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 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 and inner states that become the building blocks for a joyful life. So the element for this episode is hope and resilience. We've merged our elements, uh, to work through our Roots of Resilience series, and this is the last episode of that series-- tear-- but you can listen to it again and again, as often as you like.
Um, in this one we're talking about creating deep connections and, uh, how those connections are essential for our resilience. So I'm gonna lead us off with a quote from neuroscientist, Dr. Lou Cozolino from his book, the Neuroscience of Human Relationships. He wrote,
"The individual neuron or a single human brain does not exist in nature without stimulating interactions. People and neurons wither and die. In neurons, this is called apoptosis. In humans, it is called depression, grief, and suicide. From birth until death, each of us needs others who seek us out, show interest in discovering who we are, and help us feel healthy and safe. Relationships are our natural habitat."
I'd say that's true. And I say that as someone who has been modeled and who, bought into the idea that I have to do it all on my own, and "it" meaning everything. And when that lie seeps into mental health, you know, the idea that we have to figure it all out ourselves or that seeking out support demonstrates some kind of weakness. I think that belief itself acts as a block between our heart and our brain. Just like we talked about in last episode. It puts roadblocks up on these pathways of communication and of healing, and it makes feeling better, oftentimes, nearly impossible.
Henry: Yes, I, I think that this may be the most consistent finding in all the research on mental health and even physical health. That connection and belonging are more protective and life enhancing than just about anything else. I often talk about the three pillars of mental wellbeing. In my mind, those are sleep, self-acceptance, and connection. And even among those three, which are all important, I think that having deep, meaningful connections may do the most to keep us resilient and joyful.
So I like to think of connection in the broadest possible sense. Having genuine, healthy relationships is incredibly important. But, it's also really important to have a sense of meaning and purpose, feeling like you're making a contribution. And these things really connect us to the larger world. I also believe that there is real value in taking the time to connect with your own deeper self. That part of you that is in there, even if you aren't always aware of it, cuz it's not always clamoring for your attention.
But it's good to give it some of your attention. And then of course, having a connection with something beyond yourself, with some sense of the transcendent. And I think all of these things require that we stay open, which is really what we focused on in the last episode. And staying open sometimes, frankly, is painful. But it's worth it, because the payoff is this deeper sense of connection and belonging.
Aimee: I love those pillars. I love their simplicity and how they honor what we know is true. We know we feel better when we get good sleep, when we step into the world with a little less armor on when we have moments of connection. I love the John O'Donohue quote, "Our bodies know they belong. It's our minds that make our lives so homeless."
That wisdom just hits me deep in my bones. We tackle this obstacle of perceived separation in the Joy Lab program a lot. Uh, and we've talked about it here on the podcast as well. Uh, episode 14 is all about the illusion of separation, so definitely head back there for more on that.
Henry: Yeah, I believe that all the great religions agree on this point, that we are not separate isolated beings. Yet, that's typically how we perceive ourselves, right? That belief that we are separate is made up by our own minds, as John O'Donohue said so clearly. It is our minds that make our lives so homeless.
And I agree with you, Aimee, that language is so powerful. So moving. But you know, I think there is a strong paradox here that makes it hard to understand this concept with our thinking minds. Because on the one hand, this idea of separation is an illusion. But on the other hand, we do actually go around day-to-day in our own separate bodies, rehearsing our own personal thoughts, carrying our own unique heartaches. You know, it's kind of easy to see why we have all bought into this.
And then, you know, if you look around, in fact, there are people who appear to be really isolated and alone. So I think the real challenge here is that we are feeding this illusion every single day. And the best that we feel we can do then, is if we're in this life on our own, is to take care of our own little container of resilience through good self care and healthy choices. And as we've talked about just in the last episode, that's a whole lot of work. And, and it still isn't enough at times. We need to create a larger container and that can only be done through openness and connection.
Aimee: We do feed this illusion, as you said. I think what's interesting as well, same time, there's all this pressure that folks can feel to have lots and lots of friends. That makes me very uncomfortable as an introvert. But this isn't about, you know, hoarding friends or attending a networking event at the Mall of America. I just described my personal hell right there, caught.
I'm thinking about
Henry: you ever, have you actually done that?
Aimee: No, I'm describing the worst case scenario.
Aimee Uh, but instead, as you write in the chemistry of Calm, Henry, a first key step toward creating deep connections is to wake up from this illusion and replace the idea of separation with an awareness of unity. So it's an awareness. And so let's bring this into daily life. Henry, can you offer one strategy or practice on how we can awaken in this way, and then I'll follow up with one.
Henry: Sure. So I'm gonna share a variation of an experience that I had a while back that was actually really helpful in kind of waking me up. You know, our, our minds are always looking for the differences between us and others, comparing ourselves to other people and, and either seeing us as being more special or as being more deprived, you know, missing something in some way.
So this practice, which is incredibly simple and I think also kind of fun, helps us cut through this judgment and the distinctions that our minds make. It's a shared joy practice and here's how you could do it. And you can come up with a zillion variations on this. So choose a time when people are going to be gathering in a festive way.
So, Aimee, this is not the Mall of America networking deal.
Aimee: opposite. Got it.
Henry: probably, you know, like, think about a, a, maybe just any random weekend or maybe a special holiday or a ball game, a concert, anything that you think there's gonna be a group of people. I did this in just, I went to a large city park and it was a family holiday.
