The Recipe for Happiness

Lumia Coaching co-founders John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux discuss well-being theory, pleasure and self-realization -- and the science behind happiness.

The Everything Life Coaching Podcast, featuring Lumia Coaching founders John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux, is a deep dive into the experience and business of being a life coach. Subscribe to get new episodes weekly!

The Science of Happiness

In this episode, Lumia co-founders John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux discuss the scientific recipe for real happiness, the sublime, how success and meaning are personalized, what scientifically happens in your body when you find your flow, and PERMA (what the heck is that? Let's find out!).

Episode Transcript

John: Hey guys. Welcome to the Catalyst Life Coaching Podcast. This is John Kim, and I have —

Noelle: Noelle Cordeaux.

John: What are we talking about today Noelle?

Noelle: Today, our topic is well-being theory and it’s broken down into two sides — pleasure and self-realization.

John: What is this podcast about?

Noelle: Overall?

John: Yes.

Noelle: Well, the Catalyst Life Coaching Podcast is really about the science behind life coaching. And whether you’re a life coach or you’re a student of life coaching or whether you just want to change your life, these are the techniques and tenets that will help you do it. One step at a time.

John: So if you’re interested in that, subscribe to this podcast. This is already Episode 4. We are knocking these out. We have a lot to say.

Noelle: Always.

John: Alright, let’s do some housekeeping just real quick before we begin. One, I want to thank everyone who participated in my little book contest. I announced winners yesterday and super excited about doing sessions with the people who won. And also the person that won a seat in our Catalyst course, we are super excited for your journey and helping you help other people.

Noelle: Yeah. We should probably mention that we’re both life coaches.

John: Oh yeah, that may help. For people who don’t know us.

Noelle: John is a life coach based in Los Angeles, California. And I based in Philadelphia, and I see clients all over the world. But I go back and forth between Philly and LA.

John: So I have a clinical background but I’ve been doing therapy and life coaching for about almost a decade.

Noelle: Yeah. It’s crazy how time flies. I have a clinical background as well, but I choose not to practice as a clinician. I choose to practice as a coach because that’s how I started out. I [inaudible] on to positive psychology early on in my career and just felt that this stuff was life changing in a way that therapeutic tenets didn’t do it for me.

John: Also, if you listen to this podcast by closing your eyes and focusing on Noelle’s voice, imagine Drew Barrymore because that’s who she sounds like.

Noelle: I knew what was coming, John. I knew it.

John: I had that revelation the other day when we’re just talking. Instead of seeing you, I’m just talking to you on Skype and I was like, “Who does she sound like? She sounds like Drew Barrymore.” Listen, that’s a compliment. I think she’s adorable and I love the way she talks.

Noelle: Gee man, if I can bring back your 90s fantasy to life through these podcasts, I have fulfilled my role on this earth.

John: Dude, Oxytocin in my brain right now. Alright, so let’s get to the topic.

Noelle: Yeah. So when we talk about life coaching, when we talk about happiness, when we talk about what people are actually striving for. Why are we doing — Why do we care? What’s the point? The point is well-being is being well. Well-being, being well. It’s a really complex concept but if we’re breaking it down, what we’re really talking about is optimal experience and optimal functioning. What does that mean to you John?

John: The word optimal, to me, I don’t know why it feels like performance based. But I don’t think that’s what you mean.

Noelle: You know, it is performance based.

John: Okay.

Noelle: It is performance based. And that’s a great point — it’s like we don’t think about performance based initiatives for our everyday life.

John: Hmm. Interesting.

Noelle: It’s just this concept of not settling.

John: Right.

Noelle: And saying, “I want the best slice of the pie. I want to experience all of the feelings, and I want them to be good ones.”

John: So performance isn’t also just about numbers or moving the ball forward. I think performance is also the quality of the experience.

Noelle: Exactly. You want to be thinking of — like there’s this beautiful concept from 18th century poetry called The Sublime. The Sublime is this transcendent quality of life that you get when you’re walking through a beautiful garden or you’re noticing a beautiful blue sky and you’re completely content in your environment. That’s really what we’re talking about here is getting to a level where you experience the sublime as your daily existence.

