Joy is an inside job. The experience of joy occurs in your central nervous system (brain) and is not dependent on an external phenomena. The experiences we call pleasure, ecstasy, and joy correlate to activity in very specific areas of your brain when measured by PET scan. There is neurophysiology and neurochemistry that underly your neurological processes and, ultimately, our experiences of pleasure, ecstasy, and joy.
Although joy can range from an intense and all-encompassing experience to a subtle and constant presence, it is characteristically a state that can be reproduced predictably. Joy is an experience that tends to be more stable than pleasure or ecstasy. My opinion is that joy is a natural outcome of high functioning and integration of your body, mind, and spirit/psyche. And, essential to the experience is the health and robustness of the physical organism in which the state is experienced.
Your Health as Foundation for Joy
“…one’s body should be trained for the sake of one’s soul and one’s appetites harnessed for the sake of reason.” ~Aristotle
Aristotle understood that the body is the seat of the mind and the soul (spirit/psyche). He urged physical training, diet, and general care of the body as the basis for pursuits of the mind and spirit to be successful. And, ultimately, the level of function of each part of our body, either optimizes or limits our experience because every sensory nerve ending, whether of sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell, brings information to the nervous system that allows us connection to the world around us and even our experience of reality.
If our physical body functions well, our experience of reality expands and becomes more rich and nuanced and our senses, awareness, and even consciousness expand. If the physical processes of our brain are efficient, if the neurons, their receptor, and the neurotransmitter chemicals function well, then our experience of our internal and external realities are accurate and complete.
Because of the importance of our physical body to our awareness, consciousness, and experience, taking care of our health is more than a material exercise. It is the fertile soil for in which each of our unique and innate natures to take root and thrive.
Types of Joy
Joy def. a feeling of great pleasure and happiness
orig. from Old French joie, based on Latin gaudium, from gaudere ‘rejoice.’
In my opinion, there are three types or classes of the experience we call joy:
“My vital force was increased so greatly… that all my body cells rejoiced with my new energy power!” ~Paul Bragg
Paul Bragg here describes the kind of joy that comes about from a physical body that has full and natural function. When all of the someone’s organs and processes work together completely and harmoniously, they naturally experience a profound sense of energy and wellbeing. I have seen this over and over again as my patients adopted a lifestyle that supports rather than undermines their health. As they eat better, exercise, sleep well, and create a lifestyle that nurtures their health, they feel well-being, delight, and joy emanates from their physical being.
This is the state that causes you to smile merely because you feel so well.
“You just are and it is a sheer delight…because existence is made from the stuff called joy.” ~Osho
This is the kind of joy that derives from undisturbed and focused awareness/consciousness. When the mind is present and focused a natural and innate sense of excited and passionate perception is typically present. Study that expands our experience and understanding of the world and people tends to create this kind of joy. The practices of meditation, contemplation, and prayer tend to help you experience this state.
“In your light I learn how to love.
In your beauty, how to make poems.
You dance inside my chest,
where no one sees you.”
Observation has led me to believe that when people are physically well, open-minded and aware, and have a daily religious and/or philosophical practices they experience a subtle and stable sense of joy that is unrelated to what is going on around them.
Spiritual joy is different than physical joy. It is an amorphous state that seems to come from everywhere and nowhere. It is pleasurable, but not a pleasure that comes from the senses or from thought. It just is.
Living your life consciously, clear about your talents and values, able to express your talents and values through your works is vital.
This kind of joy can be a marker of a spiritual practice that is in accord with your innate nature/ values. It seems to be a natural expression of living your life in a way that is congruent with your values and beliefs.
Is There A Process For Creating Joy?
I believe so. I have been exploring and practicing this idea since my teens. This has been extended to being a physician for over 30 years and working with patients to restore their health including their emotional well being. And, what could be a measure of emotional well being more than the experience of consistent and genuine joy?
What follows is the process for creating joy as best I can tell from what I’ve observed working with this idea myself and with others.
Optimize Your Health
You have to take care of yourself to have a foundation for joy. It doesn’t mean you can’t experience joy without health, but it will make it easier for you to be successful. Eat real food, don’t eat too much, don’t drink things made from chemicals, be physical every day, sleep enough and well, be moderate about your habits, be aware of your senses and be OK with enjoying them, breath.