But you know, this is, this is a good thing to create your own version of this. Give yourself enough time so that you don't feel rushed. I think at least a half hour is good. And then just wander around, just watching people enjoying themselves. They're laughing, they're talking, they're eating, they're listening. Notice how much of their pleasure and enjoyment seems to come from interacting with the people around them. And as you do this, try to just allow your mind to stay quiet and particularly watch for any judgments that come up, any comparing yourself to their lives or feeling like you don't quite
These things probably will come up and if you notice them, just notice and then gently send them on their way. And if you can, try to take genuine pleasure from these other people's happiness. You can even silently say to yourself something like, "your happiness is my happiness." And if you're able to do that, then just notice what, if anything, happens inside of you.
Aimee: I love that practice. I actually kinda did it yesterday. I was- yeah. I was driving down the road and I saw a family or a, it was like a family gathering. They were playing volleyball. And the first thought that came to my mind was like, God, they're terrible. I could come in there and wamp 'em. And then I thought, wait, that's a judgment.
And then I looked at them and they were having so much fun. They were terrible, but they were having so much fun. And was and then it made me feel really good and I excited for them. And you know, so it just, as you said, Henry, you know, something might come in first. Which was my judgment.
I was able to just let that go and then soak for a moment in their joy cuz they were just having a blast. It was sort of, you know, and, uh, a perfectly warm day that hadn't been perfectly warm in a while. So they were soaking in that. Awesome practice. I love it.
Uh, I like the idea too, of doing it in a place where you may not know very many people and might be feeling nervous about conversations and such. So sort of that invitation to take the spotlight off of ourselves is really cool.
So for another strategy, it's uh, related to a concept I really like called moral elevation. I know it doesn't sound great, like some person perched on their moral high ground looking down on you, but it's really the opposite.
So moral elevation is actually the feeling we get when we witness someone doing something really kind or brave or generous, and we feel elevated when we witness that. And this elevation is associated with positive emotions, improved self care. But also, here's where it sort of really relates to our topic, feelings of connection with our fellow humans, all of 'em. So there's this great study from uh, doctors Jason Siegel and Andrew Thomson that looked at folks who were dealing with depression and then those who experienced moral elevation. And those who experienced moral elevation were more likely to seek treatment, which is kind of fascinating.
So some of the reasons the authors proposed for this is that that feeling of elevation may stimulate oxytocin, might activate vagal nerves, which we just talked about last episode, so folks can feel more calm, trusting of others, maybe a little less self-focused, and open up to the idea that someone else might be able to offer help.
So how can we do this? Well, you could do it the same place as Henry's strategy, honestly. You could look for joy and moral elevation if you wanted to do a twofer there, uh, when someone is helping someone else. Uh, another way to experience moral elevation is to make space for it, because it's there to see, we just might need to get some junk out of the room.
So a really quick way to do this is to be really conscientious about the media you consume. And kind of limit what is the opposite of more elevation. So talking to myself right now, Aimee, back off on the cult documentaries. That would probably be helpful for my moral elevation.
Um, maybe those can relate. Or here's a good one, assess your social media use. You know, what's the overall theme? Is it negative? Is it mostly about what's wrong with other people, the sort of the theme of your feed. If so, it's probably preventing any space for more elevation. So clean up your feed. Or take a break from it altogether because it's definitely not helping you.
And I can hear folks saying, "it doesn't bother me. My feed might be negative, but it doesn't influence me." And I get it. I used to say exactly that. It's called third person effect, and it's the belief that other people are more influenced by media messaging than you are. This is not true. We are all influenced by the media we consume.
I'm off social media nearly entirely, not because I want to, but because I feel better when I'm off of it. And I'm not saying that's true for everyone else. They might have more self-control than I. But it's definitely worth assessing. So try cleaning up your feed or taking a break. Then to sort of stick with this media strategy, you can s uh, you can seek out media that offers moral elevation.
So you could Google heartwarming stories. Or, you could head over to our ME Time circle over at the new NMH Community. Ooh, we'll talk about that more too. Um, but you can find some quick moral elevation boosts there. The ME, M-E, stands for moral elevation. Which is pretty cool.
Henry: do love our acronyms.
Aimee: know. I couldn't help it. Thank goodness moral elevation was so simple to put into ME Time. Um, and then because moral elevation is super contagious, like kindness, I bet you'll find yourself initiating some moral elevation. You'll just decide to help out at a community garage sale, bring a meal over to a friend who's sick, and that'll spread. You'll be spreading moral elevation. Other folks will become elevated, and on and on it goes.
Henry: I love that, Aimee.
Aimee: working on it.
Join me folks. Let's do it.
Henry: Yeah, maybe just choose a different genre of documentary.
Aimee: True. I know it's a clear pivot. Yeah, I'll go there.
Henry: Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, one of the things that I like so much about what you just described is that you don't really need to do a lot of work in order to create this moral elevation. You, you can just remove an impediment to it. You know, like the negative messaging that is feeding this idea of separation.
And just by removing something like that, then this sense of elevation or expansion just comes so easily. You know, we are naturally buoyant, so it's, it's easy for to be lifted up with the right sorts of inputs. Uh, there's a, a little haiku, uh, that I read years ago that this reminds me of. I just love it.
Here it is: "spring comes and the grass grows by itself."
And I think this is true for creating deep connections. We don't have to wait for years of effort. We don't have to "fix" ourselves first. We can stop feeding the idea of separation and connection comes by itself.
Aimee: We don't to "fix" ourselves first. We can stop feeding the illusion and our connection comes by itself. Wise words, Henry. So, to close our time today, we'll turn to some wisdom from Chief Si’ahl, also known as Chief Seattle. Here's what he said:
"All things are connected like the blood that unites us. We do not weave the web of life. We are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves."
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