Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Joy

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What is it and how can we make the most of it?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Joy feels light and free.

As individuals, we undergo in life a fluent change of sensory activation, riding the constant wave of ups, downs and in-betweens. Throughout, with each social interaction, subjective experience and unique situation we have a plethora of emotions catered to the stimulus we endure. One of the most central emotive responses we exhibit is that of joy. When we achieve, conquer, indulge or appropriate, there is a good chance we are chasing the peak benefit of such activities, and joy may be what that peak is subjectively named. However, some of us are lacking adequate levels of joy in our lives, and we may feel frequently down or unhappy. This chapter aims to help identify, implement, enhance and re-create joy in the reader.

Identity[edit | edit source]

Joy, sometimes synonymous with, yet widely considered separate to happiness, is a positive-emotive concept, yet more often referred to as a distinct emotion (Shaver, Shwartz, Kirson & O’Connor, 1987). Joy could be considered to be an encompassing positive emotion, overall scaling higher than that of feelings of happiness and contentment. However, existing models attempting to situate joy amongst the field of recognised positive emotions are perhaps futile (Fredrickson, 1998), as emotional spectrums could be to an extent, subjective.

Why does joy occur?[edit | edit source]

There are numerous theories that attempt to explain what joy is. From the evolutionary perspective, joy is an adaptation evolved by mammals, as part of a network of emotions to assist us in factoring what allows us to survive and what is potentially life threatening (Nesse, 1990). Much as sadness averts us to certain scenarios, and fear keeps us at distance from dangerous predicaments, joy can keep us coming back to a particular stimulus, indicating peak health for the purpose of facilitating relationships (Randolph, 1990) upon which reproduction may be fostered.

Joy, and the positive affect(PA) that results, also has three biological bases of explanation reviewed by Burgdorff and Panksepp (2006); that of homoeostasis being reached, adequate neuro-economical activity and instinctual social facilitative operatives. Such PA that results may indicate to others that we are indeed feeling good, and this could additionally be an aspect of social construct.

Dopamine is considered responsible for neuro-transmission of pleasure signals to the limbic system

LeDoux (1995) observes three schools of neurological theory that are perhaps the most efficient in describing joy in the brain. He relates that brain-stimulation reward, stimulus-reward association learning procedures and appetitive classical conditioning all have bases on why it is we have such a drive to seek joy. It could be possible that our drive to joy is always linked back to an evolutionary concept, that of creating the fundamental network of emotive response in order to maintain survival affirmative actions.

The neurological fundamentals[edit | edit source]

We, as humans take pleasure in joy so much that our bodies are primed for it; recent research has indicated that our neural systems responsible for feeling good are in a constant state of 'passively active hunger' (Burgdorf and Panksepp, 2006). This is good news for us, however to fully understand the depth of joy and the potential of implementing joy-increasing methods to our lifestyle, attention should be paid to the various systems at work.

Happiness is currently theorised within the scientific community to come from the limbic system, a brain complexity unique to mammals. From the limbic system, three sub-structures, the hypothalamus, amygdala and hippocampus are correlated with human neuro-activities of motivation, emotion, learning and memory. From these structures, the autonomic nervous system is highly influenced, with the nucleus accumbens, the structure known as the "pleasure centre", also being operated. Dopamine receptors play a pleasure-signal role throughout the limbic system, transmitting upon the structures wherein.

With joy having such a personal and biological basis, it would make sense to employ methods of balancing this emotion in our lives; implementing more joy may have effects beyond that of just our emotions.

Why should we seek joy?[edit | edit source]

High levels of joy throughout the lifespan may promote longevity
In addition to our obvious drive to seek joy, positive emotions in themselves are also considered healthy for us (Fredrickson & Joiner, 2002). Fredrickson and Joiner (2002) theorise that feelings of joy are associated with increased cognition and overall attention. This in turn, may create a positive cascade effect to pronounce overall affect. To test this theory, Fredrickson and Branigan (2005) conducted two experiments utilising 104 college students, showing assorted films representing spectrum's of the emotion complex (contentment, amusement, neutrality, anger and anxiety). Attention was measured utilising a global-local visual processing task and a Twenty Statements test. Results from both procedures indicated a pronunciation of attention and cognitive faculties after inducing positive emotions.

