Tag Archives: understanding

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“Who knew I was happy?”​

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 (or Evidence Driven Therapy- it’s hard to argue with facts.)

One of our customers didn’t know he was happy. We’ll call him Bob. We’ll also make some of the facts a bit more generic, after all we want to maintain Bob’s privacy.

Bob suffers from bi-polar disorder and has been in therapy to help him learn to deal with it. Bob’s swings from manic to depressive have had a huge impact on his life and marriage, and like many who suffer from bi-polar disorder his own impression of his well-being tends to depend on where he currently falls between manic and depressive phases. Bob also happens to be one of WeFeel’s testers and has been using it since our early releases last year.

With Bob’s and his wife’s input we’ve been able to add features to WeFeel to help him both in his personal life and with his marriage. At the end of last year we added what we call dual customizable sliders to track things like where you fall between manic and depressive phases. Instead of just a Bipolar slider it’s completely customizable so you can specify what each end of the slider means…you want to track where you are on the scale of Homer Simpson to Elon Musk, you can do that.

My favorite “Bob” story so far is when he came in during a depressive phase, just a month or two after beginning to use WeFeel. As he started to speak with his psychologist, he was surprisingly upbeat. The first thing they did was pull out WeFeel’s dashboard for a quick look at his latest trends.

“Hey Bob, there’s a lot of yellow here.” (Yellow is the color WeFeel uses for Joy)

“I know, right! Who knew I was happy?”

Bob had been going through life assuming that, in general, he was a miserable person. It’s really easy to get stuck in that mindset, especially when you are fighting something like Bipolar Disorder. But then evidence was presented to him in a way that he couldn’t deny. After all, Bob created all of the emotion entries showing he was happy. When confronted with the facts, he was able to begin to shift his world view. Turns out in general, Bob’s a pretty happy fellow.

When when we talk about Evidence Based Therapy, or Evidence Based Mental Health care we mean practices and techniques that have been proven to work via recognized scientific research. But I think we can (and should!) take things one step further. In the business world we have business intelligence tools that can aid in evidence based decision making. WeFeel is essentially an expansion of those concepts adapted to individual mental health care. Previously it has been really difficult to gather and visualize empirical evidence about what has happened with a patient in between sessions. Instead, mental health care professionals have had to rely on not only their patient’s ability to recall past events, but also their ability to convince them to share.

Just like with Bob, you only need the first 3-5 minutes of a session for WeFeel to show facts and trends from events gathered as they transpired. We know that even with something as convenient as a phone, it’s still hard to remember to journal and track things. To help build the habit of capturing data, WeFeel helps patients to remember to track their emotions, moods, and pretty much anything you can think of by providing up to 10 random reminders throughout the day, and to schedule up to 3. That’s a lot of data points.

The good news is we sum it all up for you so that you just need to spend a few moments to check out the Discussion Points and Dashboard pages to identify important issues. Finally, you use those facts in helping to provide talking points, diagnosis, and treatment during your session. WeFeel doesn’t do the diagnosing, it simply provides an easy way to gather evidence. You then use it to help drive therapy forwards- Evidence Driven Therapy. It’s just an extra tool to put in your tool belt, but if you ask Bob, it’s one that makes you happy…or rather, one that shows you the happiness you’ve always had inside.


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WeFeel: Therapist’s Toolbox vs. Therapy Substitute

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It’s hard to believe that it was almost two years ago that we came up with the idea for WeFeel. Despite there being hundreds of “mental health” apps already on the market we saw a huge hole that no one seemed to be interested in or willing to fill. Organizations have been racing to create apps that help treat specific issues, and there’s even some really cool tech out there that is trying to automatically diagnose individuals using machine learning and artificial intelligence to analyze an person’s environment, and physical response.

I think those are all great things. In fact, as someone on the autism spectrum, the idea of getting help without having to actually go get help is very appealing. But as we looked at things back at the beginning of 2015, we found the same results that have been reported in articles published more recently: many, if not most mental health care apps aren’t backed by any studies or clinical evidence, and worse…many are flat out damaging to an individual’s mental health. The problem, as we saw it, was that most of the apps and services being created were designed to be a substitute for therapy,

So what did we do? We went out and talked to psychologists, psychiatrists, marriage counselors, certified therapists and anyone else willing to provide input to find out what physical tools they already used, what proven techniques existed that merely needed to be converted to a mobile format, and then we got to work. Our philosophy became how do we help therapists by augmenting what they already do, instead of how can we replace them with an app.

