Joy is intense gladness created from events of significant success. When hopes come true, joy or elation is felt – whether in play or from hard work. Joy would typically describe the feelings experienced when minor hopes come true. Elation describes the experience of major hopes coming true.
Joy contributes to self-esteem, and it supports healthy moods in several ways. Positive emotions act as a buffer for negative emotions, so besides feeling positive, they help people cope with the challenges they experience in life.1 Positive emotions orientate people’s thought processes to make fast judgements from current knowledge bases – memory – in a creative flexible fashion that uses less cognitive processing than negative emotions.2 These positive processes generally emerge from success (successes relate to safe situations), so the neuro-biological systems used for alertness turn off, or reduce their load.3 Negative emotions, in their varying degrees, orientate dispositions and thought processes towards analytical ruminating focus that is effortful, alert and highly directed.4 This puts stress on the neural pathways and body systems involved in supporting those alert dispositions, especially in fight-or-flight scenarios.5
Evidence is starting to emerge regarding right-hemisphere dominance for negative emotional processing and left-hemisphere dominance for positive emotional processing.6 Theoretically suggesting, positive emotions disengage taxed systems that were processing negative emotions on the right-hemisphere by switching many cognitive processes over to the opposite side. The switch to a positive state reduces psychological (i.e. less effortful problem-solving cognition), neuro-biological (e.g. amygdala alertness, hormone and neurotransmitter production), and physical (e.g. cardiac output, muscle tension) stress in the process. So positive emotions are implicitly associated with relief. While people are enjoying a positive outcome, the more analytical side of their brain is recharging. This defines a process of homeostasis or allostasis and means “maintaining balance through change”.
Feelings of gladness, joy, delight and elation are all created from successful outcomes. Joy is a lasting, not a temporary, emotion and can be regarded as a fruit of hopes achieved. When considering the successful completion of hope and the experience of relief, the emotion contributes significantly to mood and buoyancy of attitude. Joy presents the world with a rounded face adorned with a smile.
The success that joy originates from could be a personal achievement, yet it could be someone else’s achievement too. The important point to note is how it’s related to caring. Joy is a gregarious emotion. Joy is relevant to achievements and successes of significance that somehow contribute positively to the lives of the people who are the focus of care. If people see their parents, siblings or children having fun and laughing, they can feel glad or joyous as they witness everybody well and healthy in that moment. When compared to more significant successes, this would produce a positive feeling that would endure for a shorter time and be mild in nature. The event is positive, yet the effects of the event are relatively temporary, for they are relevant to the present more than the future. How long the joy lasts, and the degree of joy felt, is directly relevant to the perception that created it. A perception concerning how much of a positive contribution the event will have for the lives of the people concerned affects the intensity and duration of joy.
For example, if people do something that immensely contributes to the life of someone they care for, over the course of a couple of decades they can feel joy from how that one event helped a person many times. They will carry the joy of that one event in memory, and further joy as its contributions accumulate. That memory will continue to be felt as a success, and the positivity of that memory will illuminate their mood. This is how people can carry joy from one event throughout their lives until the day they die. The more of these events people have contributed towards, the more positively the memories will radiate into contentment.
If people do not care for anyone, they cannot feel sad when things go wrong for that person, but they cannot feel glad when that person succeeds either. This is also true of caring for one’s self. Experiencing despair or joy depends on failures and successes. When people care deeply about the hopes they hold, the more deeply they feel the outcomes of those hopes. When people hope for another person, they invest some of their well-being in those hopes. If the person fails, then they feel despair. If the person succeeds, then they feel joy. People have to care to feel joy.
The experience of joy is an important part of maintaining a healthy mental outlook, for it relieves stresses that have built up from negative emotions that have been focusing on problems. Joy effectively refreshes neuro-biological systems, and this is reflected in the mood of the person who experiences it. Play and work are important, for peoples hopes are wrapped-up in them, and so too their sanity.
Play is the safe, positive and fun part of the “maintaining balance through change” that the body instinctively uses to rest parts of the mind and body that are more concerned with focused, negative attention, work. Depriving people of play when their hopes are entwinned in those activities, will effect their mood substantially. The more hopes people have wrapped up in their play, the more potential their play has to release them from their worries (see Hope). Both children and adults, who feel safe in play, work better.
Although it may seem counter-intuitive to care so much about hobbies and pastimes, this rather shallow conscious judgement comes from not appreciating the depth to which such activities instinctively refresh people and instil a buoyant mood which repels stress.
Latin. Gaudia = joy.
Old French. Joie = source of pleasure or happiness.
1. A vivid emotion of pleasure arising from a sense of well-being or satisfaction; the feeling or state of being highly pleased or delighted; exultation of spirit; gladness, delight.