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Transformations Issue 9 - October/November/December 2013

 

TRANSFORMATIONS

from the office of

Christopher Emerson, Ph.D. 

October/November/December 2013 Issue No. 9  
Hollywood Sign



 

Welcome to this edition of TRANSFORMATIONS. In this issue, Certified Rolf Practitioner Barbara Clair is featured in TRANSFORMATIVE VOICES, Dr. Katie Barnes explores the psychology of happiness, and I share some thoughts about how slowing down to identify, name, and process our emotional experience can be an essential component of a successful psychotherapeutic transformation.  
 
Thank you to practice administrator Dylan Maddalena for his help in assembling and editing this issue of TRANSFORMATIONS. Dr. Katie Barnes is currently accepting new patients, and is often willing to work on a sliding fee scale. I am seeing patients in my Palm Springs office as well as in the Los Angeles office, with appointments available in the desert office on weekends and Mondays until 12 noon. Prospective patients can reach me at the office phone number, 310-550-4560, or on my mobile phone at 213-220-1794. Thanks for reading - as always, we welcome your thoughts, inquiries, comments, and questions.   
 
-Dr. Chris Emerson
 
 
How to Make
Our Own Happiness
 

 

by Dr. Katie Barnes


Dr. Katherine Barnes Headshot

 

 

 

Peace.  Contentment.  A feeling of serenity matched with utter personal fulfillment.   

 

Ask just about anyone and they will tell you their life's objective is to be happy, followed by a few other personal achievements or successes.  The United States happens to be obsessed with "finding" happiness, and there is cultural pressure not only for people to survive, but to go a step beyond that into the self-growth/realization realm of happiness.  And the cultural message is that if you're not happy, you should fix yourself.      

 

As a psychotherapist and in my own experiencing of this societal pressure, I decided to read some articles and watch a series of TED talks to see if there was anything new to me on this topic.  I would like to share some of those research findings:

 

Money can buy happiness:

 

Researcher Michael Norton, in his talk on 

Money and Happiness, argues that "money can actually buy happiness," it just depends on how we spend it. In one study of college undergrads he created two situations:  in the first situation, students were given money to spend on themselves for "personal" use.  In the other situation students were given money to spend on others, for "prosocial" use.   

 

The first group of students ended up spending money mostly on coffee, secondly on food, and thirdly, cosmetics for the women and food for the men.  The prosocial group spent their money primarily still on coffee (but for other people), or chose to give it away either to a friend or to a person in need on the street. 

 

By an overwhelming percentage, the prosocial spenders reported being much happier than the students spending for personal use.  Perhaps this is because the personal spenders didn't really do anything differently with the money than they would have with their own money, and the prosocial spenders did something both generous and creating a new, novel experience for themselves.  The majority of students who ended up giving money away, for example, answered they would almost never do that normally.  So, Norton's study indicates that we make ourselves happier when spending money on others (or on new experiences) than when we spend it on ourselves.   

 

This is also true for companies: when employees spend time doing prosocial or team-building activities, they are happier and more productive in their sales than when they spend the same amount of personal time off work. 

 

And sometimes money can't buy happiness: 

 

Michael Norton also makes the point that lottery winners' happiness usually increases for no longer than a year, and by that time they've returned to baseline, or in some cases have become less happy.  Maybe this is because many of them have acquired more debt than before, and their relationships tend to suffer since everyone they know has in some way asked them for money. 

 

The answer to happiness is in diversity:

 

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink and The Tipping Point, explains in a TED lecture how food companies used to primarily be concerned with "pleasing everyone, universally, with one product."  This led to two-thirds of consumers being unsatisfied with their options, as well as to stagnant sales. 

Howard Moscowitz, the physicist responsible for making Pepsi, Ragu and other brands "rich beyond belief," discovered after testing thousands of people, tastes vary in about three different ways on average.   For example, one-third of people prefer a classic, smooth "authentic" Italian tomato sauce.  Another third prefer an "extra spicy" version, and the final third prefer the "extra chunky," although NO ONE predicted they would like the extra chunky kind.  No one at Ragu had ever considered making an "extra chunky" tomato sauce... until people tried it and loved it.  