We were lucky enough to have found Dr. Scott Seaman, a forward thinking psychologist based out of Orem, UT who was willing to test WeFeel with his patients (with their consent of course!). We spent six months or so refining WeFeel in a clinical setting, adding tools to help a therapist treat things like depression, anxiety, and addiction, and to help with couples therapy, and autism spectrum disorder.

The more we worked together, the more flexible WeFeel became. Our initial idea of having WeFeel prompt you once or twice a day to create an entry grew into adding up to 10 random prompts and three scheduled ones. Early concepts like the ability for a couple to share their emotion entries turned into the ability for a patient to securely share their data with a care provider, who then could remotely monitor the status of their patient. A quick and simple way to enter core emotions became a fully customizable interface that could track anything from a single item to 19 separate items- the 19th was because a customer emailed us and asked for just one more custom slider to help her track an item that would help her meet her goals.

Once we had data, we found that we could do really cool stuff with it. There were the obvious things like Dashboards to help visualize and narrow down patterns and triggers, and we used a bit of if computing power to be able to find topics to discuss via word clouds and sorting through entries to find those with the deepest feelings.

But, as we got results from real world use, we found that while it was nice to have all that data, data without action is only part of the solution. We knew that a common treatment step is to give the patient a plan or “coping strategy” like counting to ten whenever you are angry, or calling a friend when you are feeling depressed. We were missing that ability to help treat symptoms, and so we took a look at how we could help a therapist work with their patient to provide customized action prompts. We wanted to create a generic toolbox for the therapist to use to treat anything. It was just a matter of converting this existing and proven technique into something a mobile device could perform.

WeFeel already knew when a person was angry, since they already created an emotion entry for it, so it was just a matter of adding the ability to provide the therapist’s directions as a reminder. The solution was to just take that existing practice and simply add Coping Strategies to our toolbox. Now, the therapist can work with their patient to devise an action or behavior and enter it into the toolbox. Then when the patient logs that they are feeling a certain way, WeFeel will automatically prompt them to follow the strategy that matched. It can even have up to 16 different strategies to match different situations.

The next thing we knew we had patients using WeFeel to help them overcome addiction by prompting them to take action at the early states of feeling a craving. In this case, we made a super-customizable tool, and Scott came up with an awesome way to use it.

It turns out, as we created WeFeel, we were giving hope to people as they worked with their therapist to come up with their own unique way to use it. We helped enhance the bond between care provider and patient, instead of isolating them from their therapist. By working in clinical setting, getting real world feedback, and most importantly listening to our customers WeFeel is now making a difference, and I think that’s pretty cool.

 


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The Other Side of “We”

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We…

Imagine a large field. Populate it with images of people. Close your eyes and think for a minute about “We.”

Here’s a happy little field with a stream running through it to help you out:

When you envision “We” who joins you in your field? If I say to you “religion”, does the population change? What if I say “politics”? How about “nation”?

We are…

In your mind’s eye, what are the people wearing? What color is their hair, eyes, and skin? What are they thinking? What do they believe? What are their traditions? What makes them part of your “We”?

Here’s a peaceful waterfall to admire while you contemplate:

We are bound together by…

Now, in your mind you should have a picture of your “We”. You know what makes your group special. You know what ties you together. You know what makes you a “tribe”. If you wanted you could actually see the bonds between each individual, see each link that connects people to each other, and to you.

Perhaps one of the links says “family”. Maybe it says “community”. If you try you can break the links down even further into individual concepts. The link called “religion” breaks down to its constituents: beliefs about god, purpose, sacred rites, holy books and all those strands that make up the religious ties between you and your “We”. The link called “politics” does the same. As you imagine this you can see all the connections vividly, the most important connections thick like steel cables, unbreakable. When you imagine this you feel whole. A part of something bigger than yourself. Part of a tribe. Part of a family.

You now have your mind map of “we.”

Pause for another moment to internalize this picture you’ve created.

Here’s a cool visualization of the links that make up the Internet to get lost in:

“I” from “We”

Now that you are firmly rooted in your “We”, I have to wonder, what part of the whole makes the individual? Was this image created over time based on your upbringing, your income, or perhaps your genetics? Why is this your tribe and how tightly do you feel bound to them?

What would you do for the people within this cloud of connections you’ve created? Would you give your hard earned money to support them? Would you give them your time? Would you give them your life? What would you do to continue to belong to this family?

I find the dichotomy in many cultures that profess the importance of individuality while simultaneously stressing the importance of family, tradition, and loyalty to be confusing. Does your “I” depend on strands of approval those connections? Does your “I” venture out into the darkness of that beyond your tribe, or does it stay close, comforted in the knowledge that “We” have all the answers “I” need?

