I was walking this morning with my Siberian named Blue, and while I was amazed at her joy prancing along (you can tell Siberians are happy when their tail actually over-curls), I was more moved by my own joy. Having had significant concerns on my mind over the years, particularly this past one, I am always most touched by this wonderful feeling. Joy is to me like happiness on steroids. As if watching Blue wasn’t enough, I also noticed the trees just turning, reflecting their brilliant colors in the lake like a photograph. The Canadian geese were splashing in the water, enjoying their own interlude. The sun was warm, and the breeze calm.
Others joined this joyous scene with their own dogs. To my amazement, they all respected the fact that small dogs typically don’t like my bigger dog. Therefore, making dog friends (clearly an oxymoron) is not a possibility.
They understood, and while holding their little dogs like Dorothy held Toto, we owners made human friends, further adding to the joy.
While walking briskly around the lake was a bit rigorous, the heart rate elevation gave me joy. That I could actually do it, and at the same time experience the good health effects of walking, was a real bonus.
Feeling all this joy, I wondered what was going on in my brain that allowed me to experience such happiness. Due to neuroplasticity, we are able to create new connections in our brains in reaction to joyful events. Some people call this wiring for joy.* Of course we can also wire for misery, but this wouldn’t do anyone any good! In fact joy does much good for us.
The state of joy is associated with the release of brain chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, and preliminary research suggests that joy may improve the body’s ability to self regulate (Deepak Chopra MD). Other research indicates that joyful people have less pain, improved immunity, better cardiovascular function and better memory.
Further, people with positive emotions tend to exercise more, eat better, and have improved sleep. Your brain on joy translates to this per Dr. Daniel Siegel: When “people are doing well, the systems of the body work well.”
To cap off one perfect morning, I realized that the elements that made up my joy each on their own contribute to brain health.
Lets recount them here:
- Walking: Fast walking increases the volume of brain cells (from BDNF or Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor produced by endurance exercise)
- Mindfulness: Being mindfully aware improves the functioning and growth of brain cells
- Community: Being in positive relationships with others lowers cortisol (the stress hormone) and decreases brain cell inflammation (slows down/kills cells);
I had practiced three of the 12 best practices of our Brain Performance Enhancementˢᵐ system and the practice came with such ease. As many of us parents want our children to be happy and healthy, why don’t we as parents be a perfect model for our kids. They don’t do what we tell them to do - they do what they see us do. Their brains on joy will truly be a beautiful thing...and of course add even more to our brains on joy...talk about win-win!
Mellin, Laura, Wired For Joy!, www.hayhouse.com, 2010