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. Hello, I'm Henry Emmons.
Aimee: And I'm Aimee Prasek. Here at Joy Lab, we infuse science with soul to help you uncover joy. To do that, we focus on building the elements of joy, the positive emotions and inner states of that become the building blocks for joyful life. The element for this episode is savoring.
There are some key researchers in the area that we'll cite several times, um, who are Bryant and Veroff. Uh, they define savoring as attending, appreciating, and enhancing positive experiences that occur in one's [00:01:00] life. Something that I love about savoring is how it's pretty effective as an antidote for chronic busyness. And we'll get into that a little bit. Uh, there's a brilliant author, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, who I'll refer to again and again in the, in the next three episodes at least. But she wrote about being busy and how it stands in the way of savoring. This is from her fantastic book, the _Encyclopedia of An Ordinary Life_. Encourage you to read it. Uh, it's almost 20 years old now, but it is still spot on for ordinary life today.
And this excerpt that I'll read is called _Busy_. So here it is:
" How you been?
How was your week?
You name the question. Busy is the answer. Yes. Yes, I know. We are all terribly busy doing terribly important things, but I think more often than not busy [00:02:00] is simply the most acceptable knee jerk response.
Certainly there are more interesting, more original and more accurate ways to answer the question, "how are you?"
I'm hungry for a burrito.
I'm envious of my best friend.
I'm frustrated by everything that's broken in my house.
Yet busy stands alone as the easiest way of summarizing all that you do and all that you are. I'm busy is a short way of saying (implying), my time is filled, my phone does not stop ringing, and you, therefore, should think well of me."
"Have people always been this busy? Did cavemen think they were busy too? ...this week is crazy. I've got about 10 caves to draw on. Can I meet you by the fire next week?... I have a hunch that there is a direct correlation between the advent of coffee bars and the increase in busyness.
Look at us. We're all pros now at hailing cabs, making xeroxes, carpooling, [00:03:00] performing surgery, with a to-go cup in hand. We're skittering about like hyperactive gerbils, high not just on caffeine, but on caffeine's luscious byproduct: productivity. Ah, the joy of doing, accomplishing, crossing off.
As kids, our stock answer to most every question, "what did you do at school today?" "What's new?" Was "nothing." in our country's history, there have been exactly seven kids who responded with a statement other than nothing, and three of those were named Hansen. Then, somewhere on the way to adulthood, we each took a 180 degree turn. We cashed in our nothing for busy. I'm starting to think that, like youth, the word nothing is wasted on the young.
Maybe we should try reintroducing it into our grown up vernacular: nothing. I say it a few times and I can feel myself becoming more quiet. Decaffeinated, zenish, nothing. [00:04:00] Now I'm picturing emptiness, a white blanket, a couple ducks gliding on a still pond. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
How did we get so far away from it?"
Henry: I love that, Aimee. It is just a fun reading. And you know, I, I'm laughing because it's just so true, isn't it? Now you, you said that was written almost 20 years ago, and I, I would wonder if. Kids still say "nothing" when they've asked what they've been doing. Or if, if they also say "busy" now. You know, I remember being bored as a kid, honestly.
A lot of the time, there just didn't seem much to do to occupy my mind. I remember these long car trips or a lazy Sunday afternoon, and I am sure if I'd had video games to play, [00:05:00] or I could hop on social media, or simply watch tv, I would've done it for sure.
But back then there weren't many channels on tv. There, a lot of time, was nothing of interest, so it was simply better to just grab a book and read or go outside and maybe find somebody to play with. And I think one thing that has changed really is that we just have so many more choices now. You know, our cell phones that we have in hand, we we're always able to find something to draw our interest rather than just doing nothing and risking getting bored.
And I am sure most of us would not want to give up that freedom that we seem to have from it, but I'm not so sure that it actually adds to our freedom. You know, [00:06:00] our physiology evolved in a very different world to help us survive. And a lot of our behavior, I think, is driven by one of these two things: either the desire to find pleasure or the aversion to pain.
