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New Program Day 20: Embracing Joy

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by Alan Gordon LCSW, Aug 2, 2017.

  1. Alan Gordon LCSW

    Alan Gordon LCSW TMS Therapist

    Day 20: Embracing Joy

    Every year at UCLA, there’s an event called Spring Sing. 5000 people pile into a stadium to watch students compete in different singing categories.

    For three years, my friends and I had the task of writing the comedy pieces in between the acts. We wrote off-the-wall parody songs like, “Roommate from Hell,” “Three Finals in One Day,” and the ever-controversial, “Sorority Song.”

    It was SO much fun.

    After a sequence of unlikely events, we managed to turn this hobby into a job. Colleges actually started paying us to write and perform comedy songs at their events.

    It seemed like a dream come true, but it wasn’t.

    It had become a paid gig. And this thing I once loved and did freely had become infused with pressure, urgency, and expectations. After two years, I gave it up. The joy was gone.

    The Drive for Change

    We’ve discussed a lot of techniques over the past few weeks: somatic tracking, communicating messages of safety, embracing a stance of empowerment, etc.

    As you began implementing these techniques, was there any joy behind the actions, or was it infused with pressure, urgency, and expectations?

    There’s a bizarre paradox in trying to overcome our symptoms: The very act of trying to get away from something can activate our brains’ danger signals. So in trying to escape a pain-state, we’re often generating the very energy that causes pain.

    Techniques can be helpful, but they matter less than the energy behind the techniques: Is there desperation behind your words? Is there an urgency behind your actions? Are there expectations for a desired outcome?

    Or, is there an ease in your demeanor? Is there an enthusiasm to embrace positivity? Is there joy?

    In short: Are you running away from something, or are you running toward something?

    Joie de Vivre


    The term “Joy” can mean different things to different people: It may make you think of pleasure, it may make you may think of happiness, it may make you think of an underwhelming Jennifer Lawrence movie (they can’t all be winners…)

    But joy is an emotion. It’s a physical sensation that we feel in our bodies. For most people it feels good. For some it feels scary (as there can be a fear of it being taken away.)

    But generally speaking, it’s a sensation that’s on the other end of the spectrum from desperation, pressure, and urgency. It’s the type of thing that we can gravitate toward, instead of away from.

    This begs the question, is joy something that we can generate?

    Actually, it is.

    Joy Story

    Guillaume Duchenne was a nineteenth century French neurologist. He discovered numerous diseases, invented electrotherapy, and conducted the first ever biopsy…but in his copious free time, he studied emotional expression.

    Duchenne identified a distinct type of smile, one that didn’t just involve the muscles around the mouth, but the muscles around the eyes as well.

    As an example, let’s look at Julia Roberts, owner of one of the world’s most famous smiles:


    She’s smiling in both pictures, but in the one on the right, both her mouth muscles and her eye muscles are engaged.

    They’ve found that when people smile in this way, dopamine and serotonin are released in the brain. These neurotransmitters are associated with feeling good.

    Obviously joy can lead to smiling, but smiling can actually lead to joy as well.

    In a study at Berkley, researchers asked participants to smile with both their mouth and their eyes. They found that this “Duchenne smile” was so effective, 95% of the people who used it felt authentic joy.

    This isn’t to say that you should walk around with a huge smile on your face all the time, but it can be a effective exercise to practice honing the emotion of joy.

    Leaning in to Joy

    Chronic pain is exhausting. When you have continuous back pain, or head pain, or stomach pain, everything takes more energy.

    During the times when you don’t have pain or your pain is reduced, things are so much easier.

    Realistically, it’s kind of silly to tell someone “don’t care about getting rid of your pain,” because how can you not want to get rid of something that’s so debilitating?

    So I won’t suggest that you try not to get rid of your pain. Because you can’t not try.

    But I want you to see if you can do something else. Check in to your body for a moment. Breathe in, and feel the physical sensation of the breath come in and out.

    Take a moment, as you’re reading this sentence, and take another deep breath in and out…really see if you can feel the sensation of the breath as it comes in and out.

    Now smile big, with both your mouth and your eyes.

    Here, I’ll see if I can help you:


    And as you breathe in, smiling this big, Julia Roberts-smile, what do you feel inside your body? Attend to any sensations that arise…whatever they are.

    And take a moment or two, before you continue reading, and just observe.

    In that single moment, you weren’t attempting to get rid of your pain…you weren’t trying to escape, you were leaning in to a sensation, with curiosity and openness.

    The many times when we find ourselves trying to get rid of our pain – pushing, struggling, pressuring – this is simply a natural drive for an organism that’s in a state of suffering. And it’s going to happen.

    But it’s those other times – the ones where we gravitate toward joy, the ones where we enthusiastically embrace empowerment, the ones where we authentically aim to calm our primitive brains – these are the times where we’re truly take steps to alleviate our symptoms.

