145 - Why Gratitude Isn't Bullshit (#Blessed)

"We've all heard the saying, ""You have to love yourself before you can love someone else."" But is that actually true? This week, the Multiamory crew explores positive psychology, gratitude, and fostering personal wellbeing in your relationships.                                                     Myers-Briggs vs VIA: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-matters-most/201405/myers-briggs-or-survey-character-strengths


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Jase: On this episode of The Multiamory Podcast, we're talking about how to increase your own personal well-being. Most of what we're speaking about today is based on research in positive psychology as championed by Dr. Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and former president of the American Psychological Association. We will include some self-exploration exercises that have been clinically shown to increase well-being and combat depression and anxiety. We'll also discuss some criticisms of positive psychology and how those ideas can also be incorporated to help improve your life.

Emily: Yes.

Jase: All right.

Emily: Why does this matter? I think there are a lot of reasons why this matters especially in relationships, right?

Jase: Yes. I think that we talk a lot on this show about happiness in relationships and trying to have happier relationships, but just having a happier self is a big part of that, right?

Emily: Why does well-being actually matter here? Because it reminds me of this phrase, "In order to love somebody else, you need to love yourself first." What do we think about that?

Jase: I like how you say it in the sort of like, "In order to love yourself first," like it instantly makes you go into that kind of voice when you say a quote like that.

Emily: No, exactly.

Dedeker: I feel like that gets tossed around so often. Honestly, I think that one of my issues with that quote is just, as a culture, we don't even really know what love is in itself. Then to tell someone, "Well, you need to love yourself first." It's already problematic, right? It's like you need to feel this ephemeral indefinable kind of confusing thing that comes in many many different forms, but I'm just going to tell you to just love yourself.

Emily: Somebody asked that at our live show and we couldn't even answer the question which is really funny to me.

Dedeker: I feel like that's the first problem with it, it's the fact that it's like, "Sure, I'll love myself. But what does that actually mean? Does that mean treating myself nicely? Does that mean masturbating a lot? Does it mean feeling good all the time? Does that mean feeling happy all the time?" I personally don't think it means any of those things. But I think that's the problem with that common piece of advice, it's that it's just a little bit too vague and unattainable I think.

Jase: Yes. It makes me think of just the fact that we use love to mean so many different things. "I love pizza" is a very different thing than "I love myself" versus "I love you mom" versus "I love you lover". All of those mean very different things even though we call them all the same thing. I think that's another problem with this statement. I think that self-love is a very different thing from loving another person. The sentence makes it out as if it's this kind of one-to-one thing, I guess.

Dedeker: I think what I'm excited about in exploring this episode is that in increasing one's well-being, we're not just talking about just self-care and self-love. Because I feel like those two things are very important, but I think we've already all gotten that advice. I think what is really interesting in some of the stuff that we're going to exploring today are more concrete things. More about thought patterns than about trying to change your feelings about yourself or things like that. Specific thought patterns that you can change in order to have increased well-being. Maybe increased well-being is a part of your self-love or your self-care, maybe it's not.

Jase: We also talk a lot on this show about our relationships being better when we approach them with less need. I think the one thing this saying of, "You need to love yourself before you can love somebody else." One thing it is getting at is this idea that if you go into a relationship with the hope that they're going to fix everything for you and they're going to be the thing that that makes you happier or makes you feel more stable or complete to you, all those things we've talked about are kind of these cliches from our movies that are actually quite unhealthy to look at relationships that way.

I think that also looking at well-being is really important to see that our external factors like our relationships aren't going to be the thing that give us well-being. That is something that is more of a personal work. More of something that we can work on ourselves.

Dedeker: What is the first part of this?

Jase: The first part of this is we're going to start by talking about the way that we interpret events in the past. The core concept here is this concept of learned helplessness and learned optimism. Basically, this based on a whole lot of studies and we could make this episode a super technical one, but instead we won't. But we will include some links to articles and things like that if you want to read-up more on this in episode notes.

Basically, a lot of studies found that well-being is very strongly related to this sense of helplessness or optimism. Helplessness could also be called pessimism. But basically, it's the difference between something bad happening and thinking, "This one specific thing outside of myself happened right now that was bad," versus thinking, "This bad thing happened. That must mean that my life is bad, it will always be bad and that all of the world is bad like this."

Dedeker: Right. Can I argue with you a little bit?

Jase: Yes, go for it.

Dedeker: Because my argument is when I was reading about this, I feel that when I was growing up I got a lot of learned pessimism. I made a joke earlier that it was learned realism, but I'll say it like it is. I think I got a lot of learned pessimism growing up. However, I don't think I got a lot of learned helplessness. I think I got actually a lot of learned autonomy and independence but matched with pessimism. I would argue with redefining learned helplessness as pessimism. I feel like there are some subtle differences there.

