Tag Archives: brain

Elusive Pleasures: 10 Ways to Feel Better!

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Elusive Pleasures: 10 Ways to Feel Better!

What if you could do some simple brain exercises to get more pleasure in your life? Would you be interested?

What? Exercise my brain? How in the world do I do that?

Good news! For these exercises, you don’t even need to get off the couch! You don’t need to purchase new work-out clothes or shoes. Better yet, there is no gym membership required!

Welcome to the fourth of this five-part series, “Elusive Pleasures.” In this segment, we’ll explore brain exercises to improve our pleasure responses.

As I said before, neuroscientists are our friends! The research they’ve conducted paves the way for us to change the way our brains respond to any challenge. Today we’ll review ten science-backed ways science we can start our internal workout:

1.     Develop new interests and rekindle your interest in activities you left off long ago. New neuronal connections can be super-charged by learning new things. This can be as simple as learning to play an instrument, learning a new language, or learning how to crochet. Any novel task can stimulate new neuronal connections in your brain! Choose a pleasurable, interesting activity, and strengthen the pleasure circuitry in your brain!

painting and drawing tools set
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

2.     Read a favorite book aloud with a friend. Yes, reading aloud is different for you, and the process of taking turns hearing the book in your own voice and in your friend’s voice will lay new neuronal connections that enhance the pleasure center in your brain.

couple holding books sitting on bed

Photo by Zun Zun on Pexels.com

 

3.     Add a new aroma to your favorite activities. By adding an enjoyable scent with an enjoyable activity, more areas of your brain will be stimulated with a pleasure signal. The olfactory system is highly associated with emotional responses, so this one’s an easy exercise! It’s as easy as adding a lavender bath bomb to your warm bubbly bath.

aroma basket beautiful flowers blooming

 4.     Try new foods! Yes, it’s true! Learn about new foods, recipes and seasonings. Ask others about their recipes, how they use the foods you’ve never tried, and give it a try yourself. The pleasure circuit in our brain fires wildly when we’re engaged in an activity that sustains life, and eating is high on this list!

 5.     While you’re at it, explore the nutritional benefits of foods that help release dopamine in your brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is associated with pleasure. Foods and supplements that increase dopamine include those rich in L-tyrosine, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy. Consider drinking tea, seasoning with turmeric with pepper, supplements like Ginkgo Biloba, and others you’ll find on the list on this site: Think Tyrosine.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

anise aroma art bazaar

6.     Consider probiotics. There’s so much talk these days about probiotics. Some research supports the idea that toxins in our gut from “bad bacteria,” (lipopolysaccharides) actually destroy the brain cells that produce dopamine! Probiotics can rebalance the gut’s bacteria, thus preserving our dopamine-producing brain cells so we can enjoy more pleasure.

7.     If you can, engage in a strenuous activity like running for 30 minutes or more. In some people, this releases the body’s natural opioid into the pleasure centers of the brain. This has been known as the “runner’s high.” If you’re not able to engage in strenuous activity, instead do isometric exercises. This involves tightening and relaxing different muscle groups, but not necessarily moving the joints. Hold each contraction five to ten seconds, and do this several times for each muscle group in your body. Include your facial muscles, too! The simple act of smiling (yep, a big, toothy grin) can bring the pleasure response.

woman running wearing gray shirt

Photo by Luka Siemionov on Pexels.com

 

8.     Engage senses you don’t use often, such as stereognosis. This is the ability you have to determine what an object is by its feel. For example, place a few objects in a bag. Choose common objects like a paper clip, a spoon, a few coins and a comb. Now, without looking, place your hand in the bag and identify each object by its feel. That’s stereognosis! Have a friend (or your kids) gather items for your bag, and you gather items for theirs. This simple exercise, though it may seem silly, can create and strengthen neuronal connections and increase your pleasure responses.

9.     Walk into a store, bank or library rather than doing business by machines. Interacting with other human beings rather than machines and recordings strengthens our neuronal connections and pleasure circuits. Take the time to look these people in the eye, ask how they’re doing today, and really listen. Encourage them, compliment them or express your gratitude for the job they’re doing. Your reward? Enhanced neuronal connections and pleasure responses!

