I am really into joy. I just love it, don’t you? Even the most crudgemudgian among us—which we all can be at times!—loves to experience joy.
Yesterday while driving to the repro vet (sometimes I think all I ever do is go to the vet!) I heard the coolest thing on NPR’s Fresh Air. Neuroscientist David Linden talked about how the brain works in relation to pleasure and pain.
He talked mainly about our touch sensations. Linden writes about this in Touch, his latest book, and the “weird, complex and often counterintuitive system” of touch circuits involving the skin, nerves, and brain that create pleasure and pain.
Fascinating, indeed! But what struck me most was his discussion about chronic pain and how that destroys one’s ability to experience pleasure. And with so many folks feeling constant pain, what a bummer!
But how do some in that situation still seem to have a joyful heart? I watched my own father go down a long winding road of advanced dementia and physical pain. And yep, the depression that comes with that. But the odd thing was he never lost his sense of humor (which was legendary J.
So how do we do this? And when we’re in pain of any kind, how can we live life joyfully again, even for a minute?
1. Find something to laugh about. My dad excelled at this. He told jokes all the time (repeatedly, and to my mother’s ceaseless chagrin!). Many of them were even funny the first time he told them. Everyone got a big kick out of them. But no one did nearly as much as Dad himself. It kept him joyfully engaged with those around him. Which brings me to
2. Engage with those around you. Even if it’s the clerk at the grocery store. Dad stayed engaged with folks at the nursing home ‘til the end. Of course, by that time, he was making new friends everyday—including me! This even works on social networking. Who knew! But the thing is, you have to engage, rather than passively peruse. A study done by Carnegie Mellon University found that “direct communication is associated with greater feelings of bonding social capital and lower loneliness.” Interestingly, they found the converse to be true—users who monitored and consumed more on social networks without engaging reported reduced bonding and increased loneliness.
The point being, the more you engage—despite your pain—the more you feel connected and joyful.
- Create! It doesn’t matter if you’re not Monet or Alice Walker, dive into the creative pursuit that tweaks you.
Paul Silvia of the University of North Carolina-Greensboro writes in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, that “people who reported feeling happy and active were more likely to be doing something creative at the time.”
No wonder writing makes me joyful! Dad played the guitar. Which always made him happy 🙂
And as all writers know, and it works for you too, just thinking about part of a plot twist while driving down the road lights up your happy center. So, if nothing else, think about creating!
- Get Politically Involved. Sounds like an oxymoron, no? Most folks are so disgusted with politics these days, which is anti-joy. But, it seems that when you actually engage in politics in a meaningful way, the opposite is true! My dad, ‘til the end, could tell you who was President and what he stood for . . .
Tim Kasser, Ph.D, wrote in his article for Yes! Magazine, that political activism causes a “sense of satisfaction, the experience of pleasant emotions and of connection with others, and a feeling of aliveness.”
Which spells joy to me.
And yes, these are “doing” exercises. But all lead to joyful thinking. And isn’t that the way we want to live?
How do you think joyfully?