In a society that pursues happiness at all costs, how do we cultivate contentment? Niro Feliciano, psychotherapist and author of This Book Won’t Make You Happy, talks with Amy Julia Becker about the keys to finding true contentment.
Niro Feliciano is a psychotherapist, podcast host, national media commentator, and expert on anxiety, brain science, and spirituality. She holds a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University and is a columnist for Psychology Today. A first-generation Sri Lankan American, she lives with her family in Fairfield County, Connecticut.
On the Podcast:
- This Book Won’t Make You Happy by Niro Feliciano
- To Be Made Well by Amy Julia Becker
- Instagram picture of Niro’s daughter’s book cover edit
- Niro’s Psychology Today blog: The Good Enough Life
- Free Resource: 5 Ways to Break Up With Your Phone
- When the Body Says No by Dr. Gabor Maté
- The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk M.D
“If happiness is having everything you want, contentment is wanting everything you have.”
“If you understand the power these devices have over you, you realize you have to take some extreme steps.”
“When we choose these actions, the feelings will follow.”
“[Self-care is] caring for yourself as someone who you love and who you believe has value.”
“If we feel better about ourselves, we are going to be better for those people around us. We’re going to be able to love them more fully, we’re not going to offload our own frustration and pain onto the people who are closest to us.”
“Boundaries enable us to stay compassionate for the long haul…I include boundaries as part of self-compassion. It’s caring for yourself, but also setting up a lifestyle where you can continue to be compassionate to those people around you.”
“Let’s not limit God in how he’s healing, how he chooses to heal someone. God can use all things to heal.”
“If we can start doing these things before we get anxious, if we can start wiring these patterns in neurobiologically before we get to those crisis situations, our body already is prepared. Our mind is ready to receive it and respond.”
Season 5 of the Love Is Stronger Than Fear podcast connects to themes in my newest book, To Be Made Well…you can order here! Learn more about my writing and speaking at amyjuliabecker.com.
*A transcript of this episode will be available within one business day, as well as a video with closed captions on my YouTube Channel.
Note: This transcript is autogenerated using speech recognition software and does contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.
If happiness is having everything you want, contentment is wanting everything you have. And really it, it, it goes down to appreciation and we minimize the power in the small things, in the simple things. When we’re connected to people who we love when we’re taking a minute, not to be hurried and appreciate the things around us that are so available in nature.
Amy Julia (31s):
Hi friends, I’m Amy, Julia Becker. And this is love is stronger than fear. A podcast about pursuing hope and healing in the midst of personal pain and social division. I am here today with my good friend neuro Feliciano, and she has just today, April 5th, come out with a fantastic book. We’re going to talk all about that on the show. But before we get to that, I am going to read you Nero’s official biography. I’m afraid when you hear that, I’m talking to my friend, my friend of 32 years. You might think that I’m having her on the show as a favor, but I’m actually talking to her because she has so much knowledge and so much insight that is grounded in deep truth about our minds, our bodies and our spirits.
Amy Julia (1m 15s):
So here’s the bio of my friend, Niro Feliciano is a psychotherapist podcast, host national media, commentator and expert on anxiety, brain science and spirituality. She holds a master’s degree in social work from Columbia university and is a columnist for psychology today. Our first-generation Sri Lankan American. She lives with her family in Fairfield county, Connecticut. And I really love her. I think you will too. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did. Well, I am sitting here on zoom with my friend neuro Feliciano and neuro just want to start by saying welcome.
Niro (1m 58s):
Thank you. I’m happy to be
Amy Julia (2m 0s):
Here. Some listeners who’ve been around this podcast for a very long time. Might remember you from two years ago when we had a conversation, I think on the podcast, but it was a long time ago. So for people who don’t know you, I’ve done some, you know of your credentials in the intro that I already recorded. And I’ve talked about your accomplishments and you know who you are and what you are. But today we’re really here because I want to talk about your new book. And so your book, I think this podcast is going to be dropping on the same day that your book comes out into the world, which I kind of love and yeah, April 5th. So it is available for sale, wherever books are sold.
Amy Julia (2m 42s):
And here’s the name of your book? This book won’t make you happy. Eight keys to finding true contentment. So I thought we’d start there with the title, because I would love for you to talk about why this title, but also like what, what brought you to actually write this book?
Niro (2m 57s):
Sure. So Amy, Julia, I mean, I don’t know if you talked about the history of you and I on this podcast, but we have been friends now for how many years? Like, I mean, we’re third over
Amy Julia (3m 10s):
30, 32, maybe
Niro (3m 13s):
A long time. And you know, my mother, right. My south Asian mother really well. So, so when I finally told her, okay, the name of this book is this book won’t make you happy. She was like, then why would I buy it? That’s a really good question. Let’s hope other people don’t have the same reaction that you did
Amy Julia (3m 34s):
Well. And you actually, to that same point, you posted on Instagram the other day, a picture of your daughter who had like stuck on top of the word won’t will write like clearly she is taking after her grandmother. Like, no, no,
Niro (3m 48s):
It’s totally is. She has, that’s actually been quite funny. As people have been getting the book and reading it, they have said the same things they said, no, actually this book has made me happy. So the title was suggested to me by my publishing company, because really what I talk about in the book is the definition of happiness that we’ve been socialized to believe. And that is more acquisition than appreciation, whether it is through accolades or possessions or successes in our life, these markers of things that have defined our value, our worthiness, and how that tends to be what we consider we need in our life in order to be happy.