Jase: I guess that's probably why they use the term learned helplessness in the literature instead of learned pessimism. I think that in this though, at least from my understanding of it, the reason why it's helplessness is more the idea that this is always going to be bad and there's nothing I can do about it. That's the key component to a lack of well-being for people reporting themselves not feeling as good, not feeling fulfilled.

Emily: Sometimes it's challenging to differentiate the event from the emotion behind the event. Do you think that based on this, that's a learned thing? Getting your emotions involved regarding an event that's just like, "Well, I feel X because of this and therefore I feel helpless because of this." Is that the argument for that as a learned thing?

Jase: Yes. I'm going to start off with a quick preface here saying that with psychological studies, the way that they work is obviously they get samples of however many people and they do a study and they try their best to control for other factors so that you're just looking at specific things. That said, you'll have a study where it says, "Oh, when doing this particular thing, it decreases the rate of whatever by 25% or 50% or 75%." That doesn't mean that it's 100% effective for everybody because it's still only 50% or 75%. It just means that compared to a baseline of doing nothing, you're more likely to have a positive effect and that it's very statistically significant.

I just want to preface everything that we're going to say in this episode with that understanding of how psychological studies work because I can see people right now going, "But in my case, X, Y, or Z." And yes, that might be true. Hopefully, these things would still be helpful for you even in those cases. But if we are saying that something is helpful with depression or anxiety, that doesn't mean it's some bulletproof cure and that if you haven't done this it's your own fault that you have these things. Anyway, I just want to start with that clarification. Do you have another question about that before I answer your question?

Dedeker: No. I was just going to ask why is it good to be optimistic? What's a good thing about being optimistic in one's life?

Jase: Right. Being optimistic and learning how to be optimistic-- because it is something that has been shown that it can be learned-- that in addition to just reporting higher well-being, this has also been linked to things like recovering from injury for athletes, and actually the less likelihood of getting an injury as an athlete has also been linked to optimism. Lower risk of death specifically from heart disease. Greater success in career and greater success in academics have both also been linked to specifically learning optimism.

In answer to your question before, yes, a big part of this is in looking at the way that we interpret events from our past. This is taken from some techniques that were developed for teaching to children in schools and have actually since been developed and is actually taught in the US military, some companies are also starting to employ this now.

Basically the way it works is this program taught kids in school to look at things that could happen in their lives-- Imagine situations because you're doing it as a class and then you're asked to apply those to things in your real life-- is to look at those and to look at the conclusions that you've drawn from things that have happened and then to ask the question, "Is there another explanation? Is there a possible other explanation for this?"

One example is bullying. A bully comes up says, "You're a jerk. You're a stupid head. Give me your lunch money." You could come away from that thinking, "Gosh, I'm a jerk. People are mean to me." You could make those sorts of thoughts and often, as kids, we do. We do feel that way, it's like, "Oh gosh, this is what the world is like. It's awful."

In this exercise, the kids were asked, "What's another possible explanation for it?" It's like, "Well, maybe they had a bad day because they just lost their baseball game and they were feeling upset and they needed to take it out on someone else." One possible example. Or maybe they don't have any friends and so they want to take it out on other people to make themselves feel better.

Basically it's just this. It's like coming up with possible other solutions. Not saying that those are necessarily the answer, but just that you're taking away some of the strength of this one belief that's negatively affecting you, which is that no one likes me and I'm worthless.

Emily: It's kind of placing it on something else. Well, that's cool.

Jase: Another example of this would be you go to lunch and you see that all your friends are sitting at one table, but they didn't leave a space for you. They don't seem interested in having you sit with them. You could think, "Oh, no one likes me. My friends all hate me." But instead, the kids are asked to look for other explanations like, "Oh well, all of my friends are on the volleyball team and I'm not on the volleyball team, so maybe they were actually having a team meeting and they excluded me because of that and not because of this other thing." That it's just that. Just looking at other possible explanations.

Emily: Okay, yes that's cool.

Jase: I want to take a moment and think about how this could apply to some of our dating lives as we talk about on this show. I think the easy one that comes to mind is being rejected. Let's take the example of being rejected for being polyamorous. Let's say you're polyamorous and you're talking to someone you're interested in. You mentioned that you're polyamorous and then they say, "I'm not interested," or, "That's weird."

I think without realizing it, a lot of us can go to this place of, "Oh shit, no one's going to love me because I'm polyamorous," or, "No one's going to date me," or, "This thing makes me unlikable. Maybe I should hide it from more people. Maybe I should wait longer to talk about it. Maybe dating is not worth the effort." There are all sorts of conclusions we could draw from that. The exercise would be-- and I'm going to put this to the two of you. What would be some alternate explanations for that?

Emily: They don't want to date someone polyamorous because it's triggering to them due to the fact that their father cheated on their mother when they were young.

Jase: Yes. That's a great example. Dedeker, you got anything?