    As Plum brilliantly put it in the Day 17 comments, “You overcome pain incidentally, on the way to creating a happier, healthier brain ecosystem.”

    Last edited: Dec 15, 2017
  2. MicheleRenee

    MicheleRenee Peer Supporter

    ive been finding joy in getting over my fear of the pain and anxious thoughts! does this count haha
  3. Gigalos

    Gigalos Beloved Grand Eagle

    Laleah Shoo Shoo and plum like this.
  4. Forest

    Forest Beloved Grand Eagle

    This, I think, is the most important day of the program. Good things come to those who wait!

    The following quote is, I believe, a brilliant piece of TMS healing wisdom: "[it's the times] where we gravitate toward joy, the ones where we enthusiastically embrace empowerment, the ones where we authentically aim to calm our primitive brains – these are the times where we’re truly take steps to alleviate our symptoms. As Plum brilliantly put it in the Day 17 comments, “You overcome pain incidentally, on the way to creating a happier, healthier brain ecosystem.”"

    As Alan notes, there will be times when our brains go to places of fear, anxiety or panic that can hold back our natural ability to heal. This program has given incredibly powerful tools for responding to those situations. But most of the time, our TMS is a message that we need to focus on creating the happier, healthier brain ecosystem that Plum refers to.

    Why is this so important? It's because there are two types of nerve pathways in our brain. There are the nerve pathways of healing, of opening up, and of joy. These pathways soothe our brains and make us stronger inside. Unfortunately, there are also the nerve pathways of fear, panic and anxiety. These feed our pain and perpetuate the pain cycle.

    Which pathways win? I'll explain why below, but I personally believe that it is the ones that we feed:

    Concretely, this means that 90% of the time, we want to be feeding the wolves of joy.

    This may feel overwhelming - with so much chaos in our lives caused by the symptoms we suffer from, how could we possibly find joy? What I want to say is that there is ALWAYS room for joy in our lives. I know that this is true because I have seen so many people coming through these forums find equanimity and pleasure in their lives. I know it also, because I've experienced it myself (that this is why this idea is so important to me).

    The pathways that we feed will win because of the greatest discovery in neuroscience and, I would say, psychology, in the 90s and the 00s: brain plasticity. Brain plasticity just means that your brain is constantly adapting to what you have it do. If you cause it to feel fear all the time, it becomes exceptionally good at feeling fear and the pain cycle continues. If you find a place for joy in your life, its capacity to feel joy grows.

    Is there a simple recipe for how to do this? No. Will it be an overnight change? Also, no. It is something we all must do as a way of taking care of ourselves. It's something which builds over time. It's how we find longl

    Use the tools that Alan has given you to starve the wolf of fear ... then starve the wolf of fear even more by feeding the wolves of love, happiness, connection, and openness. That, in my mind, is how true healing occurs. It is certainly what has worked for me!

    As gigalos writes, "Ah, is this not happiness...."
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2017
    DonnaH, clou88, Katya and 28 others like this.
  5. plum

    plum Beloved Grand Eagle

    The wonders of the universe never cease...:p

    A horrid day yesterday (family bullshit) meant I was mid-way between a blue funk and a flat out bad mood when I woke this morning. For the first time in 5 months I decided to dance, hipbelts, pretty bracelets, sweet Egyptian classical music...it was heavenly. :happy:

    I remembered all the reasons I adored belly dance before making the gargantuan error of going professional. Such madness. Every ounce of joy-juice flat-lined. It all went horribly wrong, I didn't dance for years and TMS beveled back into my life. :(

    What a tough lesson in how not to do things. So I totally relate to that experience.



    Yes. Yes. Yes.

    And regarding the smile experiment?
    That last paragraph was a beauty for the girl who needed a lift (such an authentic smile). All the moves and the licks :)

    Here's to being brilliant and joyful (though brilliance may be rare as sunshine. Some one has stolen Summer. It's more like Autumn here).

    I'm now going to play Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" LOUD and drink wine. Here's to everyone making a goddam wild and glorious recovery and living an epically authentic, joyful life.
    DonnaH, Katya, TrustIt and 25 others like this.
  6. Carol Omans

    Carol Omans Peer Supporter

    Hi Alan! This forum is fantastic and incredibly helpful. Thank you thank you a million times. I tried the breathing/smiling technique and wow! I felt the joy in my entire body. It was a tingling sensation, so positive and joy is something I haven't felt like that in a long long time. Bless you for helping all of us and for all that you do!
    Laleah Shoo Shoo, nele, Ellen and 3 others like this.
  7. plum

    plum Beloved Grand Eagle

    MicheleRenee and Lily Rose like this.
  8. Eugene

    Eugene Well known member

    Awesome posts @Alan Gordon LCSW and @Forest

    I know on days when I put some disco music on (okay, so I'm a child of the 70s) and dance in the shower, I definitely smile and I most certainly feel better for it. Only problem is, I can't keep playing disco music all day as people don't seem to like it when I walk down the street with my retro ghetto blaster blaring out Le Freak or Night Fever. Go figure :)
    fredb, sio, Ellen and 3 others like this.
  9. plum

    plum Beloved Grand Eagle

    Child of the 70's here too. For my 40th birthday my lil'bro bought me an iPod loaded with music that he associated with me and our childhood. "Yes Sir, I Can Boogie" has a lot to answer for. ;)