Nourish Your Mind
Read, watch TV and movies that stimulate your mind and make you wonder, learn new things, don’t be afraid to actually study something new and different, take your knowledge of something you already know deeper, learn a language, learn to dance, learn to juggle…
Wonder, explore, be willing to accept new facts about how the world works and adjust your understanding accordingly, ask yourself “How does that work and why is that?”
It is so easy to be unconscious! Most of us are mostly unconscious most of the time! I constantly have to check in to see if I am being conscious or not. It still floors me how often throughout the day I am being unconscious. The way to tell is to consistently check your awareness.
Determine Your Values
What is important to you? Really important? What do you value?
Usually it’s not what you first think – delve deeply. We have a tendency to think that we value possessions – that’s usually not actually the case. Most often it isn’t the thing we want, but what the thing represents. For instance, it’s common for us to want a newer or “better” car. What is it about the car that we actually want? Is it the status (feeling respected), safety and reliability (feeling safe), luggage space (desire for adventure, travel), or gas mileage (feeling more financially secure through thrift, or lower emissions (feel responsible)?
Values relate to feelings – things like love, safety, security, respect, adventure, excitement, learning, serving, nurturing, mentoring, sharing, connection, intimacy, joy, wonder, awe, peace, sensual experience, etc.
What do you want most? Distill it down to a few things – 4? 5?. These are your core values. Write them down. Put them in order of importance. Then write down the criteria – the measure for each of these things being fulfilled (validation rule) for each of your values.
For instance, for the value of security – “I live in a home (apartment/house) in a safe neighborhood.” or “I have friends who I trust and they would help me if I were in trouble.”
When you act in a way that’s in agreement with your values, you’re congruent. This will go a long ways to making you happy and even get you to joy. When you act congruent to your values and exercise the discipline to do it over time you tend to start getting what you want. That might take a good amount of time and a lot of work, but that’s how it gets done. Or, as Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying, “Diligence is the mother of good fortune.”
Be OK With Imperfection
Life isn’t perfect – it doesn’t always go the way you want it to. That’s life. We have to be OK with that to be happy and experience joy. Accept that life isn’t perfect and don’t be attached to it. Work toward what you want – diligently. How long do you do that? Until it’s done. Appreciate deeply and be grateful for what is going the way you want it to go. When do this you’re conditioning your mind to screen your environment for connections that help you create what it is that you want and will feel grateful for in your life1.
(1 My article The Neurology of Gratitude goes into the mechanics of this phenomenon – what some people call The Secret or The Law of Attraction.)
Determine Your Talents
What are you really good at? What do you really love to do?
These are your talents. People who are happy and even experience joy are able to use their talents. It might be in your work, it might be in your hobby (hobbies?), and – best – it might be both. When you’re able to do what you’re good at and passionate about you will feel fulfilled. And, you’ll probably be good at it and appreciated for it.
Have Your Work Be Who You Are
This is an extension of the last idea. Work things out – even if it is a long path to get there – so that your work takes advantage of your talents and what you love to do. Make sure you feel congruent to your values when you do your work.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to be in your dream job to exercise your talents and your values! In my late teens I worked for a year as a claims broker at Lloyd’s of London (yes, in London) and then flew directly to California to clean toilets in Yosemite Park. This contrast was a wonderful experience. It made clear that despite how different the two jobs appeared at the surface, both jobs allowed me to fulfill my talents and values for being disciplined, conscientious, and of service. Both venues allowed me to fulfill my value for adventure since the rock climbing in both areas is wonderful!
Make a Difference
“None of it matters until it matters…to someone else.” ~anon
The happiest and most joyful people I have known have a clear sense of making a difference – of serving and helping others.
Making a difference is such a fulfilling and joyful exercise! Wherever you are take stock for who is there and what they may need. “Is there something I can do and say right here and right now that would serve that person in front of me?”
What cause do you want to serve? Having a mission in mind that makes a difference in peoples lives provides direction, fulfillment, happiness, and joy.
I trust these ideas will serve you. They’re definitely not perfect, but can definitely be useful. These ideas have been tremendously useful for me and for my patients who have run with them over the years. May they serve you. as well. Keep in mind joy comes from you. Practice daily, practice little by little, observe the results, fine tune what you’re doing and keep going. You will feel fulfilled and happy and most likely even experience joy.