The Joy Center

Did you know that studies show that children laugh over 300 times a day, and adults only laugh about 17 times? Are you surprised? I was at first, but then I tried to remember laughing at all that day, and I hadn’t. Our brains are interesting and immensely complicated creations and I am not going to pretend to know the depths of how we work as humans or even scratch the surface of how our minds, bodies, and souls are connected. However, I have begun to learn more about emotions and how our bodies adapt to situations, events, and recurring traumas that we go through in life- every single one of us. Let me explain.

    Each person has a “joy center” found in the right prefrontal cortex of your brain, it’s also sometimes called your control center. This is also where your other “Big 6” emotions are held; anger, fear, sadness, disgust, shame and hopeless despair. Everyone is born with the big six emotions but joy is something that is built from the time we were born (through relationships with people). When we feel one of the big six emotions, it can be sometimes hard for us to return back to Joy. To get better at doing this, and with less recoil time, we must build “Joy capacity” in our brains. Joy capacity gives us the strength we need to overcome hard situations. For example, if someone rear-ended you while you were sitting at a red light, your immediate human reaction was probably anger and annoyance. In order to get back to a neutral, happy, content state we must tap into that stored joy in our brains, basically telling ourselves everything is fine, it’s not the end of the world, etc. This can take much more time (like letting one event ruin your whole week or day) if you aren’t in touch or have a fractured joy center. 

To help you understand the big picture of what this looks like, think of the children’s movie that was released a few years ago, “Inside Out”. It gives a great analogy for my visual learners out there. Our memories are tied to our emotions, and as memories occur or are changed, we develop and mature into who we are today. This includes trauma, in any form, whether it be childhood abuse, lack of connection to a support/nurture source (mother) as a baby, divorced parents, toxic or abusive relationships, loss, and death, and the list could go on. Everyone has more than likely experienced some form of trauma throughout their life, and how we deal with it and hold onto it has a heavier effect on our future lives than we realize. 

Many people who have suffered trauma have subconsciously switched off that right relational side of their brain. They function solely in their left brain, being task-oriented, logical, methodical, almost zombie-like in their everyday life. Think of a friend or family member who you just don’t connect with anymore, a partner who seems to have zero interest in intimacy.

There are people that have done extensive research on this topic and have written a sort of step-by-step manual to help [primarily] women heal from abuse and begin to function within that happiness we are supposed to live by again. One helpful tidbit that jumped out to me was a piece titled 5 Ways to Increase your joy capacity. 

1. By practicing joy with other people. Remember a time you laughed so hard with friends that your stomach hurt, and you were just having pure fun? Or a smile shared over a common feeling with a friend. Being happy for others, or letting others be happy for you.

2. By learning to be quiet with others. 

3. Surround yourself with healthy loving relationships. 

4. Learning to play and increase joy with people we love and trust. 

5. Grow in intimacy with the Lord. We are created beings were created to have a relationship with our Father, God. This is a huge factor, if you feel something is lacking or missing in your life or you have a void that is unable to be filled with worldly things, experiences, or possessions, this is likely the aspect that is missing that would help you restore joy in your life again. 

If you struggle with returning to Joy from distressing emotions don’t worry, your brain is designed to grow and heal your entire life! It’s wired to recover, even from trauma. So there’s hope for all of us to have joy in our future! 

A big topic these days among influencers and ‘self-care’ enthusiasts is gratitude and thankfulness, which is an awesome development and if you try for yourself you will realize it actually does work! All along I’ve been thinking that gratitude and appreciation build up joy, which they do, but specifically WHY is that they open up your relational circuits in your brain (on the right side) so you can access all of the things you know to be true instead of being emotional about them. It shifts you from riding the train of your emotions to DRIVING and being in control of your response and sets you up to activate your joy center almost automatically. 

Just like anything, it’s a practice and it takes time to develop this habit fluently to where you won’t feel so affected by life's curveballs and you can revert back to a joyful state even in trying times. I hope these tips help, this is a very deep and complicated topic that I hardly scratched the surface of; if you would like more resources there are some great options linked below! 

 

Resources:

https://www.doorofhopeministries.org/trauma-recovery