Niro (4m 36s):
And as we know that definition is causing people to feel more stressed and anxious and depressed as we’re constantly striving for these things, leaving us exhausted and unable to appreciate the things that actually really do bring true happiness or contentment as I define it in the book. So the title was appropriate and it was very witty of them to come up with. Although my gut reaction was similar to my mom. So it’s like, okay, I’m
Amy Julia (5m 2s):
Niro (5m 2s):
Therapist. And, but
Amy Julia (5m 6s):
Yeah, so, I mean, will you talk for a minute about it? You kind of have said this already, but like the difference between contentment and happiness or like even just defining contentment a little more specifically.
Niro (5m 17s):
Sure. So in the book, I kind of define it simplistic Lee, as if happiness is having everything you want. Contentment is wanting everything you have and really it, it, it goes down to appreciation and we minimize the power in the small things, in the simple things, when we’re connected to people who we love when we’re taking a minute, not to be hurried and appreciate the things around us that are so available in nature. And we were created to respond to nature. And that’s why, you know, you go to the ocean or you go to the grand canyon or even just looking at your spring, blossoms outside your window. And it evokes each response in us.
Niro (5m 57s):
Those things are simple, but they’re powerful. And they enable us to see the world differently if we take the time to notice, notice them. But I think that’s, that’s our biggest battle right now. And I think it’s a battle that the enemy is manipulating and using really strategically. We have lost our time and we’ve lost our focus one because of distraction, the constant distractions, the phones, social media, and that’s a whole other discussion. But in, in losing our focus, we’ve also lost our time. You know, we’re so busy doing whether it’s parenting or work or even posting or whatever it might be.
Niro (6m 40s):
We’ve lost our time in our focus. And that takes away from the practices that God has hardwired us for that bring us the satisfaction in the life that we have in the moment.
Amy Julia (6m 52s):
Yeah. I love just the you’re as you said, kind of simplistic, but I think it’s so powerful that definition of, instead of getting everything we want, wanting everything we have, like, I love that. And that sense of enoughness you write about like, feeling like this is enough, even if it’s not the shiny picture that I might have had in my mind at some point, or that I might see all over social media or glossy magazines or whatever. And that to me is something that sense of what does it mean to cultivate contentment rather than pursue happiness, which obviously is like written into the American way, right?
Amy Julia (7m 34s):
To be like
Niro (7m 35s):
Amy Julia (7m 36s):
Right, like suing happiness. And it’s
Niro (7m 41s):
Say enough, not to interrupt.
Amy Julia (7m 43s):
I want you to just keep talking.
Niro (7m 44s):
Airports are not supposed to interrupt people by,
Amy Julia (7m 46s):
So you don’t have to be a therapist. Now you’re an author at the moment. That’s what we’re talking about is
Niro (7m 51s):
I liked that. I liked that, that idea of enough. So the blog I write for psychology today is called the good enough life. And when people hear the words, good enough, they think complacency, right. It’s good enough for settling, but really when I chose that title, it, it was almost as two words as a statement that something is good and it is enough. It’s not about complacency. It’s about feeling satisfied. It’s about contentment. Yeah.
Amy Julia (8m 18s):
Yeah. Yeah. I love that. And I’m curious to how the pandemic and like the past two years, and I’d say probably one of those years being really central to when you were writing the book changed, what, how this book came out, like that sense of how did I, I remember early on in the book, you have a quote, normal wasn’t working for us. And especially as we all somewhat emerged from two years of disruption, there is a sense of, oh, I just want it to go back to normal. People kept saying that and it’s like, really? Are you sure? How well was that going? And do we really want to go back to that? So I’m curious for you personally, and then in the writing of the book, like what changed over the course of the pandemic and how you were seeing the world and, and these topics,
Niro (9m 8s):
You know, that’s a great question because normal was not working for us in terms of psychology and our rates of anxiety and depression. We were astronomic prior to the pandemic. At that point, if people were asking me referrals for therapists, most everybody I knew were full. And then we get to the pandemic and then that exacerbated everything. But in that pandemic, people started longing for the things that I think that other people have said we took for granted in our normal life. Now, things like going to soccer games, being able to gather with people at parties, the very things that we complained about prior to COVID, we not long for again, and during COVID, I found that people started to appreciate more, the things that brought contentment, you know, the things that they had at their disposal that they had access to that were not glamorous, but all of a sudden, when we’re prevented from doing them, we realized the value in them.
Niro (10m 10s):
So that happened during the pandemic. And actually when I was talking about the statistics in terms of world happiness in the book, we actually saw a little bump.
Amy Julia (10m 18s):
I was so surprised to see that that like 2020 was a happier year. And I was like, why is that possible?
Niro (10m 25s):
Right. According to some studies. And I think part of that is there was the absence of FOMO. We weren’t looking at people going on these glamorous vacations, getting dressed up for parties, the, the kind of glamorous life that we covet when we look at this on social media, the playing field was leveled. So I think that that reduced anxiety and it made everyone feel connected. Like we’re all in this together, no matter, no matter how much money you have, you can’t go on vacation now either, right? You, you can’t buy yourself opportunity when we’re dealing with global health crisis. So I mean yes, to resources and vaccines and, you know, for some people they bought ventilators and store them in their home.
