Importance of Joy - Christopher Lee McElroy M.S. and Sheryl Lynn - JOYELY, FEEL BETTER NOW
Defining Joy – Christopher Lee McElroy M.S.
April 24, 2023
Defining Joy – Christopher Lee McElroy M.S.
April 24, 2023


The subsequent review over the mental health topic of joy, that can also be defined as well-being or having a positive affect, is aimed to discuss imperative points in positive psychology. It means to define what the benefits of joy is overall and how to obtain joy via several different methods, particularly utilizing positive psychology interventions. Joy is important for every aspect of life and it would be beneficial to have a simple means to practice gaining joy through a variety of meditative processes. Lastly, this review introduces a simple means of exercising and practicing one’s mind to obtain joy called the ‘Chair of Joy.’ Herein, this review will describe joy as type of happiness with meaning or inner well-being [eudaimonic].   

Why is Joy Important to Us?

 It seems obvious that joy is important for almost all of us in many ways. But why is joy important on a biological level? In the subsequent sections, importance of joy in our physical, mental, and social aspects of our lives. 

Physically: Most would likely agree that positive people are considered healthier individuals. Although individual mental health circumstances vary, it has also been reported that having joy, or well-being, has a positive effect on the recovery of physically adverse events. One such study looked at the “undoing effect” of positivity of individuals that had recently experienced anxiety induced cardiovascular event [1]. Students were asked to do a speech preparation task to induce anxiety and actively increase heart rate. Afterwards, they were shown either a film with waves crashing [contentment], puppies playing [amusement], colored sticks [neutral], or a video of a child watching their father die [sadness]. It was found that the two positive emotion eliciting clips helped to progress cardiovascular recovery faster. 

Positive emotions are definitely not limited to just temporary induced states in a lab. Several studies have concluded that there was as significant correlation between individuals that have difficult to control asthma and previously untreated psychiatric illness that would include depression and anxiety [2-4]. This would make sense considering that when the onset of asthma occurs it is important to try to stay calm and breath. The healthy counterparts to these studies have a much easier time managing their asthma. Better management of type 1 and type 2 diabetes can also be helped through positive psychology, particularly in adolescence [5, 6]. On the other end of the age spectrum, positive psychology is well known to increase longevity. Those that have a general well-being, or good mental health, that could be describe as having joy in life have a greater will to live and generally, do live longer [7, 8]. 

Mentally: Fredrickson [9] differentiated positive emotions from pleasure as being a physical response in the absence of satisfying physical desires [i.e., sex]. She also came up with the “Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions.” The basis of which gives credence to why positive emotions have a biological advantage. In one very simple test, they asked individuals to list their thoughts beginning with the phrase ‘I would like to…’ after watching one of four emotionally provoking videos [anger, fear, neutral, content, and joy]. Those that watched the ‘joyous’ clip filled in all twenty slots given to them on the form, whereas the individuals that watched the angry or fearful clip filled out less than half [9, 10]. This same theory suggests that it can also reverse the effects of negative emotions and increase psychological durability. The broadening of attentional scope itself is does not increase the thought action repertoire but positive emotions can, and do, increase this [11]. This brings more credibility to the broaden and build theory, because it specifically attributes positive attention to the increase in thought action repertoire. 

Just seeing someone smile can have a positive impact on cognition, in the short term at least [12]. Although it is important to note that the positive emotion elicited can be more ascribed to happiness than joy, these states of mind go hand in hand with each other. In other words, it is easier to be happy when one has good mental health, and a sense of well-being, or joy, and even if happiness isn’t a requirement, joyous people are more likely to be happy [13]. Those with a happier outlook on life don’t only live longer, but those individuals that practice mindfulness through meditation have less stress and depression [14, 15].  

Work: Positive individuals are more likely to graduate from college [16]. Individuals with an overall positive affect received “better” employment [17], have higher satisfaction with their job, and were objectively more likely to succeed than their less positive counterparts [17-19]. They were also more inclined to have positive performance reviews from their managers [17, 20]. In the end, they were also the ones that received higher pay, according to an Australian study [21]. An extensive meta-analysis done by Lyubomirsky (2005) defined “happy” people as those that have an overall positive affect and were frequently expressing “…pride, joy, and interest” and over a longer period of time and negative emotions infrequently [22]. This review would contend that their definition of happy is more in line with the definition of joy, positive affect, or well-being. The result of that study is that joyous people are generally more successful in life overall. 

Salas-vallina et al. [23] defines “happiness” as more of an ‘attitude’ that is elicited before an action. In a subsequent study of almost 500 financial it was observed that this “happiness” has a positive correlation with cross-selling outcomes [24]. Another study did more due diligence in separating hedonic and eudaimonic happiness. In which, this review would consider the more eudaimonic happiness [inner well-being] more congruent with the definition of joy. 

