Feel the Life You Want
Connect to the enjoyable part of your brain–"Wake the fun up"
Posted April 1, 2022 | Reviewed by Hara Estroff Marano
- Your brain is incredibly neuroplastic and can change quickly in whatever direction you choose.
- We automatically know how to feel pain. What about feeling pleasure? It gets buried in the stresses of life.
- Play and social connection are inherent in all of us; connecting with pleasure creates a rapid shift in physiology that lessens pain..
When you are experiencing relentless pain, life becomes heavy. You are just trying to keep your head above water from dealing with stress. Your life devolves into surviving in addition to carrying a pain burden. You may have forgotten what it’s like to live your life with deep joy and excitement.
We have suggested that creating a positive vision for your life and pursuing it shifts your brain onto more pleasant circuits. Another path is connecting to feelings of freedom and pleasure from your past. It may initially take some effort to find them, but they are there. I would suggest an ongoing process that I have personally found helpful.
Find a quiet time and place where you can just think and possibly go into a meditative state. Think back to an event in your life when you felt carefree and joyous. It could be any number of situations from any point in time. Visually take yourself back there, remembering as many details as you can. Possibilities include:
· The weather/ temperature
· Friends/ who you were with
· Specific feelings and emotions
· What music, movies, sports, and art did you enjoy during this period?
· Are there songs and artists that you were particularly connected to?
Face and connect with your current reality
Spend as much time as you can with this exercise and repeat it often. Once you have really internalized some of the joyous experiences, sit down and fully experience your present life, pain and all. What happened to your sense of play and excitement?
· Compare it visually and emotionally to one of the pleasant remembered times.
· Note the gap.
· Make a commitment to get joy back and hold onto it. It requires repetition to change your brain.
· When you fall back into The Abyss (it happens frequently), again note the difference compared to your great moments.
· Don’t worry about making a “plan.” This is an exercise of feeling and waking up parts of your nervous system that have been dormant.
Pain or pleasure?
Believe it or not, you have a choice. One of the cardinal rules of healing is not sharing your mental or physical pain with others, especially with your family. It is completely understandable why people would want to, but where your attention goes is where you brain develops. Almost everyone in chronic pain spends most of their waking hours either complaining about their pain and medical care or searching for a solution—including me; for 15 year, I definitely forgot what feeling good felt like.
This exercise represents the opposite experience. As you connect with the best part of your brain, your body chemistry dramatically shifts into a safety profile that allows it to rest, regenerate, and heal. Optimism and a positive attitude directly lower inflammation in your body, and therefore the pain.1 This is not a light psychological game. It is a powerful way to alter your body’s function.
Watching a movie connected with a past pleasurable experience is also effective in waking up your brain. It is slightly different than just watching a funny movie to distract yourself. One movie that caught me off guard many years ago was Happy Gilmore. I had just flown in from Seattle to Sun Valley and I was exhausted. I was laying on the floor next to my son, who was about 15 at the time. Somehow, it seemed like one of the most entertaining movies I had ever seen. I don’t recall ever laughing so hard for so long. It connected me to a moment in time that I won’t forget. I have watched it at least 20 more times over the years, and it still lightens my mood. For each person, it will be a unique movie, song, or event.
Interestingly, for those of you who have seen it, there is a sequence in which Adam Sandler goes to his “happy place” when he is stressed. The movie is simply silly, but this part happens to be right on with regards to using visualization to pull yourself out of a hole.
It is well-known that performers engage in repeated visualizations before individual events, whether it is in music, sports, performing arts, or even surgery. Circuits are burned into the brain that allow you to perform without overthinking. How else could an ice skater, concert pianist, or mogul skier perform such feats so quickly? In a book that I have recommended to my patients for years, The Talent Code,2 the author points out that some teams have their tennis players swing a racket without a ball for three months. Why not apply the same tools to making pleasure your default mode?
The goal of this exercise to wake up dormant parts of your brain. Play and pleasure become buried by pain and survival. It is different from creating a vision or a business plan. You are reconnecting to the powerful emotional part of your brain. You can nurture it and watch it wake up. Feeling the sensations and experiencing the memories are key. Remember, reconnect, and “wake the fun up.”
1. Dantzer R, et al. Resilience and immunity. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity (2018); 74:28-42. doi.org/10.1016.j.bbi.2018.08.010
2. Coyle Dan. The Talent Code. Random House, New York, NY, 2009.