Niro (11m 7s):
Right. So what, I’m not talking about that, but your, your everyday kind of privilege. So in that sense that alleviated some anxiety and jealousy and people felt happier, but also we were witnessing just these heroic, selfless acts of people during that time. And that served as an encouragement, lifting people’s spirits, restoring our faith in humanity during that time. So yeah, we did experience a bump in happiness during that pin’s emic, but now, you know, in terms of changing my perspective, I mean, these things go back to what we know what we’re comfortable with. So now we’re coming out of this pandemic, hopefully sort of, as I’m reading about this new variant, who knows, but I know, I know, but we’re resuming this crazy, hectic, busy pace life again.
Niro (11m 56s):
So some of the same problems that we had prior to the pandemic, we’re going to experience, again, I’ve already heard people complaining about their schedules and how they have to drive their kids everywhere. You were just dying for that two years ago, you know, when you couldn’t have it, but we forget. So I’m looking, we’re really intentional about these practices and thoughts and moments that we focus on. The things that really matter. We’re just going to get sucked into the same cycle again.
Amy Julia (12m 25s):
Well, and this is, I’m kind of jumping ahead, but I’m curious for you as the mom of four children with a husband is a doctor you’ve owned your own business. You’ve just written a book. Like you have a life that is going to be busy and like busy to the max, like pushed out, unless you’re incredibly intentional around some of the practices that you’ve talked about here in your book. And like, I’m just curious whether there are specific ways that you are kind of reentering the, what can be like the good full life, right? Like that each of your kids has activities and they’ve got friends and you’ve got friends and you’ve got things that you care about and clients and people, all these things, it’s not like they’re bad and yet it can so easily become too much.
Amy Julia (13m 11s):
Right? Like are, what are other things that you personally have learned in the course of writing this book and experiencing these past couple of years that you’re like, okay, these are the, you know, the ones that I’m really going to make sure are a part of our everyday life as a family.
Niro (13m 28s):
Yeah. And you know, it’s not consistent. It depends on the week. It depends on, you know, my speaking or, you know, do the kids have games. Do all of them have games this weekend? There are certain things that I certainly try and be cognizant of and make room in our schedule. If it’s not weekly, at least let me take a look at the month and see where we can put these things in having a few family dinners before COVID we never did never did it. The ed schedule as a surgeon and the kids practicing in sports till nine o’clock at night, literally. But what are the days that we can do that? And I have now like you a high schooler. So their social life is most important to them.
Niro (14m 10s):
And I’ve told her, look, we need one family night, a week. I can plan it around your schedule, but we need a night where we’re hanging out with each other. We’re either doing something or watching a movie or whatever it might be. So guarding that family time, you know, I had to ask myself the question, yes, I’m doing all these things, but what is most important to God in my life? And it’s, it’s number one, you know, my relationship with God, my relation with my husband, my relation, my kids, and then other people in my life who need me, that’s far more important than any news interview I do or article I write, you know, God can use those things, but those are places where I can not be replaced. Right? So God is tasked me with that gift and responsibility towards these people.
Niro (14m 53s):
So that’s reflective of where I make time for try and scheduling time with friends, for sure. Exercise that’s for my own mental health. Although that’s kind of gone by the wayside this 10 days before the launch sleep, I was never one to prioritize sleep. I was doing, doing, doing, and now I shut it off. I’m like, if, if I can’t sleep and rest my body, and I know the restorative processes that happen when we sleep, then I’ve taken on too much. Even if I can do those things, I shouldn’t right. It’s coming at too high. A cost to sleep is a big one. I’m trying to have some moments with my husband date nights.
Niro (15m 34s):
Like we’ve never been a weekly date night person, but it’s like, Hey, can we go out sometime this month? Those kinds of things have been important. And every single morning, my time with God, I need to hear his voice above all the other voices in my life. And, and if I, and especially, you know, as an author with something out in the world, there are a lot of voices and sometimes metrics numbers. They become voices too. So we, I have to center myself on what’s God saying to me today, what’s he telling me to do? How is he telling me to prioritize my day? And that’s, that’s a non-negotiable for me for my own spiritual mental health, but also just the blessing of it.
Amy Julia (16m 15s):
Yeah, me too. I mean, and that, I will say for anyone who’s listening, who, you know, we both are moms and I’ve got three kids and you’ve got four, but none of them are in the wake us up in the middle of the night and get us up before we’re, you know, like I feel like I went through a period of time as a mom where I had to kind of snatch at my time with God. And it would come like, as I was driving somewhere or, you know, just along the way. And then there came a point where when all of my kids were like sleeping through the night and I could say, oh, whether it was, it probably started out as 10 minutes and has grown to be a much longer period of time where it’s like every morning, I really can sit down and listen and pray and read the Bible and journal.
Amy Julia (16m 57s):
I mean, those are, I don’t think it has to look the same for every person, but there are seasons. And I’m really grateful to also be in a season where that is like a daily gift, daily gift
Niro (17m 10s):
Gift. Right. And, and I’m glad that you mentioned that because I have not been able to do this. Like I’m doing right now since I was single, you know, prior to grad school, prior to marriage kids. I mean, I had a kid who nursed every hour and a half at night, which was my phone. I was like, this child thinks it’s like open bar all night. So, you know, you get up and you’re talking to God in your sleep. Or like you said, when you’re driving and someone sent me this thing recently that I just thought was so good. I got to send it to you if you haven’t seen it. But it was talking about how in the Bible, like men would have to go to the mountain tops to hear from God. Why? Because they could do that.
