Introducing Joy

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Introducing Joy

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Today we meet Joy, the feeling that most people want to feel. Oooo, it feels so good! There’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel joy because it is a good feeling. But what happens when you want to feel Joy to the exclusion of all the other feelings? Then there can be a problem because that can lead to a one-dimensional, unsatisfactory life. Or, it might mean you are ignoring every other feeling and only letting Joy speak to you.

Joy’s common aliases include:

  • contentment
  • satisfaction
  • optimism
  • cheerfulness
  • ecstasy
  • hope
  • bliss
  • euphoria
  • joviality
  • enthusiasm
  • delight
  • excitement
  • happiness
  • exhilaration.

Find out more about how tracking emotion, specifically joy, affected one of WeFeels CxOs in “Make Happy Little Cognitve Dissonance

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Make Happy Little Cognitive Dissonance

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How are you? Are you happy?

Like, right now, at this moment are you blissful? Do you currently feel that rush of neurochemicals permeating your brain causing a sense of Joy? What I’m saying here is, do you presently possess a combination of elevated levels of Endocannabinoids, Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin and Endorphins that is unique to your brain chemistry resulting in a sense of pleasure and enjoyment?

Cause you are supposed to be happy right now. In fact you are supposed to be happy all the damn time. I know this because I was taught from a young age that our purpose in life is to be happy.  The religion of my youth says “Men are, that they might have joy.” My country was founded on the principle that I have a basic right to pursue happiness.  Various forms of media have pummeled me with information on how to be happy, if only I just…….

{insert ‘x’ here} to be happy.

x = {Serve Others, Find Love, Give Love, Live with Purpose, Find God, Loose God, Take Drugs, Stop Taking Drugs, Be a Vegan, Eat like a Caveman, Exercise, Eat Chocolate, Eat More Chocolate, seriously all you need to do is have some yummy chocolate }

Something must be wrong with me!

Because I’m not happy all the damn time. I know this because for the majority of the past year I’ve been using WeFeel to track my emotions.  Turns out, generally, I’m content at most; and that revelation was just depressing. Depressing to the point that sometimes I just stop using WeFeel to track how I feel because I don’t want the reminder that I’m failing at my purpose in life.  I created the service to help myself and others understand emotion and what I found so far was that I must be doing life wrong.

(mixed memes are awesome)

What if we were wrong?

This idea that we are supposed to be happy didn’t originate with some genetic memory I’ve had since birth.  It was taught.  In much of western culture we are actually indoctrinated from a young age that our default state of existence should be one that is chemically induced by receptors in our brain. And so we obsess about finding “true” happiness (whatever that means…is there a fake happiness?), and stress about the times when we aren’t.  We actually induce a state of anxiety (also caused by brain chemistry) worrying about why we aren’t in a different chemical state.  How weird is that?

20 something years of dissonance

In the early 90s I had the chance to live in Taiwan for a couple years.  Talk about culture shock. I was there to spread the word that western religion brings happiness. And I kept running into all these happy Buddhists. A key tenet of many of the forms of Buddhism is that life is suffering, life is pain.  The exact opposite of what I was taught, that life is about being happy.  Yet there they were, all these miserably happy people. What gives?

Sokath, his eyes open!

Last week I wrote about Bo Burnham’s new special “Make Happy” It wasn’t a happy post.  You are probably thinking “Yeah, but this one is even worse.  Now you are telling us that we aren’t even supposed to be happy.”  But I’m really not trying to bring you down here.  I just want you to stop for a moment, and think about what you think about being happy.

Think about the fact that there are so many things that can make us happy, but there are also so many things that make us feel our other emotions. Why did someone, at some point, come up with the idea that out of all the emotions we can feel, we should pick “happy” as our default state? Could they possibly have been influenced by the fact that when we are happy, dopamine, the “reward molecule”, is released? It’s a cycle that makes us want to be happy.  Being happy feels good!

And here is the epiphany I’ve found in pondering the essence of “Make Happy”:

We are happy when our brain is flooded with certain chemicals. Our base state of existence therefore cannot be happy; because if it were, you wouldn’t have to add neurochemicals to get there!

