Welcome to Joy Lab!: Welcome to the Joy Lab podcast, where we help you uncover and foster your most joyful self. Your hosts, Dr. Henry Emmons and Dr. Aimee Prasek, bring you the ideal mix of soulful and scientifically sound tools to spark your joy, even when it feels dark. When you're ready to experiment with more joy, combine this podcast with the full Joy Lab program over at JoyLab.coach
Henry: Hello, I'm Henry Emmons.
Aimee: And I am Aimee Prasek. Welcome to Joy Lab. So Henry, I'm guessing those listening are like, Hmm, what is Joy Lab? What podcast rabbit hole have I traveled into? So, um, I want to give, folks a little Joy Lab in a nutshell explanation. Maybe you could do that before we really dive into how it works, how it helps folks, and all the other good stuff.
Henry: I'd love to. So, Joy Lab is a science based, soul filled podcast and online program, which is intended to help people build resilience and uncover joy. So the podcast is always available and it's free to anyone wherever you get your podcasts. We also have a robust, online program that you can access over at joylab. coach.
So I want to emphasize that we are creating something that we think of as science with soul. Because we do want to make use of the best that science has to offer. Yet, if we don't include heart and soul, we think we would miss the mark for what is really helpful at finding joy. And really, that's what this program is about.
It's about uncovering joy.
Aimee: Yes, yes. And I want to talk more about how we can do that in Joy Lab, uncovering our joy. But I think it's helpful to note as well that Joy Lab has been brewing up for quite a while and it's really built on a super solid ground of science and experience. So the twinkling of the program, really started with Henry's work, three decades of it, as an integrative psychiatrist and also Henry's books, workbooks, and group programs. Most of which are all focused on boosting resilience, calming anxiousness, and uncovering joy.
And wild enough, so one of the key reasons I got into my work with integrative mental health was also through Henry's book, The Chemistry of Joy. It ignited my own healing journey out of depression and into more joy. It also sparked my own career as a researcher and educator in integrative therapies and digital mental health programs.
So all of this good stuff has been assembled and distilled to its very essence to create Joy Lab. And I wish I could have had this program about 20 years ago when I needed it, which really sort of begs the question, Henry, why do we need something like Joy Lab right now?
Henry: Wow. 30 years or more of psychiatric practice.
That's, that's true, isn't it? So um, Here is why I feel so committed to Joy Lab at this point in my career. One, I think there is just such a need right now for something like this. And then secondly, I believe that this is the sort of approach that's really missing. And then thirdly, I just find it so personally meaningful to do this work.
So let me dive into those one at a time a little bit more. We are currently experiencing an explosive rise in rates of anxiety and depression. Now, this started long before COVID, but clearly the pandemic has made this situation worse. It is not an exaggeration to say that anxiety and depression are epidemic. They are also pandemic because they are prevalent everywhere, not just in the U. S., but everywhere around the world. Now, our standard approach to these problems, unfortunately, is not working very well. One thing that I'm very aware of as a psychiatrist is that we turn so quickly to medications, which of course can help, but they also have real limitations that are not always appreciated.
One thing is that side effects are very common, and a lot of times people don't realize that what they are experiencing as side effects feel to them like depression, for example. Also, it's really common for medications to just poop out and not work very well over time. And then there are many people, an increasing number of people who stay on them for years and years, and then find it very hard to get off of them.
So whenever possible, I really like to use natural approaches first to try to restore, brain chemical balance, let's say. And we do this, a lot with our work at NaturalMentalHealth.com. And then use medications. I do use them in my practice, but I try to use them temporarily just when they're really, really needed.
Now, uh, psychotherapy, of course, can be helpful, and I really urge people to use therapy when they have access to it. Unfortunately, not everyone has good access to therapy. And it can also be expensive. And, um, so I believe that there continues to be a real need to offer things that are affordable, widely accessible, and that are focused on giving people really simple, effective mental and emotional skills. The kind of thing that they can carry with them, that they can grow and expand , and that really help to prevent relapses of these problems.
For many years, and still to this day , I have used a program I helped to create called Resilience Training and it's a really, really good, cost effective, um, adjunct to therapy. It's not a replacement, but it's a great adjunct to psychotherapy or medications.