Cluster analysis in this study revealed several outcomes besides low happiness low performance or high happiness high performance [low-hedonic-high performance, low eudaimonic-high performance, high-hedonic-low performance, high-eudaimonic-low performance]. Performance to happiness ratio mainly depended on the demographics of being analyzed. For instance, having low eudaimonic and high performance was generally associated with men over 50, and having high hedonic and low performance was more attributed to non-skilled workers. Overall, both hedonic and eudaimonic well-being was shown to have a positive relationship with work productivity [25, 26]. One note on this study, that was quite different than others, is that this was not only self-assessed but performance and happiness were also assessed by the individuals’ managers and were cross-referenced.

School: Having a positive outlook on life experienced through joy can lead to prosocial outcomes even in times of social isolation and can increase happiness, gratitude, serenity, and personal satisfaction [27]. Interventions increasing positivity has also been shown to be beneficial on the subjective well-being and increased learning of toddlers [28]. Not only that but positive affect has been indicated to increase the GPA of middle school children [29]. Ironically, there can be too much joy in the case of infants. It can narrow the ability of infants to learn and recognize faces faster. Rose et al. (1999) confirmed in that study a neutral affect was more conducive to faster learning in infants, which has been shown to be true in adults as well [30, 31]. These results were associated with a high positive affect indicating that although joy is a great mechanism to increase the learning capacity, there is a probability of an inverted-U type of situation and that excessive positivity can narrow instead of broadening an individual’s, at least an infant’s, capacity to learn. 

Means to Attain Joy

Meditation: There are many types of meditation, but the overarching goal is to refresh the mind from and dismiss irrelevant thoughts such as depression, anxiety, and stress and allow for feelings or mood states such as joy to be the dominant affect and become attentive, or in tune, with what is important. Two types of meditation were employed by a study done by Fredrickson et al. [32]  [mindfulness and loving-kindness] to evaluate their correlation with positive emotion. Over a nine-week period of positive and negative emotions were tested using a Differential Emotions Scale on individuals practicing daily meditation [33]. It was concluded that there were significant increases in positive emotion during that time and more so with loving-kindness meditation than just mindfulness. In a previous study by Fredrickson and Branigan [10], a correlation was made between positive emotions and attention. Manly et al. described inattentiveness or being “absent minded” as this:

“To be absent-minded is to be inattentive to the ongoing activity, to lose track of current aims and to become distracted from intended thought or action by salient but (currently) irrelevant stimuli.” [34]

And attention can be defined as: “a continuous inhibition of task irrelevances” [35, 36]. This definition similarly correlates with meditation mentioned before. Attention can be expanded through the inhibition of irrelevant thoughts and negative emotions. In other words, a meditative mind is an attentive and joyous one. 

Prayer: Like the good mental health practice of meditation, prayer is another mental exercise one can do to attain spiritual well-being and joy. Depending on the study, the results are somewhat mixed. One study found a negative correlation with religion and resilience and positive mental health [37]. An explanation could be provided in another study that found that only those that are highly religious reap the benefits of prayer and are able to inhibit ruminating thoughts which allow for better performance on a dual-task test, which tests for capacity of attention of a person [38]. 

Boelens et al. [39, 40] also found that prayer over a period of six weeks significantly reduced anxiety and depression and saw that the significance remained even a year later. This review describes joy as, not only having good mental health, positive affect, and well-being, but inhibiting negative and unnecessary thoughts, which is emulated in that study. 

Frequency of prayer and an individual’s stage in Maslow’s hierarchy may play a role in the efficacy of prayer. Maslow’s hierarchy puts into place the importance of needs of a human starting with physiological needs like food and water and ending with self-actualization and transcendence [41]. It seems that prayer is a significant factor up until a person reaches self-esteem [42]. This may be because of the need for belonging at that stage, which religious entities tend to try to provide a safe group to belong to. 

Neuroanatomically, fMRI indicates that prayer from true believers who were Danish Christians had similar activation to individuals that practiced meditation, including the medial prefrontal cortex, temporo-parietal junction and precuneus [43]. As far as structural changes, Catholic nuns were found to have more gray matter in the “right lingual cortex, left isthmus-cingulate, posterior-cingulate, rostral-middle-frontal, superior-frontal, supramarginal, temporal-pole cortices, and bilateral pars-triangularis cortices” but reduced volume in the temporal and parietal areas that, oddly, in the fMRI showed greater activation in the prayer study previously mentioned previously [44]. Altogether, prayer can elicit joy in several circumstances. It seems to be the case to gain the true benefits one truly needs to believe in the prayer as well as become practiced in prayer, not unlike practicing meditation. 

Art: It is well known that art can evoke an array of emotions and bringing about a positive affect such as joy and subsequently better mental health. Whether one is actively creating art or passively observing it in its many forms, art can have a profound effect on us. Art therapy has been used in many instances of mental disorders ranging from Alzheimer’s to autism [45]. Creativity and happiness seem to affect each other bidirectionally. Those that are happier and have a have good mental health tend to be more creative, and those that indulge in creativity tend to be happier and experience a better subjective well-being [46]. Art galleries have been seen to improve cognition and overall outlook on life in patients with mild and moderate dementia and their caretakers [47]. To gain the positive aesthetic experience of artwork their needs to be a basic understanding of the art which is adequately outlined in a study conducted by Leder et al. [48]. Art can also lead to a decrease in cortisol levels, which indicates less stress, and it has been shown to be beneficial to the general well-being of those that have previously experienced psychosis [49, 50]. 