And the dopamine system, which we have talked about before, but it's really important in this discussion, it has a lot to do with the positive end of that, pleasure and motivation to, to get satisfaction. So when we find something we like, we want to do it again. We're designed very simply in this way and it is good for our survival, but we are so clever and we have so many choices that we can easily work this system.
Henry: To what we think is our advantage, but a lot of times we just get locked in [00:07:00] to these repetitive behaviors, even compulsive patterns, you know, to try to get more of that thing that gave us pleasure. And it doesn't even matter what it is, what that thing is, the effect is the same. We get another hit of dopamine, and another, and another, and they're just so quick, that they're highly addictive. So in a short time, really, we become slaves to this dopamine system that's there to kind of help and protect us.
Aimee: Yeah, you noted it doesn't matter the thing. And I'm thinking back to that excerpt. Like busyness itself can offer that. We get these little dopamine drips as we think I'm busy, I'm productive. People think I'm so in demand. And even though, as you noted, there are like a billion choices, our body wants consistency, a consistent reward because novelty is [00:08:00] more work.
And as you said, our system wants to go get it again, even if it isn't feeling good or doing us much good anymore. And interestingly I think we can get stuck in the opposite of that. I'm thinking of how depression is associated with less dopamine release and less activation of dopamine targets in the brain.
Less pleasure. So it's like this can't stop and can't start phenomena that can sort of ensnare us. Both related to depression on those sides, and both that can be helped in some way by practicing savoring. And working to create new reward patterns that might be healthier for us, that's what we're gonna do.
So let's talk about how to savor. So Bryant and Veroff, those savoring researchers, talk about three types of savoring that we can engage in, savoring the past, savoring the present, savoring the future. So just hearing [00:09:00] those options. You may have one that naturally sort of pulls you in that you maybe default toward. Henry, do you have one that is your favorite?
Henry: Yeah, I would say it's present, you know, just trying to, to be more present when I'm doing something and see if I can really enjoy it more.
Aimee: I love it. That's why you're such a great mindfulness teacher. I like to savor the future, get outta the present. Just kidding, I like to savor the present. While I am not very good at savoring the past, which is the theme for this episode. Um, so I will certainly be practicing more with everyone else.
This is a group effort. Everyone listening, we're in this together. Um, but I think also the good news here is that it doesn't really matter. And there's some research here that has looked at this assessing past versus present versus future savoring practices, and they found them to be pretty equal in their overall health impacts.
You know, the difference actually came down, uh, [00:10:00] in time spent doing them, and then consistency with practicing. So stick with us for these next three episodes because, we'll, cover the past in this one, savoring the present next, and future in the following. And try the strategies we'll give for all of them.
See what you like best. Your savoring practice, in any of those times, past, present, or future can benefit you in your daily life. And then you can practice the ones that you're not so great at if you want to. So, let's savor the past. I wanna give a bit of research to ground this.
There's a small but super interesting study that looked at areas of the brain that were activated when participants savored a past event or what they called an autobiographical memory task. Researchers cannot use simple words like savoring the past. There will be more buzzwords that I will provide. So participants were observed in a fMRI and cued [00:11:00] to focus on the positive aspects of the memory.
Savoring. With this task, the researchers found that this type of savoring activated the reward related circuitry. Dopamine. Just as would happen if folks were really experiencing something great in the moment, like not just imagining it.
So according to this study and others, there's more that would support this, savoring the past gives us an opportunity to take the wheel in some ways with our dopamine system. We can create activation that feels good to us. We can get a mood boost, uh, and we are in control of it.
Henry: Yeah, that, that makes a ton of sense. You know, and I think if, if what you want is a consistently better mood and who doesn't, then you don't want to rely on these just random hits of dopamine from just an occasional pleasurable thing, and you [00:12:00] most definitely don't want to get cut up in those addictive patterns that we all know about.
You wanna be smart about how you relate to your built-in pleasure system, the dopamine system. There is a ton of research in the mental health world these days on what is known as emotional regulation, and I think it's because there's, this burgeoning research, is because so many of us are not very good at keeping our moods steady when things get really tough.
