Joyshift is based on three science-based concepts that will be new to many people.
1) the primal happiness principle: a small number of experiences are essential for a very happy life, and they are defined by your emotional genes which evolved over millions of years when our ancestors lived as hunter gatherers in Africa.
There are about two dozen such experiences (primal happiness nutrients) and to grow happier you need to bring them into your life.
2) habitual happiness traps: today many primal nutrients are absent from normal lifestyles; instead we spend long hours doing things which tend to undermine rather than boost our joy (happiness traps).
3) a happiness practice: to replace habitual happiness traps with primal nutrients requires a disciplined practice (a joyshift) and like any new practice it requires support structure.
The primal happiness principle
What experiences make you happy? Do they also make me happy? Do they make everyone happy?
Positive psychology, a relatively new science (just thirty years old) has identified a variety of experiences that boost positive emotions for most people.
Many of these are obvious, like loving, eating and sex, but many are not so evident, like being generous or physically active or getting lots of sleep.
Why are a relatively small number of experiences essential for a very happy life?
Positive psychology is not much help in answering that question because it is more empirical than theoretical.
But another relatively new science, evolutionary psychology, which explores the deep roots of human emotions, offers an explanation.
The evolution of happiness
Every human shares a common set of genes that governs our emotions. In the same way that the genes we share give all of us two eyes, one mouth, and ten fingers, our shared emotional genes define the specific experiences that make us happy or sad.
These emotional settings evolved because they helped our species survive in the lush grasslands of Africa where our ancestors lived for millions of years as nomadic hunter gatherers in small groups of 20-40 people.
Positive emotions, like pleasure and happiness, evolved to automatically attract our ancestors to behaviors essential to survival on the primal plains.
Consider an example of such emotional evolution. In the primal world, small bonded groups were essential to the survival of everyone. The clan was the lifeline. Loners were dead meat.
A nomad born with an attraction to deeply bonded relationships would have a survival advantage over a forager born with hermit genes. The bloodline of a loner would die out. In time everyone would get the highly pro-social genes.
The 50,000 years that have elapsed since humans left Africa is too brief a period for any major evolutionary changes to the human genome. The genes in your body today are almost exactly the same as those of the people who walked out of Africa eons ago.
While minor changes to the human genome have occurred, like racial characteristics, our deep emotional settings are universal in our species.
The amazing result is that what makes you really happy are the same behaviors that helped our primal ancestors survive.
The reason positive psychologists find a small number of experiences to be key to happiness is that those behaviors replicate key survival features of hunter gatherers!
Your deepest happiness is in effect primal happiness and you get that when you bring into your life the modern versions of the survival behaviors of the nomadic ancients, like moving lots or being a member of a closely bonded group.
These are the primal nutrients mentioned above. Think of them as emotional supplements, the analogue of the minerals and vitamins that you take to keep your body healthy.
My mission is to help you bring into your life as many of the primal nutrients as you can and thereby be as happy as you can be.
An interesting discovery of positive psychology is that most people don’t really know what makes them happy or how to attain high levels of joy.
But once you understand the primal happiness principle you have a powerful blueprint to build a very happy life. You don’t need to waste time purusing things that ultimately will give you little joy.
If you are familiar with the principles behind the paleo diet, evolutionary medicine, or crossfit exercise you will recognize the similarity of the primal happiness principle.
The paleo diet and the other primal paradigms mostly deal with our physical life. The Joyshift program is the first to apply in detail the primal ideas to emotional life. Joyshift focuses on the world of our feelings, and specifically the positive ones: happiness, joy, pleasure, contentment, intimacy and so on.
Habitual happiness traps
Life in the modern world is radically different than on the African plains where our genes evolved. So we miss out on many of the primal nutrients that are essential for a high level of happiness.
We live in the richest, most educated, most technologically advanced culture that has ever existed and yet almost everyone is failing to nourish themselves emotionally. In a land of plenty, our feeling lives are deprived.
The core problem is that our culture promotes experiences that just don’t give much joy. Like materialism, competitiveness, overwork, sedentarism, shallow relating, and incessant media consumption.
Reams of research show that these socially approved pursuits are mostly happiness traps. Except in very small doses, they leave you depressed rather than elated.
The primal happiness principle offers a revolutionary alternative to such emotional deprivation: change your focus in life from happiness traps to happiness nutrients.
The primal happiness strategy encounters the same problem as any other life-change program: it runs headfirst into your habits.
One of the most important findings of the science of behavioral change is that humans are mostly prisoners of habits. The frustrating reality is that while everyone may fancy that they are free agents, habits rule actually rule our lives.
So day in day out we brush our teeth with exactly the same number of strokes, chew our food with the same number of munches before swallowing, take exactly the same route to and from work, talk to the same people, even make love in the same way. Computer apps can predict with 90+% accuracy exactly where we will be at any given time.
While there is some variation to our daily routines, it is minor. We are almost habit robots!
Sadly, our habits can keep us stuck in the happiness traps. Once formed, dropping a habit can feel painful. Repeating an unfulfilling habit can seem easier than breaking away from the habit altogether.
So even when people learn about the uplifting power of primal nutrients some will consciously choose to remain in happiness traps. Such is the power of habit.
To grow permanently happier you have to change many of your daily habits and that means literally altering the structure of your brain.