As well to pronouncing our cognitive ability, joy might increase our overall life satisfaction levels. Cohn, Fredrickson, Brown and Mikels (2009) predicted that the amount of joy experienced for an individual in a typical day correlated with positive life outcomes. it is theorised that this is due to the effects a positive affect may have on basic resource acquiring. This theory was tested utilising 86 students, whose emotions were measured every day for a month, upon which base and end scores were then compared to measures of life satisfaction and trait resilience. Positive emotions were correlated with higher scores on both measures, indicating that joy may therefore be a valid factor for overall life satisfaction. Interestingly, negative emotions were found to have very little balancing effects upon experiences of joy. This may therefore indicate, that although joy increases life satisfaction, it does not mediate the experience of negative emotions. This may be a positive feature, as joy could therefore be considered 'standalone', and the benefits reaped from increasing the amount of joy in ones' lifestyle could provide benefit regardless of negative influence.

Ultimately, implementing more joy into our lifestyle may allow us to live longer. To measure positive emotions on longevity, Danner, Snowdon and Friesen (2001) collected the autobiographies of 180 catholic nuns, written when all where in their youth (average age 22 years). A very strong inverse correlation was found between positive emotive content and mortality in later life. This was theorised to indicate that the more joy we experience in life, the longer, and healthier we might live.

How may we increase our experience of joy?[edit | edit source]

Many of us would like to increase our experience of joy. We don't need science to confirm that joy indeed feels good; we crave it, and if we are gifted with an opportunity to experience joy, the typical and healthy among us will chase down this opportunity and savour it. However, perhaps some of us are lacking the personal awareness or fundamental knowledge of increasing joy in our lives. Fortunately, a solid base of evidence exists that could convince an otherwise joyless individual to seek ways of implementing joy into their lifestyle.

Sources of Joy[edit | edit source]

Joy, like any other emotion can be subjectively sourced anywhere utilising either one or a combination of all our five human senses. However, there are some typically common themes that have been found to influence positive emotions in most of us. To help an individual experience more joy, as well as to make current activities more joyful, these common emotionally influential themes may be incorporated into the lifestyle. It is also very probable and likely that mixing themes could produce a compound effect, increasing overall result of joy experienced.

Religion and spirituality[edit | edit source]

Joy, perhaps being an encompassing emotive concept, would very well be relative to lifestyle, and the choices we make in how we live our everyday lives. For some of us, religion and spirituality play a big part of who we are, and this could no doubt be a source of many positive emotions.

Religion[edit | edit source]

For many of us, the daily habit of religion could be one that gives us great pleasure and joy, however while the majority of research is positive, evidence is mixed (Lewis et al., 2010). Lewis, Maltby and Burkinshaw (2010) review the consensus on religiosity and joy by detailing a number of studies observing a correlation between the two. It is proposed that measures used were not adhered to correctly in many cases, and on conducting an experiment utilising members of the Anglican church, could find no correlation.

However, although reviews are mixed as to the correlation between joy and religion, it is not to say that there will be a definite result of no additional joy were someone to feel that converting to a religion would bring happiness. Joy, although being induced by common themes, is at the end of the day very subjective, and individualised according to what each individual may respond to. It could very well be a source of endless positive emotions for some of us, especially due to the social activity involved.

Certain stimulus may evoke joy through the triggering of personal spirituality
Spirituality[edit | edit source]

A strong correlation has been found in those who consider themselves more spiritual (Holder, Coleman and Wallace, 2010). A study was conducted by Holder et al. (2010) in which 320 children from both public and private schools were asked to rate themselves in terms of their spirituality, a concept that was explained as separate to religion. Levels of happiness were then measured utilising 2 happiness scales and single-item measure. Parents were then asked to rate their children's happiness. It was found overall that children who rated themselves as more spiritual also exhibited a more positive affect and scored higher on positive emotion. It was further theorised that two domains of spirituality were especially linked with that of positive emotion, that of personal spirituality (the importance of one's own existence), and communal spirituality (as in value of social relationships).

From this, it could be derived that taking the time now and again to get in touch with the 'inner you' may be well worth your while, regardless of what that might entail.

Social activity[edit | edit source]

Sociality has been correlated with feelings of joy

Your friends are good for you; while this may seem obvious (or not), social relationships have definite, if not the most potential in creating a sense of joy in most of us. Whether it be having coffee, watching a movie, or playing in the sun joy will likely be the final result of time spent on social activities.