In the research, there are two common ways to work at getting better at this. One of them is called effective suppression, and I'll say more about that in a minute, and the other is called cognitive reappraisal. So simply put effective suppression means that you learn [00:13:00] how to deal with these strongly negative emotions that we all experience after they arise for you.
So let's just say anger as an example. You don't want to let yourself rage out of control. It's better, far better, to learn how to manage it, how to dampen it. So that's called effective suppression and it's a really helpful tool, but if you've tried this or if you just think about it, it takes a lot of energy to do this after the emotion has hit you.
And it also takes a ton of skill. So if you're always putting out fires, it, it's gonna get exhausting pretty fast. cognitive reappraisal is the other option that they talk about, and that is more efficient. It doesn't take as much time. It doesn't take as much energy. And what [00:14:00] it means is that basically you change the way that you think about things.
So that maybe they don't bother you so much, so you don't get that, that rage or that intense negative emotion in the first place. So this is more like going upstream, you know, trying to prevent a problem before it gets bad. Now this still takes a lot of energy and a lot of skill to do this well, it's not an easy thing, but it is worth learning.
It's a great skill to have in your, in your pocket. But we think that there's an easier way to get there and one that's a lot more fun, and that's what we're calling savoring. Enjoying whatever comes your way. So it's using your built in biology to try to have a better experience in the first place. So that you don't have to change your thinking or tamp down your emotions.
So this is more than just going [00:15:00] upstream. Even this is more like, like changing to a different stream altogether. You know, getting a into a more peaceful and beautiful stream area. Now maybe one with even a, a, a nice little swimming hole that you can enjoy and savor.
Aimee: Yes. Yeah. know, there's so much, I think I'll say misinformation on how learning and change require discomfort. You know, no pain, no gain. Change is always hard. And I just think that's not always the case. And savoring is such a good example of another, um, stream, like you said, and getting in some rapids every now and again can be powerful and our elements of joy, support that, you know, to more bravely and compassionately step outside of our comfort zone.
And explore and, and create change. But the research also suggests we can create meaningful shifts by just chilling [00:16:00] on a tube down the Lazy River. It's counter to everything we're taught, I think, in US culture, but you know, a feeling of contentment, of peace washes over you, and that can create change. We don't need to fight the current all the time.
I also love thinking about emotional suppression alongside savoring, uh, I, emotional suppression is all about, for me, those bad feelings going away, which can be effective, like you noted, Henry to sort of soften some rage so you don't act out of your lizard brain and do something terrible. But I think more commonly it becomes this practice of simply ignoring the tough feelings.
Shoving them under the rug, pushing them down. And that's associated with depression, that kind of suppression. And as I said before, with depression, our ability to savor gets [00:17:00] suppressed as well. It's this kind of systems requirement, you know, they both sort of organically have to exist for good mental health.
We can't push one down and authentically amplify the other.
Henry: Right. You know, I, I think it's a good thing for us to remember that we do have, built into us, this circuitry for painful emotions too, right? We're supposed to feel bad once in a while. We're supposed to feel sad or angry or scared, depending on what's what's happening. But we're not supposed to feel it too much or let it go on too long.
That's not what this means. So we have the circuitry for painful emotions, and we have the circuitry for pleasure. We just don't want either one to become, you know, overly strong. Overactivated. We want enough, but not too much. And, and [00:18:00] I do think that savoring can get us there. It's, it's like, you know, when you're engaged, really engaged with what you're doing, but you're not busy.
There's a big difference, and I think this is similar when you, you can really savor but not get like hyper overstimulated or over addicted with it. So get the good stuff without the feeling of compulsion to try to get more.
Aimee: Yeah, I love that. Engaged instead of busy. I love that little switch. So as we talk about savoring the past, we'll really work to look back at an event and remember all the great pieces of it. We let those same emotions rise up again. We soak in them, relive them in our mind's eye. And this can be a group activity.
