The other night on the evening news, I heard a doctor talking about taking care of our emotional health. Depression, anxiety, and generalized stress are all on the rise. Mental health experts and physicians alike are all concerned. May I ask you, my friend, how is your emotional health? Are you feeling weary, stressed out, anxious, or afraid?
The scriptures promise us joy (Psalm 16:11, Psalm 30:5, Isaiah 35:10, John 16:24).
Nehemiah promised the people, “The joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
I once did quite a bit of research on joy. I discovered that joy is primarily relational and that our brains have a joy center! I know, right? Isn’t that amazing? The “joy center exists in the right orbital prefrontal cortex of the brain. It has executive control over the entire emotional system.” It develops in infancy. Neurologists and psychologists teach us that when infants see delight in the eyes of their parents, the joy center of their brain is strengthened. In other words, when babies see their parents’ eyes sparkle and light up in response to them, they know they are loved and their joy center develops. “If the joy center develops correctly, an individual can find the path back to joy, in spite of the most difficult trauma.”
My joy center didn’t develop properly in childhood. A victim of childhood sexual abuse, I experienced quite a bit of trauma. However, our joy centers can be regenerated. As I learned to praise and enjoy friendship with God, prioritized my friendships with others, and savored the beauty of creation, I experienced joy to a far greater degree. In other words, my joy center was regenerated!
Strengthening your joy muscle begins when you internalize the truth that you are the sparkle in your Heavenly Father’s eye. God, your heavenly Father, is madly and categorically in love with you! His Word teaches that He takes great delight in you. He even sings and dances over you (Zephaniah 3:17). Joy begins when you nurture your relationship with God, but continues as you develop loving relationships with others.
Here are 3 joy hacks to give yourself a boost of joy:
Praise and Enjoy Friendship with God. Focus on the beauty of who God is and all He’s done for you. Gratitude strengthens our joy muscles. Dr. Carolyn Leaf, a cognitive neuroscientist specializing in cognitive and metacognitive neuropsychology, teaches that “when we thank, praise, and worship God, we prime our circuits for high intellectual function and every cell in our body is positively affected.” As a result, joy and gladness increase, and anxiety and depression decrease. How does this happen? I could try to explain it scientifically, but honestly, I’m not going to try. Science is merely just backing up what God has said all along, and that’s that you were designed to worship Him! It, therefore, makes total sense that if you’re doing what you’re designed to do, joy and gladness will rise up in you.
Take Initiative to Cultivate and Prioritize Friendships. Research has proven that isolation increases feelings of depression, loneliness, and anxiety. If you feel lonely, rather than accepting the role of a victim, take action. Write a card. Send a text message. Bring a meal to a neighbor. Invite a friend to coffee. Pick up the phone and call someone to simply encourage them. In seasons of loneliness or sadness, a good rule of thumb is to encourage 3 people daily. The great thing about seeking to encourage others is that as you encourage them, there is a ricochet effect to you. Your joy will be strengthened as you seek to love others well. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 teaches us that friendships strengthen us and help us stand in days of trouble. Friendship was God’s idea. After all, Jesus told His disciples that they were His friends (John 15:12-15).
Savor the Beauty of Creation. Our souls were designed for beauty. With so many suffering from illness, feelings of cabin fever can set in. Get outside. If you’re physically able, take a walk. It’s good for your hips and your health. As you walk, savor the beauty all around you. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and awaken your senses to see and smell and hear the sounds of creation. Look at the stars in the night sky. All of creation declares God’s glory (Psalm 19:1). What a magnificent God we serve who thought to create brilliant blue skies, snow-capped mountains, colorful flowers, and roaring ocean waters. Pause today. Go outside. Notice the sparkle of the falling snow or the beauty of the sunrise. Breathe. You’re alive! What a wonder! Every day is a gift.
In these wonky days, we must be intentional about nurturing our joy. Don’t just assume that joy’s going to come to you. Go after it! Claim it by praising and enjoying God, prioritizing friendships, and savoring the beauty of creation. May I invite you to join me in the Psalms? Order your copy of The Extraordinary Power of Praise!
1. James G. Friesen, E. James Wilder, Anne M. Bierling, Rick Koepcke, and Maribeth Poole, Living From the Heart Jesus Gave You (Van Nuys, CA: Shepherd’s House, 2000), 12