Welcome to Joy Lab!: [00:00:00] 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'm Aimee Prasek. So welcome to Joy Lab, where we infuse science with soul to help you uncover joy, to you do that, I'm too excited... we focus on our elements of joy, the positive inner states and emotions that become the building blocks for joyful life. So I'm excited about, uh, this next aspect of gratitude that we're digging into today, which is "Choosing Wisely." so if you haven't listened to episodes 30 and 31, you may wanna go [00:01:00] back, because it'll help sort of make sense of this. So, as we talk about choosing gratitude, you may have been on Instagram lately and maybe bombarded with polished pictures with hashtag grateful and hashtag blessed stamped everywhere. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy your hashtag grateful for your exclusive island vacation that you go to on your private jet. At least that's what I'm practicing with our element of sympathetic joy, which is in December. Um, nonetheless, I think those hashtags can be frustrating at times. Uh, sort of making gratitude seem both exclusive, to those with yachts, and also kind of the only right way to feel, you know, no matter how you're feeling, you should be grateful. And my thing is that I want to choose gratitude, consciously choose it, even though I don't have a jet or an Instagram account. So let's get into [00:02:00] it. Let's talk about consciously choosing gratitude.
Henry: Right, so we are in our third episode of working on Gratitude, and this is really where the rubber meets the road. This might be the hardest of the three aspects of mindfulness, simply because it involves action. We actually have to do something,
but that's also why it might have the most potential to really change us for the better.
There's a popular notion of mindfulness as living in the moment or maybe being present. It is those things, and it's also so much more. I, I try to remember that this practice came from an awareness that life is hard and the practice itself was [00:03:00] intended to be a pathway through the hardness of life as a way to help move beyond suffering and into a more joyful life.
So before we can find our way through all of this, we do have to train ourselves to see what is, to be more clear-eyed, more aware of what's really true. And if we do see what is true, then really our only authentic response is to accept the truth of it and to stop trying to shape reality to meet our own desires. Which is a pretty fruitless activity anyway, right.
Aimee: We try hard though, right? Yeah.
Henry: So all of this is to get us to this point of being able to choose freely, how to [00:04:00] respond to what is. Because we do get to choose. Nobody says we have to choose the healthier or wiser response every time. But if we can create just a little space to let our wiser mind weigh in on things, then maybe we will make a choice that is more life-giving for us.
I think it can take some heavy lifting to get to that point, but once we do create a new normal, say where feeling grateful is our more natural, automatic response, then things get much, much easier.
Aimee: Yeah, I wanna soak in that reminder. You don't need to choose the healthier, wiser option every time. That is freeing. It gives us that choice. I had an amazing [00:05:00] breakfast yesterday morning of coffee and truffles from Saint Croix Chocolates, like the most amazing chocolate shop in the world, and I was really grateful for it.
Henry: Wait, wait, wait, wait. You, you, this, you had, you had breakfast of coffee and chocolate truffles. I wanna eat with you.
Aimee: Right! And you know, but what's funny at the same time is we work on this stuff, uh, like gratitude and our other elements of joy. Making those life-giving choices gets to be easier. Uh, which I do think chocolate is life-giving in many ways. But I won't have chocolate and coffee every morning. I see and accept because, and I get on a sugar high.
I'm like a six year old at a birthday party. Um, tangent anyway. When we were working on these episodes, Henry, you and I were talking about this It's a Buddhist term, a central concept in psychology and behavior change. And we actually talk about it a lot here at Joy Lab in so many different ways. [00:06:00] Really just this idea that certain habits get pretty hardwired in our brains. It's for efficiency sake. No matter the habit, helpful or not, if a pattern has been set, our brain creates some shortcuts. It removes a lot of the decision processes for us, you know, lightens the cognitive load. So we don't have to think about every little thing throughout our day and make all of these decisions. And it's awesome!
Like when you pick up a fork, you can eat your truffles, your breakfast truffles, without having to focus on how to hold your fork and get those truffles in, aim for your mouth. Uh, that might seem silly, but if you watch a toddler or my four year old, even at this point, still learn how to use a fork, can see how much attention it takes. Uh, and like, just imagine if we had to do that for every meal. So that habit energy can fuel some great stuff, to get [00:07:00] you through your day, but maybe there are some other forks you wanna change and that's when habit energy can get you stuck. And that's what we're talking about today, how gratitude, energy can fuel something different.
