Sometime interactions are easy. Sometimes they are a lot of work.
What’s the difference?
To experience sustained joy, we need relationships that feel safe, stay open and connected. One way to describe this process is “engaging the approach system.” What exactly does that mean? Well, it helps to know a little about the brain.
At Life Model Works, we explain the brain as operating on four levels. Level one is the Attachment Level, the part of the brain most that gets going when we see a person we love, a food we crave or an addiction we can’t say “no” to. Level two is the basic evaluation level, where we determine if something is good, bad or scary.
When Level one and two as well as another part called the smart vagal system are fully engaged, joy can be sustained. When they are disengaged, joyful interaction fails. People feel guarded and distrusting. Partners no longer respond tenderly to weaknesses. People resist getting too close. You guessed it, joy levels sink.
One sign of the approach system being engaged is that we have plenty of the hormone oxytocin flowing. We remain open and flexible, rather than defensive and guarded. The left hemisphere of the brain focuses on approaching. The right hemisphere tends to be cautious and avoid.
In order for peace and joy levels to stay high the brain must be synchronized so we fully engage all of our human capacities. We can address blockages in the approach system and sustain our joy in several ways.
Suggestions to engage the approach system.
- For the most part oxytocin is our friend. This hormone relieves stress, lowers blood pressure, reduces cortisol, improves digestion and calms the amygdala at Level two. Oxytocin is an anxiolytic, a natural anxiety reducer. Oxytocin increases with singing, safe touch, hugs and holding. People given oxytocin in the form of nasal spray are more trusting and generous.
- Protect time for joyful fellowship, quiet and rest. Women in particular experience an increase in oxytocin during interaction with other women.
- Practice validation and comfort in your interactions to create safety. Learn more about these essentials in the Connexus training program.
- Respect weaknesses with tender responses. We honor ourselves and others when we acknowledge weaknesses. Knowing when to rest and when to build joy prepares us for approach responses. Exercise 9.3 in the THRIVE Basic Skill Guide trains you when to disengage from joy so you sustain your joy over a longer period of time. Stay sensitive to overwhelm levels in yourself and other people.
- Practice play. Play engages the approach system and releases strong chemicals to keep us connected as we share joy. Remember how rewarding the synchronized dance activities were during THRIVE? Every one of us can use a bit more fun! If you need more help, order your copy of Steps to Joy DVD and CD and sustain your joy through synchronized dancing.
Photo credit Jesslee Cuizon.