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Have You Found the Secrets to Living a Life of Joy?

In last week’s blog I invited my readers to begin an exploration about some of the secrets of living a life of joy, starting with basic definitions. I think we all need to appreciate more about the core nature of joy. Again, I recommend that you notice your thoughts, feelings, sensations, images, beliefs and memories as you read this in order to enhance how you are taking in the information.

The Bible has some things to say about joy. Joy is considered one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:22, 23 says that: “The fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” This tells us that joy does not exist in isolation but rather is combined with these other fruits that speak to ways we should be relating to others as part of the recipe for experiencing joy.

There also are messages that tell us that just because we experience joy doesn’t mean we will not also experience sadness. In Psalm 30:5 in the Old Testament, we learn about God’s promise which is: “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

In The Book of Joy, Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “Discovering more joy does not, I’m sorry to say, save us from the inevitability of hardship or heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily, too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreak without being broken.” It is kind of like the image of the rainbow after the storm and that at the end of the rainbow there is treasure. If we are to understand joy, we need to see the bigger picture.

Joy involves thinking and processing our lives which can give us perspective. Joy evokes feelings that include happiness and also satisfaction, contentment, excitement and peace. I think it’s amazing how many feelings we can simultaneously experience. These thoughts and feelings lead us to many sensations including physically relaxing or experiencing an increase in energy, the sensation of feeling like our heart is expanding and there is a warmth that accompanies that.

In exploring the subject of joy, I wondered if there is any research to help us know if children experience joy differently than adults do. Helpful in understanding that, with a focus on emotion and emotion regulation, was this article written by Kristen Lindquist, Associate Professor, Psychology and Neuroscience, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

“Anyone who’s ever seen a toddler (or a teenager) have a meltdown over something trivial knows that kids experience some emotions much more strongly than adults. Questions about how emotions differ between kids and adults are both deeply interesting and difficult to address, scientifically. At least in pre-verbal babies, we can’t ask them directly what they’re feeling, and there are no bona fide measures that can say definitively that someone is experiencing one specific emotion versus another. More broadly, it is difficult to know empirically whether your feeling of fear is identical to my feeling of fear, so it’s hard to say to what extent an adult experience of fear is similar or different to a child’s.

Nonetheless, there’s scientific reason to believe that kids’ emotions are generally more intense than adults’. For one, kids have less experience with the world, and novelty can intensify emotional experiences. Recall the pleasure you felt the first time you tried a delicious new food versus the 100th time you ate it. Kids’ brains prioritize novelty, since it helps them learn about the world, so they are even more likely than adults to seek out new things they haven’t encountered before. This means more opportunities for high emotional highs and low emotional lows.

Kids also experience emotions more intensely than adults because they are less able to regulate their emotions. Adults have the power of a hard-earned emotion vocabulary that helps them know what they’re feeling across different contexts and what to do about those feelings.” I think we can deduce from this that kids’ experience of joy can be very intense.

I also imagine that our innate temperament influences how strongly we feel joy.  Some of us are slow to warm, some of us are not as effusive as others, some tend to be skeptical, and some are processors who want to mentally assess something thoroughly.

I think the more we explore joy, the more we discover there are many dimensions to the subject, much to consider and learn.

Invitation for Reflection

  1. What did you notice about your thoughts, feelings, sensations, images, beliefs and memories as you read this? How can you use any of these to enhance your understanding of the nature of joy?
  2. What images come to mind when you imagine joy? Think about some of your own memories when your heart was filled with joy. Maybe it happened at a celebration like a birthday or a birth.
  3. Have you seen differences in how people in your life seem to experience joy?  How do you think these differences impact their lives?

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