The Benefits of Having a Healthy Joy Center in the Brain
When it comes to our overall health and well-being, having a healthy joy center in the brain is essential. This part of our brain is responsible for numerous aspects of our lives, including the development of our identity, how we interact with others, and our resilience in the face of difficult times. The last two blog posts in this series focused on explaining how our joy center is developed and what happens when we are lacking a strong joy center. In this blog post, we will explore some of the many benefits of experiencing joyful bonds and having a strong joy center in the brain.
One of the most important aspects of healthy joy bonds is it helps with identity formation. When we are nurtured by our caregivers and experience regular joy, or gladness to be together, our emotional brain develops in a way that allows us to be comfortable with our own emotions and respond to our social environment in a healthy way (Schore, 2019). This foundation of trust and comfort is essential for developing a strong sense of self. Furthermore, a strong identity allows us to feel confident in who we are and allows us to develop healthy boundaries for ourselves and our relationships. Think about it this way: when parents take regular interest in their baby, it signifies to the baby’s brain that he/she is important, valuable, and worth the investment of their time and energy!
Another important aspect of having a strong joy center is that the capacity to engage in intense or difficult life circumstances is developed out of joy (Wilder, 2014). Joy causes us to be more resilient. Dr. Alan Schore (2019) explains that we are able to make the most of times of joy, then when facing tough times, we implicitly trust that we can cope. Instead of feeling stuck without a solution to our problems, our brain’s joy center is able to remind us that we are not alone and will get through our toughest issues. See how the connection between secure attachment and joy aids in minimizing our distress? When we know we are not alone, our brain has a great ability to access the elated mindset of joy.
Another important aspect of joy is that it builds brain strength (Wilder, 2014). When our brain experiences joy, it releases opiates that are necessary for feeling calm, safe, energized, elated, and many other positive emotional states. These chemicals help to boost our mood and make us feel good. Joy essentially allows us to engage in life with energy, creativity, and endurance (Wilder, 2019). It is also contagious! Because our brain uses mirror neurons when one person is interacting with another person who has higher levels of joy, the person with lower joy levels is able to experience a boost in their energy, creativity, and endurance.
This lends itself to another reason why it is important to have joyful bonds with other people. We all experience times of grief, loss, crisis, and trauma which can cause anyone to have a difficult time experiencing joy on their own. When we are experiencing tough times like these, we can borrow joy from someone else. This can happen by engaging relationally with those who are experiencing higher levels of joy. Their joy-full brain can reflect to the person who is struggling and create a boost in joy. This happens because joy propagates from one brain to another (Wilder, 2014).
As this series on joy comes to a close, it’s important to know that even if you have not experienced joyful bonds with parents or family, you can still begin to develop joyful bonds with others now. Growing our brain’s joy center is a lifelong process. You can continue growing yours by finding others with higher levels of joy and intentionally developing relationships with them. You can also focus on practicing gratitude on your own and with others. Try it as often as possible to maximize your brain’s potential!
Here are a couple of examples to practice:
When you are with someone you love, share something you appreciate about them or about your life.
When you are driving in your car or going for a walk, allow yourself to become aware of your surroundings and think of all of the aspects you are grateful for about those things as you pass.
Joy is contagious. It increases and spreads more rapidly than you might expect. As you begin to experience higher levels of joy in your own brain, you can start becoming intentional about helping to increase the joy in other people too. What an amazing gift to be able to offer to those around you!
If you would like to learn more about the topic of expanding the level of joy in your life, you can start by reading one of the books referenced in this series, Joy Starts Here!
Schore, A. N. (2019). Right Brain Psychotherapy. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company
Wilder, E. J., et al. (2014). Joy Starts Here: The Transformation Zone. East Peoria, IL: Shepherd’s House Inc..