and supervising young therapists. Internship training for therapists is structured so that a supervisor has a full year to work one on one with an intern. That provides a lot of time to help a young professional grow into his or her professional role as a therapist.
My focus in that regard has always been twofold. First, to teach my interns advanced clinical skills. Secondly, to encourage each intern to recognize and build upon the unique personal qualities that he or she brings to the task of helping others. You see, therapeutic technique is important, but for therapy to be most effective, the therapist must genuinely and deeply engage a client. There must be an authentic relationship. This can be established best when a therapist uses his or her strengths to invite the client into a deeply meaningful therapeutic relationship. Encouraging and guiding young therapists in the process of learning how to marry clinical skills with their own unique personal qualities has been an exceptionally rewarding challenge.
What are your 6 strategies to help you face your day with exuberance, “Joie De Vivre” and a “ravenous thirst for life”? Can you please give a story or example for each?
1. Prepare for a good start in the morning by taking a few minutes the night before to select the clothes you will wear, put your briefcase by the door with your car keys, make lunch, set the table for breakfast, etc. By removing the stress that comes from having too little time in the morning, you start the day feeling prepared, in control, and have time to do one or two other things that make for a great start. When I do this, the day always starts out better.
2. Spend a few minutes reviewing and adding to a gratitude journal. This is a proven way to boost ones mood. So simple and easy. It also provides some protection against the inevitable stressors everyone faces each day that would otherwise drag them down. I’ve found it surprising to review this journal from time to time and remember the simplest things in life that gave rise to a sense of gratitude. It might be a good cup of coffee, the friendly greeting from a co-worker, or a colorful sunrise. Had I not formed the habit of taking the time to briefly focus, these small gifts would have gone unnoticed.
3. Vividly bring to mind two or three people with whom you are particularly close, then remind yourself how much they care for you, and believe in your ability to make a difference in the lives of others. This provides a double dose of joy: it increases the sense of connectedness with important others, and enhances a sense of efficacy in one’s ability to make a difference in the world. I’ve had clients who found this practice to make all the difference in the world during times when they felt overwhelmed and lost.
4. Meditate for five minutes with a focus on some memory, place, event wherein you felt loved, competent, or relaxed. I used this approach with one soldier in Iraq who was becoming overwhelmed with the operational tempo as his 12-month deployment dragged on. Within a week of starting this meditation (curiously, for him it was driving a major highway loop that encircled his hometown), he felt much less stress, continued to practice the meditation, and completed his deployment.
5. Start the day in prayer. Obviously, this would not be important for someone who does not believe in a personal God, but for those who do have this belief it is a great way to start the day. Prayer will often bring a sense of clarity, and a sense of calm regarding what lies ahead.
It can be a tough habit to do well, as it is easy to simply rush through one’s prayers. At times, I’ve found myself approaching this part of the morning with the attitude of “Check, got that out of the way. What’s next?” This entirely misses the point. When I catch myself doing this, it tells me I need to review my morning routine and find out why I am feeling so rushed.
6. Spend a few minutes with family. A terrific counterweight to the crazy rush of most mornings is carving out a small bit of time to focus on your spouse and children. I know it is not always possible. Often it is difficult. But I think it important to make it a priority. I remember a time years ago when I would leave for work at 4:00AM. Unless I wanted to wake everyone in the house (not a good idea) there would be no family time until I returned in the evening. But I was able to achieve some sense of engagement by leaving brief notes, with a word of encouragement, for my young children. My wife would then read these to them during breakfast time. It worked out great and my children began to look forward to receiving these notes each morning.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that most inspired you to live with a thirst for life?
Several books come to mind. Abraham Heschel’s ‘God In Search of Man’ is terrific. As with other books he wrote, he notes, “The meaning of awe is to realize that life takes place under wide horizons, horizons that range beyond the span of an individual life or even the life of a nation, a generation, or an era. Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal.” Heschel has a wonderful way of motivating the reader to look at the ordinary things in life with a sense of wonder.
When you have this perspective, each day becomes an adventure.
Another book that I like a lot is Alfred Lansing’s ‘Endurance’, which tells the story of Earnest Shackleton’s attempt to reach the South Pole. Despite repeatedly failing to reach Antarctica, Shackleton’s enthusiasm for adventure remained intact. He persisted; relentlessly pushing at the margins of what was considered impossible. No one required this of him. He chose this path on his own accord.
It motivates me to try and emulate this approach to life. I think we should all take Shackleton’s approach to life. To choose dreams that are big enough to make us wake each morning with an eager desire to push our fears aside, and pursue the risky possibilities that lie before us. That’s the choice — to be led by the desire to explore possibilities versus the desire to ‘play it safe.’ Life is much richer when we don’t let fear have the final say.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that relates to having a Joie De Vivre? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are several I could mention, but one that stands out is by Hemingway who wrote in a Farewell to Arms “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” I’ve seen this in many of the people who have worked with me in counseling. I’ve seen it as well in my own life where setbacks and losses become opportunities for growth. With this in mind, each sunrise invites us to charge into the day ready to grab hold of transformative moments.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am very excited to be finishing a book for military chaplains that explains ways in which they can be of help to soldiers under stress. Chaplains are some of the most trusted individuals in the armed forces. Service members will confide in a chaplain before they even consider talking to a therapist. Consequently, it is important for chaplains to have the tools and skills needed to help in these situations. My hope is that this book will at least provide a small step forward in that direction.
The other project I have been working on is developing a private practice specializing in the treatment of anxiety, depression and trauma. Over the past year I have been fortunate to have a social worker (Joanna Chung) and psychologist (Barbara Wilson) join me. In time, other clinicians will be added to our team.
The name of our practice is Invictus Psychological Services. Invictus is a Latin word meaning undefeated. That pretty well sums up our orientation to providing help: push back against depression, anxiety and trauma. To help our clients lean into the fight so as not to let these things rob them of joy, or steal their potential to live life to its fullest.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I were able to inspire a movement, it would be one that helped people become more committed to religious faith. The benefits of faith to society, and the individual, are immense.
For example, the anti-slavery movement was primarily driven by people of faith, as was the Civil Rights movement in the following century.
Much earlier in history the movement to build hospitals found its impetus in the Judeo/Christian tradition of caring for the sick. The first hospital in recorded history was founded by Saint Basil in the fourth century. By the 1500s 37,000 Benedictine monasteries had opened their doors to care for those that were ill.
Similarly, America’s history shows that most major hospitals were initially established by religious orders. Even today one in six hospitals in the United States are Catholic institutions. The desire to ‘love thy neighbor’ is reflected in the large number of medical centers that include within their name the words Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Adventist, and so on.
The historical record also shows the profound influence of the Judeo/Christian mindset in supporting higher education (think Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oxford, Yeshiva, Notre Dame, and others).
In addition to all of this, research shows that people who have an active faith life are more generous with their time, more likely to donate to charitable causes, more involved with family and community, and generally happier (see Pew Research Center April 12, 2016 as one example).
This is not to gloss over the problems with which organized religion often struggles. Nor does it ignore the history of when faith was used as an excuse to commit shameful acts. But when viewing the vast sweep of history, and the consistent results from psychological research, it is clear that religious faith is a force of tremendous good for society and the individual.
Thank you for joining us!