John: So what does that look like in everyday life? And I know that you may be annoyed because I keep asking that question but I ask that because it’s so important when we talk about theories and concepts and all these things that sometimes can be abstract. I think the other half of the coin is, what does that look like in our life?

Noelle: Yeah. How do we break it down?

John: Right. How do we execute?

Noelle: It’s pretty straightforward. This is coming from the work of Martin Seligman who’s out of Penn in Philly [inaudible] four blocks from where I live. His well-being theory focuses on two areas, which is hedonic which focuses on pleasure — the attainment of pleasure the avoidance of pain — and then the other piece is meaning and self realization, which really defines the degree to which a person is functioning at their peak level from a physical, mental, and emotional perspective.

John: You know what’s interesting is I think most people have no problem with the pleasure piece. I think we’re lacking in the meaning piece.

Noelle: Yeah. So I have a recipe.

John: Nice.

Noelle: I do. I’ve been studying this stuff forever. I got really excited when I came across the hedonic piece, actually. Because we hear so much in our culture about being achievement-oriented.

John: Right.

Noelle: You need to have the best car, you need to have the best career, you need to have the best body.

John: Yeah.

Noelle: That falls squarely in the achievement piece but the hedonic piece to me is like pure f*****g pleasure. People have no problem doing it but it’s like this dirty f*****g secret. Nobody actually has permission.

John: ‘Cause we feel guilty.

Noelle: Right.

John: We feel guilty. If we allow ourselves to do something or eat something or whatever to have pleasure then we feel bad about it.

Noelle: And it’s so wrapped in this overarching ancient concept of sin. [We come from a puritan steep society.?] My recipe for the self, looking at all of this stuff, is that you need one-third contentment which is just really simple stuff. Contentment would be, “Wow, I’m really wearing a comfortable t-shirt right now. And this hot cup of coffee is just delightful. And I’m sitting in this sun-filled room.” That’s contentment. Hedonic is pleasure — pure, unadulterated pleasure. And you need one-third of that. And then the third thing is achievement, which is pushing your brain and your body to its fullest capacity. And if you think about it, if you’re doing two out of the three, if you’re focusing on contentment and hedonic, you’re screwed ‘cause you’re not doing anything with achievement. If you’re focusing on achievement and hedonic, you’re exhausted. And if you’re focusing on just contentment and achievement, and you’re not really having any fun, you’re just kind of sitting at home.

John: When you say hedonic, are you referring to sexual?

Noelle: It can be.

John: It can be, okay.

Noelle: Sexuality is so complex in it of itself. It exists on a billion continuums. Some people are asexual and they experience their sexuality very differently than people who might be heterosexual, polysexual, bisexual, whatever. Let’s do a whole different podcast on that s**t.

John: Right.

Noelle: Totally. But where were you’re going with that when you were asking about sexual?

John: Just that word for me. I don’t know why the word that lights up, the word that triggers is sex and sexuality and all that. I think maybe that’s just because of society.

Noelle: Yeah.

John: But it’s under the umbrella of pleasure, it doesn’t have to be obviously sex. It’s anything that brings you pleasure.

Noelle: Yeah. It can be food. I like to say sex, drugs, and rock and roll. But that’s me. It can also be whatever you just really enjoy doing. The thing that people describe as guilty pleasures, we just need to remove the word ‘guilty’ and call them f*****g pleasures. They’re an important goddamn part of life and we shouldn’t feel guilty about them.

John: Yours is sex, drugs, and rock and roll. I’m trying to think mine would be sex, food, and K-pop? No, not K-pop. I like this idea ‘cause it goes back to this word ‘balance’. Things don’t always have to be about achievements or the corner office or running towards the [inaudible] or whatever success looks like to you. There are other things that you need in this life recipe for well-being.

