I think of myself as equal parts 'science nerd' and 'crunchy hippy', and I'm lucky enough to have friends through the spectrum from way more 'science' to way more 'hippy'. I was having lunch the other day with a dear friend of mine who is a boardroom engineer (the most logical you could find). Our conversation went like this:
Eng: Great to see you, how are you?
Fran: Just come from a client, I'm filled with joy. *blissed out happy face*
Eng: Don't EVER say that in a meeting!
Fran: *bucket of cold water over happy-doula-brain, shocked-face*
I was left speechless. It was only later that a whole stream of thoughts came to mind, as replies and retorts tend to do. As it was, we had a delicious lunch (and I might add, he looked much more happy after lunch than he did fresh out of the boardroom). But here is what I would have said to him had I been quicker on my feet:
Why Not Have Joy?
Why not cherish it, rather than be a downer when you see it in others, buddy?!
Of course, Science-Brain-Frances understands that joy is hard to quantify, and for engineering types, quantifying and measuring is everything. I understand that joy is not an outcome that can be guaranteed in the same way as one might quantify the tensile strength of steel. I am sure that joy is many different things for many different people. What are your units of measurement for joy? Do we measure smiles per day? Or numbers of warm and fuzzy puppy pictures? Or times per hour our heart felt happy?
If we dig into the neuroscience just a little, there are a a few hormones and neurotransmitters that combine to help us feel joy and the science is complex. There are lots of interdependent relationships of hormones, but the real world actions to have joy are simple and intuitive. There are three hormones that play a role in us feeling joy (or happiness, or pleasure). These are serotonin, dopamine, and (my favourite) oxytocin.
Serotonin boosts our mood. If we don't have it we feel depressed. You might increase serotonin by choosing to think happy thoughts like remembering a time you were happy in the past or feeling grateful for things in your life currently. Getting some sunshine (vitamin D and serotonin are friends) and going for a walk are also boosters.
Dopamine is a pleasure hormone, one of the ways that it is triggered is when we strive for a goal. If you can set a small achievable goal and then meet it, you're boosting your dopamine. In a new mum this could be as simple as aiming to having a bath once a week or putting on moisturiser in the morning.
Oxytocin, a favourite among doulas, is also known as the love hormone or the cuddle chemical. Oxytocin strengthens warmth and bonding and also builds trust. It is released during orgasm, childbirth, breastfeeding, and also with a good hug, relaxing massage or snuggle on the couch.
So you could set a simple goal (dopamine) to have a snuggle on the couch (oxytocin) and send up a little prayer of gratitude when it happens (serotonin). The hormonal trifecta, and a recipe for joy!
Would you like to build your own personalised plan for peace and joy?