Being lonely is not fun. Ryan and Deci (2001) report on the consistency of psychological research showing correlations between negative emotions and not having anyone to be social with. One particularly strong study conducted by Diener and Seligman (2002) utilised a sample of 222 university students, who were filtered for high happiness using multiple measures. The most polar 10% of positive emotive individuals and negative emotive persons were compared on lifestyle. It was found that those who were overall more joyful had stronger social and romantic connections, as well as fundamentally having more social skills. In addition, the positive sub-group scored less neurotic and lower on several psychopathology scales.

It is therefore very probably that if one were after more joy in their life, all they may have to do is increase the frequency of organising or attending a social event, or at the very least to pick up the phone once in a while.

Exercise[edit | edit source]

Combining common themes of joy may potentially compound joy potential

Exercise could most certainly be a joy-inducing activity. And not just the act of exercising either; looking in the mirror after a month or two of exercise regime may be enough to have you grinning from ear to ear.

It has been theorised often that exercise leads to a sense of joy and well-being (Yeung & Hemsley, 1997). Additionally, the act of exercising is known to release endorphins, which react upon opioid recepters to create positive feelings (Thoren, Floras, Hoffmann, & Seals, 1990). In a study involving 252 individuals from health clubs and postal survey recruits, the relationship between personality traits, exercise and psychological well-being were investigated. A correlation was found between feelings of well-being and that of exercise on a measure of positive affect. It is very possible that both endorphin release and the result of exercise contributes to this effect.

In a similiar study, Stubbe, de Moor, Boomsma and de Geus (2007) observed the correlation between exercise and feelings of positive emotion. A large sample size of 8000 subjects were used from the Netherlands Twin Registry, and comparisons were identified in 162 monozygotic twins found in the study, with the other twin not exercising used as a control. It was found that those who exercised were more joyful with their lives than those who were non-exercisers. Exercise may therefore be a valid way to increase positive emotions, as well as giving the joyful aspects of having a healthy body.

Foods and substances[edit | edit source]

Often nothing can make you happier than your favourite food on an empty stomach. Similarly, sometimes the day just takes a turn for the better when you have that cup of coffee, the energising caffeine coursing through your veins, putting a spring in your step. The substances we put in our bodies have the drastic ability to invoke relatively any emotion, and there are ways one may be able to invoke joy through these methods.

Food[edit | edit source]

Desmet and Schifferstein (2008) conducted two studies evaluating the range of emotions felt whilst eating numerous foods. in the first study, subjects were asked to report on a scale of 22 emotions, upon which they felt, in everyday interactions with foods. In the second follow-up study, typical tasty foods (sweet baked goods, carbohydrate-based snacks and pastas) were served to a sample size of 124. The subjects were asked to rate how they felt upon each food consumed, and although an entire range of emotions were felt, those of a positive nature were more often reported, with some individuals exhibiting quite passionately joyful responses.

If you are a strict eater, perhaps once in a while it may benefit the mood to indulge in a food usually considered health taboo; however, persons who constantly seek positive emotion through eating are likely to end up with a lifestyle imbalance, and be at risk for diseases as obesity or diabetes. It is likely that moderation is the key to achieving joy from foods, with perhaps such indulging best kept for special social occasions (which could contribute to a compound effect).

Substances[edit | edit source]

There are many substances available to us to help increase overall feelings of joy. The complications however arise as to the nature of the substance being used. Many illicit substances provide a high that could certainly be called joyful, although the negative effects are believed to far outweigh the positives; many of these substances are also illegal, and perhaps for due reason. However, in western society, there are a number of safe(if used in moderation) products available to us that may help implement a healthy amount of joy into our lives.

Tea and coffee have a history of joyful-inducing occasion

Warburton (1995) instigated a study observing the effects of low-dose caffeine upon cognition and affect in healthy individuals. As well as finding typical effects of caffeine upon cognition, a significant increase in levels of happiness and well-being were found with doses of 75mg and 150mg. Therefore, the use of caffeine may provide a method of joy that is easily accessible in forms of tea or coffee. Tea and coffee are modernised in the western world, and provide frequent opportunity to not only indulge in caffeine, but to reap the joyful benefits of social interaction as well.

