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 and welcome to Joy Lab.
Aimee: And I'm Aimee Prasek. So 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 in inner states that become the building blocks for a joyful life. The element for this episode is savoring, so we savored the past in last episode and we'll savor the present in this one, the future in next.
If you missed last episode, be sure to check it out, [00:01:00] uh, before or after this one is fine. It's super helpful to really understand these three types of savoring, past, present, and future. Um, these are the three types noted by those key savoring researchers, Bryant and Veroff. All right, so let's savor the present moment.
Henry: My favorite
Aimee: Oh, that's right. This is not one of my favorite. No, it is.
And it doesn't matter if...
Henry: last one wasn't one of your favorites either. There's only 3 to from!
Aimee: Shoot. I'll get there. That's why we're practicing. So I think, this type of savoring, this is something that does, um, connect with me, because it can really help us get a handle on this important aspect, which is, this important aspect of savoring, which is, it's not so much about the actual event, but more about our experience of the event and enjoying the positive emotions and sensations that [00:02:00] come up.
So there's some great research here looking at how savoring neutral events can be just as powerful as savoring really special or big events. And I think many of us actually, if we think back, can relate here. I just think about the positive moments from my childhood that stand out and they're pretty mundane on paper.
Probably one of clearest moments that pops out for me is making biscuits with my grandma. I can almost, you know, feel the dough right now, the smell. I can see my grandma's orange apron that she always wore. I can hear her patient loving voice sort of cheer me on as I completely screw up the recipe. And this power of this type of savoring is that we can practice it with this focused, present moment awareness, and it, it allows [00:03:00] it to really last.
Uh, in the last episode, we talked about how dopamine surges as we savor a past event and it lights up these reward related areas of our brain. The same thing happens, of course, with these present moment opportunities for savoring. Those areas of the brain light up and we savor, here's where it gets even more interesting, and it's possible, there's some great research on this that this pattern of activation with this present moment savoring boosts recall. Which means we'll be able to remember more details. We'll have better memory formation. That means we'll have a more, uh, complete memory of the details. We'll, remember that biscuit recipe without having to write it down.
Henry: Yeah, I really like that description of how something so simple can last such a long time.
Henry: And for some reason I'm thinking about how this is kind of like our, [00:04:00] our muscles. How we have these fast-twitch muscles, you know, for sprinting or quickness and then slow-twitch muscles for endurance. And it's ideal of course to have both and not to ignore one at the expense of the other
because, different circumstances call for different responses. And I think a lot of what we do nowadays for our dopamine system is like the fast-twitch system. You know, it hits that pleasure button really hard and fast and you know, it's a good thing. It's okay to strengthen those pleasure muscles. But that instant gratification isn't very lasting.
It's also a pattern that's easier for us to become addicted to. So what I'm calling the slow-twitch dopamine system might in the long run, you know, give us a lot more pleasure and, and even [00:05:00] boost our mood in a more lasting way. Now those same researchers that Aimee referred to, Bryant and Veroff, they note that to savor an experience,
"One must possess and apply a certain degree of mindfulness and meta-awareness." So to me, meta-awareness is very much like mindfulness. It's a ability to observe what we're doing, the observing self. So training our slow-twitch muscles, so to speak, learning to really savor something. It's not only fun in the moment, but it's also...
you're practicing being more present, being more mindful. So you're really getting a double win. You're getting more lasting pleasure, and at the same time you're strengthening these incredibly important mindfulness muscles.
Aimee: Yeah. I, I like this [00:06:00] slow-twitch dopamine. It does describe that phenomenon though, um, of, that increased sort of memory formation. It's because you're, it's like you're so soaked in the moment and it expands and you know that's, that you have sort of a marathon of a memory as opposed to a sprint. I think that's so spot on and who doesn't wanna stretch out that good experience?
That's what savoring the present is about. Um, really soaking in it. So before we get into a strategy though, for this, um, of course I'm gonna introduce an obstacle cuz I always do!
Henry: You're very good at that, Aimee!
Aimee: But, oh, I am! So I wanna call it out here. It's kind of like FOMO, "fear of missing out," but as it relates to present-moment savoring, we're gonna deal with something called FOBO, "fear of being over." Which Henry made up that acronym, and it totally speaks to me. So, you know, [00:07:00] certainly as somebody with both, um, the experiences of FOMO and FOBO, I'll describe this. I'll use an example, or I'll just describe the second half of so many wonderful moments in my life. I spend the first half loving it.