Henry: Yeah, I, I find it so helpful to think about habits of the mind. Many people who have depression, for example, have developed a habit of seeing what's wrong or maybe expecting the worst. Now, they didn't do this on purpose. Like all the rest of us, um, they're just not aware of their mental habits. And that's exactly why we all need to do something to practice greater awareness.
We just need to become more aware of what's going on in here, in our, brains, to see what is. Then you can make a more conscious choice to develop a different [00:08:00] habit. You can practice seeing the things that add to your life and not just the things that threaten it. In the last episode, we talked a bit about the amygdala, which is kind of like that panic button in the middle of the brain.
It goes off very loudly when we feel threatened, as long as it's going off, fear will override all of our quieter emotions, including gratitude. But if we can turn up the volume on gratitude, and and have that wiser part of our brain talk down the more frightened part, it gives us a chance to create new patterns.
It's just like we've talked about before, making paths in a meadow. By walking across it, we can choose to stop walking down the scary path and we can choose instead to take the grateful [00:09:00] path. The more we do it, the stronger that new path becomes.
So we're basically trying to take advantage of a really simple part of being human, that we are creatures of habit. So we wanna do is to try to make a habit of gratitude.
Aimee: Yeah, I think gratitude is so unique as well as you're describing Henry, and similar to our other elements of joy, because it works on both of those paths. It sort of covers the hypervigilant, over-surveillant, amygdala shouting, when you're threatened path, it makes it not so ready to roll down. And it works on paving that more grateful path as well, at the same time. There's quite a bit of research here on how this works with gratitude, uh, if we engage in gratitude practices, we'll likely reduce cortisol, stress hormones. We're making a little bit more space. The fear response is starting to [00:10:00] lessen.
Practicing gratitude can also improve cardiac functioning and even resilience and recovery markers can be improved after experiencing something tough, like a death of a loved one, a divorce, a job loss, loss of a pet. Those hard things don't injure us so badly when gratitude has been practiced, you start to see these paths change shape. We can recover faster emotionally and physically. So this gratitude energy can really propel us down a healthier path. And there's benches to sit on, to have truffles and coffee in the morning too. It's not a boring path. There's spaces. And funny, I'm alluding to this right now, I think. I have to be honest, sometimes I get mad at gratitude because it's so powerful. I know it's that maybe "pessimist," surveillance artist in me. [00:11:00] I might get lost in sorrow for a bit, maybe a bit too long, and then think that stupid gratitude is just waiting for me. Like, come on, man, down the path a little bit. What are you waiting for? And I'll get there, and it always makes me feel better.
Henry: Well, let's, uh, let's really try to think concretely about this practice of gratitude for a minute. So here's an example of how to use all three of those steps that we talked about to see, to accept, and then to act. So you can try this the next time that you receive service, any kind of a service from someone.
So it might be at a restaurant, of course, but it could also be just when you buy something at a store or if you go to a medical or a dental appointment or get your haircut or something. Or even when you order something online, anytime that you [00:12:00] receive a service of some sort. So first try to go into this practice looking for something good to happen.
Try to notice any little thing that you appreciate. It might be the person's effort or a little smile or a positive outcome or even just having the opportunity for someone else to serve you. Second, you want to not only notice it, but also take it in. Savor it like Aimee does, her chocolate truffles. Absorb the impact of it. You know, accept it fully as if you deserved it, because you do of course. And then third, find a way to express your gratitude. So for example, you could write just a little [00:13:00] note as you sign your check, a little note to the server, or you could say something directly to the server.
Or you know, if you go to an appointment and they ask you to fill out a questionnaire, do it, and try to fill it out as positively as you can. You might even just write something for yourself in your own journal. But if you can actually express it directly to the person who gave you the service, I think it's even more powerful.
Aimee: Yes, as a former bartender, server, clothing sales associate, cold caller for the Minnesota Department of Public Health, I could go on and on here with all of my customer service jobs, but I think that strategy is brilliant, Henry. And it will make the person on the receiving end feel really good as well.
Henry: Of course you were a bartender at one point in your life.
Aimee: What haven't I been? I've had a lot of jobs. Um, yeah. Let's, [00:14:00] I wanna share another strategy actually that I've used to chip away at my cherophobia. Talked about that last episode, and that I now use to apply this element of gratitude in my, in my work. And I call them my gratitude coins. So they are small wooden coins.
