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Joyshift - the primal happiness practice

A joyshift is a planned event that provides experiences that our genes evolved to like. The event can be a daily joyshift session where you string together many such experiences over the course of 20-60 minutes, or a less regular micro joyshift which can take just minutes, or occasional macro joyshift that can last days.

The planning of these events is important because without it the experiences are unlikely to happen, given that our existing daily habits fail to include them.

Before you start such an event you need to be familiar with the range of primal experiences we evolved to deeply enjoy. That allows you to make a list of which ones are missing from your life. Once you identify them, the focus of your first joyshift will be the primal experience you most fancy. I recommend you start small with a regular micro-joyshift and build from there. In time you may want to do lengthier joyshift sessions or macro joyshifts.

For example, let’s say that you realize there your life is too sedentary, and that you lack the primal experience of regular motion. Such mobility is essential not only for physical fitness, but also emotional wellness. (Researchers have discovered that depression is almost completely unknown in nomadic tribes and a key reason is their constant movement.) A micro joyshift of just a few minutes a day can start you on a path that will bring much more physical motion into your life.

A great way to do that is to set a timer that buzzes every 30 minutes; when you hear it you stand up and do a stretch, or a push-up, or climb the stairs and return. Over the course of a day you can do a dozen or more of these micro movements, and you can lengthen them as your time allows. This repetition will help imprint a new impulse to move and to get the wonderful upper of motion. In time this may inspire you to add a macro joyshift that involves daily walks, bike rides, yoga sessions, workouts and more. You may even want to join me on one of my neo-nomad trips!

Starting any type of joyshift can be fun just because it’s new – such novelty is itself a primal experience. The challenge is to stick with it. After a few days the upper can subside a bit and your non-primal habits drag you back. To make a lasting change usually requires some form of structure to reinforce your commitment. For example, research shows that if you take just a few moments to write down some details of your proposed joyshift, you will be much more likely to do it. Similarly, if you set up regularly visual or auditory reminds – like the alarm every 30 minutes to prompt you to leave your seat – your chances of success zoom higher. I discuss habit-change techniques here.

An exercise you can do before you are ready to start your first joyshift and which will help you identify experiences that naturally attract you, is to record you daily highs and lows for a week or more. Do this just before you go to bed a night. You will start to see that similar types of experiences produce a high or low; if you compared notes with other people you would see the same uppers or downers on their lists too.

For example you will notice that the more your social connections are warm and intimate, the more you like them. Cold contacts will turn you off. Similarly, you will notice that contact with nature is a major upper, as when you watch a sunset, walk along a beach or through a forest. You may also notice how a cluttered home turns you off, and how good you feel just by tiding up.

That these experiences will show up again and again on lists of likes is no accident. We evolved to enjoy them, for reasons I discuss in later posts. This introspective exercise will develop your innate primal compass, connecting you to your deepest genetic preferences which then can help guide your way in life. Research indicates that the happiest people tend to know exactly what experiences deliver high levels of joy. Their primal compass is highly refined.[1]

Most folks have little experience with tuning into their feelings. Our culture promotes external outcomes like wealth, fame, and power, rather than inner insight. So most people have a cloudy primal compass and hence miss out on some of the best experiences in life. But you can learn to develop your primal intelligence by regularly and deliberately focusing on what you are feeling. Indeed several joyshifts are designed for exactly that. So it turns out there are two very different techniques for identifying the experiences that lift or depress our primal heart. One is via our head, learning about our nomadic ancestors where our genes evolved, and the modern science that reveals what people everywhere really like or dislike. The other is just tuning into our feelings as we do in this bedtime exercise. Both lead us to our hearts’ deepest desires.

References: [1] Human Happiness - Its Nature & Its Attainment, Volume II: The Attainment Of Happiness, Chapter 17, Valhap: the Secret Fundamental,


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