I’ve been wrong my whole life about happiness.  I’ve been trying to pursue being happy all the time when in reality that doesn’t even make sense.  From a purely chemical standpoint if you had the same levels of neurochemicals that induce a state of euphoria all the time you’d become immune to the feeling and would then need more of those chemicals to feel joy.  Just ask an opioid addict how well that works.

Stop obsessing about happiness, and you just might end up happier.

So we’ve established that a constant state of happiness is illogical.  By letting go of that pursuit we can stop the stress and anxiety of when we don’t live up to our expectations.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t do things that make us happy. I’m saying that it’s ok to just be who we are when we are not happy.

In doing so, we can give ourselves the chance to embrace the whole experience of life. It turns out that by creating a service to understand emotion, I’ve accidentally created a way to see through some of my own incorrect beliefs about what I’m supposed to be doing here on earth.  I’ve become more able to relish the fact that sometimes I’m afraid, or sad, or just down-right angry.  I don’t have to have a need to try to find a way to turn those emotions into some level of joy.

And that makes me happy.

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Meet Anger

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Commonly vilified as a “bad” emotion, anger can actually be a good thing. Anger keeps us from sitting on the sidelines when we see something wrong, it gives us the energy and will to fight for what we believe in. That doesn’t mean it’s always a good thing either, it really depends on what you DO with Anger.

AngerAnger is also know as (AKA)

  • irritability
  • annoyance
  • aggravation
  • bitterness
  • agitation
  • exasperation
  • frustration
  • rage
  • fury
  • wrath
  • resentment
  • hatred

You can use WeFeel to track your anger. Use the filters and notes to find out if there are common triggers for your anger. Once you know more about your own anger, you get to choose what to do with it. We hope you make wise choices.

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Developing Emotional Awareness

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Being aware of your emotions is at the core of WeFeel. There are many reasons for this and one of them is the development of emotional awareness. Basically, you have to know what you are feeling to be able to remain in control. Otherwise your emotions remain hidden from view and control.

I discovered a good resource for emotional development. This site, founded by parents after their daughter’s suicide, hopes to “empower you with the knowledge and support you need to take charge of your life and make healthy choices.” One of the ways they do this is through a toolkit to develop emotional awareness to recognize and harness the power of your emotions.

“Emotions are the glue that gives meaning to life and connects you to other people. They are the foundation of your ability to understand yourself and relate to others. When you are aware and in control of your emotions, you can think clearly and creatively; manage stress and challenges; communicate well with others; and display trust, empathy, and confidence. But lose control of your emotions, and you’ll spin into confusion, isolation, and negativity.”

If you’d like to read more about developing emotional awareness (you could use the WeFeel app to help you along!) then find out more

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5 Steps of Emotion Coaching

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When my daughter was in kindergarten they had a series of special lessons on feelings. At the end of these lessons she brought home a chart that had her picture on a craft stick and a bunch of faces with different expressions around it. She could put her face on the stick behind any of the faces to show how she was feeling.

I had a chance later that week to talk to the specialist that taught those classes. She told me that being able to identify our feelings from the time we are small really helps kids develop more empathy and emotional control. We put the chart up on our fridge and my daughter used the chart occasionally to tell me how she felt. She moved her face from one emotion to another, kind of like she was trying them on. And as she tried on these emotions she got better at recognizing how she felt.

One day this article on the Five Steps of Emotion Coaching was recommended to me. As I read through the 5 steps I realized that the WeFeel app can help parents become emotional coaches for their kids, especially with the first 4 steps.

1. Be aware of emotions.
When the app asks you, or your child, how you feel throughout the day it gives you the opportunity to stop and take a moment to reflect on what you are feeling.

2. Connect with your child.
As your child adds entries you’ll be able to see what they are feeling in easy to understand charts that you can share with them. The charts give you a way to start a conversation.

3. Listen to your child.
Taking the time to track your own emotions and encouraging your child to track theirs shows them that it is important to you and gives you a way to listen to them even if they don’t have the words to share them with you.

4. Name emotions.
Not every child has a way to put words to what they are feeling, but that doesn’t mean they can’t identify them. Simple graphics combined with intensity allow anyone to identify their feelings even without a name to give it. And, all of the graphics are supported with the various synonyms that describe the emotions represented so that you can help your child (or yourself) begin to give your emotions names.