 

He reported back to these companies that the only way to make people happy and to buy more products is to make three different types of tomato sauce, (or variations of diet soda after doing the same thing for Pepsi).  This proved to be correct, and now there are over 35 different types of Ragu tomato sauce available to consumers.  Thus, when we embrace "the diversity of human beings," and therefore cater to each individual's own taste, we will "find the answer to happiness..." as well as millions of dollars.    

 

We can synthesize happiness:

 

We often think happiness is a thing to be found, but studies show that we can actually create it in our own minds, and all it takes is for our choice to be taken away.  Researcher Dan Gilbert illustrates this with the Free Choice Paradigm:

 

A classic study gives a participant six Monet paintings to rank from least liked to most liked. The experimenter then tells the participant they can keep painting #3 and painting #4.  The majority of people had earlier said they liked #3, and #4 was usually at the bottom of their liking list. After being told they were given #3 and #4 to take home, they re-ranked the paintings, and almost always, painting #4 shot to the top of their list.  So, because they were given and were "stuck with" painting #4, they actually changed their reaction so that they liked the painting much more.  This can be called "manufacturing" happiness, or the tendency for people to think "the one I got was even better than the one I wanted." 

 

There are numerous examples of this phenomenon, some more extreme than others.  A person finishes a race in 3rd place as opposed to 1st place, and when it's done, they report being happier with the bronze because winning 1st place would have made them "cocky" about winning so they'd not try as hard next time.  Or, a 78-year-old man is released from a 20+ year prison sentence after DNA evidence proves his innocence and wrongful imprisonment.  When interviewed about his time served he says, "I don't regret a minute of it... it was a glorious experience!"   

Thus, although it might sound unrealistic or bizarre, it truly serves us to manufacture these protective thoughts that lead us to be happier with what we're given.  In fact, we do this to a lesser extent several times a day.

 

I hope you found some of these facts as interesting as I did.  Here's to wishing you the deepest serenity and fulfillment that life can offer.   And, if you'd like to view some of these lectures, please go to: 

 

http://www.ted.com/playlists/4/what_makes_us_happy.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

REDUCE SPEED:

FEELINGS AHEAD  


Dr. christopher Emerson, Ph.D.By Dr. Chris Emerson 

 

 

 

"Let's go slow here. This feels important." 

 

Lately, I've become increasingly aware of hearing myself say these words to patients in the midst of therapy sessions. Some feeling state is beginning to make itself known, and the patient and I both sense it. Something new enters the room; it expresses itself as a postural, gestural or other subtle verbal or non-verbal cue.

 

Why is this important? What is happening here? And in slowing down to experience the feeling state, what possibilities arise, and what, exactly, is at stake?

 

We tend to rush through feeling states that arise in the midst of therapy sessions in much the same way that we do in our daily lives. After all, we are not socially conditioned to stop and examine our feelings.  Indeed, there is very little external benefit to be gained by interrupting our daily activities to do so - more often, we're absorbed in catching up on emails and phone calls, texting while driving (!), or thinking about how to secure our financial futures.

 

But the fact is until we have some idea of what and how we feel, we are impeded in our capacity to wish.  And without the capacity to wish, we lack the capacity to fully imagine ourselves in a more satisfying state of being. "Wishing requires feeling" (p. 305), asserts Irvin Yalom. Upon reflection, we can see that if our wishes are driven by something other than feelings, they become something closer to "shoulds" or "oughts" rather than something connected with our own deep longings and a profound sense of our own potential freedom.

 

One of the goals of therapy is to increase our sense of agency and autonomy so that we feel a sense of control and mastery over the choices that we make.  Our choices emerge from our wishes, and so are intimately connected to our ability and our willingness to identify, experience, and express our feelings. This is why I often encourage patients to slow down, to be willing to go more deeply into a feeling state, and to temporarily resist the tendency to try to change or alter the experience in any way.

