I was looking at the calendar for this week's blog and realized that we are almost through January. I still have the holiday season ringing in my head and heart. As I look across the sideyard of my house, I can see my neighbor has yet to take down his Christmas tree. I admit I have a holiday hangover, and the days here in Chicago are gray and cold. I know this has a depressing effect on my mood and general feelings. However, I understand the cure for this low and slow feeling. It is being joyful.
What is joy? Your joy is your sorrow unmasked (Kahlil Gibran). The more sadness we suffer, the more joy we can feel. We must experience the bad to be able to appreciate the good. As a result, this works the other way as well: the more joy we feel, the more sadness we can endure, especially if we suddenly lose the cause of our joy.
On a scientific level, we feel joy in our neurotransmitters, tiny chemical "messenger" cells that transmit signals between neurons (nerves) and other bodily cells. Those neurotransmitters are responsible for processes and feelings in almost every aspect of the body, from blood flow to digestion.
We feel joy in our bodies because of the release of dopamine and serotonin, two neurotransmitters in the brain. Both of these chemicals are heavily associated with happiness (in fact, people with clinical depression often have lower serotonin levels).
So, when you perceive some occasion as a happy event, your brain receives the signal to release these chemicals into your central nervous system. What is the central nervous system? The primary system of nerves in a living thing consists of the brain and the spinal cord. Furthermore, each part of the system causes reactions in other systems.
When you feel joy, you also feel it in your circulatory system. Your circulatory system consists of your heart, veins, blood vessels, and lymph nodes. Nevertheless, joy isn't the only emotion that affects this system. Consider the first time you meet someone and develop an attraction to them. Your face gets flushed, and you can feel the warmth of your cheeks. Or, you are about to speak to an audience and feel knots in your stomach. These are direct results of your circulatory system reacting to emotions differently.
Let's take a look at the subconscious part of your nervous system. It is called the autonomic system. The autonomic nervous system is the bodily system responsible for everything your body does without conscious effort from you — like breathing, digestion, and dilation of the pupil.
And yes, it's also affected by feelings of joy and delight. Examples include your heartbeat increasing when you see someone you like or love. Or your hands are sweating before you join a competition. Any emotional arousal can also affect your smooth muscles, located in the walls of your hollow organs (like your stomach, intestines, and bladder).
You always had it
So, now you understand the power you already possess in your emotional state and how you can distribute it through your central nervous system. Can you create happiness intentionally? I say yes. Many believe you can "trick" your body into feeling joy by the simple act of smiling. As a result, smiling can fool your brain by elevating your mood, lowering your heart rate, and reducing your stress. The smile doesn't have to be based on real emotion; it is just a cue to your body that you are happy.
Similarly, you can create a euphoric state by exercising. The dynamic nature releases feel-good endorphins and other natural brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that enhance your well-being. Movement can also take your mind off worries and negative thoughts that may feed depression and anxiety. Also, deep breathing can have the same effect. Both examples demand that you focus on the present moment (no worry about the past or future) to get the full benefit.
Create your mood
In summation, joy is an emotion and feeling that affects all aspects of our central nervous system and radiates throughout our bodies. We have the power to create joy by smiling or jazzercising at will. The human body is fantastic, and we often take it for granted. Today I offer you the opportunity to lift your emotional state by putting a big smile on your face and reciting the words from Kahlil Gibran, "my joy is my sorrow unmasked," and be grateful for the knowledge that you are only capable of feeling joy equal to the sorrow you have experienced. The two are inseparable.