When you think about “I”, how much of you is held together by “We”?

Bonds, or Bondage?

I’ve seen it said that no man is an island, but I am. In fact, there’s an entire subset of people without the innate ability to create, visualize, or depend on those bonds that make “We”. Like most people, I was taught from an early age the importance of “We”. We are Family. We are Christian. We are Muslim. We are Jewish. We are Republicans. We are Democrats. We are rich. We are poor. So many different versions of “We”.

But I can’t see it. My mind map is empty when I do this exercise. I would guess that for many that thought is depressing, overwhelming, and possibly unimaginable. Maybe you feel sorry for me. Maybe your “We” does too.

I’ve chosen to see it as a blessing, because I am free. Once I stopped believing that to exist I had to belong, which I never could figure out how to do, I was able to stop trying to force those strands that make up the connections of “We” into existence . I was free to be wrong. Free to examine other forms of “we.” Free to see that:

With the bonds of “We” comes the bondage of “We”.

How many of your deep down core beliefs you hold as “truth” are really bonds that help you feel part of “We”? Is that thought too difficult to face? How many of life’s potential experiences have you missed because some of the bonds of “We” determine your actions? Do you find safety in the limitations or regret at lost opportunity?

How many good people will you never know because they are not part of “We”?

How many people in this world are “they”? When you imagine “them”, do you feel disdain and distrust? Are “they” evil? Are “they” scary? Are “they” they cause of your problems?

Most of all, what do you fear if you started cutting some of those strands? Will you be bullied, pitied or ostracized? If you identify those fears could you face them?

What will fear cause you to do in order to maintain your status as “We”?

Will you compromise your ethics to avoid becoming “one of them”? Will you support an undeserving leader? Will you become the bully? Will you refuse to speak up when you see wrong doing? Will you refuse to give “them” a chance to be heard, just because “they” aren’t contained within your mental image?

And that is the core of it all. From the beginning of this post I’ve had you creating mental images. Visualizations of what makes your reality. But if you stop to think about it that is all it is: a mental image. A picture in your head of how the world should be, and who should be in it. It is an ephemeral painting that you fight to make eternal and unchanging. And often with that fight comes intolerance, divisiveness, and hatred.

I’m not damaged. I’ve been given a gift. I can see both the power for good and the corruption that comes from “We”. I am the equivalent of a Mars rover, a robot observing and collecting data, weighing things based on logic and reason.

I’ve also been given a curse. I look in on all of the various versions of “We” from the outside, and I don’t know how to relate to you. I don’t know how to say “please just open your eyes to the bigger world” without offending. In fact, the minute I started asking people to consider their fears, some who read this became offended. Who am I to ask them to question their “We”?

So on my island, I sit alone; having loved ones around me. Part of me wishes that I could have that desire and ability to be part of a group. Despite the limitations that may come from a need to belong, I do see the advantages. Part of me wants to scream at the top of my lungs “HEY EVERYONE, YOU ARE HEADED ON A PATH THAT LEADS TO GREATER PAIN BECAUSE OF YOUR FEAR OF LOSING YOUR “WE”!”

I don’t have the right answer. So I leave it up to you. You have to decide. You have to have the courage to choose to expand your version of “We” to include everyone, despite the fact that it will break many of the ties that make your reality. For me, that process was painful, but nowhere near what I imagine it would be for someone who depends on those connections to be whole. I would guess the thought is terrifying. But I feel it is important to at least ask you to consider it. You can work to simplify the kinds of bonds that connect you to others, you don’t have to erase the whole picture.

As you tear away the pieces, you will find that you only need a single strand: “human”. When you do, there can be no more “they” or “them”.

“We will work with them” becomes “we will work together”. But I fear that it is still easier to choose to remain “We” and “they”.

Because after all is said and done there is comfort in:

“We are righteous”, “We have truth”, and “We know what is best”.


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I Got to be on the Radio

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and it wasn’t as scary as I thought it might be.

There are things in life that are unknown, and because they are unknown they are scary. About a month ago I was contacted by someone I followed on twitter and was asked to be on her radio show. That was something that I’d never done before.

For a moment, when I read that my heart jumped up in my throat and I thought “Gack!” There was a little bit of fear. (and yes, I acknowledged it and recorded it in WeFeel).

However, I really believe in WeFeel and what we can offer to therapists and the general public so I wrote back and said, “Yes” because this would be a good way to get the message out there. At that point it was easy — the date was set a month away so I didn’t even really have to think about it. So I didn’t, because when I did there was that little bit of fear again. And then the day was upon me and it wasn’t so bad.

