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We could all use a little upbeat news these days, couldn’t we? Well, this isn’t exactly a news flash, but it’s true nevertheless: being joyful is good for you! Let’s start with the people around you. When you’re happy and exuding love of life, everyone from your partner to your children to strangers on the street find that you’re a delight to be around. In a virtuous cycle, that in turn makes you even happier.
But making the world a little brighter is barely half of the story. Being joyful literally has positive physiological effects on your body. Writing for Healthline, Carrie Murphy says that “On a scientific level, we feel joy in our neurotransmitters, which are tiny chemical ‘messenger’ cells that transmit signals between neurons (nerves) and other bodily cells. Those neurotransmitters are responsible for processes and feelings in almost every aspect of the body, from blood flow to digestion.”
Specifically, Murphy says that being filled with joy affects the following parts of your anatomy.
Your brain. Your brain and your body are part of a single system, so it’s not accurate to think of them as separate entities. So, when you perceive something that you interpret as a happy event, your brain releases neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, which we literally feel as pleasurable sensations in our body.
Your circulatory system. You’ve probably noticed that your heart beats a little — and maybe a lot — faster when you’re happy. That’s okay. It’s just the main part of your circulatory system — your heart — reacting to all the physiological effects triggered by your emotions.
Your autonomic nervous system. Take a look at someone who’s just heard some good news. All those bodily functions that occur without any conscious effort will probably be affected: a little more rapid or shallow breathing, dilation of the pupils, sweating — all may kick into a higher gear when you’re filled with joy.
From a practical point of view, it’s natural to ask whether there are ways to encourage yourself to find joy and happiness in everyday actions — and fortunately the answer is yes. First, strangely enough, one way is to consciously smile even if there’s nothing in particular to be smiling about. Quoting a psychiatrist from the Columbia University Medical Center, Murphy writes that “Smiling can trick your brain by elevating your mood, lowering your heart rate, and reducing your stress. The smile doesn’t even have to be based on real emotion because faking it works as well.”
Another tried and true way to elevate your mood is by exercising, which is a natural way to release endorphins and other feel-good chemicals within your body. Other simple ways to encourage joyful feelings include going for a walk, petting your dog and hugging or kissing someone you love.
Make a decision to act more joyful and you’ll not only be happier yourself, you’ll make the world a little more joyful for everyone around you. Read Murphy’s full article here.