Dedeker: I feel like the direction I would take in this is a little bit different. Rather than trying to come up with different explanations for the other person's motivations, more coming up with different explanations about myself. As in the story about myself is not, "Oh, I'm unlovable. No one is going to love me." But more of like, "Oh, this means that I have the opportunity to find someone who is interested in this." Clearly that person was not the right person. I don't know if that still counts, if that's an answer.

Jase: Yes, totally different explanation. It's about challenging the meaning that we give to events that happen. Because as humans, we are meaning making machines. One of the reasons why we were successful evolutionarily is believed to be the fact that we give meaning to things that don't, in themselves, have meaning. But we give meaning to them.

It's why we have lore. It's why we love storytelling. It's how we created religions. All of these things. Those have really worked to keep us together as a society and to help us progress culturally. But it is kind of this double edged sword where it also can cause these sorts of negative meanings to be attached to things when they don't need to be and they might not serve us to be.

Emily: Yes, interesting. This is all sounds a little woo-woo to me, but apparently it's been studied with really good results. Apparently, there are studies involved with taking time away from academia to teach positive thinking in kids. It's been shown to actually increase your test scores dramatically compared to other control groups. That's really cool.

Jase: Really cool. It was this exact technique of teaching them how to question the meanings behind events and other reasons for them. What I love about this is that the study not only showed what they were aiming to show which was that this would increase well-being. Because when they tested the kids well-being later on, it was increased. Those kids also had half the rate of depression and anxiety as they started going through puberty. This was done in elementary/middle school aged children.

Emily: They were taught to do those over and over again and make it a part of their life?

Jase: Yes. That it was an actual unit that they were taught in school. Time was taken away from history or math or maths for our British listeners out there. [laughs]. What was really cool is that not only did these kids report better well-being, but they actually also scored better on standardized test scores in their control groups. Something that actually took time away from academic learning which you would think would negatively affect test scores actually improved them.

It's just another example of how this kind of thing does affect lots of other areas of our life, like I was saying about academic achievement and also success in your career. Because it's easier to stay motivated and get through challenges and have higher energy toward the things that you're doing.

Emily: That's awesome.

Jase: The other really cool thing about this is that they followed up this study a couple of years later after the study was concluded and found that group still scored higher on standardized tests and had less incidence of depression and anxiety than the control groups even a couple of years after the program was stopped. They only did it for that one year. That's also very cool. This is something that you can actually learn. It's not just like, "Oh, I'm in a cool program so that's making me more motivated right now."

Emily: Yes. It's creating healthy habits.

Jase: Yes. Healthy mental habits. Cool. The next thing we wanted to move on from, is from there to into the present. I imagine many of our listeners have heard of the Myers-Briggs personality type test. I'm an INFJ according to that test. I don't know if you guys know where you are.

Dedeker: I am INTJ. I've retaken it multiple times throughout my adult life and it's stayed pretty much the same.

Emily: I'm ENFP, I'm not sure. Something like that.

Jase: I don't know. I don't remember where you are. I know we've talked about this before.

Emily: We've talked it a lot before.

Jase: You know what? We should all take those tests and post about it in the Patreon-only Facebook group.

Emily: You are right. Yes. Absolutely, we should.

Jase: All the Patreon supporters can talk about their Myers-Briggs types.

Emily: Yes. Let us know guys.

Jase: What I actually wanted to bring up though is a different way of looking at yourself compared to the Myers-Briggs. The Myers-Briggs test, just a quick background, is based on type theory, which is something that was created by Carl Young and it's cool. It's fun. I have a lot of friends who are really into it. It reminds me a little bit of other personality sorting things like "Which Hogwarts' house are you?" or your Enneagram number. There's there's lots of these different things or even horoscope, I suppose, although that one's not based on taking tests. That one's just when you were born.

But the idea is that it categorizes you. That each of the four letters is on a spectrum between two different things like introversion and extroversion, or judging or perceiving. These different things are all on a spectrum. You're one or the other. Obviously, depending how far in one direction or the other you are is also significant. Essentially, it's for I guess just kind of finding a type for yourself. The test was developed intentionally to not change, it was meant to evaluate. What they believe in type theory is that this is your personality and that's just what you're born with and that's who you are for your life.

It can be useful in exploring things about yourself. It's also well-being neutral. What I mean by that is that whether you're introverted or extroverted, it's not like one is better than the other. It's not, "Oh, I'm stronger in this score." This is just about identifying where you are. While that's cool, it's not really geared toward being able to actively do anything to increase your well-being with it. Like maybe it'll help you choose your career or people use it in the workplace.

The Myers-Briggs test has received a lot of criticism in psychological literature as do a lot of things that try to type people like that. But what we are going to talk about is an alternative. Another test that's a newer one. This one is called the VIA assessment. That's V-I-A. The VIA assessment is something that was made in the early 2000s. Quite a bit younger than the Myers-Briggs which has been around for decades.