Noelle: Absolutely. I think something you just said there was so important about achievement. You said “what success looks like to you.” Because all people cannot [be? beat?] all things. It is physically impossible to do all of the things. So whether we’re talking about peak performance as an athlete or peak performance as a professional, there are very few people in this world who can do both. You have to be aware of your energy levels in all of these things and be aware when you need them. So with contentment, you have to listen to your body and understand when you’re getting tired and use this contentment piece to recharge. Same thing with hedonic, you have to listen to your body and know when it’s time for you to have fun.

John: Yeah. And now we’re talking about self care, right?

Noelle: Yeah. 100%. And it even goes the same way with achievement. You have to listen to your body and know when it’s time and that you will be okay if you’re experiencing discomfort when it’s time to knuckle down and get s**t done.

John: I love it. This is a really important conversation, a really important dialogue.

Noelle: Yeah, it is. It is an important dialogue. And I think — for looking across all three spectrums, contentment and hedonic deal with feeling good. Right? Achievement typically has to do with not feeling good.

John: Well, yes. Most people do their work as something they don’t love. They dread, and it’s a grind. Unless your work is something that doesn’t feel like work and you genuinely love it.

Noelle: I think work is work is work is work. I mean think about from an athletic perspective — if you’re achievement orientation is a certain level of physical fitness, that’s f*****g hard. Tell me you’re not having fun when you’re doing burpees.

John: Well it depends. I think it can be fun. But yeah, at the end of the day it’s work. You gotta put in the volume of — if we’re talking about fitness, the training, everything goes with that.

Noelle: Are you serious? You have fun doing burpees?

John: I have so much fun doing burpees, butterfly pull-ups. I have fun [inaudible] for a time. But that comes from the 10 year old John Kim that used to spend hours breakdancing and skateboarding. I’m all about not life balance but physical balance. My life is lopsided, but I enjoy adrenaline and physical activity and stuff like that. So when it comes to CrossFit — and that’s why I think I fell in love with it — all that acrobatic, gymnastics, being upside down, [pogoing?], box jump, all that stuff I’m okay at. I have fun doing it, I lose track of time. For a lot of people, it’s the complete opposite.

Noelle: That’s cool. So what you just described is the state of flow.

John: Yeah, absolutely. I hit flow all the time in my fitness.

Noelle: That’s awesome. And so when you’re doing that, you know that you’ve arrived at this combination of meaning and achievement, for you personally. I want to give another theory here, that we can lay over the top of this. And it’s Martin Seligman’s most recent iteration on what it means to achieve well-being. I think this is most progressive too. It’s called PERMA, and it’s another recipe. The P stands for Positive Emotion, the E stands for Engagement, the R stands for Relationships, the M is Meaning, and the A is Achievement. So the concept is that if you put the time into cultivating positive emotion, positive forms of engagement — where you’re getting out there in the world and doing s**t — positive relationships, figuring out what meaning with a capital M is to you. Meaning is, I think, the trickiest concept and I love that, as a company, this is what SHFT focuses on because it really means attaching to something larger that yourself. And then achievement is using your brain and your body to [inaudible] to what you are able to.

John: Wow, I love that. It’s so easy to remember, and I love how simple it is.

Noelle: It’s totally simple, and it’s totally doable too. I think that’s the best part about all of this stuff is that when you are looking at yourself from a whole life perspective, you can break it down. It’s like anything else — you’re baking a cake, “I need a little bit more positive emotions in here.” some engagement, “Let’s get some positive relationships going.” And then asking yourself the hard questions of what do you want to do with your time on this earth and what will you actually be satisfied with at your time of death. Well, hopefully then, fuel your achievement piece.

John: Yeah. I think a lot of times, we forget about balance, we forget about these types of recipes and we’re just running toward [loving? love and?] money, basically.

Noelle: Yeah. That’s called the hedonic treadmill. Hedonism is one-third of what you need for a healthy human life but it can also be dangerous if you focus on it exclusively. We know that once you achieve something in a hedonic capacity — say, you get a raise or you get a new house — it’s gonna take only four months before that whole feeling of “Wow this is great!” wears off, and you’re like, “Alright, I’m ready for the next hit.”