I'm really good at savoring the first half of every wonderful moment in my life. And then it hits me: this is not going to last! So then I spend the second half of all those wonderful moments, instead of savoring, sad that this wonderful moment is about to end, that this too shall not last.
Henry: Yeah, well, I, I can relate to that. I think probably most of us can. And by the way, I'm glad you like the acronym, Aimee.
Aimee: I love much!
Henry: So if you think about, you know, what is it that keeps us from really savoring this moment, whatever's going on, I think it boils down to a [00:08:00] couple of pretty straightforward things. One, we get caught up in the past.
You know, like when we start comparing, okay, well this thing I'm doing right now is not as good as when I did something like this in the past. Or saying it's better, or whatever it is. Still getting caught up in comparing, thinking about the the past and not being present in what you're doing now.
Obstacle number two you might guess, is that we get lost in thinking about the future, like you're just describing Aimee, where it's this fear that this thing I'm enjoying now is going to end all too soon and I don't want it to.
Aimee: Yes, that's the key.
Henry: So we might sound a little confusing right now because you know, we, last week we talked about making use of past experiences and next week we'll talk about making good use of future [00:09:00] experiences. So past and future is not the issue here. I think the issue is letting our mind become swept away
Henry: unconsciously and taking us out of this moment.
So the fear of being over. Like that you just talked about. We're just thinking so much about the fact that this good time won't last, that we can't really enjoy it right now. I think that what we're talking about is really a distortion of this idea of impermanence, which we have talked about before.
It's such an important concept in, mindfulness. Impermanence means, simply, that you're aware that nothing lasts forever. And one of our key skills is to learn to accept that all things are impermanent. We don't want [00:10:00] to deny it. We want to accept it, but we also don't want to fret over it.
Aimee: Yeah, key lesson in, in mindfulness, but, um, essential for life, an essential understanding for life, this impermanence. It makes me think of, this wonderful quote from author and psychologist, Amy Bloom. She says, "To hold happiness is to hold the understanding that the world passes away from us. That the petals fall and the beloved dies. No amount of mockery, no amount of fashionable scowling will keep any of us from knowing and savoring the pleasure of the sun on our faces, or save us from the adult understanding that it cannot last forever."
Henry: I love that image of savoring the sun on our faces. I can almost feel it, even though [00:11:00] it's winter
Aimee: No you can't
Henry: in minnesota!
Aimee: Smash your face up against the window. In Minnesota. Yeah, in a south facing window.
Henry: Yeah. I also love in that quote, how she acknowledges impermanence. She says the understanding that the world passes away from us. And yes, it's true. The, the petals fall and the beloved dies. Those things are true. But what's happening right now? Is the person you love still with you? Then what better thing is there to do than to savor them?
Now, this is not a small thing that we're talking about. I, I think sometimes, you know, when we talk about pleasure or savoring, we, we, *kind of make it small. We, we think, okay, this is nice, but, you know, it's not really central *[00:12:00] *to our lives. Not the most important thing, you know, or we think that it's super easy.*
*You know, savoring just means, you know, you really enjoy eating a good meal, for example. And it is easy. It, it is easy. But that's quite a different thing than trying to savor time with a beloved person in your life when you know that they have a serious illness, for example, and that they will someday, maybe soon be taken away from you.*
*I think that takes an incredible amount of. To live that deeply with the understanding of impermanence that she's describing in that quote that is really hard, but a really beautiful thing. *To be able to hold both things at once, loving what is in front of you, and also knowing [00:13:00] that it will pass away,
it is just one of the hardest, and I think most human of all the things asked for us in this life, especially if we can do it without grasping, you know, without desperately trying to hold on to that, that thing we don't want to go away.
Aimee: Yeah, it is really hard. I think what's interesting is that the more I work with that paradox, uh, the more I try to practice that dance of savoring, uh, and letting go, the less I care about sort of accomplishing these success goals in my life. And the more I care about savoring just the moment by moment experiences. And it's, it's not that I'm less motivated to make positive changes in the world, seems like I just care a little less about being acknowledged for them. I guess that's part of the power of savoring.
You know, it's, you feel more full from life on a daily [00:14:00] basis, more nourished by the little things. It leaves less desire to strive for the applause of others or for external validation.
So I've been practicing savoring the present. I mean, I don't, I said it's not my favorite, but it's really, it is actually one of the most powerful of our elements, I think. God, I say that about all the elements. but yeah, savoring the present has been a huge, huge tool for me. Um, you know, there's this big study done out of the University of Sussex about 20 years ago.