But I think that there is another level of an approach to this that is not usually addressed in mental health treatment. And it's something that goes well beyond even the resilience training. And that is the level of human flourishing. I believe that it is possible for anyone, no matter what you've dealt with before, to create a more joyful life.
So if you can go beyond recovery, beyond prevention, to what really helps you thrive, there is simply less room for something like depression or anxiety to find its way back in. And that's where Joy Lab comes in. Now for me personally, this feels like the most important thing I can do with my time and energy now after practicing psychiatry for over 30 years.
I know personally, how unsatisfying it can be to fall into the role of just being a medication prescriber. Or to get so focused on pathology, on seeing what's wrong, and then trying to fix it, that all the joy gets sucked out of the encounter with another human being. I've been burned out. Unfortunately, it happened to me pretty early in my career. And burnout, frankly, is just another way of saying depression. And it took me quite a long time to really get out of it. Now, I found my answer partly by becoming an integrative psychiatrist. Developing a much more holistic approach to the work that I do. But still, even with those great changes, it only got me so far.
And feeling really joyful in my work and my life generally was still missing. Now, at this point, I feel as if I am finally practicing what I preach, at least most of the time. And these are the two things that I feel go hand in hand with each other that give me the greatest sense of meaning, the most satisfaction that I've ever had. And that I feel like I want to keep practicing for the rest of my life.
And those are learning to love well and creating a more joyful life.
Aimee: Learning to love well and creating a joyful life. That's what we all want, I think, right? I know I'm game, and I want to dig into what we mean, though, about joy. It's not just some feel good, Pollyanna, sort of sweep depression under the rug type of thing.
So, what is joy? Let's describe it and talk about how we can uncover it and get more of it.
Henry: Sure. So first, let me say that I do not see joy as being the opposite of depression. It's also not quite the same thing as happiness, because at least in my view of it, joy runs deeper than any feeling. It's more enduring.
It can last a long time. It can be accessed anytime, anywhere. And it's possible to feel joyful, even in the midst of dealing with a real problem. Like stress, depression, anxiety, or some other, you know, mental or physical condition. So, joy is not just an emotion. It's a state of being. Where you feel peaceful, for example, or secure, and you feel buoyed up, lifted up by something that is really beyond your mind or your own efforts to make yourself feel good.
I want to summarize some of the things I've learned about joy through my own reading and experimenting and really mostly this is through my own life. So, so first of all, let me say that I think joy is absolutely natural. I think it is our default setting. It's woven into our nature. It's who we are. And I think it is accessible to everyone as a birthright gift.
Really simply put, I think joy is what remains when we stop wanting things to be a certain way that they're not at this moment. Secondly, then this is a paradox, but I believe that joy comes easily. It's not that difficult, it's not mysterious, and I know that that feels like a paradox because it can seem so, so hard to really achieve it. But in its essence, I think that it has a lot less to do with effort than it does with just allowing things to be as they are. I think it has less to do with grasping than it does about letting go. And it's less about struggle than it is just about surrender. Thirdly, joy involves choice. And this is where things start to feel a little sticky or difficult about this.
But I really believe that every moment, we are faced with a pretty simple, straightforward choice, and that is, where do we place our attention? Another way of saying that is, what do we nourish? What are we feeding with our mind, with our awareness and our focus?
So the essence of the Joy Lab experiment, and I do consider this a way of experimenting, is this: what happens when we do more to nourish the heart and the soul?
Aimee: So joy is natural, it's easy , and it's a choice. So I think those, those simple yet hard truths are my favorite things we work to reveal in Joy Lab. And I probably, like, many others listening spent a lot of time, years, desperately trying to push things away, like depression to find joy. Or solely searching for joy outside of myself. Or making rain checks with joy, right?
When I finish this, then I'll be joyful. And that's another thing I learned the hard way. This never finishes, right? It just becomes something else again and again. So, we created Joy Lab to help you uncover more joy in your life right now. Not after something, not when you feel better, or when you get that new job, or when your toddler sleeps better, which my toddler's not sleeping well, um, but joy right now, no matter what's happening in your world.
