Scientific research and development has made it possible to assess and quantify human happiness in several ways. In addition to simply interviewing and observing people, clinicians can measure electrical activity in our brains. They are able to assertain whether we are experiencing terrible suffering, melancholy, and sublime joy. I’m not sure how this information is used, but I suppose it’s useful for diagostic mental health purposes of some sort.
That this is even possible is fascinating. Having some visible record about the brain experiencing genuine joy somehow reveals objective truth about one of our most profoundly positive emotions. Not that I needed a map of the brain to prove it personally, joy is something I naturally feel from time to time. Just knowing that joy can be mapped, brings me a fair amount of joy.
A person instinctively knows joy–genuine joy that occurs regardless of superficial circumstances. Even if I have a pain in the back, I’m going to arrange flowers or tinker with gadgets. Doing these things somehow enables the flow of endorphins, happy feelings, and sometimes bliss. Purposely struggling to achieve joy is not the conscious goal. Joy is one of the byproducts of pleasant activity or thinking. Perhaps it is conditioned behavior or some electrochemical process going on in the subconscious mind.
The beautiful, simple feeling of joy is one of life’s surprises. It can be imagined as the purpose for life. However, it is through knowing and experiencing one’s purpose, that joy most often arises. Of course, joy is more nuanced than just living one’s purpose. Often times, joy is simply found by allowing oneself to experience life as it happens. This is why we feel deep joy at the sight of the Sun rising at the break of dawn and its setting at dusk. Sunset is the most photographed state of the sky by amateurs and professional photographers. Photographers want to capture and share the joy they feel.
Personally, I believe that joy is cultivated by not taking things and life for granted. It seems that treasuring the small events that occur in our lives is a way to experience joy throughout the day. That is the power of paying attention–mindfulness. As we pay attention, we understand how precious each second is. The whole gamut of positive emotions are rooted in paying attention. At least this is true in my personal experience.
When it comes down to brass tacks, joy is the subtle self. It seems that we are happiest when we forget our egotism and simply let go. This is a matter of declaring peace with oneself and accepting life as it has happened and continues to happen. In so far as joy can now be scientifically analyzed, we can let go of even that. We discover joy in our own ways, even if joy is not always easy to find.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes 20th century architect (designer of the original World Trade Center) Minoru Yamasaki. “I feel that we in our society should not be held by any myth; that we should do everything we can to gain a delight and joy in our society with all the available parts of the palette.”