What this one does is it measures 24 different character strengths and shows you which ones are your top ones, which ones are your core strengths. Unlike the Myers-Briggs, in this, your traits are not opposed to each other. It's not like, "Oh, I have a strength in extroversion or introversion," for example. It doesn't work like that. Each of these is just you have more or less of a certain strength.

The point of it though is not about identifying problem areas and trying to improve those like a lot of tests out there. This one is focused on figuring out what your strengths are so that you can actually focus on using those strengths more to your advantage. These are character strength by the way. This isn't just like, "Oh, I have a strength for word-processing", or, "I have a strength for taking standardized tests." It's not those kinds of strengths. These are more character strengths.

Perhaps where we could get started here-- and we are going to talk about some links to where you can take these tests and learn more about all of this in the show notes and also later in this episode. But right now, we all took this test and I wanted to start by talking about what each of our top five strengths are because that's what this test is meant to show you. It's what your top five strengths are. Do you want me to go first?

Emily: Yes, you should for sure.

Jase: Okay. My top strength is judgment, critical thinking, and open mindedness. That's all one strength together. Followed by creativity, curiosity, appreciation of beauty, and gratitude. Who's next?

Dedeker: My top five were also curiosity or interest in the world. This one which I find is interesting, but it's capacity to love and to be loved. There were a lot of questions on the test that were about basically, how much likely that you agree with the statement that "I'm very aware of love being in my life" or "I'm able to give love to other people" which I thought was really interesting. So that one shot up to the top. I also got the judgment critical thinking one. The love of learning, and the last one that I got was perspective wisdom which basically just means I'm a relationship coach.


Dedeker: It pretty much falls in line with what I do with my life these days.

Jase: Yes. 'Dedeker the wise' is what we call her.

Emily: Indeed.

Dedeker: They do call me that in certain circles.


Jase: What about you Emily?

Emily: I got appreciation of beauty and excellence as my first which makes sense because it's about I guess--

Jase: Appreciating arts and music.

Emily: Yes, exactly. Then capacity to love and be loved was my second one as well. Then social intelligence which I agree with. Being good in social situations and being able to read a room. Then self-control which is funny because that's something that my mother instilled in me at a very young age, how to control myself. It's very interesting that came in here so heavily and prevalently. Then humor and playfulness. I do think that I can add a little bit of fun to a situation.

Jase: Well, you certainly crack us up pretty often.

Emily: I was pleased to hear that I did that when I was in Tokyo with you two.

Jase: Yes, definitely.

Dedeker: What I think is most valuable about taking this assessment and why I'd really recommend our listeners to take it-- and if you're at our Patreon group, I really recommend that you take it and then post about it and let us know. Because I think that knowing what your top strengths are, it automatically helps to give you like, "Here's a bunch of tools at your disposal. Here's a bunch of things that you're already good at that you can use when you're having difficulty or when you're facing a task or situation that you're dreading specifically."

I think I found in my life that particularly as it pertains to my relationships, if I'm feeling insecure or if I'm feeling jealous or if I'm having a hard time with a partner or I'm coming up against a bunch of conflict. It's really funny because when I saw what my strengths were after taking this assessment, I was like, "Oh, it totally makes sense." So my number one is curiosity or interest in the world. But often in my meditation practice, if I'm experiencing negative emotion, the most effective tactic for me is to come at it with curiosity.

I'm like, "Oh. That's what that feels like. Oh, it's this weird pulsing thing in my chest. Oh look, it's like shifting and moving and move into a different part of my body. Oh that's really interesting." That if I can bring this curiosity to it, it creates the psychological distance between myself and my feelings so that it's not so overwhelming. Then the second one, the fact that my number two is the capacity to love and be loved.

I started thinking about that and thinking throughout all of my experience of being in polyamorous relationships, the worst times like the times that I've struggled the hardest or felt the most jealous or the most insecure, it's never come with a sense of like, "Oh, no one loves me." I'm always able to still tap into that like, "Yes, I know I feel like shit right now. But I still know that there's a lot of love in my life." Those have been the things that have gotten me through those situations.

For somebody else, those may not at all be their tactics at all. For instance, Jase since you also have this strength and judgment and critical thinking and open mindedness, maybe for you, it might be bringing more of a sense of super rational thought to an emotional reaction or things like that.

Jase: Exactly. That is usually the most effective thing for me. I think people listening to this show might already be like, "Yes, that makes sense for Jase." That kind of, "Well, let's step back and look at this. Let's take apart the pieces. Let's compare it to other things. Let's kind of put it through these little scientific tests to try to figure out something."

Dedeker: Or maybe if your strength is like Emily, humor and playfulness. Maybe that's the thing that gets you through a feeling of having a really difficult time, it's finding the humor in it. Or finding a way to make a joke out of it. What I think is funny is that for our listeners who do take this test, you may find like I did, I was like, "Oh, this is all stuff that I've already been doing naturally in these situations."