 

adult baker breads city

P hoto by Tran on Pexels.com

10.  Last, but certainly not least, is for mature audiences only. If you’re over 18, you can read on:
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Elusive Pleasures: Get the Feeling Back!

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Elusive Pleasures: Get the Feeling Back!

How can we get our brains to release that much-needed pleasure response again?

We’ve looked at how easy it is to lose a good feeling. A simple change in sensation can derail pleasure. (If you’re just joining us, you can read part one of this series by clicking here). We’ve also discovered that our own perceptions and beliefs can contribute to pleasure loss (to review this concept, click here).

Now we’ve come to the good part! The reason you’ve come back, the reason you’re taking precious moments from your busy life to read this little blog:

How to get the feeling back!

happy found on clipart by Word

It really is important to have pleasure.

Lack of pleasure–and effort to find pleasure again–can produce all sorts of behaviors that can make the situation worse than when we started. For example, consider how many marriages fail when a partner looks elsewhere for pleasure. Or consider the astounding statistics of increasing drug and alcohol abuse, of crime, of consumerism and waste. . . of so many poor souls seeking an immediate sense of pleasure in ways that backfire.

The idea that we need to make a new connection isn’t wrong. Making a new connection is essential. But the connections we need to make are in our brains; in our neurons, in our thoughts and beliefs. When changes in sensation (like those sprinkler heads) result in a misfire in the pleasure response, our brains need new associations to restore pleasure. It’s neuroscience, but it’s not that complicated:

One neuron reaches out to shake hands with another.

“Pleased to meet you!”

“Likewise, charmed. Let’s meet here again.”

 

Most of us have heard of Pavlov’s dogs. Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist around the turn of the 20th century, used dogs in his studies of the digestive system. He paired a stimulus (like ringing a bell) with food presentation. Before long, he noted the dogs began to salivate at the mere ringing of the bell, even without the aroma or visual presentation food. The ability to create purposeful connections between the digestive system and the brain became known as “classical conditioning.”

It’s old science now, but still true.

Since then, scientists have discovered much more about brains. We now know that our brains constantly learn–including how to learn better.  We also know that natural chemicals in our brains can make us feel excited, good or pleasantly satisfied.  Perhaps most relevant to our task of restoring pleasure, scientists who study the brain found that

neurons that fire together, wire together.” neuronal connections with blue light from Word clipart

“Neurons that fire together, wire together.” This is a catchy way of saying that pairing one sensation or movement with another, repeatedly, enhances their function. Eventually, activating one automatically

activates the other.

When someone asks you, “What is 1+1?”

You don’t need to think about it. You automatically associate:                     1+1=2

Just as we learned this simple association early in life, we can re-condition our brain to respond to new stimuli with a pleasurable response!

 

Crazy, huh!?!

But true.

Try it! Pick something that always makes you feel good. Maybe it’s an Adam Sandler movie. Maybe it’s a sensual time with your partner. Maybe it’s a big slice of Death by Chocolate cake. Now, add a new sensation or movement while you enjoy this activity every time you do it for the next month or two. For example, bring a certain pillow to place on your lap every time you watch a funny movie. Touch your cheek during times of intimacy. Or, if you’re the chocolate lover, play or hum the same piece of music with each bite.

eating chocolate cake

 

Before long, you’ll find that when you experience the sensation you’ve added to your pleasurable activity, your brain will start sending out that pleasure response! Just picking up that pillow makes you smile. Stroking your cheek in that spot will. . . (um, you know). . . . Your song on the radio will give you the feeling you’ve just had a scrumptious slice of chocolate cake!

So, as it turns out, neuroscientists are our friends! They research methods to enhance new brain cell connections (neuroplasticity). They’ve found that both physical and brain exercises boost neuronal growth.

For this week, along with practicing the pairing we just discussed, add some physical exercise to your daily routine. It needn’t be much; just an extra walk around the block, some light resistance work, or a few extra times up and down the stairs. Do this while you’re thinking pleasurable thoughts, and your brain will have more reason to fire up those neuronal connections.

brain exercises found on Word clipart

In the next installment, we’ll learn more brain exercises we can do to improve our pleasure responses–even if they’re impaired by our own erroneous beliefs. For now, though, you have plenty of things to try. Please join me in a discussion by commenting below.