Niro (17m 51s):
So God always came to the women, men, women at the well met them as they were doing their work, you know, as they were caring for their family.
Amy Julia (18m 0s):
That’s so interesting
Niro (18m 1s):
Us. I love that. And I think he still does. God knows when you’re busy, God knows when you’re busy. And that is worship. You’re honoring God by taking care of those places. Like I said, where you can’t be replaced.
Amy Julia (18m 12s):
Mm. I love that. You mentioned this a little bit ago and I wanted to just circle back around to I-phones social media. Like, I feel like this is a book that has a lot of practical advice and they’re both things that we need to be doing, like sleeping, for example, and not doing, or at least curtailing and social media and iPhones, I think are like a part of that curtailing. Right. And I just would love for you to talk about like some of the research around why are the use of our phone is both so addictive and also so destructive and like what we can do about that.
Niro (18m 52s):
It’s so interesting because as I was writing this book, my editor was like, there’s a lot on social media here. And I was like, because it is so powerful and it’s so accessible and younger and younger ages, you know, kids in elementary school on Tik TOK, even on Instagram and you’re opening up this whole world to them. So part of it is, you know, as humans, we’re wired to have these basic needs, belonging, love validation, right. Which kind of affirm the belonging and love and social media kind of gives us a very superficial way to gauge that. And, and in doing that, so say we post something, we see likes, we see comments that triggers our reward pathways neurobiologically.
Niro (19m 39s):
So we get this hit of dopamine. And one thing I talked about in the book is dopamine. Doesn’t stare. It’s not just the molecule of pleasure. It’s the molecule of novel pleasure. So something that’s new and something that brings us a reward. So when we go to social media, there is always a constant stream of new information. And that even works to say, okay, I got a notification for a comment. And then I got a notification for a new comment. That’s dopamine. If we’re taking something that’s pleasurable or enjoyable, like say one of my daughters like seeding chicken nuggets, this is probably not a good example. Cause she probably could eat chicken nuggets every single day and say, you take your favorite food image, Juliet.
Niro (20m 25s):
You will, you might, the first time you sit down to eat, it experienced some dopamine because it’s new and novel. You haven’t hadn’t in a while, but if you had it every single day, that dopamine would diminish. So you wouldn’t experience the same pleasure. And then the urge to go back for it, which is what dove mean does, which is why it’s called the molecule of more. But on social media, it’s always new. It’s always novel. So in order it in, in, in how it triggers our dopamine, it also kind of compels us to keep going back for it. That’s why dove mean also is the molecule of addiction. We see it with addictive behaviors.
Amy Julia (21m 5s):
What do you, what do you do about that? Like what, what do you mean? Because it’s struggled right here in our pockets and it’s hard to say, yeah, what do you do about that?
Niro (21m 16s):
Yeah. So, you know, our brain will always pick the path of least resistance. So if it’s easy and we can get a reward in the easiest way, we will go to it. So one, I actually have a guide on my website, neuro feliciano.com on a breakup with your phone. And this is what the process that I had to go through an M still going through, you know, we have to revisit this at different times, getting off your phone and apps that we go to is not a one and done process because there’s such an addictive mechanism that is manipulated by these sites. And also by advertisers who constantly expose you to things that you’re interested in because they’ve tracked what you’ve seen already.
Niro (21m 58s):
One, you have to be intentional about it for not intentional. It’s not going to happen. This has meant I’ve had to delete apps off my phone when I don’t want to go to them. Because like I said, your brain will go to the path of least resistance to, to get that reward that we need when it’s there. And when it’s easy, when we’re tired and we need to decompress, that’s an easy form of entertainment that we can go to. So if it’s not on your phone, that makes it easier. If you have to re-install it. And especially if you’re like me, you never know your password. It makes it a lot more difficult to get on. You can set time limits on your phone to alert you when you’ve reached that point.
Niro (22m 38s):
Now for some people they can easily override those limits. So if you’re one of those people like me, then you take it off your phone. You put your phone in places where it can’t be a distraction during times where you don’t want it. So meal times, I honestly think bedroom is a place where we don’t need our phones. You know, we can get alarm clocks or whatever it might be that is more healthy for us because if you understand the power of these devices have over you, you realize you really have to take some extreme steps at this point.
Amy Julia (23m 11s):
It really is. I mean, it’s so interesting to think about these like digital devices, but it is putting time and space limits on them that are pretty clear and probably in some measure of community, because I know you write about your family, basically being like mom, get off your phone and that you might’ve known that about yourself. And yet it’s not until your seven year old or whatever says it to you that you’re like, okay, I really have to do something. And then at least from my kids, they want to be on their phones or whatever device they have for as long as possible. But they do not want their siblings to be able to be. And so there’s a mutual reinforcement that can happen when, as a family it’s like, okay, no, like our phones all go to this place overnight.
Amy Julia (23m 55s):
So nobody has them in their bedrooms or our phones. All, you know, as you said, are not out at the dinner table or, you know, buzzing in your pocket, even at the dinner table. It’s making me think. Yeah, sorry, go ahead.
Niro (24m 8s):
No, I said, I think that’s great. And the other piece that keeps us on these apps as well is that need for connection. Connection is powerful. And for many people we do feel the sense of connection on social media with other people. And sometimes it’s very genuine, but they also have to think about how well do we know these people who were supposedly connecting with on social media? Is it coming at the expense of connecting with our real life relationships in front of us? So, so that was just the other piece that keeps us connected to these devices.