But I think it's really good to get that reinforcement of like, "Oh yes, but this is something that I'm good at and this is something that I can rely on." So I think it's great, I think it's great to at least have that top five or you can even go down the list and see your six or seven, and you can come up with tools and tactics for the next time that you're feeling not so great in a relationship or you're feeling insecure in order to help pull yourself out of it.

Emily: Absolutely.

Jase: Yes. That is a great exercise to do even just hypothetically. It's just to take a moment and maybe not totally hypothetically, but just to think about a specific thing that's difficult that you have to do on a regular basis, rather than just saving it for like, "Oh yes, I'll try to remember this when I'm going through a breakup," or something like that. But if just, "This is a thing I have to do regularly and I always dread it." To say, "Is there a way that I could use one or more of my top five strengths to approach this thing in a different way and to then make it more enjoyable for me? Make it easier for me to do and then also probably will make me do it better."

Emily: Yes.

Jase: All right.

Dedeker: Let's talk about which of these strengths are actually tied to overall well-being. There was another researcher at the University of Pennsylvania who ran a study to see which of the specific strengths were the most significantly related to one's well-being. The ones that they found had the most effect were a sense of hope, a sense of gratitude, and also love. I'm assuming that's the capacity to love and be loved.

Jase: That to love and receive love, yes.

Dedeker: Yes. If those are in your top strengths, I guess the implication is that you're most likely to have a strong sense of well-being. Is that the case?

Jase: Well, something to clarify about this test, because every single score is just kind of linear and you're finding your top five. Just because those are your top five doesn't mean that your other ones are necessarily low. This is something that, ideally, if you're someone who does work on your personal development, all of these scores would be getting higher through your life and that all of these scores would be pretty high.

Just because something was last on your list doesn't necessarily mean you're bad at it. This isn't that kind of test. These aren't opposed to each other. What this study did was looked at measurements of well-being and looked at these character strengths and tried to mathematically isolate the different characteristics from each other or the different strengths from each other, and found that being stronger in those ones were the most significantly related to well-being.

Just because those aren't in your top five doesn't mean, "Oh crap, my well-being must be bad then because I didn't have those." Because all of these are related to well-being except for one, but we'll get to that in a moment.

Emily: Okay. But apparently, individually, the strongest correlation with well-being was between gratitude and love of learning, and gratitude is the clear winner.

Jase: Yes, gratitude was the one with the highest correlation to well-being.

Emily: Yes. Exactly. It was very interesting and brings us back to the top of why we're doing this, why we're talking about this.

Dedeker: The thing is they found that the character strength of humility, of being humble, was the only strength that was not significantly correlated with well-being. That's good because according to all of our assessments, humility is really low down on the list for all three of us. [laughs]

Emily: We're like dick heads. [laughs].

Jase: Like I said, that doesn't mean we don't have that strength. It just means it's not as strong as the other things.

Emily: Yes. I know I was surprised by that. I was like, "I'm not super self-aggrandizing or whatever." But at the same time, I guess, it's not the highest.

Dedeker: Emily, honestly, I feel like you're a very humble person except for certain arenas.

Emily: Like what?

Dedeker: Those arenas are Karaoke and Mario Kart.

Emily: You're right. I am the best. [laughs].

Dedeker: Those are two arenas where you're totally okay to not be humble.


Jase: That's absolutely true.

Dedeker: Everywhere else, you're very humble. But those are the two areas where you're fine being completely arrogant.

Jase: Yes. This one's interesting too because I actually read that these findings about humility not affecting well-being have also been replicated in other studies, or have been found in other studies. I'm including some that were done in Japan actually.

Emily: Oh, really? What seems to be like a very humble--

Jase: Which is a very likely like humility-focused culture, but also in research here found that humility, whether you have it or not, doesn't have much of an effect, if any at all, on your actual well-being and your health. It could have an effect on how annoyed people are to be around you. It still could be a worthwhile trait to work on or to have, especially depending on the culture that you're in. But anyway, fun thing. Let's go back to gratitude.

Emily: How do you increase your gratitude? Martin Seligman, he said, "Tonight and every night for the next seven days before you go to sleep, write down three things that went well today and why they went well. They don't have to be big things. They could be you had a terrific Caesar salad at dinner or you saw a beautiful sunset or you listened to a good lecture. Write down three of those things that went well today and why they went well." That's all there is to it so do that, people.

Jase: This is a really cool one because I know that in the positive psychology, positive thinking world out there, gratitude gets thrown around a lot. I think that it can sound like The Secret that don't have any scientific backing behind them. But actually, gratitude does. What's really cool about this one is that this particular way of increasing gratitude has been scientifically studied many times with very consistent results which is pretty cool.

