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Sep 11, 2023

361: Cultivating Delight

Today we feature Dr. Angela Krumm, Clinical Director at the Feeling Good Institute (FGI) in Mountain View, Ca, and Zane Pierce, LMFT, a Level 3 TEAM therapist at FGI, on a novel and arguably controversial tool which is not aimed at reducing negative feelings, but rather boosting positive feelings. 

Zane Pierce

Rhonda, as usual, starts the podcast with a wonderful email from Andrew who really enjoyed Podcast 357, on what David learned on the streets of Palo Alto in the wild and wonderful latter half of the 1960s. 

Then Angela described her Journey to Delight, which may be silly and goofy, or wonderful, or perhaps a little of each. She was inspired by a podcast interview she heard with Ross Gay, who wrote the popular Book of Delight, a book of ultra short essays he wrote every day for a year, starting on his 42nd birthday, describing “common place” things he noticed that were amazing, inspiring, or delightful. An example was noticing a weed with a beautiful flower growing out of a crack in an ugly piece of concrete. 

Then Angela noticed that she felt “neutral” during and after a pleasant family hike on a pleasant and beautiful day, with the people she loved. She asked herself, “Why did I only feel neutral? And can something be done to cultivate greater delight and joy in our daily lives? 

She asked herself, “I want to be more open to delight in my life—is it possible to cultivate delight? And if so, how?”

She reasoned that since we have more than 100 TEAM-CBT to reduce and eliminate negative feelings, like depression, anxiety, shame, inadequacy, and even anger, couldn’t we create some methods for boosting positive feelings? Could we focus, for example, not just on how to challenge and crush our negative internal dialogues, but also on how to cultivate more positive self-talk? Can we “elevate” our more neutral moments.

In order to set the agenda, she did a Cost-Benefit Analysis during one of her Thursday morning training groups with the therapist at FGI. She asked David, Rhonda and Zane to list some really GOOD reasons NOT to try to cultivate greater delight in our lives, including:

  • People who are hurting and struggling need compassion.

  • It’s important to see the truth and reality of the negative realities we confront every day in our personal lives as well as on the news.

  • Negative feelings can motivate us to work hard.

  • Negative feelings and self-criticisms often show that we have high standards and humility.

  • And many more. 

She encouraged us to list the reasons to focus on the beautiful and awesome things we sometimes ignore or overlook going on all around us all the time, including: the possibility of feeling more joy, slowing down in life, and being more present in the moment.

Angela described an informal experiment she set-up to i see if adding positive self-talk to otherwise neutral activities could increase delight. Forty two therapists participated in small groups of four to do some shared activities, while some completed the activities solo. Participants completed my 5-item Happiness Scale as well as a sixth item measuring feelings of “delight” prior to and after the experiment. 

The experiment was simple—engage in a neutral or common place activity. The key variable was to actively add positive self-talk to the activity. And of course there was a requirement that the positive self-talk has to be 100% true (e.g., can’t lie to yourself or say fake positive things). 

In the small group, Zane and Angela walked through a park and several participants decided to swing on the park's swing set.

Their positive self-talk motivated them to try out the swings, which was quite “delightful.” Then they walked separately, adding positive talk to their activities and observations. Zane described his “journey to delight,” noticing a sickly Giant Redwood that was struggling and nearly dead. But, he found green sprouts coming out of it, as the tree was still struggling to grow and survive. Zane also spotted a hummingbird on his walk. Adding positive self-talk to otherwise neutral activities increased his happiness score by 50% (swinging at the park and 20% (observing nature). 

This was especially poignant since Zane tragically lost his beloved younger brother to suicide just two months ago. This was devastating, and one of the most difficult periods of his life. He said, “It turned my world upside down.” Our hearts go out to Zane, and we are grateful that you, Zane, could share this special time with us today, given the tragic and horrible circumstances you’ve had to face. 

I have many happy memories with Zane, who used to be a faithful and beloved member of my Sunday morning hiking group. We had to abandon the Sunday hikes during the Covid pandemic, and now I’m limited in my walking due to low back pain. I hope to get the hikes going again one day. 

Zane and his wonderful wife, Daisy have appeared on some of the most popular podcast episodes in the past, including # 79: What’s the Secret of a ‘Meaningful’ Life? Live Therapy with Daisy.” 

Angela shared that folks who participated alone did things like vacuuming up pet hair, commuting in the car, drinking coffee, going for a walk.

Angela reported on the results of her experiment. She saw a 39% boost in happiness scores in the group of 42 individuals, and a boost of 75% in feelings of delight, resulting from the efforts to cultivate positive self-talk during the exercises. Examples of positive self-talk might include:

  • “I have a strong pair of legs that allow me to walk.”

  • “What a treat to take a break in my day.”

  • “This tea smells so sweet.”

For example, one of the participants generated self-talk while vacuuming dog hair for five minutes, a frequent and fairly unwelcome chore. Here are examples of her positive self-talk: 

  • “I'm contributing to canine diversity by putting up with this shedding…. If there weren't people like me, the world would be all poodles and doodles.”

  • “It's true that the work never gets done…And yet, even a little vacuuming is an improvement.” 

  • “It's fun to see the fur get sucked into the vacuum and to find places, such as under the couch, where it hides.”

We talked about some potential uses of “Delight Training,” as well as a few potholes to avoid. For example, when individuals are struggling with strong feelings of depression, anxiety, or anger, encouraging positive self-talk may make the patient feel worse, since it could be experienced as superficial or insensitive to the suffering. In addition, it might seem insensitive as well when working with individuals with genuinely negative or horrific life circumstances, such as homelessness, terminal illness, war, and so forth. 

On the other hand, it may play a useful role in heightening positive feelings in individuals who have moved their negative feelings scores to zero, so they can do more than just overcome negative feelings like depression, but have some tools for exploring and enhancing the world of positive emotions.

David described a patient vignette of a young woman who sought treatment because she wanted to have “more fun in life.” David asked her to make her therapeutic goals specific and real by asking, What time of day would you like to have more fun? Where will you be then? What would having more fun look like?”

This led to a meaningful and challenging homework assignment with an unexpected and funny outcome. 

Zane ended the podcast with some tips about positive self-talk. First, the positive thoughts have to be 100% true to be effective. This is also true, by the way, when countering distorted negative thoughts. 

He said he is trying to turn this into more of a habit, noticing every day delightful and wonderful seemingly “commonplace” things, like something one of his two children say or do, riding his bicycle, or just taking a bite of a fresh, tasty apple. 

He also explained that he is still grieving the loss of his brother, but the excursions into the more positive side of his life has provided a welcome balance. 

Thank you for listening today!

Angela, Zane, Rhonda, and David