It asked folks to describe what gave them pleasure. Really what they had savored. And there was this one that just spoke to me from a participant. So I'll read it. This is what the participant said:
"In later life, I had a friend in the scrap metal business. Some Sunday afternoons when he was free of account books and ledgers, he would call at my door and ask if I wanted to go [00:15:00] lean on a gate. He would drive in his car a few miles into the country before he found a quiet lane, and then he would stop and leave the car and quite literally lean on a gate. Most often we found ourselves looking across a field of sheep or cows. Against a dark back cloth of trees, and we would smoke and stare and talk a little. My friend called this simple pleasure taking the creases out."
Isn't that wonderful? Um, I wanna lean on a gate. And who doesn't need some creases smoothed out. It's the power of these little practices. I think it anchors anchors us back into that, that present moment again and again as we continue to savor. And so let's talk about some of those strategies for savoring the present moment.
I gave just one right there. Lean on a gate.
Henry: Go lean on the
Aimee: Yeah, [00:16:00] truly! You wanna do the next one, Henry?
Henry: Sure. So, um, let me just go back to FOBO for a second just to see if we can find a positive use for the fear of something being over.
So instead of fearing it though, let's see if we can take some joy in it. So, I suppose, Aimee, you could call this JOBO, the, the Joy of Being Over.
And I am, I am done making up acronyms now,
Aimee: I'm not, let's keep going. We'll keep going folks. Don't worry.
Henry: So this, uh, I'm gonna draw on some research that you happened upon Aimee, out of the University of Michigan. And what they did was observe that when people do something, enjoyable and when they know that it's their last time doing it, they tend to enjoy it more. So for example, imagine that one of your favorite musicians is [00:17:00] going on tour for the very last time and you don't wanna miss it.
So you go and you have a great time, even though they might not be quite as good, uh, musician as they once were. But it doesn't matter because you know it's their last time hearing them live and you just love it. So in this study, they gave participants five different flavors of chocolate and had 'em do a taste test.
I wanna participate in a study like this.
Aimee: we are gonna do a study like this.
Henry: So when it came to the last chocolate to be tested, half of the group were told, this is your next chocolate. In other words, they didn't know it was their gonna be their last one. The other half were told, this is your last chocolate. So those who knew that it was their last chocolate were much more likely to say that it tasted the best.
[00:18:00] To rate it the best, and also to read the whole experiment as a positive thing. So you can do this whenever you know that something is coming to an end. So for example, let's say one of your favorite restaurants is gonna close, or I dunno, your daughter is playing in her very last high school soccer game.
Or maybe it's just the last, this is the last evening of your vacation, whatever it is, it can be something big or something small. If you make yourself really conscious that this thing you enjoy is ending, just see if maybe that helps you savor it a little more fully.
Aimee: I love that invitation for shifting FOBO, into that conscious awareness, and into savoring, right? So we're leveraging what's sometimes called the "last is best bias" in our favor, and I can use the chocolate metaphor when I'm feeling the FOBO rise up. FOBO [00:19:00] rises, I think of truffles, I shift to savoring. It's like that, that little conditioning cue to come back into the present moment.
Little cognitive reappraisal there perhaps. But um, uh, maybe I'll add another super tangible strategy to this as well. So it's something called mindful photography or phototherapy or therapeutic photography. Essentially a bunch of sciencey terms for taking pictures. But also like viewing pictures or even all the preparation of planning and capturing a photo.
Psychologist Judy Weiser, uh, assured this sort of formal therapeutic approach to photography in the early 1970s. The research on this is pretty clear and there's actually quite a lot of research, on therapeutic photography. That when you set an intention of taking a picture of something that you wanna savor, something that fills you up or that's meaningful for you, you get a pretty quick mood boost. Uh, [00:20:00] it's short term and the research will show that. Um, there's not a lot of longitudinal research here, but it is quick and it's effective and over and over again, it certainly can create a new pattern.
So you could add this to your JOBO practice, everyone. When that FOBO kicks in, more acronyms, uh, can serve as a really proactive savoring strategy, you're totally in the present moment and you've got like a savoring scavenger hunt happening, right? You're hunting for something to take a picture of that you want to savor.
So the point is to bring all of your awareness to your environment and you know when your thoughts wander, come back, refocus back into the present moment, into your environment, and set the intention that you're gonna take a picture of something that speaks to you. Something that sparks some good feelings in you and that you want to savor. And you could give yourself just 15 minutes max, maybe set a time, um, limit, if that [00:21:00] would help you. And if you don't find anything, look closer, like really, like get on the ground, put your zoom on, or look farther, climb a tree, get up on a mountain, look further out. I think also this is a great activity with a kid. My daughter and I have done this. Often our focus is a bug, usually caterpillars, uh, or a flower
Aimee: And we've, we always find one. Yeah, it's amazing. We always find it. If we set our intention, we will always find it or we'll find something close enough that it's, you know, we did it.