When people do this exercise, when they're tested six months later, report lower levels of depression, anxiety, and a greater sense of well-being. This one is so easy to do too. It just takes that little bit of time. I know on this show we've talked about the five minute journal before which has a variation on this included. But just this part right here, it doesn't need to be any more complicated than this. Writing down three things that went well today and why they went well.

Dedeker: I've gotten a lot of value out of doing this exercise. I did the five minute journal thing for a long time and I did find it was actually quite incredible. Very simple, but had quite a profound impact on me, and I think it's interesting. We addressed this a little bit in our episode we did with Jessica Graham. But that's the thing, people can very opposed to gratitude exercises for a couple of reasons. One of them being it can be like, "Oh, that sounds like The Secret or some kind of woo-woo crunchy hippy-dippy bullshit, and I'm not going to do that."

Or the one that I've come up against more often is people making the argument of, "Well, but if I'm constantly just trying to be grateful for the things that I have, that must mean I'm complacent and that I don't want to improve my life. That I don't want to accomplish anything. That I'm not striving for any kind of goal. That I'm just settling and trying to be happy with what I have."

I hear that argument, I get it, I would make the argument that I think that it's important to maintain a sense of both in your life. That it's important to maintain a sense of wanting to improve and wanting to accomplish things, but also being able to check-in and have gratitude for what it is that you have in your life. However, what I do love about this exercise is that it really breaks it down to be very very simple.

When I was doing the five minute Journal, at the end of the day I'd write down something like, "I saw a gecko today." [laughter] Jase said when we were in Hawaii, I wrote that one down a lot.

Jase: I think there were a lot of geckos.

Dedeker: Well, it's like, "I saw a gecko today. I had a glass of wine that was really good. I had a funny conversation with a stranger." Super simple things that aren't so broad. It's like, "I'm so glad I have a roof over my head." Or that I have a place to sleep and it's good to be grateful for those things. But I think that it really helps to highlight the fact that every day, there can be so many good simple things even when you have a shitty day. Even when you have a shitty day, but at the end of it you can still be like, "Well, at least I saw a cool gecko today." It sounds insignificant and silly, but it does have an impact.

Jase: Yes. It just trains you to be aware of those things. Something that I really wanted to talk about in this episode, but we had to take it out for time is about selective attention and how, as humans, we really don't take in all of the world. We're very much focused on what we're expecting. We'll tend to miss very obvious things if we're too focused on something else. I think that this type of training helps us to be more aware of those positive things so that we can see them when they happen. Which I think not only leads to well-being, but it also helps us to identify opportunities.

That if you are more tuned in to looking at positive things or looking for and noticing positive things that happen, I think it can actually make us more likely to see, "Oh hey, this is a great opportunity to advance my career." Or, "Oh, wow, this is an awesome experience that I could go have that I might not have noticed otherwise." Whatever it is, it can look a lot of different ways. It could even just make you better at noticing parking spots when you're driving around.


I'm really excited about this because we are going to be doing a gratitude challenge. We're going to do this seven day gratitude challenge of writing down three things that went well today and why they went well in our Patreon-only Facebook group which is only for people who contribute to our Patreon, which you can do at patreon.com/multiamory. If you contribute $5 or more, we have a private member's only Facebook group that no one outside of the group can see that has just a ton of amazing sharing every day. I think this will be a really fun exercise for all of us in that group to do together for whoever wants to participate. So we will see you there and if you want to join, that's patreon.com/multiamory.

Emily: Can't wait.

Jase: All right. We've talked about the past. We've talked about our present state. Now we're going to talk about the future. "Time keeps on slipping slipping slipping into the future." As humans, our default state is actually thinking about the future. This is a really cool one where there have been a gazillion-- or my favorite number, a fucktillion-- a fucktillion studies done about the way that our brains light up and what areas of our brain are activated when we're doing mathematical problems or solving anagrams or something like that.

There's this huge body of research. Over a thousand studies have been done on this. Anytime you're doing a study, you need to have a control group. What you would do is you'd have people in the FMRI machine, the big donut thing. It's measuring their brain and you ask them to do math problems or to solve some logic problems or to do anagrams and you study how their brain works. In order to get a sense of how that's different from our default, you also have moments where it's just lie there and don't think about anything. Just lie there.

They found that every time people would just be lying there, the same pattern in their brain would light up. This ended up being named the default circuit, it was the name that they gave it. Is just sort of, "Oh, that's interesting. Humans by default go to this kind of configuration." What they found later on is some researchers came along and found that when you ask someone to think about what are you going to do this weekend or what are your plans for tonight? What are you going to have for dinner? Or remember something that's happened in the past and now, how are you going to make a decision about the future because of it?

Like, "I did this thing that didn't go well. I got rejected on a date." What do you think you could do to improve so that next time that would go better? All of those things lit up this same area of the brain which is about predicting the future. Just about creating possible futures. Imagining possible futures and then evaluating them for how would those feel? How would I like that? Through that, that's how we make decisions.