On the potential benefits of joy from alcohol consumption, Gustafson (1991) reviews a plethora of previous research findings. In most all, a positive correlation is found between moderate alcohol consumption and positive emotional effects. Gustafson (1991) also reports that alcohol is thought to enhance the pre-imbibers' mood, whether it be joy, anger or sadness. Deriving from this, we may apply the theory to ourselves that if the goal is to increase feelings of joy, we should not drink when we are feeling negative emotions, as all this will do is exacerbate our current feelings. However, if one is already feeling quite elated, imbibing in a moderate consumption of alcohol may very well increase our experience of joy.

Substances, when used in moderation, are therefore valid tools to provide joy enhancement, particularly in social situations. However, when we seek to use substances in a manner that upsets the daily routine of our lives, problems of dependency or addiction may occur, and if the substance is illegal, problems with the law as well.

Music[edit | edit source]

Music may be an incredibly euphoric and joyful experience, and in addition to it being an activity in itself, music may be one of the most widely combined sources to be utilised with other activities. Ideally, this means that no matter what you are doing, you can often do it whilst listening to music.

In order to assess the effect of music upon emotions in general, Gabrielsson (2001) conducted an experiment in which a good sample size of subjects was asked to describe the most profound musical moment they had ever subjectively experienced. Students were of various ages and occupations. Of the reports given, a wide variety of emotions were recognised, with the majority being those of various levels of positive emotion. Gabrielsson (2001) concluded that music was therefore one of the strongest triggers in terms of emotional experience. This knowledge could be used to utmost advantage by those looking to implement more joy into the lifestyle.

Music may indeed give us pleasurable feelings, and could even lighten the mood; Saarikallio and Erkkila (2007) found through observation of 8 adolescents that music may balance a bad mood, and even reverse it. It was also found that joy had a compounding effect, for those who were already experiencing joyful feelings.

In terms of the neurobiology behind joy and music, Blood, Zatorre, Bermudez and Evans (1999) examined the cerebral blood flow of volunteers listening to assorted styles of music. It was found that the limbic system, in addition to other associated emotive-related parts of the brain were activated; from this it was theorised that music may indeed have the capacity to produce positive emotions, such as that of joy.

Nature[edit | edit source]

Have you ever been on a pristine beach at dusk, with no-one around, and listened to the waves as the sun went down? Or perhaps, you've set foot into a rainforest trek, with the echo of birds chirping all around you, and leaves crunching under your feet. Or even yet, have you ever happened upon an interesting animal in the wild, and found yourself smiling simply observing its existence? Nature can be a joyful experience, a fact many individuals can attest to. Kaplan and Kaplan (1989) suggest that nature indeed does provoke pleasurable feelings. Although, not much research has been conducted to assert the direct link of the role of nature on feelings of joy, yet it is likely that taking the time to step outside once in a while could invoke positive emotions, especially if also undergone as a social activity, or combining the effect of nature with that of exercise. For example, if one were to go for a run in the park with a friend, three common themes of joy may then compound (that of social activity, exercise and nature), with the potential of providing a joyful experience likely higher than were one theme to be performed alone.

You may test your susceptibility to joyful potential from nature via a simple exercise, perhaps such as follows: on a scale of one to one hundred, rate your current level of joy. Remember that score, then indulge three minutes of your time to watch this video of nature here. Rate your score afterwards, and you should be able to observe your susceptibility of joy to nature.

The balance of joy[edit | edit source]

A healthy amount of joy is good for us. However, if joy-seeking takes a position in our life that inhibits other aspects of living, consequences can start to occur.

Substance abuse is often a product of sensation-seeking

Potential problems[edit | edit source]

Sensation seeking, defined as an uninhibited drive in individuals to seek new feelings and experiences, is a potentially problematic factor in terms of finding balance in ones' life (Ortin, Lake, Kleinman, & Gould, 2012). Ortin et al. (2012) relate that sensation seeking is associated with risk-taking activities, including substance abuse and joy-seeking. Such personality traits are also linked by Ortin et al. (2012) to higher rates of depression, self-harm and suicide.

Recognising problematic habits[edit | edit source]

Although those individuals who lead relatively healthy lifestyles may have no problems in finding a balance of joyful behaviours, some individuals may not know the boundaries between joy-seeking and healthy implementing. Therefore, if previous life experience has taught you that you have trouble finding such balance, perhaps a life coach or a psychologist may be in order. Support and friendship groups could also be considered a resource.