Amy Julia (24m 41s):
Well, and you also write about the power of comparison that is, you know, kind of can be tricky enough in real life and all the more so through social media in terms of, so like connection is the positive side of relationships, right? Like comparison is probably the negative side or like the can be destructive. And in both cases, when we are doing that through social media, if we’re trying to connect through social media, there’s like a superficial reality to it that can make it less meaningful. And if we’re comparing through social media, there’s a shyness that makes it less real and more destructive. So in either case it’s like, bring you’re connecting and you’re comparing into real life and it’ll actually be, it’ll be healthier than doing it all through the phone
Niro (25m 27s):
And more authentic.
Amy Julia (25m 30s):
So here’s, I’m thinking about the relationship as we talk about these kinds of digital devices and the, all the things that were, are, there’s a mind, body spirit aspect of your book, I guess, is what I’m getting at, where you’re doing a lot of research when it comes to the neurobiology of things. You obviously, in terms of your own clinical training and practice as essentially a talk therapist, right? Like people who come in and talk about their feelings, but then you also write a lot about just like what’s happening in our bodies when we carry stress around or on the flip side of that, when we practice things like breathing and can experience contentment.
Amy Julia (26m 13s):
So can you just talk a little bit about what you learned in writing this book about the relationship between mind, body, and spirit?
Niro (26m 20s):
Yeah. We’re such integrated beings. And I think you and I were talking about the fact that God created us to be our own sort of Trinity in terms of the mind, body and spirit reflective of the Trinity, the bigger Trinity and, and we’re more integrated than we think. And I think because we’ve been so conditioned in Western medicine that we look at, okay, problem diagnosis treatment, when really, and you write about this all over in your books. So beautifully, it goes far deeper than that. And there’s certainly examples in the books, in the book with the patients that I have about it. But I think one of the biggest things physically that I learned as I was writing this book, and I know that, you know this because you read the same book <inaudible> book.
Niro (27m 7s):
And I came across it as I was doing the research. And some of the research
Amy Julia (27m 11s):
Articles in the body says, no, is that the name of it?
Niro (27m 14s):
He says, stop,
Amy Julia (27m 15s):
Niro (27m 16s):
And just how he correlated certain psychosocial histories, people’s lived experience and influences to the development of certain chronic illnesses and significant illnesses, even cancer. And when I was doing the research on these eight practices that I talk about that supposedly bring us closer to contentment. All of them, all of them also correlated with physical health, getting better and longevity. And I was trying to think, okay, how, because when I talk about gratitude practices at the beginning with a client, they’re like, oh, that’s nice. I’m like, no people live longer. They live healthier.
Niro (27m 57s):
Why? And, and what I came across in that research is that when we’re stressed, the body produces cortisol and adrenaline. Those are two big stress hormones and the mechanism, which is in part that helps produce these hormones is called the HPA axis, the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis. So when cortisol gets too high, that axis gets shut down. Now the PR, which makes sense, cause we want to bring down the level of cortisol. We don’t want to keep making it. The problem with that is that access all access also regulates some very, very important immune functions in our body.
Niro (28m 39s):
So at the expense of the immune function, the body is trying to bring down the cortisol and stress because the body does not respond to chronic stress. Well, it wants to bring it down to level it off. So if you think of someone who’s been chronically stressed in their life and stress can be real, or it can be perceived. If we’re psychologically stressed, our body still responds to physical stressor, right? Producing that cortisol and adrenaline. When that access constantly gets shut down to bring our stress levels down, our immunity is impaired. And if it’s long-term, it can then develop into these longer-term more serious illnesses. That’s why these practices that bring down our level of stress that make us focus on what’s good.
Niro (29m 24s):
That make us feel more content are far more powerful physically. Then we give them credit for biological.
Amy Julia (29m 32s):
In other words, contentment is very much like you’re going to experience that emotionally. You may very much experience that spiritually and yet there’s also a very real physiological effect that comes from the, and I think the other thing that I just want to hone in on is the idea of practicing. I was so struck in your chapter on gratitude because you actually say gratitude might be the key of all the keys. And I would say, I tend to think of gratitude as something that happens to me like where I have a moment and I’m there’s, I feel it like a wave of gratitude and I give thanks. And it’s only in recent years that I’ve even been like, oh, like you can choose gratitude.
Amy Julia (30m 16s):
This is not simply something that is given to you, but it’s something you can actually practice.
Niro (30m 28s):
It is. I think, I don’t remember if I said it in the book or not, but I, I write about gratitude being a choice, not a feeling. I mean, it is a feeling we can feel having that feeling of gratitude. Right. But like you said, yeah, you can practice it. And the interesting thing is when we choose these actions, the feelings will follow. Right? So, and the interesting thing about write about gratitude is when we recall these experiences, whether they’re in the recent present or in the past with detail, our brain can actually not differentiate between something that happened in the past or is occurring in the present. When we recall them with detail, we still experience that flood of neurochemicals mood, elevating neurochemicals that we experienced at the time of the experience.
Niro (31m 17s):
And it was so funny. Even this morning, I had gone away for my husband’s 50th birthday and there were some friends who met us there and they’d been asking me to send pictures and always takes me like far longer to do things like that. And now it’s been several weeks and I sent all the pictures this morning and a few of them responded. I feel like I just relived that weekend. And it wasn’t just looking at the pictures, but it was experiencing the emotions that went along with thinking about those experiences. So gratitude is really powerful. And like you said, also we benefit from it physically. The research has said people who have gratitude practices, and it’s interesting whether it’s just recalling or actually writing them down.
