Happiness, joy, habit and shame

I love sticky rice.  I love making it and I love eating it and I just plain love the look of it.
Stickyrice

Although this drawing hasn’t ‘made it’ onto a towel or tote bag with EAW designs, it’s still a favorite.  Certainly the color makes me happy.

And how does this relate to the topic of this blog?  Well, I’ve been reading in Brené Brown‘s book about the difference between happiness and joy.  One way that she defines them:

Happiness is tied to circumstance and joy is tied to spirit and gratitude.

When I make sticky rice for my family, I have created circumstances that make me happy.  I enjoy the soaking and the rinsing and sight of the rice cooker steaming away.  I love the dousing with rice vinegar and the mixing with the wide, flat bamboo spoon that I brought home from Kyoto.  So I have made myself happy.

The beauty and simplicity of the cooked rice and the memory of the little side-street bamboo shop in Kyoto awaken my gratitude.  Those pearlescent grains remind me of the joy of cooking whole foods and connect me to all that I have en-joyed in this life.  That’s an especially wonderful thing when I’ve been raking muck, about PPFIC and personal shame history, as I have been so often lately.

So what about Oreos?  Am I happy when eating Oreos?  Not an Oreo; Oreos.  Me and the rats.  What circumstances take me to the Oreos?  None of the sensory pleasure that I’ve been extolling about the rice, that’s for sure.  In fact an Oreo eaten whole can be a bit dry.  I’m not a ‘dunker’; although tea or water does help.  But it’s that creamy white center: sugar and fat whipped up together to seduce my bliss point.  Pleasure centers in my brain start ringing and singing and, as I understand it, producing a spurt of happiness chemicals.

But memories? Nothing but shame.  No gratitude or joy to be found.  Sneaking cookies, hiding cookies, eating cookies when I wasn’t hungry.  All for that unbelievably brief illusion of happiness.  How did I respond to that flush of shame?  How did my body respond to the shot of sugarfatbliss?  I would reach for another Oreo.

But to repeat the question:  What circumstances take me to the Oreos?  I believe another important piece of the puzzle is habit.  Okay, maybe that seems ridiculously obvious, but the thing is that while the pleasure centers are being zinged by the creamy filling, neurological patterns are being reinforced in my brain.  Every time I would reach for that Oreo, the habit became a bit stronger.  Again, that may seem too obvious, but understanding the process has been eye-opening for me.  It’s all part of the same show.

I read Charles Duhigg‘s book, The Power of Habit almost as soon as it was published in 2012.  I am rereading now, along with the other sources I’ve been writing about, because it so clearly dovetails with my explorations.  I want to make sense of the connections between the PPFIC’s push toward producing addictive food products and personal habit and shame.  It’s all there, it’s all of a piece, I am sure of it.

A final note about getting the car into position for jump-starting.  It has taken years of sweating and pushing to turn the vehicle of my life around, so that a jump start was even  possible.  So that this writing exploration could begin.  And as you know, you can’t push a car by yourself, even a 1960’s VW beetle.  Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with me, believing in me when I have not, reminding me I am not alone no matter how hard it gets and helping me onward by sharing her own courage, I am ever grateful to my dear friend and writing ally, jc.  Tea and toast for two.

Process notes

Thank you NaBloPoMo.

I have learned so much, or shall I say I’m learning so much.  My evaluation of yesterday’s post, on a scale of 1 – 10, was zero.  Okay, maybe one.  (After all, I did include my old sketch of Oreos – actually the Newman knock-off sandwich cookies.)

I do believe that one of the ‘reasons’ why I gave myself such a low score was the topic…not only difficult, but also gigantic.  And there were other factors at play:  a busy day and fatigue… In truth I didn’t want to write or post anything, but… I am stubborn and I’ve made a commitment to do NaBloPoMo, so, even though I didn’t like what I was posting, I hit publish and went to bed.

In the night (so much happens then, ‘intelligence gathering’, I call it, except that it’s intelligence of the unconscious, not the thinking mind) I realized that what I posted (published still seems like a different thing altogether) were simply my preliminary notes on the subject.  Which is fine, actually.  Yes, I sort of wish I had known, or seen, that that’s what they were at the time,  but hey…so be it.

When I hurried down here to write this morning, the Brené Brown book from which I have been quoting arose from the chaos of my desk.  Subtitle:  “Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are”.         Oh.       Yeah.

For decades, in my work as a writing coach and teacher, I have been telling students & clients the wisdom of the writing sages. They all say it in one way or another.  “Basically it’s about practice (like everything).  You have to do some lame, lousy, crappy  ‘bad’ writing to get to the good writing.”   Well, coach, listen to thyself.

So, in fact I’m glad that I did (wrote & posted) what I did yesterday.  Woke me up, in a way.  Yes, this challenge to my self, to push and begin wrangling with the more dense elements of my topic has been/is really great.  I’m much further along that I was 24 days ago.  But “progress not perfection” has long been a mantra of mine and I am invoking it again on this cold November morning.    purpear

Adding up

Addiction is scary to write about.  I am no expert; I am quoting experts; I am sharing my reflections and welcome feedback.  Addiction is a word that carries a pretty big charge.  Mostly people use it either somewhat lightly, as in “I am totally addicted to Mad Men or knitting or sports talk radio…”  Alternatively it is used with a darker, ominous tone, as in “I’m worried she may be addicted to pain killers…”

I am going to repeat a couple of things.  First is this definition of addiction I posted yesterday.

“Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.”

Then a link to the Connecticut College write up about the Oreo study.oreos
The language is uncannily similar, is it not?

“Brain reward” = Sugar/fat activates more pleasure neurons than heroin.

“Motivation, memory & related circuitry” = Rats hang out in the part of the maze where they got dosed with narcotics or sugar/fat.

“Environmental factors interact with the person’s biology and affect the extent to which genetic factors exert their influence” = The food products consumed can shift the balance, increasing likelihood of processed food addiction.  Repeated caloric deprivation can alter biological factors such as metabolic set point, leading to inevitable weight gain.

“Resiliencies the individual acquires (through parenting or later life experiences) can affect the extent to which genetic predispositions lead to the behavioral and other manifestations of addiction” = Social stigma, particularly if it is reinforced  by parenting choices, can lead to experiencing shame, greatly reduced resilience and addictive behavior.

“Culture also plays a role in how addiction becomes actualized in persons with biological vulnerabilities to the development of addiction” = Cultural biases re:  body image & appearance can isolate the individual, exacerbating shame.

Sentences in quotes are from same source as yesterday.  The link is here.