  • How will you be pairing sensations to restore pleasure?
  • What exercises will you add to your daily routine this week?
  • Have you found new connections that restored your pleasure, now or in the past?

-Joan

“You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy, at Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11, AMPC

Elusive Pleasures: Aging with Erroneous Beliefs

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Elusive Pleasures: Aging with Erroneous Beliefs

 

Last week I wrote about sprinkler heads.

Why would anyone stop to read about sprinkler heads?

Because it’s really about pleasure, and adapting to changes that block pleasure.

Maybe for you, it’s the sound of rain on the roof. Or perhaps you’re drawn to the beach, where the rhythmic splash of the surf and the caress of warm breezes relaxes your soul. Some prefer the mountains, with the scent of pine, and expansive views. Still others are drawn to the city, where light and movement dance all night. Wherever you’ve found yourself prone to relax, forget your stressors and relish the moment, that’s the spot.

That’s the spot I’m writing about.

I’m writing about our brains associating sensations (like the sound of the sprinklers) with pleasure. But then something happens to that spot:

  • The sprinkler heads need replacing, and the new ones make a different sound
  • Construction of a ten-story condominium interrupts your favorite spot at the beach
  • A stuffy nose blocks you from the aroma of pine trees on your mountain hike
  • The building across the street hangs a huge neon sign that blocks your view of the city

And the pleasure is gone.

That’s what I’m writing about!

We all relate to pleasure. We want pleasure. We need pleasure. Without pleasure, life is drudgery.

So how do we find pleasure once it’s gone?

(That’s why you’re reading an article that started out being about sprinklers!)

This five-part series can get you back to pleasure.

Today, I’m going to share with you a little more in depth about an obstacle I’m facing that is more challenging than changing sprinkler heads. It’s an obstacle that has been steadily crimping my pleasure for several years now, and one that I think many of you can relate to:

Elusive Pleasures: Aging with Erroneous Beliefs

Aging. Dang it! I was going to knock around the tennis ball with my husband well into my 70’s. I was going to be that 80-year old still running the 5-K. I was going to dance in sexy high-heels well into my 90’s. I was going to lift bags of potting soil and bend over to tend the garden perhaps to 100.

Something ordinary and un-interesting blocked those pleasures well before their time: aging. In this aging body, they’ve labeled it many things: fibromyalgia (which I called the boogie monster in this article), arthritis, bone spurs, bulging discs and even a non-bony union of the subtalar joint. (Geez!) Whatever they’ve called it, it’s been one thing after another, and it’s left me with a choice between:

getting to do the active things I love           or

check feeling good enough to function in daily responsibilities.

I fought it for a while. When my right shoulder hurt all the time, I taught my left arm to swing the racket. Then my left shoulder hurt. With both shoulders, a hip, low back and ankle hurting, I finally left the tennis court.

gif funny tennis game over aging pleasure
Credit senorgifcom

 

 

Eventually, even less strenuous activities like ballroom dance, yoga, biking, walking and gardening produced more pain than pleasure.

For many people, this is “just part of aging.” They don’t talk much about it. They just don’t do as much as they used to do.

But hold on. . . Does aging have to mean life without pleasure? Is aging a slow process of peeling back the layers of pleasure until, at last, we’re ready to say goodbye to this cruel world?

I stepped back to think on this. Does aging have to equal lack of pleasure?

Elusive Pleasures: Aging with Erroneous Beliefs Be sure to read this second in a five-part series designed to help you restore pleasue after losing it! This is not just for the aging, it is for anyone who is experiencing a loss of pleasure!

(Selah)

If pleasure is associated with sensations and neural connections are involved, and I’ve associated being an active elder with pleasure, can my brain connections be changed?

What is it about my hope of being an active older person that gives me pleasure?