Niro (31m 57s):
The more time you spend on that practice, the greater, the physical benefits last. So versus people who recalled it, people who wrote it down, experienced the benefits of gratitude, physical benefits, fewer sore throats, less headache, even better cardiac outcomes, four weeks longer. If they actually were keeping a journal versus just thinking of those three things a day.
Amy Julia (32m 22s):
I was when I was reading that chapter in your book again, because this is the second time I’ve gotten to read your book, but I was thinking about, so I just, for the first time in their lives ordered my children all personal stationary, like that has their names on it because I’m like, okay, enough, like you need to be able to write you notes to people with your name on it. I don’t know why I just got an impulsive and I did it, but I was just thinking, I was like, okay, once a week to tell each of my kids like pick someone to think it can be a teacher, it can be me or your dad. It can be someone in your extended family for a memory from a long time ago. But like, to your point, just that when we say a gratitude practice, you actually mean putting into practice the act of being grateful, and that can be in a journal.
Amy Julia (33m 8s):
So it’s not like you have to actually physically write a note for someone. But I was just thinking of like that five, take five minutes to write a note and say, aunt Jane, thank you for letting me come and garden, because I’ve really enjoyed being out in the sunshine with you, whatever it is like. Yeah. So I think I, I just really appreciated that chapter because again, that’s one of the places where I have tended to be thinking more like this is just an emotion and I can’t control it and it comes, or it goes as opposed to sure. There are times where I’m like overcome with gratitude, but there are, is also a cultivation and a practicing that I can do. And I think you do a great job with all of the eight keys in giving us like practices so that we can live those out.
Amy Julia (33m 53s):
But I wanted to talk about one other because we won’t have time to go through all eight. That’d be bullshit by the book to find out for themselves. But the alibi,
Niro (34m 1s):
Yeah. Sending gratitude to someone also has similar effects. So if you’re not a note writing person,
Amy Julia (34m 10s):
Niro (34m 10s):
In your day, that’s far more doable for a lot of people, but go ahead,
Amy Julia (34m 16s):
You don’t have to go buy stationary. Let’s be clear. I was just
Niro (34m 21s):
Amy Julia (34m 23s):
I was excited about it anyway. So my other question I wanted, the one I wanted to hone in on was self-compassion both in terms of what it is, why we need to practice it, but also like, how is that different from self-centeredness? Because I think a lot of people think that self-compassion is, self-centeredness like, I’m just being selfish in taking care of myself and denying, especially for women and moms. Like anyway. So can you talk about self-compassion in general and what it means to practice it, but also how it’s different from self-centeredness?
Niro (34m 55s):
Yeah, self-centeredness I, when I think of self-service, I think of putting your needs above everybody else at the expense of other people’s needs, you know, and, and we’re not talking about that. It’s, it’s more caring for yourself as someone who you love and who you believe has value. And that is reflected in how we think about ourselves, how we speak to ourselves that’s self-compassion and what self-compassion does. And there might be another distinction too, that we should talk about with self-centeredness. But with self-compassion does one, I talk about the stress, reducing benefits of self-compassion. And if we feel better about ourselves, we are going to be better for those people around us.
Niro (35m 35s):
We’re going to be able to love them more. We’re not going to offload our own frustration and pain onto the people who are closest to us, which, which we do. So when I hear moms say, you know, it’s really selfish to self care and take care of ourselves. One, what are we modeling for the kids in our family? Is it selfish for them one day to take care of themselves when they have families to get sleep or schedule time to do things that they enjoy and connect with friends note, that’s what makes them whole functional, thriving human beings. And then they’re going to be better at whatever role they take on. And we have to model that. I think I wrote the quote. It was Emerson where he said, what you do speak so loud. I can’t hear what you’re saying.
Niro (36m 16s):
I mean, as parents, we have to remember that what we’re modeling is, is really vital. But also I, when I think of self too, I think sometimes we focus on the wrong things when we’re talking about self-centeredness. And oftentimes it is, it is almost like a facade to affirm our own value, right? If we’re, if we’re focused on ourselves and the way I think about it self-centeredness is, I mean, Instagram is a great place to go. When we want to see people who are self-focused self promoting those kinds of things in terms of their needing their own validation in that. But when, when it comes to self compassion, it really is sitting with yourself in your own struggles and loving yourself.
Niro (37m 2s):
And I think for people who are Christians, if we just look at the way that Jesus loved people and how Jesus loves us, we can tap into a voice of self-compassion easier than those people who don’t know that love, because we know how, how, what God would say about us. We know how Jesus loves us. So it’s, it’s a little bit easier to access, I think, well, maybe not, maybe for some people there’s still that division, even knowing how
Amy Julia (37m 31s):
There’s in Christianity, there’s both like you’re right. That there’s that access. And yet I do think there’s a socialization, especially of women within Christianity too. Like there’s a camp where it’s like, God, first others, second me third. Like I remember kids who I used to know who had come home from this camp. And I was like, there’s something wrong with that. And I think the point is love God and love other people and be willing to give up something that you want in order for that to happen. And I think that’s a, that’s totally like a good message, but that sense of like me third, I never need to put myself in a position of like care or say I’ve got limits and needs.
