Brain Science–and JOY!

I’m learning new things about joy these days. New definitions that have been influenced by brain science. All of us know joy as an emotion. But how do we get joy? What is the substance of joy? Why does it seem to come and go? How important is joy in our lives?

The amazing thing is that there is actually a joy center in your brain. And the joy your brain recognizes is relational. It is all tied up in seeing other people smile, knowing that they are happy to be with you. And joy is critical to your emotional well-being and your development of emotional maturity.

The greatest joy we have is knowing that someone really wants to be with us. That we are the “sparkle” in their eye. Babies learn this very early (and it is actually critical in their development) and you can see that joy bubbling up when they respond to people, especially to their families. Not just their faces and eyes, but their whole bodies respond with joy! They can literally “quiver” with joy! It is a response from deep inside of them to the people who love and care for them.

So, without our even thinking about it, our brains (the right side) are scanning our surroundings, looking for people who are happy to be with us. We have facial recognition that not only helps us identify people, but immediately gives us positive or negative feedback from them. And that facial recognition is linked to our joy center. Joy is transmitted through people’s faces, especially their eyes, and also through their voices. If we recognize that they are happy to see us, or to be with us, our brain lights up with joy! And this joy is important to us. And it is important to God. And it is critical in our relationship with God.

I talked about relationships in the last blog. This “Joy Center” goes by many names. It can be the “control center” or the “relational center”. But joy is a word that communicates to all of us. Who doesn’t want to have increased joy? Who hasn’t looked for it in the wrong places! All of these things have ramifications in our lives.

I think a lot about our “unconnected” generation. We have young people who think they have relationships. But it all centers around one little hand-held gizmo that keeps them seeking for joy in the wrong places. It will never replace personal face-to-face relationships. And so many parents I see who are with their babies and children–kind of. Yes, physically they are there but they are not connecting with this little being waiting to download joy from that parent. Instead they are looking at their phones and not taking the opportunity to give relational joy to that child–or receive it.

My question for you today is: who is glad to be with you? Who do you think of when I ask that? Your spouse? A special friend? A parent?

The second question is: Who can you reach out to today and be a glad presence in their lives. That doesn’t mean expecting a response from them. It means looking into their faces and smiling and finding joy just in being with them. Kind of sounds like unconditional love doesn’t it?

And, do you know deep in your heart that Jesus is always glad to be with you? Can you see the light in His eyes when He looks at you? Can His love for you be translated into the fact that He is a joyful Presence in your life? That He already knows your troubles, weaknesses, struggles, and is still just glad to be with you?

I find it easy to say “Jesus loves me.” After all, most of us have sung that since we were tiny children! But in your “grown up” world, does that translate into His total acceptance of you right now? Isn’t that the kind of friend we all want to have? One who, no matter how miserable we are feeling or acting, still wants to be with us?

He IS that Friend. We are never alone.

I leave an old blessing with you:

Numbers 6:25 NLT

If you want to learn about how to build more joy into your life I would recommend The Joy Switch by Chris Coursey.

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