If you are interested in learning more about being an emotional coach for your child, I encourage you to read the article. Even though the article is recommended for 3 to 5 years old I have found it’s advice helpful for my older children as well.

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The Importance of Naming Your Emotions

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A recent article it the New York Times by Tony Schwartz talks about the importance of naming your emotions.

One of my favorite parts of the article says:

So what’s the value of getting people to express what they’re actually feeling, rather than keeping things relentlessly light and bland? The answer is that naming our emotions tends to diffuse their charge and lessen the burden they create. The psychologist Dan Siegel refers to this practice as “name it to tame it.””

Naming your emotions can defuse them; take away the power from them. When our emotions lose the ability to take away our power that makes us more powerful and effective in our lives. The article talks about being more productive in our jobs, but I have found that naming and acknowledging my emotions makes me more effective in every aspect of my life. One of our goals at WeFeel is to give everyone a way to acknowledge, track and analyze their feelings. More than just a journal that records your feelings, you will have the opportunity to see your feelings over time and in the places you are. You will have a set of tools at your fingertips that will help you name it. And like Dan Siegel in the article says, “name it to tame it.”

read the full article on the New York Times

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Pringles Cans, Burritos and things that don’t fit.

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I generally don’t get symbolism, I’m just wired that way.  Tell me something and I’ll think you actually meant what you said. Art and literature usually don’t cause any emotional stirring within me, regardless of how much I want it to.

But music…music can move me. On rare occasions I’m even temporarily gifted the ability to see deeper than the words in a performance, and I feel touched and enlightened.

These words are the beginning of one of those experiences for me:

I can’t fit my hand inside a Pringle can.
-Bo Burnham

A lament for our time…found within the closing performance by Bo Burnham during his Netflix special “Make Happy.”  As he asks “If you feel me put your hands up,” hundreds of hands are lifted to the sky and Bo proclaims: “Look at all these hands that are way too big to fit inside a Pringle can.” “Pringles listen to the people!” “Just make them wider!” Such wisdom from a young man of 25.

OK, maybe it’s not that profound. However, as often happens with people on the spectrum, Bo’s performance got stuck on a loop in my head, and I ended up watching it over and over. Fair warning, “Make Happy” isn’t for everyone.  Bo’s sense of humor would offend the majority of my acquaintances, but, for me, the loop I got stuck in helped me find meaning in his words.

My life with Asperger’s is a lot like trying to get Pringles out of a can that is too small for my hand.

In certain situations, no matter how hard I try to fold myself to conform to a standard determined by someone else, if I try to follow my own logic, what I want is just beyond my reach. Since “my way” of thinking can’t work, I get overwhelmed and just dump everything out and pick-up what I can, hoping I’ll be able to clean up the messy crumbs when it’s done. More often than not, I just leave small disaster in my wake.

Sometimes I literally end up dumping things around me out to get to things I need because I end up overwhelmed by the process. More often it’s not something physical, it’s the frustration of trying to communicate in a way other people understand which results in me spitting out a whole lot of words. Sometimes hurting people around me…I get the feeling people don’t like Pringles crumbs spewed all over them.

I often wonder how I get myself into those situations in the first place:

I wouldn’t’ve got the lettuce if I knew it wouldn’t fit. Wouldn’t’ve got the cheese if I knew it wouldn’t fit. Wouldn’t’ve got the peppers if I knew they wouldn’t fit.
-Bo Burnham

Bo continues on to tell of a time he went to Chipotle and got a chicken burrito.  Going down the line he added ingredient after ingredient.  When he got to the end, the guy tried wrapping it up but half the stuff spilled out, thus defeating the purpose of a burrito.

Why didn’t the expert warn him he was getting too much? 

Did the expert think it was obvious that you can’t put everything in a burrito?  Did he think Bo was the one giving instruction so he must know what he wants?  Did it cross his mind that a little warning or advice could have made things better? Did he intentionally withhold the information because he gets a kick out of people’s burrito misery? (I’m sure there’s a tangent lesson in here about helping loved ones on the spectrum by telling them the obvious and not assuming their mistakes were intentional, but you can work it out for yourself.)