The host of Moments of Clarity, Tiffany Werhner, put me at ease and we had a great conversation about where WeFeel came from and how it can help.

If you’d like to listen to the interview, here’s the podcast:

 

or download it


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Borrowed Trust: who’s your lender?

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 (or When did I lose my ability to decide where to eat without the whole planet’s input?)

As you navigate through this age of overloaded information, you’ll find that, by necessity, you will have to take shortcuts when it comes time to making decisions.  If you use Yelp, Amazon, EBay, or any other service that features reviews given by people “just like you” then you probably have taken one of those shortcuts.  You know what I’m talking about, ’cause just like me you’ve thought:

“I’ve never heard of The Steaming Burrito, but 92% of the reviewers say it’s the best, and so I shall dine there tonight!”*

For me, and maybe some of you, it’s become an addiction. Maybe addiction isn’t the right word.  More like it has become so deeply integrated into my process that I won’t eat it, buy it, watch it, or hire it unless I can find something online that tells me it’s OK.  Anonymous validation that if I want a steaming burrito, it’s gonna be good (and not overstuffed).

Crowd sourced information can help us make better decisions

If you are from the “When I was young our video games had 8-bits, one d-pad, and two buttons and we grateful to have it because our parents’ video games were rocks!” generation you’ll remember a time when you talked to actual people to get an opinion on a purchase, new restaurant,  or movie.  Well some of us did that, some of us who aren’t so good with the talking just found one thing we liked and stuck with it.

But even the most outgoing, know-everyone individual still had a limited pool of knowledge to draw from.  We made lots of bad purchasing decisions.  Case in point:

While people have been pondering the concept of the “Wisdom of the Crowd” for a long time (we’re talking more than 2000 years ago when Aristotle wrote about it), there hasn’t been a way for an individual to have near instantaneous access to the thoughts and opinions of huge amounts of people until fairly recently in human history.

Lior Zoref, showed us what can happen if we take the idea of crowd sourced thinking to the extreme back in 2012 when he gave the first ever crowdsourced TED talk. He recreated a classic example of guessing the weight of an OX by bringing a live ox on stage, the results are impressive.

So that settles it right?  Evidence says turning to the crowd to make decisions is a good idea. I like good ideas. I like not having to expend mental energy on figuring out if I should spend my money on the latest mediocre remake of a mediocre movie from a time when I thought giant, sarcastic turtles that know karate were a good idea.

But…(and this time I’m not gonna flip it)

When we use online opinions we are borrowing anonymous trust

One of the benefits of the good ol’ days…or maybe just ol’ days, is that when we went and asked for an opinion from someone, we also had an existing relationship of trust with that individual.  We wouldn’t have asked them in the first place if we didn’t put some weight into the validity of their response.  That’s not to say, we don’t still ask our friends for advice, but that in many cases we have taken something that used to have an initial barrier of “Do I trust what this person will tell me?” and turned it into “Since lots of people have an opinion on this, it is equally (or more) valid than that of someone I know.”

We choose to seek out someone (anyone!) who already has built a trust with whomever we want to deal with so that we can minimize our risk. Once we find them, we can borrow their trust until we have some of our own.  The more people we borrow from, the more confident we are that we have made a correct decision. And thanks to group feedback systems, there are now efficient means of borrowing huge amounts of trust:

5247 people gave it 5 stars, it must be good!

It’s crazy if you think about it, in less than a generation we went from depending on the voice of a trusted few, to the voice of thousands of random people to help us with our decision making process. There’s just a slight problem with that:

Anonymous trust can be purchased, faked and manipulated

In our efforts to make efficient decisions, we’ve inadvertently made the online review such a valuable commodity that it’s now become subject to Campbell’s law/Goodhart’s law.  The gist of these laws/rules say that the more important a measure becomes, the more susceptible to corruption it becomes and that once a measure of something becomes a target/goal, it no longer is a good measure.

For example, on Yelp you have a restaurant and you know that 5 star restaurants get way more business than three star ones.  You need to boost that rating and so you “bribe” your patrons by giving a 10% off coupon when they post a 5 star review.  You took what was a good idea, providing people with a means of judging quality, and corrupted it by buying good reviews in order to draw in even more customers. As an aside I need to mention that, Yelp is doing all they can to fight these purchased and faked reviews.

And that brings me to what prompted this post.  Back when we were working on our (unfortunately failed) Kickstarter campaign, we were contacted by people offering to sell us likes on Twitter and Facebook.  There were places that would take our money to pledge it right back to our campaign in order to make it look like we had more real supporters.