Emily: Our thoughts about the future are way better predictors of what we'll do in the future than what happened in the past. A lot of people I know like if I look at a relationship sometimes, I'm like, "Well, this happened in the past so it's going to happen again in the future." But our thought processes about the future, I guess, are better predictors of what will actually happen than those events in the past.

Jase: Right. But so often we just take for granted that our brain does this and we don't give it a lot of active thought. That we are thinking about multiple possible futures and deciding which choices we're going to make because of that. Essentially what we can do is, we can train ourselves to be better at this type of future imagining. This kind of future imagining involves daydreaming, imagining or planning the future, retrieving personal memories, making meaning out of things, a lot of the stuff that we've already talked about in this episode.

Also reading fiction actually is a big contributor to this. I've also heard other research that reading fiction specifically will help children be better in science classes or be better achievers or scientists. It's reading fiction actually because it's engaging this part of the brain. That's projecting our mind into a state we're not in right now. It could either be our own future.

I'm projecting my mind into tonight when I'm eating spaghetti and seeing how do I feel about that versus projecting myself into the future tonight when I'm eating sushi and go, "Oh. I like how that imagined steak feels better. I think I'll have sushi tonight." The same thing happens when we're reading fiction, where we're putting ourselves into the minds and into the places and the feelings of the characters in the book that we're reading.

Emily: Go on.

Dedeker: There's something I want to clarify about thinking about the future or daydreaming or imagining the future. Something that I personally really struggled with in the past is, I know I mentioned earlier in this episode that I've gotten a lot of learned pessimism. I know for myself that very much one of my self-preservation techniques is to imagine a negative outcome, not to an extreme, but like to what I judged to be a realistic extreme or realistic extent. So that I can already prepare for it ahead of time and I can't get my hopes up essentially.

Because I think that what a lot of people fear is that imagining a bunch of possible outcomes for the future could be delusional or it could be setting us up for disappointment later on. The thing that has helped me with this is realizing that it doesn't mean that I have to just put my head in the sand and ignore all the possible realistic outcomes and just try to be all pollyanna about it and then get disappointed later.

For me, it's been more shifting my thinking about the future into just like it's more that it's like a blank slate which means it could be anything. It could be such a wide variety of options; good, bad, neutral, an infinite number of possibilities. An infinite number of, I guess, different universes if you want to start getting sci-fi with it.

Emily: Just quantum physics.

Dedeker: Yes. If we're going to be all quantum about it. That it's not about, "Oh, I need to imagine a future that's super positive or I imagined outcome that's super positive and just kind of delude myself into thinking it's all going to be good." But more of, "I need to focus on just the wide spectrum of options that there are." I think that's what lies at the heart of these studies and these results. It's that it's not about just doing The Secret and imagining a positive outcome and then you get it. It's more of really embodying that sense that there are many many options, some of which could be good potentially.

Jase: I would say, as an actual way to improve this for yourself, is to take it out of the abstract way that you are talking about. Sort of the infiniteness of possibilities, but actually just take some time and think about what are possible other scenarios that could happen in this situation in the future. Whether it's about a date or it's about going out to dinner or it's about taking a new job. Not to say, "I'm going to figure out which one is going to happen." But instead, just to exercise that part of your brain and try some options that are super out there.

It's like, "I might take this new job and will meet Tom Cruise and he'll take me on a spaceship." I don't know. That's a terrible example. It could be really out there examples of, "I'll do this and by walking that way home, I'll buy a lottery ticket and become a millionaire. But then also think about some of the negative ones like Dedeker was saying that, "Oh, this bad thing could happen, but I'd also be okay because I would figure out this way to be resourceful in that situation."

Try to find some other ones that are more realistic and cover that whole spectrum to really train your brain, just like we did with the gratitude. It's to train your brain just to think a little bit differently to see that there are these other options. I think so often we get stuck in expecting the same thing to happen that's happened in the past. Saying, "Oh well, I'm bad on dates because I've always been bad on dates in the past," for example. But that doesn't necessarily have to be true.

Emily: I think mostly you just have to be open. Just open to new experiences. We talked about when we were in Tokyo, just being open to whatever comes our way because that also is a great predictor of creative achievement over the course of one's life. That's been shown to be the number one predictor of creative achievement. Just being open to any new experiences which is great for polyamory too.

Jase: Yes, that's a good point. That openness to just seeing other possibilities. I think it could be really related to when people are first opening up and looking at things like jealousy or their time management or how they think about the way that their partner's relationship may go or the way that their own relationships may go. This openness and understanding that there are a ton of different ways the future can play out, I think could be a really helpful thing. I'd love to see some studies about that. I actually wrote down some notes of like, "I want to do studies about this." Let's put together the multiamory research branch with multiresearchory.

Emily: Multiresearchory?

