What’s the spark and what’s the fuel?
Positive emotions—such as feelings of gratitude, love, and confidence—strengthen the immune system, protect the heart against loss and trauma, build relationships, increase resilience, and promote success. Based on studies that have already been done, if a drug company could patent a happiness pill, we would be seeing ads for it every night on TV.
Technically, emotions can be organized along two dimensions: intensity (how strong they are) and hedonic valence (how good they feel). Tranquility, for example, has low intensity but can feel really really good, a profound inner peace.
Low-intensity positive emotions are great. They are the bread and butter of everyday well-being. This said, high-intensity positive emotions have special benefits. They actually help lengthen the lifespan. They steady the mind and improve concentration by engaging steady and high levels of the neurotransmitter, dopamine, that stabilize the contents of working memory and block out distractions—perhaps a reason why “bliss” is recommended in Buddhist meditation training as a factor of non-ordinary states of consciousness and awakening altogether. And they can pull us out of the numbing, blahs, and meh-ness of ordinary routines, stresses, disappointments, and frustrations—sort of like that transition in the Wizard of Oz movie from black and white to color.
Intense positive emotions include delight, passion, rapture, thrill, triumph, head over heels in love, exuberance, elation, and rejoicing. In a word, joy.
Finding and protecting joy is worth doing at any time. And it’s especially important when you’re facing challenges at any scale, from worries about your child to alarm about your world (about the latter, see my recent post: Take Heart).
Joy is a reminder that you are not defeated in the sanctuary of your own mind. Sometimes joy comes with other feelings that actually add to it rather than diminishing it, such as a fierce joy, an exhausted joy, a grim joy, or a rebellious joy. Consider the joy in these lines from Dylan Thomas: “Time held me green and dying/Though I sang in my chains like the sea.”
No matter what is happening in the world around us, no matter what situation we’re stuck in, no matter how anguished we are for others, no matter how hopeless it seems and helpless we feel—we can always turn to joy, claim it, and welcome it. A kind of triumph, a lighting of at least a single candle no matter the gathering darkness.
Go to his article to find out how…
To read the full article, click Embrace Happiness.
On the website at Psychology Today