We could buy fake trust and lend it out to all those people who needed to borrow some in order to trust what we were doing.  Being the naive not-so-little Aspie that I am, it made no sense to me until I started looking into the value of borrowed trust.  It turns out cheating the system is a huge thing.

You can go to fiverr.com and find thousands of people willing to sell you a review, but if you are thinking you could make a quick buck this way, you might get sued. And if you are a merchant buying fake reviews- Amazon’s already sued thousands of its own vendors so you could be next.

So what are we as intelligent (you are still reading this post that has gone waaaaay long, so you clearly are smart) individuals supposed to do? I did the search for you and found a piece of advice that I really liked on a page from some attorneysthat will get fake bad reviews removed for you:

Trust the 3 star review

That’s something I never thought about. I normally jump to the 5 stars and then the 1 stars and ignore pretty much everything else.  Logical to me- see what the best and worst of something is.  But something in that article stuck with me:“Nobody leaves a fake three star review.”

So for me, I’m going to change how I borrow trust.  I will start by looking at the 3s; taking the time to read the comments.   People who post 3 star reviews seem to point out both the good and the bad of whatever it is they are reviewing. There’s no rabid fan loyalty and no agenda. I’m certainly not saying don’t trust places with 5 star reviews, and definitely not saying choose the mediocre 3 star somethings.

Give loyalty to the services that are the best out there.  Just be smart about the unknown.  The trust you are borrowing may not be real.  If honesty is what you value you most in your trust lender, then right there in the middle with the 3s are a great place to start.

*Ok, so I made up “The Steaming Burrito” but you know what I mean.


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Visualization to let you see what you feel

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In the world of emotions what you feel right now colors what you remember you felt before. And that’s ok — it is just how the human mind works. Usually this doesn’t cause too much difficulty, until you are trying to work through a complex emotional problem on your own or with a therapist, or if you are suffering from depression, anxiety or other mental illness. If you track your emotions on a regular basis, in the moment, you have a way to overcome that. A paper emotion journal is good for that, but you’ll have to go back through the entries, page by page and even then you’ll only have a feeling of what was going on. This is where WeFeel excels over a paper journal. All your emotion entries in the cloud means we can show them in a variety of ways. For you, that means you can SEE what you’ve been feeling, and so can anyone you share it with.

Screenshot_2016-07-22-14-59-54

The dashboad on a tablet

The dashboard starts off with a view of your outlook trend. By default the dashboard pulls in the last 10 entries, but you can use the filter button at the bottom to choose any number of entries up to 21 or 180* depending on the version you use. More than that, the Outlook trend gives you the ability to see how your outlook has changed over time. Using the other filters with outlook trend will let you see if a specific location or activity affects your outlook. For example, if you have a better outlook in one location than another, you might want to take some time to consider why  this might be and what you can do about it.

Core emotion trends chart

Core emotion trends chart

The core emotion quick summary shows you two things: the strongest amount you have felt each emotion and the average intensity that you feel each emotion. You can get a better view of your core emotions by going to the Core Emotion Trends chart. On a phone, just use the arrow to go to the next page, on a tablet click the straight face icon and you’ll see a chart of how you’ve been feeling. Any filters you’ve set carry through all your pages views. On the core emotion trends pages you can also isolate individual emotions by turning the other emotions off by tapping on them. If you want to get an idea of why you were feeling especially happy or angry, just tap on that bar to see the note you wrote when you added that entry. These controls work the same for the custom* emotions chart.

The word cloud in the Themes from my Entry Notes

The word cloud in the Themes from my Entry Notes

Clicking over to the notes or journals* brings up a word cloud of what you write about most often, either in the quick note on an emotion entry or in a journal entry. The larger the word is, the more often you added it to a note. This gives you a quick way to see the why behind what you are feeling. This provides an easy way to start a conversation about your emotions, especially with a therapist or loved one.

There is a lot more you can do with the dashboard and filters, so we invite you to play around with it. If you find a cool way to see something, please share it with us in the comments.

*These features are part of the paid subscription version.

 


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All you need is love…

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Love is a very powerful force. It moves us to do things that we might not otherwise, for good or for bad. If you believe some philosophers it is what makes life worth living. It also gives hold for many of our emotions because it drives how we are connected to the world. Our fears, angers, joys, disgusts, and sorrows can be directly tied to the people and things we love most.

There are many kinds of love — from friendship to romance. It also is found in: affection, adoration, fondness, caring, tenderness, attraction, compassion, lust, desire, passion, and infatuation.

We love all our followers and would love it if you share our posts with your friends. Invite them to like our Facebook page WeFeelUs or follow us on Twitter @WeFeelUs to get more inspirational updates about our emotions and emotional awareness.


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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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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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