Reflections on joy

Angels can fly not because they have wings, but because they make themselves light. – Anonymous

Do you ever feel like having fun or a holiday or a rest for no good reason rather than feeling good?

Well, if you continue reading you may discover the scientifically validated reasons for feeling good. Here comes the end of guilt and shame. So let’s celebrate.

Emotions can be pleasant or unpleasant, but they are neither negative nor positive. They simply evolved within our body to serve different functions. Because we are biased to pay greater attention to pain, psychological research has traditionally focused on the unpleasant emotions. But recent research in the field of Positive Psychology has targeted the pleasant emotions. They are far more important than just hakuna matata – (the problem-free life). These positive emotions have been given the title of “growth emotions”.

Growth emotions do to us what high revenue does to a business – they enable us to invest more of our energy in order to create, produce, solve problems and flourish. The growth emotions are the ingredients for creating a sense of abundance. They are the antidote to the sense of insufficiency, of inadequacy, of lacking, of victimhood.

While emotions such as fear, anger, sadness and jealousy serve our short term survival, the pleasant emotions such as joy, laughter, love, gratitude, peace and hope serve our long term flourishing.

How do they work?

The body of research that is trying to answer this question is called “broaden and build theory”.

When you give people tasks to accomplish and you control their pleasant/unpleasant emotions, you will discover the impact on their performance. You should have a particular interest in the findings if you are an employer, a parent or a teacher, or if you care about making your relationships flourish.

Pleasant emotions create an upward spiral of growth. They ‘broaden’ us – they open us up and enable us to see the big picture, consider possibilities, appreciate the present moment and find the good within the bad.

And they ‘build’ us – they develop our physical, social, intellectual and psychological resources over time. They undo past hurts. They build resilience to help us cope better with challenges. For example, cardiac patients who apply optimism and humour have a faster cardio vascular recovery, which is essential for long term heart health. These emotions are like a reset button.

John Gottman, the world’s top researcher on relationships, makes a similar argument. Couples who languish rather than flourish are the ones who are too preoccupied with addressing problems while neglecting to create opportunities to cultivate the growth emotions. They fight, he suggests, not because of what happens but because what does not happen – those moments of connection and pleasant experiences. Gottman calls it adding credit to the emotional bank account.

Valliant, a psychiatrist from Harward who has done research on adult development in last 35 years, argues in his book Spiritual Evolution that the growth emotions we mentioned above are the ingredients of spirituality. Our brain is hard wired for spirituality and these growth emotions are cultivated across cultures through group and community activities.

In a nutshell, growth emotions do to our mind, heart and relationship what the sun does to flowers – opens them up and make them blossom.

Beyond psychology

Tolle on Love and Joy

You are giving the other person space – space to be. It is the most precious gift you can give. Most people don’t know how to listen because the major part of their attention is taken up by thinking. They pay more attention to that than to what the other person is saying, and none at all to what really matters: the Being of the other person underneath the words and the mind.

Of course, you cannot feel someone else’s Being except through your own. This is the beginning of the realization of oneness, which is Joy. At the deepest level of Being, you are one with all that is.

Love is a state of Being. Your love is not outside; it is deep within you. You can never lose it, and it cannot leave you. It is not dependent on some other body, some external form. In the stillness of your presence, you can feel your own formless and timeless reality as the unmanifested life that animates your physical form. You can then feel the same life deep within every other human and every other creature. You look beyond the veil of form and separation. This is the realization of oneness. This is love.

Eckhart Tolle

About the author:

Guy (Hagai) Avisar is a psychologist with more than 30 years of experience helping people with relationship issues

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