Is the pleasure response from activities like running, playing tennis, dancing, yoga, biking, walking and gardening only from their associated sensations? Is it just from the proprioceptive feedback from pounding of my feet on the pavement? Is it just from the cardiovascular exchanges and the toxic release of sweat rolling down my face as I dart side to side across the clay to reach the yellow ball? Is it just from the visual and vestibular feedback of seeing the same houses as I bike around our neighborhood day after day? Is it just from the tactile and olfactory signals from the gentle breeze on an evening walk, or the texture of the soil between my gloved hands as I plant a new flower in the yard? Certainly those sensory-neuronal connections release chemicals that produce pleasure, but is that the only thing about it that brings pleasure?

Could that pleasure response also come from something I perceived or believed about those activities?

When I think about the pleasure response that comes from the idea of being an accomplished, active senior, it isn’t really so much about the sound, or the scent, or the tactile input, though they each have their value.

What is it, then?

A new question arises in my mind. Could the idea of being active well into my senior years produce a feeling of pride of achievement? Do I find pleasure in being better-than-average? In beating the odds?

Hmmm.

I have to admit I’ve enjoyed that feeling since childhood. As the fourth of six children, affirmation and attention didn’t come easy for me. As a young child, I found affirmation and attention from being the smart one, the honor roll student, the best and the fastest. I could recite the alphabet before my school-aged brother when I was two years old. I could out-spell all of my older siblings by the time I was eight. I did algebra from my brother’s 9th grade textbook when I was ten, and, by the time I was thirteen, I could cook, clean and budget better than my mother (Sorry, mom). No one would call me lazy! I got positive attention from dancing, from taking care of myself, from being up and ready on time. In short, from outshining my sibs.

Hmmmm. Maybe I’ve held an erroneous belief all these years, and didn’t ever notice it.

(Note: Erroneous because pleasure never should have been from feeling better-than-average in the first place, but that is another story!)

My experience with aging is just one example of how loss of pleasure can be related not only to a change in physical ability and sensations, but also to underlying perceptions or beliefs.

Maybe you’ve had to stop and examine yourself, too. Maybe a challenge you faced persisted to the point that you had to look deeper into yourself to question why you struggled to adapt to your loss. Maybe you didn’t even realize you held erroneous perceptions or beliefs, until you had to stop and examine the matter.

Yet, here we are: a change in sensation, a change in some bodily function, a change in something beyond our control, a change that keeps us from achieving that which we believed would make us feel good– and pleasure eludes us.

What can be done? If aging—and its associated decrease in strenuous activities and impressive performance—continues this way (as it likely will), then where can pleasure be found? And what about you? Whatever it is that you’ve been believing but isn’t working out for your pleasure, can it be changed?

How can we get our brains to release that much-needed pleasure response again? Can changing our underlying beliefs help us find pleasure again?

That’s where we’ll pick up next.

(Click here for part 3 in this 5-part series Elusive Pleasures)

In the meantime, I hope you’ll join this conversation by commenting below (in orange, where its says “Leave a comment.” What changes in sensations, or functions, or other losses seem to rob you of the pleasure response in your brain? What underlying perceptions or beliefs have you identified when you more closely examine your childhood associations?

-Joan

“You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy, at Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11, AMPC

 

Elusive Pleasures: Sprinklers in the Garden of Life

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Elusive Pleasures: Sprinklers in the Garden of Life

Comfortably settling into my spot on the back porch for Sunday morning coffee, I notice it.

It doesn’t feel quite right. Something is missing. What is it?

The cushions and pillows cradle and support me as always; the velvety plum-colored pillow fits perfectly on my lap, softly snuggling my hands as they curl around my coffee mug. The coffee is its usual perfect color, aroma and taste as I savor a sip.

I look up. The garden sports more than its usual splendor of blooms. The squirrel, in its ritual leap from the tree to the squirrel-proof bird feeder, cleverly clings to the wire mesh and bounces to get the seeds to fall out. Birds glory in their announcement of another beautiful day. The sprinklers, as timed, emerge for my enjoyment of their rhythmical dance across the lawn.

Yet my usual Sunday-morning-on-the-back-porch-peaceful feeling eludes me. What is it? Read the rest of this entry