Jase: Yes. I want to talk now about some criticisms of positive psychology. There are a lot of them out there. Positive psychology, what I like compared to other things like just visualizations to things like that is that positive psychology actually is a legitimately academically researched field in psychology. It's not just some sort of armchair psychology or pop-psych thing people have come up with. This is something that has been actively researched and is still being actively researched in university labs and that's great.

I think some of the critics just start from like, "Oh, it's all touchy feely positive woo-woo crap." Kind of like you were saying earlier on Emily. Because I think a lot of pop-psych has taken ideas from this, we do get a little bit of that association. I think those critics are just kind of, "Oh well, sorry that you hate positive things." But what I do think are some really apt criticisms is this idea that if you're just looking at positive feelings and positive behaviors and then looking at the positive outcomes that those will get, you miss out on seeing what are some things that might actually be negative actions or negative feelings that still get positive results.

Or what might be positive feelings or positive things that achieve negative results. Two researchers who are named-- I'm going to try my best with these names, Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener, I hope that's right, they wrote a book called The Upside of Your Dark Side. In this, they both do research in positive psychology but they criticize this focus on "Only positive feelings are the ones worth having".

Not that positive psychology actually says that but to be a little bit, what's the word, hyperbolic. That it's just always focusing on positive everything. That their research looks at, "What are some potentially negative feelings or negative traits that can actually lead to positive results?" Some examples of this would be that anger can make us creative or selfishness can make us brave and that guilt can be a really powerful motivator. There's lots of other things.

Depression has been shown to be useful to societies in studies done with chimpanzees. There's all sorts of different things here. Their book covers more of those things. If you want to check it out, actually, you can do that on Audible. This book is available as an audiobook. If you want a free 30-day trial of Audible and one free audiobook which you could use to get this book right here, or you could get Martin Seligman's book which is called Flourish. He actually has a few books that are on Audible but Flourish is the one that I would recommend.

With those, if you want a 30-day trial, you just go to audibletrial.com/multiamory. You'll get that 30-day trial, a free audiobook. They will send some money to us just for you doing the trial. You get a free audiobook and they help support our show. Win-win for everybody involved.


Dedeker: I think what I appreciated about their take on this is the fact that having a meaningful or having a satisfying life doesn't mean completely disconnecting yourself from any discomfort or pain. Again, when we were talking to Jessica Graham, we talked about the spiritual bypassing thing. I think that the idea of positive psychology, even though maybe it doesn't have a spiritual basis, it can definitely be tempting to fall into the same pattern of, "Well, I'm only going to focus on the positive and none of the negative and none of the pain. I'm just going to force myself to go through life living that way," which is denying a large part of life which is the discomfort and the pain.

One of my favorite people, Alan Watts, good old Alan Watts, or A-dubbs as I like to call him. He all the time says, "You can't have the yin without the yang," as in you can't have the good without the bad. You can't have the wave without the crest. Experiencing discomfort, experiencing pain, experiencing negativity is something that helps us to know when there is positivity or when there is happiness or when there is pleasure, that we couldn't have just one without the other.

Ultimately, I think what we've found through all these studies is that by being able to train your focus on the times that are good without completely blocking out the bad, that's the important part of this. It's that without slipping into denial or slipping into suppression of your feelings, but still being able to train your brain to be more in this modality of seeing the good, of seeing the positive and really truly soaking it up and feeling it. That that's going to lead to your day-to-day life just feeling better overall.

Jase: Yes. I think it's worth noting that in the positive psychology research too, we talk about well-being and not happiness, that there is this common misconception that the goal is to be happy all the time. As you were saying Dedeker, that's not what life is. That if we were happy all the time, we wouldn't know what happiness is because it would just be neutral.

The other part of that is that in looking at things like improving gratitude or optimism rather than happiness, these are things that have research backing them up, that these things actually improve quality of life, improve our productivity, improve our success, improve our health. Rather than just focusing on this ephemeral thing of happiness or just positivity which is a hard thing to measure. Like we said, you can't have the good without the bad.

Emily: No. For all of you self-knowledge, online testy people out there, we have the jackpot for you, authentichappiness.org is full of psychological tests. It's backed by research to help you learn about yourself and find ways to improve yourself or just see what you want to see and learn a little bit more about yourself, learn stuff like we did.

Jase: Yes. That's where we all took that test.

Emily: Yes, exactly. Again, go to authentichappiness.org to find these tests that we are talking about today.

Jase: Yes. You create a profile that is actually anonymously collected for furthering this research as well which is cool. They'll occasionally do little short-term studies of like, "Hey, we have a study going on right now if you'd like to participate in it." It's a pretty cool thing. You can go back and access your old results and retake tests and see, track your progress. Because these character strengths like gratitude and optimism are things that you can actually learn. It's not like, "Well, that's my sign. I'm always going to be this way because I'm a Cancer." Right? Whatever it is. [laughs]

Emily: Yes, you are.