 

This is not to suggest that when, for example, a feeling of deep sadness comes up, I ask the patient to wallow in it, to prolong it, and so to suffer unnecessarily. But until we can activate and utilize the "observing ego" - that part of the self that is pure observation, that takes no action and makes no decisions - we are at risk of remaining prisoners of our feelings, puppets pulled by the strings of uncomfortable feelings and thus moving constantly away from our affective (feeling) experience. The alternative is to slow down, to witness the emergence of the feeling state along with the therapist.  If we risk staying with the discomfort and unfamiliarity long enough, we may come to hear and interpret a potentially new message being sent out to us.

 

So, can we take the risk of slowing down? As we work together in the therapy room to feel with more immediacy and more directness, we may become more deeply aware of our wishes and desires, which can, paradoxically, linger just outside of our own conscious awareness.  In this process of deep listening and feeling, insight can arise and combine with right action to generate meaningful change. And isn't that what we come to therapy for?

 

Yalom, I. (1980). Existential psychotherapy. Basic Books/New York.

 

 

 

In This Issue
-How to Make Our Own Happiness

-Reduce Speed... Feelings Ahead

-TRANSFORMATIVE VOICES

 

 

 

TRANSFORMATIVE

VOICES

 

 

Change the Body...
Change the Mind

  

Rolfing was developed by Dr. Ida P. Rolf, a biochemist and physiologist. She noticed that both physical accidents and emotional upsets tightened the fascial system, and if the fascial tissue continued to hold the posture of fear, grief or anger for any length of time these patterns would become inset. Inflexibility, imbalance and pain are the result.

 

In my practice I have an array of people who come for guidance. Most wanting relief from pain, some seeking an improved quality of life. What I find most fascinating is working with "trauma." The trauma I am referencing is held in the deep connective tissue called Fascia. Trauma can release in many different ways. One person may have visuals, smells or memories of the traumatic event.  Some may have an involuntary shiver or shuddering while the trauma releases. Releasing the pattern of a trauma can bring a feeling of peace, tranquility, and freedom. The body can feel lightness very much like floating.

 

One specific client, who originally came in with hip pain, wanted to get back to enjoying physical agility training with her dog.  She experienced this type of trauma release during our sessions. As we began our work, the focus came to her ribs and abdomen. While working to bring freedom to the rib cage, she began to cry saying she was reliving the death of her mother. She realized in those moments that she had stopped breathing in fullness herself. Her emotion confused her as it was extremely out of character for her. I reassured her, asking her to allow the feelings to flow and try not to hold the involuntary shuddering back, even though it felt foreign. It took another session in this area to completely discharge the pain and grief that hibernated deep in her torso. Today, the tightness in her ribcage is finally gone, she has physical freedom to breathe, move and can now speak about her mother without triggering the deep pain and sadness in her chest.

 

-Barbara Clair

Board Certified Rolf Practitioner.

 

  

 

 

 


 
This concludes the ninth issue of our quarterly newsletter, TRANSFORMATIONS.
Feel free to forward TRANSFORMATIONS to friends and colleagues, and take a moment to check out our archive of past issues at www.drchrisemerson.com. As always, we create our newsletter for YOU, our friends and colleagues, and we welcome feedback, comments, questions, or a simple "Hello". We look forward to our next encounter - Thank you for reading! 
 

Best, 
 
 
Chris, Katie, and Dylan
 

 

Contact Us...

for appointments and comments

Dr. Chris Emerson: 
(310) 550-4560
Dr. Katie Barnes: 
(310) 684-3605


Dylan Maddalena, Editor:

[email protected]

(310) 550-4560

www.drchrisemerson.com

 

822 S. Robertson Blvd., Suite 303

Los Angeles, CA 90035 

 

and

 

1900 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Suite C-3

Palm Springs, CA 92262

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