Regardless the burrito expert stayed silent, and Bo is left with a mess.

If only Bo had known, he wouldn’t have got half of what he did. The mantra cried over and over.  “I wouldn’t’ve got the lettuce if I knew it wouldn’t fit.”

And there is a huge part of my life with Asperger’s summed up in a silly song.

Life often feels like a series of mistakes made because no one told me what to them was obvious.

And since no one explained to me how to behave, I’m stuck feeling like an idiot with a messy burrito spilling everywhere. I think many people can relate to that situation. But for me, and perhaps others on the spectrum, it goes beyond people just not telling me how to behave. Often I’ve been told. I should know better, but I simply didn’t have the capacity at the time to link that information to the situation I found myself.

I don’t always have the ability to know what is going to fit a given situation, and that can leave me stuck looping over where I went wrong after the fact.

I wouldn’t have talked so much about my interests if I knew how to read the “obvious” social cues that you want to end the conversation.

I wouldn’t have stayed silent to the point of it being awkward if I knew this was the part where I was supposed to participate since you made a tiny pause indicating you were looking to me to speak now.

I wouldn’t have talked over you if I knew that my pause for breath told you to begin speaking.

I wouldn’t have answered your question honestly, if I knew the correct thing to do in this situation was to be polite and validate your point of view.

I wouldn’t have sat in a corner secretly plugging my ears because it’s too loud and too much is going on if I knew of a socially acceptable way to deal with being overwhelmed.

I wouldn’t have tried to fit my hand in the Pringle can.

I don’t think that I can handle this right now.

(note, the video below is not exactly family friendly)

I know everyone gets overwhelmed and plenty of “normal” people have problems trying to fit in.  It’s not a Asperger’s or Autism thing, and I don’t want to diminish anyone’s experience.  While Bo is relating his own struggle of trying to deal with life and fitting in, the song resonates with me. If you want to really “feel” the internal conflict that I think many people on the spectrum deal with everyday, take the last 60 seconds of the video or so and then loop it… for an hour or two.

Not the most uplifting post I know.

But that’s the thing- life isn’t always about happiness and being uplifted. We feel sad, angry, disgusted, or afraid sometimes, and often more than one of those at a time.  “Can’t handle this” transitions from talking about our problems to those conflicting emotions we find while trying to “Make Happy.”

But is “making happy” really the point to all this?

You’ll have to wait til my next post to find out.

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And now for something completely different…

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A little over a year ago I found myself in need of a job, and more importantly a purpose.  I had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome a few years before and last year during Autism awareness month I decided to go public with that information.

The amount of support I received was great.  From comments from good friends of “that explains it!” to people thanking me because they too were in the same situation I found it encouraging to know that I had done what the right thing, despite the fact that I was terrified it would mean the end of my career as an executive.

What does someone on the spectrum do when faced with that kind of fear?  

To be honest, a huge part of me wanted to just give up, move in to my parent’s basement and play video games. I have to fight that guy off quite frequently.

Plus,  it’s hard to do that with a wife and kids. Another part of me wanted to face the fear by going out and finding a job and proving that you can still be successful and open about your differences. That part lost. Instead, I decided to do something even more difficult, and the hardest part is still ahead.

An idea is formed:

I’ve been seeing a psychiatrist off and on since I was diagnosed, and during a session I realized that some of the way that industry works doesn’t make a lot of sense.  For example, why would someone be asked to keep a mood journal, or a log of their feelings in a paper notebook of all things? Everyone has a smart device on them that is far better qualified for the job.

For that matter how can one even understand their feelings when they don’t have any data? Coming from the business world we have dashboards, charts, and ways to filter data in order to come to evidence based conclusions.

How difficult must it be for professionals in the mental health care industry do their jobs as effectively as possible when they don’t have technology to give them insight?  A doctor can use an EKG,  MRI, CT scan, or even a good old x-ray to get more data about their patient, and from that make far more accurate and helpful plans of treatment.

Why don’t we have that in mental health care?