I love to do this with friends. I'm sure others can relate, perhaps reminiscing over some crazy, hilarious, ridiculous thing you did in your 20's. [00:19:00] An aside, I will tell a quick story. I remember when we took, on a camping trip, four of us, took our friend's mom's car went off-roading in it. It was not appropriate thing to do with the car.
We got stuck a boulder, somehow, the axle, with the tires floating in the air. Whenever we gather together, we talk about that moment and it just brings up the most wonderful sensations of a little bit of rebelliousness and glee and laughter. So maybe just up for you and you can like, feel that smile. I don't even remember how we got the car down. It was terrible.
But, it's fun to think about now. That's kind of what we're doing. At the same time, I still have a bit of a bristly relationship with this strategy of savoring the past. I just cannot help but think that I'll turn into sort of that parent at the high school football game who in between moments of screaming at their [00:20:00] kid to "focus!" they'll tell you all about their glory days as the all-star high school quarterback every time you sit next to 'em again and again.
And so I have this little twinge of fear like savoring the past can sort of get me stuck there. I know it's my brain soaked in this culture of hyper productivity telling me this. And my wiser mind tells me there's a difference between living in something and practicing something
Henry: Yeah, I think the key to what you're talking about, Aimee, is that idea of savoring the past rather than getting locked into it. It really depends on mindfulness right now, in the present while you're reliving it. So you know, you can relive a past experience, being intentional about it. You know, I, I want to re-experience something wonderful from my life and here's how I'm going to do it.
That's very different than doing [00:21:00] this reactive, uh, repetitive reliving of something. It's doing it with intention in this moment. So you can use this mindful reimagining, intentionally to open up yourself to the feelings, the good feelings from something that happened in the past.
Aimee: Yeah, that's the key there. And, and really focusing on those good feelings, um, in that present moment as they rise up. So our, our element of savoring is like this really engaged, we've discussed, mindful, conscious process. I think also this is just becoming a realization for me. If you have that fear that you're gonna be the guy living in your glory days, you probably need to savor more.
You very likely will never be that guy. Soaking in some of that nourishment is probably a really good thing. I'm just maybe talking to myself right now. So, uh, but we wanna give you one clear, uh, strategy on how to do this [00:22:00] art of savoring the past without getting stuck there. The strategy is called _Three_ _Good_ _Things_ and it comes from positive psychology researchers, Seligman, Steen, Park, and Peterson in an article that looked at, uh, the effects of 10 positive psychology interventions.
So it was this exercise that we're gonna introduce and another one on strengths that were associated with increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms, for a final follow up, which was at six months, which is, that's a long time. So it was pretty impressive. Can you describe the practice for us, Henry?
Henry: Sure. So "three good things," which it, how is, how it's widely known is an exercise that has really been studied a ton since that, um, original research came out. I think it's 15, 20 years ago. And over and over it's just shown that practicing this increases happiness and reduces depression. Just like you were saying.
It's [00:23:00] very simple to do this. You can just kick back, take a little time to yourself, ask yourself to remember three events that were really positive for you. Write them down in your journal. Take some time to remember each of them one at a time. Take as long as you'd like to do this. It's that easy. Then, you know, take a little more time and try to reflect on why did this happen?
What were the circumstances? What was the part you played in it? Who else was involved and what part did they play in making this good thing happen? That's it. You don't have to analyze it. You don't have to figure anything out. Simply by making these associations in your mind, you can boost your mood and it can be in a lasting way, which is pretty [00:24:00] remarkable.
Aimee: It really can be that simple sometimes. So get on your tube, head down that lazy river, and reflect on those three good things. So we've talked about savoring the past in this episode, we'll talk about savoring the present next, uh, in the future after that. It's really helpful to have a skill in place, I think, for all these three time periods.
So be sure to listen to all of them. And to close our time today, I wanna share some savoring wisdom from the brilliant thinker Helen Keller:
"What we once enjoyed, we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us."
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. [00:25:00]