So like, like Henry just said, we see Joy Lab as an actual learning laboratory. And in the Joy Lab program, we guide you through day to day real life experiments so you can discover and restore your own natural state of joy. So Henry and all listening, I want to sort of geek out for a moment here and explain the science behind Joy Lab.
This is what we call the four pillars. I think it's helpful to know it kind of lays out how Joy Lab works. So, I'll dive in first. dive into this first pillar, which is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, also known as CBT. Now, CBT is the best studied, most effective approach known for mood and anxiety disorders.
Maybe some of you are familiar with it. Maybe some of you have done it. Um, I have, So, Joy Lab is not intended to provide or replace therapy, certainly, but we do use CBT as a way of removing the obstacles So now, myself, as a digital health researcher, this was the dominant strategy I was taught for mental health interventions.
It can be super effective. But, and I know my colleagues are going to burn me for this. I think digital CBT can be kind of boring. I didn't really connect with it. I appreciated the, the learning points. Uh, and they made a difference in my life, but it was kind of slog to get through. And so, um, I like a little more spice, right?
A little more sizzle, dare I say, a little bit more joy in my mental health. And so that's why I'm really glad that we have three more pillars. Uh, Henry, can you sort of dive into those for us?
Henry: Sure, I'd love to. Let me say first that I had a very similar experience to yours, Aimee. When I was in my training, um, so really early in my career, I was very taken with the notion of cognitive behavioral therapy.
Uh, it just seemed to make so much sense to me. But the further I got into it, the more I found it just felt kind of dry, uh, to me. It just wasn't enough meat their soul or spice, as you said. And I think that, um, these, these next two pillars are, you could think of them as more recent developments that have brought some of that into the cognitive behavioral model.
So I, I think that they really add some of that heart and soul that we're really looking for. So the next pillar is known as the broaden and build model. Now, this comes from the work of Barbara Fredrickson and others, in the field of what's called positive psychology. And positive psychology and this broaden and build model suggests that in addition to weeding out your unhealthy thoughts through the CBT model, you can also infuse healthy, life giving thoughts and feelings. You can create what you might think of as an upward spiral or a virtuous cycle that starts to build on itself much in the same way that a downward spiral does. But in this case, you know, on a much more healthy and uplifting trajectory. Feeling hopeful, for example, creates a very different inner state than when you're feeling fearful or pessimistic.
And so by opening yourself up in this way, you're really broadening or expanding your experience so that you have a wider range of possibilities you can draw from. You have more in your toolkit, so to speak. And, and coming from this place of greater inner strength, it is a lot easier to keep building more of the skills that really lead to flourishing. So that's the term broaden, you broaden your your array of inner tools and then you build from that.
The third pillar we call the science of mindfulness and really this has become such a widely known part of healthcare these days. You might almost consider it mainstream. But when I first started learning about this almost 30 years ago, it most definitely was not.
And the practice of mindfulness has just such a growing scientific foundation to it. It's been shown to have so many benefits, including to the health of your brain and your mood. It also provides a core skill that we are basing the Joy Lab experience upon. And that is the ability to direct your attention to where you want it to be.
Now, I want to add that you do not have to become an expert at meditation or even like it. It's not, that's not what we're about. It's just that you do need to grow in your ability to see what is true, and to focus your attention more on what really gives you joy. So the first three pillars are all pretty strongly rooted in science.
The fourth one is maybe not so much. But we think it's really important. We call this feeding the soul. So in our view, science and soul are not mutually exclusive, they are mutually enhancing. And we intend to bring the science to life through things like poetry, stories, practical ways to connect with the deeper part of yourself, the part of you that is fed by meaning, connection, and just being part of something larger than yourself.
Aimee: Yeah, uh, the science and soul of healing I love that. I think it's powerful and it's part of what really makes, uh, Joy Lab really special. And for those who are ready, then you can join us for the full Joy Lab program over at JoyLab.Coach.
Henry: Yes, please join us. We really hope that you do. We know that joy grows when it is shared, and so we'd really like to share this program with you and hope that you'll, you'll stay with us for this journey. Thank you so much.
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