Picture your grey matter as a network of roadways. Habits are the super highways. Neural traffic flows along them swiftly and easily. To reroute that traffic you need to build new neural paths. That takes work!
A happiness practice
There is only one reliable way to build new happy habits: a regular practice. Wanting to change is not enough. That is why most New Year’s resolutions fail. The same with diets. Unless you methodically build new neural structure through a conscious, methodical practice, your existing habit highways will dominate your behavior.
To grow happier you need a happiness practice to help you overcome the happiness traps and bring in the happiness nutrients. A joyshift is a set of deliberately planned small steps -- just 5 minutes a day at the start -- to get those happiness essentials on a recurring basis. (When “joyshift” appears with a small case “j” it refers to an individual practice; Joyshift with a capital “J” refers to the whole program.)
A new practice is surprisingly difficult to maintain. In my blog I will give you many examples from my own Joyshift practice, and the stories from other people, about our failures to stay on track, and the important lessons we learned from these mistakes.
Our most important discovery was that primal nutrients differ in the ease in which you can bring them into your life. Some are so simple you can get them in a regular practice of just a minute or less. Others are still easy, but require a minimum of five minutes, and others are way more challenging. Each of these three groups requires a different type of joyshift.
Consider an example of each, starting with the simplest nutrients, like taking a relaxing breath, or smiling at another person. (In the blog I describe why these produce primal nutrients.) You can get these effortlessly while waiting for an elevator, sitting in a car at a red light, or standing in line at a bank.
But the challenge is to remember to do them. I discovered that without a structured practice I would miss these nutrients even when they are totally easy to get. So I created the daily practice (a micro-joyshift) to get simple but vital nutrients during the run of the day.
Next, consider a class of nutrients that require slightly more effort to get, such as physical mobility. Humans love to move, thanks to millions of years of evolution as nomads. But modern lifestyles are overwhelmingly sedentary. We spend most of our time sitting on our butts. To overcome this habit, many people require a structured practice.
Five minutes is a good duration to start with. It is brief enough to not intimidate, yet long enough to get into the experience. I call any five minute joyshift a set. As you will learn, sets are the foundation of the Joyshift program.
At the start you do just one set a day. It could be walking for five minutes or getting any of a number of other easy primal nutrients. As you reach for higher levels of happiness, you will add further sets.
The third group of primal nutrients require many action steps that are preceded by preparation and planning. Unlike the more readily available nutrients, these complex nutrients cannot be obtained in a micro-joyshift or set.
Consider an example. As noted above, we evolved to value deep bonded relationships and these were readily available when we lived in small groups of nomads. But modern lifestyles often prevent deep connections. Finding satisfying friendships requires real work over months or even years.
Experience taught me that people need a special practice (a macro-joyshift) to get this third group of nutrients.
It has two parts. First is a planning phase where you prepare to get the nutrient in question. For example to develop more intimate relationships you need to figure out how to find others who have the same need. This initial step can be onerous and take discipline to complete.
I discovered that this first step often blocks all progress. Folks often failed to do the planning and never obtained the nutrient.
The solution was to break the planning stage into a series of small steps that we would occur over several days. A structured practice was necessary for that, and it could be added to normal daily joyshifts. So I created a special five minute set, the planning set, to lay the groundwork for the second part of the macro-joyshift, the action phase.
Planning sets are now a regular part of the Joyshift program. I can do weeks of five minute planning sets before I am ready to go out into the world and get the challenging nutrient.
For example, dozens of five minute planning sets laid the groundwork for my macro-joyshift in finding men who want to join an emotionally supportive men’s group. Once that planning was complete, I began the action phase of the macro-joyshift, and gathered men together and started the group.
Multiple daily joyshifts
When you are an advanced joyshifter and do several sets in a day, you can use the planning set not just to organize macro-joyshifts as I’ve just discussed, but also your multiple joyshifts that day, for example planning which set is best done first and which later, according to that day’s specific events.
Here is a quick summary of the three types of nutrients and their corresponding joyshifts:
1. Simple nutrients: micro-joyshifts of one minute or less
2. Easy nutrients: joyshift sets of five minutes
3. Complex nutrients: macro-joyshifts. The planning phase occurs in daily five minute planning sets which are followed by the action phase of actually getting the nutrient.
Once you have done a specific joyshift for weeks or months you will usually find that the behavior in question, such as walking lots or relating more intimately with people, no longer needs the structure of a practice to ensure it is part of your life. It has become what I call a primal asset, a nutrient that is now fully integrated into the run of your day or week.
So the joyshift that you needed to deliver that nutrient can be dropped. But there are probably other nutrients that you need and so you can start a new joyshift to get them.
For a detailed description of the Joyshift program, check out the book Joyshift: the journey to primal happiness.
The Joyshift Blog
My blog will acquaint you with the core concepts behind Joyshift and show you how to start your own practice step by step. I will also describe my own and other’s experiences with both a regular Joyshift practice and the lifestyle it engenders. You will learn how our practice has positively transformed our lives and how it might do the same for you.
Each blog post deals with one or more of five different subjects, and the blog page shows the links to each:
1) For newbies: how to start to joyshift
2) Practice tips: techniques to enrich your joyshifts
3) Primal nutrients: what they are, why our genes like them, modern varieties of them
4) Happiness traps: the many common behaviors that depress rather than uplift us
5) Civics: how the primal pursuit of happiness positively impacts our world.