Want some grace and some snark and some spicy sermons in your inbox? Subscribe below!
This last Saturday I organized a “Pie-Sing” at my parent’s church. I’m not sure where the tradition of gathering to eat pie and sing hymns started but if I had to guess, I would say: The South. Just seems true.
Anyhow, singing old hymns a cappella in 4-part harmony is simply one of the great loves of my life, and I seldom have the opportunity (don’t get me started on how frustrating I find it that churches don’t prioritize congregational singing). So, rather than feel sorry for myself I put together this event and it was such joy.
I even flew my sister in for the day. In the car on the way home, we were so . . . happy.
“Best antidepressant ever”, I said to her, “and that shit is free.”
"The very best things are.” She replied.
Then my sister, who teaches writing at a large university, told me about the first time she saw the faces of her students on Zoom.
It was the Spring of 2020 and when she saw how anxious and exhausted those 19 year-olds looked, peering at her blankly through little squares on her laptop, she scraped her entire course and had them all research, explore and document just one thing: dopamine.
I wanted to share her syllabus with you:
My Big Sister’s Brilliant Research Class on Dopamine
1. Download Three apps:
Calm, Spotify, and All Trails. The free versions of all of these will be sufficient for the purposes of completing this class. Begin the “7 days of Calm” series in the Calm app today. This will take only ten minutes of your day, but you will need to dedicate ten minutes a day throughout this week, in order to complete the assignments that will be due next Monday.
After each session (do only one a day, and try to do it at the same time each day), write a sentence or two about the experience.
2. Read About:
3. Listen to:
The inestimable Bill Withers died recently. We will honor him with this journal entry. Before doing this exercise, rate the level of your overall feelings of well being (your affect/mood) on a scale of 1-10. Be completely honest about this number. Then listen carefully to his song “Lovely Day,” and then listen to it a second time, blasting it as loud as you can get away with in your house, dancing through the entire song, in as ridiculous of a way as you can. Hula hoop, if you’ve got one, kick box, if you’re into it, get down, get crazy, get silly. After this, rate your mood. Write a 250-word journal response about the experience. For a bonus 5 points, send me a video of your crazy. If enough of you ask, I might send you mine.
A dopamine-boosting playlist on spotify of the five best songs you could blast out of your speakers that are sure to boost your mood. Send it to me for a bonus five points.
A journal. Write out, in detail, ten things that happened the day before or that you experienced for which you are grateful. It is best not to list the obvious things only (home, food, family, safety, health) because, though we are thankful for these things, often we do not feel thankful for them. Instead, as in all writing, strive to be specific and precise. Instead of saying you are thankful for your home, you can say you are thankful for the angle of sun rays that come through your kitchen window and light up a patch on the floor. Instead of saying you are thankful for your mom, you can say you are thankful for her laugh that sounds like a hyena; instead of saying you are thankful for food, you can say you are thankful for the way a bite of chocolate slowly melts as you hold it in your mouth. The attention we give to the details of the big things in our lives causes us to feel gratitude for them rather than only to be grateful for them.
When Science Meets Mindfulness
Write a 100-word summary of this piece.
A 250-word journal entry about the experience of 7 days of using the Calm app. Did your experience of doing the sessions change throughout the week? What was your attitude toward doing these sessions?
How Gratitude Changes Your Brian
Write a 100-word summary of this material.
A 250- word journal entry assessing honestly your own experience with gratitude. Focus this journal entry of your typical habits with gratitude from your life before quarantine.
Write a 250-word journal entry describing the experience of focusing on gratitude for a week. Has anything shifted in your perception of the world? Of the quarantine? Of the virus? Of yourself? Your circumstances?
How Hiking Can Change Our Brains.
write a 100-word summary of this article.
A trail near you, then go on a hike. Rate your mood on a scale from one to ten before taking your hike. I will not give you a minimum distance you have to achieve. Each of us has his or her own fitness level, or comfort level, when it comes to such things. Walk your selected trail and record your hike on the alltrails app. After your hike, rate your mood.
Write a 250-word journal entry describing the experience. Include in this entry details you noticed along the way, anything you observed and thought about.
I believed her when she told me that one student wrote to say that this class saved his life.
Can you imagine being offered this knowledge and these tools when you were 19??
I have an older friend who really was there for me in the early years of House for All Sinners & Saints. During the stress and the excitement and the frustration and the joy and the heartbreak - all of it. We’d talk a few times a week and you know how we say that sometimes we get to see ourselves through someone else’s eyes? Well, after a time I began to hear myself through my friend’s ears, and it wasn’t pleasant. For most of my life up until that point, if you asked me how I was, I would just reference the last shitty thing that happened to me. But when I started to hear what I surely sounded like to my friend (discontent, resentful, agitated…), I began to change how I answered her, because there is more to me than the last shitty thing that happened. I don’t pretend when asked how I am now . . . I just think bigger and unless I am abjectly miserable I reach for something good. But it took some practice.
I am telling you this by way of saying that I do not naturally have a good mood, some of us have to work for that shit. Which is why I am deeply grateful to God for creating us with our own little intact neurochemical pharmacy between our ears. I am grateful that my mood can be improved through walking outside and listening to Bill Withers and dancing and sex and singing hymns and roller skating and eating warm croissants.
Hallelujah. Thine the glory. Revive us again.
In the subscriber chat I asked folks to help create our own dopamin playlist…and it’s a doozy now!
The Corners - brought to you by:
our sponsors,ads, algorithms that don’t give a shit about your wellbeing, YOUR FELLOW READERS. Join them:
Tell me, what has helped improve your mood???
I’m so intrigued with your sisters wisdom. I’ve struggled with chronic pain and depression most of my long life. In 2020, I was diagnosed with dementia. I have an analytical mind, so started to read all I could about the brain and the new research that has proven that we CAN change our brain. I also started walking, journaling (a long forgotten habit), and focusing on gratitude. Now, three years later, memory tests corroborate that I no longer have Dementia! I also have very little pain. With the help of a Palliative care Dr, I am off all opioids and stronger stuff. I’m celebrating feeling my body and what it can feel and do.
You know what helps improve (and stabilize) my mood the most? My psych meds. Sometimes my body doesn't respond well or fully to the dopamine hacks. My serotonin receptors need a boost. So, as faithfully as a monk at the daily office, I take those fucking pills morning and night. It's only with a doctor approved, pharmaceutical mood boost am I able to consistently (well, mostly) find joy in music, nature, breathing, etc...