If you're us, it's just a little, just a little wooden circle. A little wooden coin. And I write down on one side what I hope folks will receive from each podcast episode that we make. And then something as well that I've taken from it, something that has nourished me. And I also use the coins in a more celebratory way, writing down little things I'm really grateful for, or just happy about, sort of really savoring that feeling of happiness.
And then, for example, with the podcast episode, after we're done recording the episode, then I toss the coin in one of my gardens in the front of the house as a way of just kind of letting go of it [00:15:00] and letting it sort of grow something else that might be good. And I think it really helps me to hold each of those things. These experiences as their own, you know, rather than linking something good with something bad that might follow. I've felt these good things. I've wrote them down, I've soaked in them a bit, and then I've offered them back to the world, and here's where this gratitude energy comes in as well.
I've been going through coins faster than I did when I first started, know, sort of one episode at a time, but now I'm just picking up coins and noticing other things I wanna hold onto for a bit longer. I wanna savor. So I bought 200 initially thinking I'd have 'em forever, but now I just am going through them so quickly and it opens me up a bit more.
I'll have to get some more, to take in that full experience, whatever it might be.
Henry: I love that, Aimee. I just love it.[00:16:00]
You know, I'm really taken with the notion of using coins, you call them coins instead of just wooden discs or circles or something like that.
Henry: I just think it's such a great metaphor because even though you can't spend them, you know, like in a store, you have made them valuable by giving them some meaning.
Henry: And then I love this too, that instead of holding onto them, you offered them back to the world. Which I just think is so important. I actually try to think of money like this.
You know, yeah, we need to save money for the future. I'm very much in favor of that, but in essence, I think money represents an exchange of energy. It's just not meant to be stored. It's [00:17:00] meant to flow. Because it's that flow of energy that makes things happen in the world.
Now, this might be a stretch, I get that, but I think that this relates directly to gratitude. You know, I myself have just become a lot freer with money than I used to be. Now I know that might have something to do with stage of life.
I don't have to save for kids to go to school anymore, you know, there's things that have changed. But I think for all of us, no matter what stage of life, money is flowing through our hands constantly. And it kind of gives us this constant opportunity to be grateful. Whenever money comes to us, we can notice it, accept it, and choose to feel grateful, rather than, you know, maybe feeling entitled or, or even resentful that we [00:18:00] didn't get more money.
And then each time we send our money off somewhere else, we can actually be grateful that we were able to do that. Now, I know that the usual thoughts about money are that we just don't have enough. We never have enough. We always want more, and I get that. But at this particular moment when we're sending money on its way, we do have enough.
We had enough to do that. So I think you created just a great ritual with your wooden coins. And you know, we could do something similar with metal, plastic, electronic, bitcoins, you know, whatever shape our you know, money takes. And it's really just as you described it, feel the abundance that has come to you, soak in it for a little bit, and then offer it [00:19:00] back to the world.
It's just beautiful.
Aimee: Yeah, I don't know about Bitcoin though Henry, I feel like those are too weird.
Henry: Yeah, stay away from Bitcoins, there's my, that's my advice for the day.
Aimee: We have no financial advice to give. I gotta be honest. I'm working with wooden, wooden coins over here.
Aimee: But yeah, you know, we've explored the see, accept, act process as it relates to gratitude. And I do hope you all have found some resonance here. You know, some insights and strategies to help you apply this element of gratitude in your life. To see more clearly the good that is present, to accept joys and the sorrows, and to take action in ways that are nourishing, uh, and that generate even more gratitude to fuel you on your way.
You know, whether it's coins or your hands, writing these moments of gratitude down. It certainly grows. [00:20:00] So I think to end, we'll look to Rumi for some wisdom. Two quotes that I think fit so well to what we've discussed, and as we move together with more gratitude. Here they are: "You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens." And this one, "Gratitude is the wine for the soul. Go on, get drunk."
Henry: It's such a perfect ending for this episode.
Aimee: Cheers. Yes. With truffles!
Thanks for joining us!: Thank you for listening to the Joy Lab podcast. If you enjoy today's show, visit JoyLab.coach to learn more about the full Joy Lab program. Be sure to rate and review us wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.