Amy Julia (38m 13s):
And I can’t do that right now. I think that can become kind of destructive. But to your point when we can be gentle with ourselves and especially, I mean, we have this experience so often in being friends to other people where we would say, no, no, no, you do not need to do that right now, your child can wait or your spouse can wait or your whatever. And I think about this having to me this past week where I was just woke up one morning and was like annoyed at myself for various things. The day before I had snapped at penny, I had had a second glass of wine. I hadn’t gotten enough sleep because I was like doing something dumb. Like there were just all these things and I was just like annoyed at myself and feeling a little stressed out about the day ahead.
Amy Julia (38m 56s):
So I started praying about God’s love. Well, I guess I just, I didn’t, I started praying and what I was kind of led to was to be praying about God’s love. And then I happened to cross this Psalm it’s I think it’s 1 43 verse eight. And it says, let the morning bring word of your unfailing love. And it felt like that was what had happened like that for me. So often, if I’m just doing this by myself, the morning is either going to bring word of shame for what I’ve done before or anxiety for what I’m not sure I’ll be able to do it today. And that prayer, like, let the morning bring word of your unfailing love, and that’s exactly what God had done for me.
Amy Julia (39m 37s):
But that, that is something that I can even practice, right. That like unfailing love is if that word is brought to me, like, and if I continue to sit in that and live in that and start the day in that place, there’s a sense of, of course self-compassion would be a part of understanding. God’s compassion for me, understanding what it means to be compassionate to others that would certainly extend. And just, I mean, going back to this very central verse for Christians, right? Like that when Jesus says, love your neighbor, as you love yourself, like we have to know how to love yourself in order for you to know how to love your neighbor. And Jesus assumes that that is already true.
Amy Julia (40m 18s):
Niro (40m 19s):
Amy Julia (40m 19s):
Niro (40m 20s):
Oh, interesting. You know, when I was younger, I remember my mom telling me, you need to love God first before us. And I remember thinking like, no, why would I love at first, but over you? And then, you know, she explained to me that if you love God, first, he fills you with so much love that you have more to extend to other people than if you didn’t love him first. And I think of it similar to, you know, if we care for ourselves, we are going to have more to then be able to give out to those people who have been entrusted in our care, who are a part of our lives. And I think in doing that, it’s not selfish. It’s actually quite altruistic because other people do benefit from you loving yourself.
Niro (41m 5s):
If we’re in this place of negativity or frustration, we are not going to have the capacity to love fully those people around us. And one thing you mentioned in terms of women are setting those boundaries and knowing your limits. And, and I mean, there’s so much research on the fact that boundaries enable us to stay compassionate for the long haul. If not, we’re going to end up resentful. We can do that for so long, but we’re going to end up resentful. And that certainly is not loving and compassionate of those around you. So I include boundaries as part of self-compassion, it’s caring for yourself, but also setting up a lifestyle where you can continue to be compassionate to those people around you.
Amy Julia (41m 47s):
I love that because I think that is you’re right, that we might be able to, and there might be times where in a particular moment or a particular crisis, or again, in a season, even of being like a mother of young children who need to eat all night long, right. Or whatever, where there is a sense of like, I just am giving of myself almost beyond what I think is possible. But if over the long-term we’re doing that, it only breeds resentment, which is ultimately breeding division with ourselves. And with the people around us. I have one other question that I really wanted to ask you because of your background as a therapist, which is just like, so you have all of these different practices and they seem pretty, like, they’re not easy in the sense of like, oh no problem.
Amy Julia (42m 34s):
It’ll take you two seconds and your whole life will change, but they are in the sense of like, anyone can do this. Like anyone can say, thank you. If they’re a text, anyone can breathe in for four counts and breathe out for six or, you know, like all these different things that you give. And I love that practical wisdom aspect. And yet I wanted to ask you at the same time, what is the role of medication and what is the role of therapy in kind of handling anxiety, cultivating contentment, especially on the heels of this pandemic. But even before that, when we had a lot of people who are like in desperate need, like what role do you think medication and, or like clinical therapy can take in all of this?
Niro (43m 15s):
Yeah. I did quote, Glennon Doyle in the book. I don’t know if you remember when she says, Jesus loves me, this I know for, he gave me like some bro. Yeah. Which I, I believe in that, you know, and, and being from a family of practitioners, doctors who have been called into this work, we feel by God and anointed for this work, I believe that therapists, physicians, medication, God can use all of it to heal. I think one of the struggles I’ve had with different churches, being a Christian and also being in the social science field and initially science fields. Cause I went to medical school first. There was this feeling like if you have Jesus and you pray, then that’s enough.
Niro (43m 59s):
Right. And yeah, absolutely. We need to do those things, but let’s not limit God and how he’s healing, you know, how he chooses to heal someone. God can use all things to heal and the practices are great. I do have patients and I have for years who need medication to bring down their level of anxiety so they can begin to do the work in those practices and to have those practices take effect. And if you think about it, like I said, that fight or flight button, when you’ve been chronically stressed, your system is dysregulated. It’s dysregulated at the neurochemical level, there are things happening. If that button has been decompressed for so long and we need a reset and oftentimes the medication can be that reset.
Niro (44m 44s):
Also there are genetics along certain disorders, anxiety, depression, bipolar, those things. So for some people they’re fighting a bigger uphill battle than others where medication is needed. Now, what I, what I tell people is medication doesn’t have to be a lifetime for everyone. For some people, it might be many of these practices because our brain is neuroplastic and can change in response to what we feed it. And our environment, the medication can be enough to help you really get situated in these practices and have that carry you for the longer term. So it really depends on the individual, but I do think medication has an important role.