    I have long maintained that music is humanity's gift to the universe and that music is the best healing balm of all so strut your funky stuff baby.
    Katya, Lily Rose, Penny2007 and 4 others like this.
  10. Plumcrazy

    Plumcrazy Peer Supporter

    Joy runs deeper than happiness; joy can happen in spite of that.

    Love today's segment. I need to practice the smiling technique. How did it make me feel? Very, very calm. I think, with practice, I might begin to feel fulfilled, more often. Thank you, Alan.
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2017
    Lily Rose likes this.
  11. Eugene

    Eugene Well known member

    Oh yes @plum. Baccara. They were good times for growing up :)

    Music is definitely a healing balm for me. I'm constantly on the lookout for music that makes me smile and feel positive, which is interesting considering what's been discussed today.
  12. plum

    plum Beloved Grand Eagle

    Innocent times in many ways. Think about it though...why do we let the bounties and beauties of life stop being so essential to our well-being?

    When did life become so fecking serious? A spiritual teacher once said "seriousness is a disease of the ego" and that is so true. I'm done with being so serious and reliable. I need to shake things down.

    Here's something else I'm done with, and I dedicate this mindtrap to the people-pleasers:

    "I want you to love me for who I am (pretending to be)."

    I swear I feel a decade younger.
    Now, where's my iPod.
  13. plum

    plum Beloved Grand Eagle

    Also, single-celled organisms are hard-wired to feel pleasure. That's how vital to life it is. Deeper than happiness (with it's bittersweet ephermeral nature), joy and pleasure and bliss are our birthrights.

    Hello @Plumcrazy
    Welcome to the forum welcomea
    Lily Rose likes this.
  14. Ines

    Ines Well known member

    I loved this series. Thank you so much. It's really been helping. It's so odd that I can read something but I didn't really comprehend the scanning for danger part until now. That's really been the missing link for me.
  15. Ellen

    Ellen Beloved Grand Eagle

    Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, today's lesson from Alan. Joy!
    I'm a child of the '60's so I like dancing to Shiva Rea's Yoga Trance Dance DVD. It's like hippies on LSD dancing, where you just move your body however you damn well please. Joyful! even without the LSD. :)
  16. Plumcrazy

    Plumcrazy Peer Supporter

    At the cellular level...yes!

    Thank you for the welcome, Plum. I think we share a favored color. I joined a year ago, but find myself needing some work, again. So here I am. Gleaning along the way.
  17. shmps

    shmps Peer Supporter

    I practiced today's technique and surprisingly after a couple of time.. i started lauging.. i actually burst out into a laugher.. a happy laughter and felt ticklish in my stomach from laughing.. I CAN SAY "LOL"

    Laleah Shoo Shoo and Lily Rose like this.
  18. Fabi

    Fabi Well known member

    One of my last yoga teachers always emphasized "Now, a smile on your face". I was shocked. What on earth does it have to do with doing yoga the right way?!!
    I resisted it many times. I wanted to be serious about my practice. Until one day I tried. The physiology changed immediately!
    Then I began following a few friends who share really funny jokes through whatsapp. A bliss of laughter each day! I also had a dream, one that in my terapis´s words, woud bring Freud out of his grave. It was so so crazy, that we couldn´t but laugh out loud, both of us, in therapy.
    Again, I can describe that last year I discovered Biodanza. It is not developed in the States yet, since it was put together by a Chilean man. Amazing way of giving your body joy and pleasure with music ( and you don´t need to "know" how to dance)
    So, yes, definitely. Laughing, smiling, even with no purpose but to just feel it.
  19. Gigi

    Gigi Well known member

    Joy is one of my favorite words, and one of my favorite emotions.
    And yes, I believe it is a choice. Even in the darkest spaces, in painful agonies, there is room for joy--thank God!
    Music and dancing definitely bring me joy. My husband thinks it's strange that certain songs transport me to specific times in my life. I guess my life has a soundtrack. dancea
    A few years ago when Pharrell Williams's song "Happy" came out, I asked the kids in my middle school to stop by our library and dance to it. We had SUCH a blast! The fearful kids just looked through the windows, but the brave souls, and probably the most joy-filled ones, danced their hearts out.
    Katya, Lily Rose, Ellen and 2 others like this.
  20. Eugene

    Eugene Well known member

    That is one song that definitely gives you the Julie Roberts smile :)
    Gigi likes this.

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