In DBT skills group we often ask clients to name their joy for the day, the week or even in the moment. On the diary cards from the olden days there was even a space for rating your joy, EVERYDAY! I admit I did not understand the rationale behind placing it front and center on that card and the importance of emphasizing and directing attention to everyday joy as skillful living. I had a sort of cerebral sense that it was a way of balancing negative emotions and that by tracking it among all other emotions was a way to keep an eye or an ear out for it.
Most people take for granted their ability to sense joy. And if they do not sense it, they think something is wrong with them, perhaps their joy button was broken at birth. On the contrary, it is quite natural and automatic for attention to be drawn to negative stimuli, as this was useful in surviving as early humans. Pleasant and positive and certainly more neutral stimuli are often missed or blocked by the experiencing of negative. They say our minds are like Velcro for the negative experiences and Teflon for positive experiences. In addition to this hardwiring as humans, some are even more vulnerable to negative stimuli and this can keep a person looping in negative thoughts, feelings, emotions, and perceptions. This is why mindfulness directed at pleasant or neutral objects is encouraged as students embark on cultivating greater mindful awareness and why in DBT mindfulness of joy is considered a skill to cultivate.
Despite students’ complaints year after year about how simple and silly it may be to practice mindfulness of let’s say, sipping their morning coffee, if they do it mindfully they discover it can be a gateway to joy. Yes- that is right, practicing mindfulness, especially when focused on positive, pleasant, even relatively neutral stimuli opens us to experiencing joy. Unfortunately, most of us need to train, and I mean train hard, in noticing the pleasant because our brains so easily get hijacked by negative stimuli both in our environment and in our own minds. Neuroscientists and psychologists encourage not only NOTICING and NAMING but also adding a final step by LINGERING a bit and SAVORING. Brain science talks about neuroplasticity and the ability to rewire our brain and DBT brilliantly directs students to use these skills to strengthen the ability to sense joy, simply by noticing, describing, and allowing attention to linger with the experience.
My favorite practice is one taught in the MSC curriculum called the sense and savor walk, a combination of mindful walking, using the 5 senses, and an invitation to pause, linger, and SAVOR a pleasant experience. See instructions below and give it a try.
Disclaimer: This is not easy, it is simple, but not easy. It often requires simultaneous use of other skills to reduce anxiety and the fight or flight activation that often serves to block positive emotions, like joy.
For more on Cultivating Joy and the practice of Savoring check out these links and resources and the practice below:
Treehouse Bog on Joy
The Treehouse Savor by Nikki and recording
The happiness lab
If you have done DBT and want to learn more mindfulness tools to cultivate joy, consider taking MBSR or MSC. Talk to your therapist to see if it is right for you. (PUT IN LINKS to Treehouse offerings)
SENSE AND SAVOR WALK
1. Find a quiet place to walk in nature – through a forest or park, along a beach or stream, around a pond or garden – for about ten to twenty minutes. Begin by standing still, noticing the sensations of your feet on the ground, your body standing comfortably tall and strong, and your whole body breathing.
2. Begin walking slowly, noticing as many pleasurable things as possible, slowly, one after another: the fresh air, the warm sun, a beautiful leaf, the shape of a stone, a smiling face, the song of a bird, the feeling of the earth under your feet. Use all of your senses – sight, smell, sound, touch…maybe even taste.
3. When you find something delightful or pleasant, let yourself take it in fully. Really enjoy it. Feel a tender leaf or the texture of a stick. Give yourself over to the experience as if it were the only thing that existed in the world.