Niro (45m 25s):
I literally have seen people’s lives transformed in a matter of weeks from, you know, crying, staying in bed, not able to go into work situations or school situations to coming back on in a session and being like, I feel okay. And they don’t even know what to make of that because they didn’t think this was gonna happen. So I I’ve, I’ve seen God use all different types of things to bring healing to people. I think the important thing is that we’re asking God and we’re open and we’re open to wisdom of other people who trained in these fields because God will use them to, and they don’t have to be a Christian for God to use them, you know, bring them on your path and still work powerfully through them.
Amy Julia (46m 8s):
The, I agree and I’ve only become more convinced of that actually in working on my own book about healing is just that the all while there is this mind body spirit connection. And that to me at first implied. So all you need to work on is the emotional and spiritual piece and the body will come. And then I did enough reading, whether it was Gabor Mateus book or the body keeps the score by Bessel van der Kolk. And one of the things he says is essentially that like the medication is an interruption. What you were just calling it, a reset where it’s like instead of this ongoing pattern that your body has in the direction of what becomes self-destruction medication can interrupt that.
Amy Julia (46m 52s):
But if all you do is interrupt, it, it essentially stays stuck in this place. That’s not as bad as self destruction, but it’s not actually doing the healing work. And so the interruption allows that space to do that deeper, emotional, spiritual, ongoing healing, and th and also to be like, okay, pause and let some physiological healing happen because of whether it’s genetics or just because of these patterns that we’ve developed in our brains.
Niro (47m 19s):
Yeah. I li I love that analogy. That it’s an interruption because, you know, I, I, I’m a cognitive therapist, so I work a lot with thought distortions and the thoughts people have when they’re anxious. And if I’m telling you to examine your thoughts, but your level of anxiety is so high that, you know, you’re feeling your heart pound through your trust and you can’t breathe and you feel like you’re crawling out of your skin. You’re not going to be able to think, okay, what thought distortion am I having right now? You know? Right. You’re driving down the field.
Amy Julia (47m 47s):
I think there’s a lion on a Savannah about to attack you. I mean, that’s it
Niro (47m 52s):
Right out of your body, right? Because that’s a panic feels like, so there’s a place for all of it. There’s a place for all of it. And I think that there comes a point and it, and it can take a while where the practices can sustain you. But what I like to say to people is, you know, like our mothers still does announced of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So if we can start doing these things before we get it, we, if we can start wiring these patterns in neurobiologically before we get to those crisis situations, our body already is prepared. Our brain is ready to receive it and respond
Amy Julia (48m 29s):
Well, thank you, neuro, just for all of these things, I’m have already read in the introduction, just the eight practices or the eight keys, excuse me, because I wanted readers or listeners to know that that’s what they would get in your book, because I do think there’s just a lot of practical wisdom and you gave a little hint of this, but it’s also a pretty funny book in terms of just, you’ve got a lot of, yes, you’ve done the work both in terms of your research here and like the clinical practice aspect of things, but you’ve also been really relatable as a mom and just as like a human who’s living in the 21st century in America and trying to figure it all out. So thank you for this book and thank you for your time here today.
Niro (49m 11s):
Oh, thank you. And I have, I have to say thank you so much. And I hope you saw it at the end of the book. I mentioned I did. Yeah. That you, I mean, you’ve been so supportive in this journey navigate, and you were going through your own book and writing your own book and having your own deadlines, but you always made time for me. And I feel like there’s so many women who compete with each other and I we’ve been blessed to have this friendship. I’ve been blessed to have you in my life for so long. And you’re just such a beautiful example of how it’s so beautiful when women support other women rather than compete when we collaborate rather than compete. And you really, you walked me through this new, crazy world.
Niro (49m 52s):
And I’m so grateful for that.
Amy Julia (49m 53s):
Well, the feeling is mutual because that I have also felt tremendously supported by you for decades, but also very specifically in terms of this past book writing experience. So we can, we, we both are feeling grateful right now.
Niro (50m 10s):
Amy Julia (50m 11s):
It, love it too. Thanks. As always for listening to this episode of love is stronger than fear. You can follow up with neuro through links in the show notes, and I certainly certainly recommend this book will not make you happy. And please do follow up with me as well. I’d love to hear about podcast episodes that really resonate with you. And if you’ve ever got suggestions for guests, I’m always happy to hear those love for you to tell more people about this show who you think might be able to benefit from it. I will also give you a little preview next time. I will be talking with Andy crouch about his new book. So I am excited for another great conversation.
Amy Julia (50m 54s):
I kind of can’t believe that I get to do this week in and week out. I’m also incredibly grateful because I would not be able to do this without Jake Hansen who edits this podcast and Amber Berry, who is my social media coordinator and does everything on social media and keeps me organized and makes things look beautiful and is just a tremendously wonderful partner. I’m also thankful for you for being here for listening. And as you go into your day to day, I hope and pray that you will carry with you. The peace that comes from believing that love is stronger than fear.
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Learn more with Amy Julia:
- To Be Made Well: An Invitation to Wholeness, Healing, and Hope
- S3 E10 | Anxiety, Affluence, and Identity with Niro Feliciano
- What Energizes Me? Anxiety or Love?
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