Why is Joy such good medicine?

Illustration Unsplash - Brooke Cagle

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All spiritual traditions agree; along with love, trust, enthusiasm and being carefree, joy is intrinsic to our true nature! And yet, even though we have certainly known moments of joy, we may well have the feeling that happiness – the stable and enduring expression of joy – continues to elude us. Our natural state of joy gets repressed when other primary emotions exist in excess, most notably fear, sadness and anger (or any of their derivatives such as anxiety, worry, despondency, depression, irritability, frustration….). How can we best manage these “obstacles” to joy in order to transform our state of being, reconnect to our true self and experience our joyful nature in an enduring way?

Primary emotions such as fear, sadness, and anger – even if triggered by a present-time incident – are very often linked to the past and unresolved traumatic events. Does this mean that we must explore, clean, digest and then integrate all of our past experiences? Fortunately not! If you are one of those people who have already valiantly “worked on yourself”, you know that this work seems endless. There is a more direct – and above all, more pleasant – approach; a synthesis of various philosophies and practices and perfectly adapted to our modern life. The secret is alchemical, literally chemical!

Real Happiness

Happiness is not something that happens to us but a skill that we develop.” Matthieu Ricard

Everything we pay attention to grows; this is a universal law of creation. The world being a place of great complexity and contrasts, we have a huge choice as to where we place our attention. According to Tantra – a non-dual tradition – everything we perceive is subjective and therefore exists as an expression of ourselves. Tantra encourages acceptation of all that arises in our awareness, including sensations, feelings and everything that actually happens to us. It invites us to be friends with every experience, to fully embrace our inner world, and listen with loving kindness to perceptions relayed by our body/mind. Such a shift in attitude – from one of comparison to inclusion – has a deeply calming effect on the nervous system and favors temperance. Once we are calm, it’s easier to stay centered and turn our attention inwards.

The alchemy of joy begins with an interior inventory where we qualify and quantify our fundamental emotions of fear, sadness, and anger (and also their derivatives). We can indirectly address past trauma by taking care of present time emotions. We do this by perceiving – through the wisdom of our intuition – the needs of each emotional state, and then responding to those needs with appropriate action. In effect, when fear is reassured, security returns; when sadness is released, connection returns; when anger is expressed, creativity returns. And when we are reunited with a sense of security, connection, and creativity, we naturally rediscover our joy.

How can you know what is the most appropriate and effective action? As soon as you enter into a relationship with emotion, in interaction with it, you accomplish an action. The good news is that your brain doesn’t know the difference between something you observe or experience, something you remember or something you imagine. An action may be physical but it may also be energetic, psychic. The right action is simply the one that makes you feel best when you imagine it. Now, let’s go a step further: How to best respond to your identified needs autonomously, rapidly and pleasantly? This is where the Happiness Quartet comes in! Four hormones that we can easily stimulate: dopamine, endorphin, serotonin, and oxytocin.

Dopamine is the hormone associated with motivation and enthusiasm and it’s especially activated by the acknowledgment – by others and also by ourselves – of our accomplishments… It mobilizes us towards action, experimentation, and challenges. To boost dopamine, acknowledge your achievements regularly and make a list at the end of each day of your accomplished tasks.

Endorphins are the molecules of joy and deep trust. They provide a feeling of pleasure, well-being, calmness and even euphoria. They are also analgesic, compensating for the effects of chronic stress. You can stimulate them with half an hour of physical exercise… or just a few minutes of laughter! Amusing yourself, having fun, or simply imagining or remembering a funny moment, is enough to stimulate them. Laughing about anything is good medicine!

Serotonin is about our fundamental sense of self and place within a community. It regulates mood, emotions, aggression and addictive behaviors. It can be impacted by a wide range of products, including pharmaceutical drugs, carbohydrates (bread, pasta…), processed sugar, chocolate… But by far the best way to stimulate Seratonin is through cultivating a sense of connection and belonging to a family, a group, a network…

Oxytocin creates a sense of intimacy, openness, and trust and favors social interaction, altruistic behavior and empathy. Oxytocin is stimulated by warm-hearted hugs, sensuality, tenderness and gentle touch. If you can’t find someone for an exchange at this level, then imagine the benefits of such an interaction. This alone will stimulate Oxytocin production!

There is a myriad of ways to boost the happiness hormones and joy itself has many facets: gaiety, bliss, ecstasy, enthusiasm, delight, exuberance, excitement… But at the root of all these nuances lies our existential joyful nature.

Joy is the Motor of the Universe

Existential joy contains and generates enthusiasm, connection, security, pleasure, and creativity… and it also stimulates the endocrine system. This is why it’s such good medicine. And this is why in the Dakina Joy School we have chosen joy as our primary vector for personal wellness.

We honor humor, laughter, and lightness of being.

We dive deeply to the heart of existential issues and learn to center ourselves in our deepest truth. We teach the value of ease and grace; of how to follow our highest joy in order to create a joy-filled daily life. We liberate our intuition; indispensable for the accurate perception of our states of being, for deciphering our true needs and for discerning the best action to follow. We practice conscious breathing, healing touch, and tantric surrender; thus stimulating all four of the hormones of happiness.

We nourish our spiritual connection through meditation, activate our vital energy through conscious body movement and explore our creativity through expression, art, and craft, group constellations. We learn to distill insights and wisdom from the experiences we share, and in doing so we enrich and deepen our sense of belonging. Above all, we learn the life-skill of transforming our emotions into existential joy, a most natural medicine! And doesn’t it count as ultimate wisdom to know how to heal oneself, to know how to stimulate our own hormones for well-being and happiness, indispensable for the happiness of our world?

Claire Savenca & Judee Gee