John: Right. It’s an addiction. It’s the dopamine.

Noelle: It is. And I think a lot of it has to do with visual cues of society. Think about billboards, think about commercials, think about —

John: Instagram.

Noelle: Yeah, Instagram. Everything. It’s like we’ve been set up to constantly view these images that are spinning of what we should have. But when we’re talking about my recipe of hedonic, it’s totally different. Because I’m talking about not having, but experiencing.

John: I love that. That really hits home — is the idea of pleasure being not in things, but experiences. And that’s something that is kind of new to me but something I’ve been really leaning into in the last few years. I used to come from — so my 20s and 30s, I was very hedonic in the sense of wanting things, wanting very shiny things. My definition of beauty and success and all that was very predictable and commercial. And then when I was stripped — after divorce, I was stripped with everything. I didn’t have anything. I didn’t have money, I didn’t have friends, I didn’t have a job. So it forced me to get pleasure at very simple things — like you were talking about the morning cup of coffee, the five minutes after you workout were just dopamine, a simple motorcycle ride, stuff like that. And it really kind of rewired me to enjoy experiences instead of things.

Noelle: Yeah. I had a dissimilar experience, but yeah, a similar experience at the same time where my early years I spent a lot of time running around outside, going to see a bajillion concerts, just really playing — letting myself be a kid. And I didn’t really pay attention to the whole achievement side of things. I found my meaning through relationships with others and having fun, but it was really kind of superficial. And then as I started to really grow up, not only was I like, “Oh s**t, I have to make some money here.” but number two, it was like, I realized how superficial I was in just looking at the surface stuff and not attaching to the larger world and what’s really going on globally and the earth, and paying attention to pain and suffering. I’m a really sensitive person, so it was hard for me to make that jump from being just like a kid that was like, “La la la, I just want to have fun.” to a conscious adult who says, “No. I’m here to f**k some s**t up and make this world a better place.”

John: That is interesting — that sentence, “I’m here to f**k some s**t up and make this world a better place.” It almost sounds like an oxymoron. But I know what you mean, because I know your heart.

Noelle: Thanks, John. You know my heart.

John: Yeah, exactly. Your intentions. I love it. Sometimes I think like we need to see our lives as equalizers. And you how on every equalizer — there’s treble, there’s base, there’s tone, there’s all these little dials. You have to adjust it to the frequency in your highest form — the best version of yourself.

Noelle: Yeah. And I think that that evolves over time. And the more that you adhere to these building blocks of positive emotion, of engagement, of positive relationships, of figuring out what the f**k meaning means to you, and then achieving it, you reach plateaus that you’d never thought you were capable of and then you keep going.

John: I love it.

Noelle: Yeah.

John: You know what I like about the format of our podcast, is the fact that we don’t have one. Because a lot of content has segments, etc, shows — which is fine, but I like the fact that you and I come up with a topic and we just splatter paint, and people will look at it and take away what they want to take away from. For some people maybe art, for some people it may not.

Noelle: I was gonna say that’s art in its purest form, right?

John: Absolutely. And I want to keep it that way because I trust, not only our intentions because our hearts are pointed in the same direction, but also I trust our — I’m 44 and you’re 22, and we’ve been on this planet for a long time and we’ve coached a lot of people, we’ve got some s**t to say. I also like that we don’t always agree on everything and that our perspectives are different.

Noelle: Oh, totally. And it’s ‘cause I have the different perspectives and i think — as we’re talking about all of this stuff, one of the outcomes that I have perceived, both of myself and others, is that when you consciously engage in positive emotions, positive relationships, meaning and achievement, blah blah blah blah blah, you calm the f**k down. Your nervous system calms down, and you’re able to hear different perspectives without a reaction.

John: Yeah, that’s huge. That’s huge because everyone — we’re all walking reactions.

Noelle: Oh yeah. 100%. And just getting to a point of noticing — like, “Oh, that’s an emotion right there. Woohoo! Look at that thing go.” and then just letting it fly off into the sunset.

