Monday, March 21, 2011

Looking For Joy

Looking For Joy
 "Melt the clouds of sin and sadness
Drive the dark of doubt away
Giver of immortal gladness
Fill us with the light of day"  From "Ode To Joy"

You finally clear security and you see a loved one and a smile breaks out on your face: Joy.

Why? We don’t much think of our emotions, our feelings, in terms of being physical but look in the mirror or at the person that is smiling back at you. 

Our feelings do take place and are triggered in the body. What is probably counter intuitive to the reader is that the reason a smile breaks out on the face is due, more often than not, to the lack of negativity rather than something positive.  Now what in the world am I talking about? 

That is you smiled because you where now in a state of relaxation from a prior state of other negative “tension” of “distress”, “anguish” , “fear” or any number of other mixed “negative” feeling having to do with travel and the anticipation of going where you where going and finally reuniting with your loved ones and experiencing “joy.”

That is reader, this joy, it just came and went and it won’t roll around again until a similar situation presents itself.

Never heard of such a thing?  It does sound odd?  I thought “joy” was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and of course what everyone wants.

Well, it does seem to be whatever one wants just asks them. The problem is the answer to what it is is usually formulated in terms of the pot of gold.

Psychology has not talked much about the “positive” emotions but is getting around to them. They haven’t because they have barely identified them or recognized them.

I believe therapists have been just in the dark as their charges in terms of this thing called “happiness.”

It was, at least for me, “startling” to think of joy in this new very limited way. It means actually “grieving” a wished for “nirvana” of the future; a heaven on earth so to speak. It is the ultimate “reality testing” and I suppose people don’t like it.   Not a dream catcher but a dream snatcher.

In order to be happy you’re simply going to have to work at it.

But I mean not to be flippant but didactic. I come to this painfully as for so many that “pot of gold” is so important. It is important as they have built up a huge negative deficit of feeling due to trauma. And then this trauma can be and is replayed in memory repeatedly virtually repeating the trauma each time. The more “negative” feelings they accumulate the more the desire for that “pot of gold” or a “heaven on earth.”   Of course many simply get trapped and focused on the  “negative,”  wondering what “joy” could possibly be.

Joy is not, unfortunately, “out there” as all the sages tell us it is inward. But is there something “new under the sun?”  People seem to make millions, every once in a while, literally simply repackaging that sentiment, as far as I can tell, of saying “Sit on a park bench and look inward.” 

I think we can be more specific. That is joy is indeed not “out there” in a very important sense.  That sense is that it is mostly the absence of negative feeling (affect).  I believe and would say that it cannot simply be this as it would quickly turn on itself. Joy would quickly turn to distress and boredom. No, the external world is important. The loved one needs to be waiting for us. We need our “bliss”, our interest, in the world as the great student of myth Joe Campbell said or “God help us.”  Without a sustaining interest to motivate what indeed are we?

That is the importance of understanding that “interest” is a unique and discreet feeling. We have never been taught this as we have been taught it about “joy”, and   “anger” and “fear.”  But it is exactly like these feelings and I have come to see it as quite essential for joy in our lives in the long run. Over the long run interest gives us our goals to strive for.

Those goals then are our “pot of gold.” But there is a hitch this time right? These pots of gold are not free they take work, overwhelmingly.  I want the girl. I want that house. I want the career.  They do not fall into our lap. For sure when we are young we day dream about it all coming easily, and even as adults we fall into such thoughts. We all might fall into the trap of dreaming of winning the lottery form time to time with or without buying a ticket and then there are those that lose touch with reality and engage in various levels of extreme attempts to engage in a fantasy world where they achieve their “pot or pots of gold.”

For me the real insight is the role that “punishing” feeling plays in “joy.” That there is no “Royal Road”, as they say, to joy.  I am saying there are essentially two ways to looking at it one is the absence of negative emotion. The getting-off-a-plane moment and the other more explicitly involves “interest.” Of course they both involve interest. You are interested in seeing the person in the terminal.

You want the gal, house and job. In these cases I choose the long term “work” it will take. In the case of the airplane trip the emotions where foisted on you. The “negative” feeling or affect where “passive” you had no choice but to experience them.  You had not seen your parents in a year and you got on the plane in New York. Your father has been ill. You have had a bad year. It is a five hour flight to L.A.  Your sister will be there who you don’t get a long with so it will be a mixed bag but you have a great relationship with your parents. 

Disstress and a bit of fear are with you during the flight but when you talk with you seat mates you are “happy.”  When you arrive you find you are quite overwhelmed with joy to see your parents once again and your distress and fear are no more.

This is fairly different than joy attained through the active pursuit of some goal. Of course it is not a new thought that we have “to work for it” but it seems I rediscovered the linkage of interest- distress – joy.  Yes, this material has ways of playing tricks on one. 

Or generically: interest – work - joy where work will entail any number of “negative” or combinations of  “punishing” feelings not just “distress.”

Now, what of all those people that say that they go to work and say that they don’t know if they are working or playing? Good point. Well, all is not lost I have hedged a bit in the above saying in “most” cases.  Turning to our guide in these matters, for Silvan Tomkins the essential mechanism is a decrease in our stimulation level be that of a negative feeling state or a positive feeling state. Again the operative word is “decrease” in stimulation. So if I am very excited and I go to a calmer state I will feel joy. The excitement and pleasure of sex will end in joy. I went back and found that I guess I had it right in my book:

“Tomkins sees _joy_ as a result of calming, or bringing to a conclusion the situation that caused anger, fear, distress, disgust, dissmell, shame, surprise and, most importantly, interest. His basic question, after all, is what is it that we really, really want? The answer, is it not, that what we want is joy? Do we not feel joy as a state of relaxation and do we not feel that state after having felt some other emotion? I am interested in buying a car so I feel happy when I drive it o_ the lot. I am interested in eating dinner and am happy when I eat my favorite meal. I am very tired and am interested in going to bed and am happy when I get into bed. I am waiting to see my daughter get o_ the plane and am happy to see her.”
“Knowing Your Emotions” p 19.

Shame and Humiliation (Summary of Principles used in these posts.)

Tomkins, Silvan S.: Affect Imagery Consciousness NY: SPringer Publishing Company, 1963.

Shame and Pride : Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self by Donald L. Nat

On  Amazon by Brian Lynch Paper Back and Kindle:
"Knowing Your Emotions"
"Doing- Thinking- Feeling - In The World"

Facebook | Affect Psychology

1 comment:

  1. "Over the long run interest gives us our goals to strive for."

    That's a key insight for me, I think. I've been trying to understand interest more deeply.

    Thanks for this.