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Cultivating the Thrill of Joy in Your Life

Tuesday, November 7th 2023 10:00am 3 min read
Dr. Jessica Peatross dr.jess.md @drjessmd

Hospitalist & top functional MD who gets to the root cause. Stealth infection & environmental toxicity keynote speaker.

The absence of happiness might indicate a mental health concern, or it could be a regular reaction. Life encompasses its moments of highs and lows, but there are occasions when a cluster of challenging circumstances arises concurrently. When our world undergoes a dramatic shift, it’s not uncommon to feel a void of happiness. A range of factors such as health issues, bereavements, relationship breakups, housing difficulties, and natural calamities contribute to significant stress and distressing incidents. Most grown-ups will encounter several instances of profound stress and loss during their lifetimes. Experiencing a loss of joy within these contexts is a typical facet of the human journey.

Nevertheless, for certain individuals, this joyless state persists or emerges suddenly. This could be an indication of a mood disorder like depression. The incapacity to derive pleasure from activities (referred to as anhedonia) even features in the diagnostic standards for depression, and it’s rather prevalent. Roughly 8% of adults in the United States will confront depression in a given year, and about 20% will undergo a bout of depression in their lifetime. The loss of joy might also coexist with other mental health disorders, including psychotic conditions and dementia. Interestingly, particular medications, including those paradoxically prescribed for depression, can lead to emotional numbing and a loss of happiness.

How do joy and happiness differ?

The terms joy and happiness are frequently used interchangeably. However, happiness essentially pertains to the pleasurable emotions that arise from situations, experiences, or objects, while joy represents a mental state that can persist even in times of sorrow or uncertainty. Consequently, it’s possible to nurture a sense of joy regardless of external circumstances. While winning the lottery might induce momentary happiness, engaging in meaningful activities can lead to enduring joy.

The Role of Neurotransmitters in Joy

The neurobiology of joy is intricate, yet certain neurotransmitters play a significant role in fostering positive emotions: dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. The encouraging news is that various lifestyle changes can enhance the levels of these neurotransmitters. For instance, running can trigger a “runner’s high,” and spending time with a baby releases oxytocin, known as the “cuddle hormone,” which fosters feelings of connection.

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