And it feels so exciting. Um, we focus our attention in on it. We discover it.
Henry: Oh, that sounds so fun, Aimee.
Aimee: Yes, folks do it with find a buddy or a kid. And share with us if you have this experience too. But I think that's the point about savoring. So it is focused. We've talked about this, especially last episode. It's mindful at the same time it's fluid. Um, but it's also focused on discovering and soaking up what gives you [00:22:00] pleasure. So you could choose to head out on a mindful photography adventure, to take a picture of just a beautiful tree or whatever you align with. You don't have to go out with like everything on the table. You can sharpen your senses towards specific things you want to savor. And like I just said, like my daughter and I have experienced, when you focus your attention on something, often you'll find it. Uh, another bonus with this practice is that you get all the savoring in the present moment and you get a take home gift, right? A tangible picture that you can go back to whenever you want, to savor the past and you'll savor it, savor it more vividly, more richly, because you really had that present moment attention when you were seeking out to find it.
Henry: I love it. Aimee, it seems like you're, you're getting into this present moment stuff.
Aimee: I'm like, no, it's the second half of present moments. I'm really good at the first half, y'all. Like, I can teach a, I can teach a whole big lesson [00:23:00] on how to savor the first half of any experience. And then Henry, you can come in and, and do the second half.
Henry: JOBO, Aimee JOBO!
Aimee: I'm, I'm trying. I'll get it.
Henry: Well, this reminds me of a, a story about a professional photographer named Jim Brandenburg. Um, he's a Minnesota based photographer, but he worked for years for the National Geographic and he was kind of a big deal. Uh, sort of a, a star. Somewhere in his, I guess, fifties or sixties, he lost his passion for photography and he just was struggling.
And so he came up with this idea, this experiment, which I love. For 90 days, and he, he decided to do it from the first day of fall until the first day of winter, he disciplined himself to take only one picture a day. That means one click of his camera. He only allowed one click. and you [00:24:00] know, his hope was that by, by being
thoughtful, that focused on this, this thing he used to be passionate about, that he would, he'd get something back. Now he lives near the boundary waters in Northern Minnesota. So there's all these incredible, beautiful areas, you know, to go to and wild animals that he was able to capture. Cuz you know, he had all day to, to find something and just take one picture.
So this turned into an amazing experiment and a book came out of it called "Chased by the Light," and it's just incredible. Each of these photos is just spectacular. Um, even if it might not be the best photo he ever took, there's something about it that is just really special. And he got inspired again. So a few years after that, he joined up with, uh, a fellow I've talked about before named Parker Palmer, who is a well known [00:25:00] writer and educator. And they had a series of conversations about this experiment where the two of ' are kind of talking about it and it's interspersed with, um, with some of these photos.
It's just beautiful and incredible. It's, it's available on YouTube. I don't think there's any charge for it. It's called "Courage and Light," and we'll put a link to it in the show notes. So I got involved with this, project after the filming just to create some mindfulness practices to go along with those videos.
And it was just so great to be part of it, you know, partly cuz these photos were so incredible and their conversations were so rich. But I loved it mostly cuz it, it's just such a good example of how savoring can really become a deep practice in, uh, mindful presence.
Aimee: Yeah. And, and what a story too about how savoring almost backing off on his [00:26:00] passion in, in such a way, like sort of putting the, the outcome, the product, all the pictures on the back burner, that passion and stepping back and savoring, and then kind of reigniting his passion. I think that's so cool. Risky business proposition as a photographer, it's really awesome. Um, but he found his fire back.
So I hope you all have found a little savoring opportunity in, in what we've talked about this episode, something that you maybe resonate with. And in next episode, we're going to put on our Dr. Emmett Brown coats and we're gonna savor the future, which sounds great, right? That's a back to the future reference if you're wondering, um, hope you, some of you got that!
In line with, um, all of our present and future, talks here though, I want to end with an EB white quote that I love. So it speaks to [00:27:00] this need for savoring, right here, right now. Amidst this pull, we often feel to sort of fix things in the future. Here's what he wrote:
"Every morning I awake, torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it. This makes it hard to plan the day. But if we forget to savor the world, what possible reason do we have for saving it?
In a way, the savoring must come first."
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.