Emotional Education Series Part V: Joy. We all like it, but what does it do?

By Jake Wiskerchen

Joy heightens an openness to experience.”
- Carroll Izard

Happiness is fairly well favored in my social circles. Almost everyone I know likes to be happy, and a few inexplicably seem to thrive on fear, but mostly everyone likes to be content. This emotional education series aims to describe the purpose of emotion, not just to tell you how to obtain them or avoid them. So, what of joy? Why do we have it?

Research from the above mentioned Carroll Izard, who has studied emotion for several decades and literally wrote the book on The Psychology of Emotions (actual title), says that joy lets us know that we are getting what we want and to keep doing what we are doing.

Well…duh, right? Of course I will be happy getting what I want, that is not news, right? Right. But why would this be adaptive? Why is this important to human functioning, evolution, and/or survival?

As it turns out, the quote that opened this article contains the integral essence of the purpose of happiness: to invite other experience. Such openness, writes Izard, invites the strengthening of social bonds, which are useful in an evolving species such as ours. I wrote in the shame article that humans are not designed to live in isolation because we need others’ skills and talents in tribes in order to survive. In the same way shame helps us avoid letting others down, joy helps us to make ourselves and others happy.

Basically put, joy tells us to keep doing what we are doing because we are getting what we want, because we typically want what is necessary to survive or enhance our life. That also includes getting along with others,which often includes helping them get what they want also. Today our wants are much more materialistic and have less to do with survival – and you can hear more on that in the February 3rd radio show about entitlement – but fundamentally we just need social connectivity to live. Joy leads us toward that.

So this week, try to focus attention on things that make you happy and ask yourself what about that happiness helps you connect with other humans and therefore become open to new experiences. The next article will be about interest and excitement, which I promise will weave nicely into this one.