John: Instead of going with it or allowing that emotion to take you down.

Noelle: Exactly. When you first — you coined the term “respond instead of react” a couple of years ago.

John: Yeah, that’s my whole thing. I think that’s what separates a child from adult, boy from a man, etc.

Noelle: And I remember at that time, I was going through some [inaudible] s**t and I was like, “Uh-oh, I’m reacting.”

John: Yeah.

Noelle: So how hard is it? Do you adhere to that? Or do you find yourself having to work at it?

John: It’s easier for me now. But also I think with age, you calm the f**k down naturally. I’m not as high strung or as [inaudible] as I used to be. I’m not always trying to prove something, I don’t have to be right. I think there’s more power in silence now. So if I feel myself getting heated or someone cuts me or whatever, and I kind of feel the old John Kim coming in, I zap that really fast. I put a speed bump there and I definitely try to observe, be curious, pull from like a place of wonder instead of judgment and reactions and how things should be, etc.

Noelle: That’s so important. It’s the curiosity piece. That is an ass saver across the board. I found it so useful especially recently with stressful days to reframe it from the perspective of “Gee, how cool is it that I get to do something this interesting in life.”

John: You’re absolutely right. It’s all about the questions that we ask ourselves and the way that we talk to ourselves. And I think that most people — they don’t see the glass as half full. They’re always chasing after what they think is lacking, comparing themselves to other people. And listen, when we compare ourselves, we never compare ourselves to the people that have less than us, we’re always comparing ourselves to people that have a lot more. So we always feel less than.

Noelle: What do you think would happen if we had no mirrors and no pictures of each other?

John: I think the world would be a better place.

Noelle: Yeah?

John: Yeah, absolutely. Of course. I think that whole — the billboard or advertising in society, all that stuff — I think that pulls on us more than anything else. That’s also part of capitalism, that’s why we buy things.

Noelle: You know, I think the thing that drives me the most nuts is that — like capitalism is fine and buying things are fine, and goods and services are just great and dandy — but at what point we got caught up with concepts of body, as part of the mix of what you f****n’ have to do in order to be considered xyz.

John: Yeah, and I think it starts early. I remember when I was 10, I had two posters on my wall. One was Bruce Lee — he has his shirt off and he’s shredded — and then the other one was Heather Tomas — she’s in a pink bikini coming out of a jacuzzi. From 10 on, those are the images that went into my subconscious and to me that is what I need to chase. Right?

Noelle: Yeah. We see this across the board in so many different experiences of culture where people are othered. If you don’t fit this certain mold then you have no chance of it. When I say f**k s**t up and make the world a better place, I guess what I’m talking about is breaking the molds.

John: You totally just saved yourself which is great. You pulled what I called an Indiana Jones grabbing his hat right before the door closes.

Noelle: There we go.

John: Or in this case, right before the podcast is over, Noelle saved her ass.

Noelle: Yeah.

John: Yeah. I get what you’re saying and I think it’s great.

Noelle: Awesome. So let’s just, before we close out, wrap this up from a coaching perspective for all of our awesome coaches. We have about a hundred coaches on staff at shift. So if any of our listeners ever wanna go through this stuff or just really have somebody to talk to, that’s what we do. We’re a company of coaches, by coaches, for coaches who are building a marketplace for everyday people to come get help. So if you’re a coach and you have a client that’s just really unhappy, which you’re gonna wanna do is take each of these areas — positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievements — discuss each one and then break it down in terms of small actionable steps to build a better future in that direction.

John: Yeah. It’s a great simple tool. If you wanna go deeper with it, just google it and use PERMA to help other people.

Noelle: Absolutely — a hundred percent. This was fun.

John: Alright guys, listen, subscribe to this podcast. Noelle and I will continue to create a dialogue and tell your friends about it. If you think it will help them, maybe it’s a little less-passive aggressive to say “hey you should listen to the podcast instead of telling them what to do with their life.”

Noelle: Don’t be passive-aggressive.

John: Alright guys, be well.

Noelle: Take care.

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