Summary[edit | edit source]

We can incorporate many common themes of joy into our everyday lives, either to beat the blues or to simply reap the benefits that a little extra joy in the lifestyle can give. Compounding themes could provide a higher potential of joy, whilst bearing in mind sensation seeking habits to prevent undesirable behaviours. At the end of the day, joy is completely subjective, and as long as it is healthy and within the legal boundaries of society, anything could theoretically be a source of joy for you.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Blood, A. J., Zatorre, R. J., Bermudez, P., & Evans, A. C. (1999). Emotional responses to pleasant and unpleasant music correlate with activity in paralimbic brain regions. Nature Neuroscience, 2, 382-387, doi:10.1038/7299

Burgdorf, J., & Panksepp, J. (2006). The neurobiology of positive emotions. Neurobiology & Biobehavioural Reviews, 30(2), 173-187. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.06.001

Cohn, M. A., Fredrickson, B. L., Brown, S. L., & Mikels, J. A. (2009). Happiness unpacked: Positive emotions increase life satisfaction by building resilience. Emotion, 9(3), 361-368. doi:10.1037/a0015952

Danner, D. D., Snowdon, D. A., & Friesen, W. V. (2001). Positive emotions in early life and longevity; Findings from the nun study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80(5), 804-813. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.80.5.804

Diener, E., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Very happy people. Psychological Science, 13(1), 81-84. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.00415

Desmet, P. M. A., & Schifferstein, H. N. J. (2008). Sources of positive and negative emotions in food experience. Appetite, 50(2-3), 290-301. doi:10.1016/j/appet.2007.08.003

Fredrickson, B. L., & Branigan, C. (2005). Positive emotions broaden the scope of attention and thought-action repertoires. Cognition and Emotion, 19(3), 313-332. doi:10.1080/02699930441000238

Fredrickson, B. L., & Joiner, T. (2002). Positive emotions trigger upward spirals toward emotional well-being. Psychological Science, 13(2), 172-175. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.00431

Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What good are positive emotions? Review of General Psychology, 2(3), 300-319. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.2.3.300

Gabrielsson, A. (2001). Emotions in strong experiences with music. NY, New York: Oxford University Press.

Gustafson, R. (1991). Does a moderate dose of alcohol reinforce feelings of pleasure, well-being, happiness and joy? A brief communication. Psychological Reports, 69, 220-222. doi:10.2466/pr0.1991.69.1.220

Holder, M. D., Coleman, B., & Wallace, J. M. (2010). Spirituality, religiousness, and happiness in children aged 8-12 years. Journal of Happiness Studies, 11(2), 131-150.

Kaplan, R., & Kaplan, S. (1989). The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. NY, New York: Cambridge University Press.

LeDoux, J. E. (1995). Emotion: Clues from the brain. Annual Review of Psychology, 46, 209-235. doi:10.1146/

Lewis, C. A., & Cruise, S. M. (2007). Religion and happiness: Consensus, contradictions, comments and concerns. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 9(3), 213-225. doi:10.1080/13694670600615276

Nesse, R. M. (1990). Evolutionary explanations of emotions. Human Nature, 1(3), 261-289.

Ortin, A., Lake, A. M., Kleinman, M., & Gould, M. S. (2012). Sensation seeking as risk factor for suicidal ideation and suicide attempts in adolescence. Journal of Affective Disorders, 143(1-3), 214-222. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2012.05.058

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2001). On happiness and human potentials: A review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 141-166. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.141

Saarikallio, S., & Erkkila, J. (2007). The role of music in adolescents’ mood regulation. Psychology of Music, 35(1), 88-109. doi:10.1177/0305735607068889

Shaver, P., Schwartz, J., Kirson D., & O’Connor, C. (1987). Emotion knowledge: Further exploration of a prototype approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(6), 1061-1086. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.52.6.1061

Stubbe, J. H., de Moor, M. H. M., Boomsma, D. I., & de Geus, E. J. C. (2007). The association between exercise participation and well-being: A co-twin study. Preventative Medicine, 44(2), 148-152. doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2006.09.002

Thoren, P., Floras, J. S., Hoffmann, P., & Seals, D. R. (1990). Endorphins and exercise: Physical mechanisms and clinical implications. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 22(4), 417-428.

Warburton, D. M. (1995). Effects of caffeine on cognition and mood without caffeine abstinence. Psychopharmacology, 119(1), 66-70

Yeung, R. R., & Hemsley, D. R. (1997). Personality, exercise and psychological well-being: Static relationships in the community. Personality and Individual Differences, 22(1), 47-53. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(96)00158-4

External links[edit | edit source]