The question of course triggered an obsession with solving the problem.  Next thing you know it’s been a year of 60-80 hour weeks, learning to program (which I’ve never done professionally before) to create cloud based storage systems, synchronization routines, dashboards, and mobile apps to address the issue.  Being autistic may have its drawbacks, but when that obsession turns to something useful there’s really nothing we can’t do.

With the help of my amazing, supportive, and creative wife Kim, we’ve created WeFeel, a service that allows a therapist to actually have data to facilitate treatment through emotion tracking, journaling, and data visualization. And a great side effect is it helps me better understand my better half because it was built to allow you to share that data with a loved one or a care provider. If you want to know more about it check us out. 


Step one: create first revision of a service that can completely revolutionize mental health care…Check!

But like I said at the beginning of this, the hardest part is yet to come.  You’d think creating the WeFeel service would have been the hard part. Now we’ve got to get people using it, and that means selling. And selling means talking to people.

Technology is easy. Talking to people…not so much.

Selling is something I’ve been good at, but as you can imagine it causes huge amounts of stress. I have to put on my I’m just a normal person like you outfit, and it chafes.  But without it (selling that is not the chafing)  we don’t get to eat…and I need chocolate in my life.

I’m not sure if the past year has been a way of avoiding a fear, or facing a new fear of can I build a company versus just helping someone else build theirs. But either way,  the time for burying my head in computers has come to an end and now it’s time to put myself out there again.

I’m glad I don’t have to do it alone.

Wish us luck.

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High Functioning

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For those of you in Colorado, Washington or Oregon “high functioning” is probably just another way of saying “Friday Night.” (sorry I couldn’t resist) But for some of us, it is a whole different thing.

This is Autism Awareness month and I’m since I’m not into Autism Speaks’ down in the blues campaign “Light it up blue” (which sure seems like a game 14 year old boys play on a scouting trip) I decided to do what I can to tell a small part of my story, because Autism isn’t something we just “cure.” In fact, for some of us it is something we wouldn’t want to cure.

I spent my first thirty-<cough, hrumph, cough> years lacking in any sort of self-awareness. I knew I was different, weird even. I’ve been labelled many things: Gifted, Smart, Dorky, Nerdy, Goofy, Awkward, Recluse, Successful, a Leader, a Failure, a Robot, a Genius, a Loser… With so many labels to live up to, both for good and for bad, I never was able to figure out which of them I was supposed to be.

Despite my ignorance, or perhaps because of it, I managed to rise to high levels of “success” in most anything I chose to do.  When it came to work I would obsess over knowing everything I could about what I was supposed to do, I could understand things rapidly, make seemingly intuitive leaps to solutions while others worked out the steps, and while I was always socially awkward I was usually able to get along by watching what others were doing and just copying that when forced into a social situation.

The problem with being smart and performing well at work is you get promoted.

I take that back.

The problem isn’t the promotion, which is actually fun since you get new challenges and new things to master (and for me the chance to help mentor others). The problem is the higher you reach in the corporate world the more you are expected to be an “A” type outgoing socialite.

And that I was not.

I found myself constantly rehearsing every potential upcoming human interaction in my head and then evaluating my performance afterwards. The strain of trying to master the social aspects needed to be a “success” lead to an eventual break down, which is a story for another time.

What matters is that I ended up seeing a professional who stitched the bits together to show me all of the square pegs which I had been attempting to cram into round holes. He taught me to understand why the pegs I had were square, and to accept that it is ok to be a square peg guy.

I was formally diagnosed as having Asperger’s, which now is just Autism Spectrum Disorder . I’m on the end of the disorder which contains people able to function in society (whatever that means) so I’m considered a High Functioning Autistic.

Now, I’m sure there are some people out there going “ohhhhhhhh…that explains a lot.” I’m also sure there are some that have been swayed by the media who may now think less of me because Autism/Asperger’s is something often used to scare people on the news.

Regardless of what others may think, it’s time for me to live honestly.  Time to embrace who I am and not be ashamed to admit I am different from many of you. So while I’m a little late to the party (my second preference behind not attending a party in the first place) I’m going to Light it up Red Instead.

I’ve had time to come to terms with being autistic, in fact I choose to embrace it. While autism doesn’t define me, it is part of who I am, how I think, how I work.

And you know what?

I’m pretty damn good at what I do.

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