Music is another means to experience joy. It has been shown to activate brain regions such as the left striatum and insula for wonder and joy and right striatum and orbitofrontal cortex for feelings of nostalgia and tenderness [51]. Although, there are many forms of art, most studies focus more on the visual arts and music. It would be interesting to the see the results from other artistic media on joy and well-being on mental health. 

Altruism: Giving to others has often been attributed to individuals that have a sense of good mental health and joy. Loving-kindness meditation can help enhance altruism as well, and it can foster a sense of satisfaction and positive affect later in life [52, 53]. This is true even when comparing very different cultures on their altruistic tendencies and sense of overall well-being [54]. The positivity elicited by altruism does not have to be toward any specific person or group; it can be towards activities pertaining to the overall good of humanity, like environmental advocacy [55]. Although, it has been shown that the benefit is greater when a person is more socially connected to the cause [56]. One large online study suggested that recalling either “self-indulgent behaviors” or a prosocial act had a similar consequence of increasing the feeling of positive emotions. Though this study did not discriminate what type of positive emotion was evoked, it did suggest that morality through altruism could be considered psychologically essential [57]. 

Physical Activity: It is well known that physical activity can increase several different neurotransmitters that can contribute to a feeling of well-being and even euphoria [58]. Exercises like aerobics can stimulate the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis and can have a positive impact on the brain via physiological stress’ [good stress] impact on neuromodulation [59]. A German study found that even just a 6-week exercise regimen has a negative correlation with stress and depression on college students [60]. As discussed earlier, inhibiting negative psychological states like anxiety and depression can lead to a feeling of well-being or joy. This is not limited to a younger age group either. Young, middle-aged, and older aged individuals with at least a moderate amount of physical activity have been shown to have an overall greater life satisfaction rating [61]. 

This has been shown to be true even at only 4 weeks of regular exercise and can even be elicited through both single bouts of walking and meditating [62, 63]. Meditative exercises like Yoga and Tai Chi are well known to increase positive moods and feeling of well-being and increases with practice as well [64-66]. Overall, exercise is widely considered to be a great way to increase one’s joy in life [67]. 

Positive Behavioral Intervention Use and Outcomes

It does not take a master of meditation to elicit the feeling of joy. It takes only a short time, a little practice, and maintaining the right meditative thought. Capellen et al. [68] utilized the “upward spiral theory of lifestyle change” adapted from Fredrickson [33]. She would teach mid-life individuals how to “prioritize positivity [PriPos+]” or, as a control, just teach the science of positivity. The participants would then either engage in loving-kindness meditation or mindfulness meditation. The individuals that had both the PriPos+ program before the study commencement and engaged in loving-kindness meditation gained the most joy out of the experience. So, it matters that one enjoys participating in the behavioral intervention, as to predict continued efforts to bring about positive change. Similar results were seen in a study whose participants were undergraduate students. With those individuals loving-kindness meditation was utilized to increased their subjective well-being and life satisfaction significantly [69]. 

Alternative for Punishment: Positive psychology intervention is effective in school age children as well. The School-Wide Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports program [SWPBIS] is a preventative maintenance strategy to help reduce behavioral issues in children. A study conducted by Bradshaw et al. [70] had over 12,000 children participate. The children involved with the SWPBIS program showed fewer behavioral issues and were 33% less likely to be in trouble and sent to the principal’s office for discipline. What these and other studies show is that positive behavioral interventions work and with several different age groups and backgrounds. This is an effective way to test and to give positivity and joy to others in an experimental setting. It would be beneficial to know how much benefit can be gained from this practice using more remote scientific methods to expand the data. 

In another positive psychology intervention study, this approach could be helpful in calming aggressive tendencies in adults as well and could be used as a punishment alternative. fMRI has shown that the medial prefrontal cortex reacts differently when given a choice to retaliate to aggressive behavior. The dorsal portion is primarily stimulated when choosing how much to retaliate for a given punitive behavior, and the ventral portion of the mPFC is activated when seeing the consequence of the action and is more geared towards empathy [71]. A different fMRI study of adults that were put into two groups [meditative thought, and coping training] saw that the meditative thought group had higher activation of the vmPFC when seeing the consequence of punishment and those with coping training had more activation of the dorsal portion [72]. These studies indicate that negative punitive measures effect the brain in a negative way. This is not to say that there is no need for discipline, but alternative disciplinary measures likely need to be thought out taking into consideration the immediate and lasting effects. 

Types of Positive Psychology Interventions [PPI]: When taking into account all the stress, depression, anxiety, and lack of engagement in the workplace, it could be considered an ideal place for positive psychology intervention. A self-administering positive intervention done with university of faculty showed that “gratitude” significantly impacted overall mental health but did not change negative emotions [73]. Although it has been shown in other studies to decrease negative emotions. An example of gratitude intervention would be ‘Three Good Things’ in which participants think about three things they are grateful for during the course of the day and reflect on them [74]. Another type of PPI is strengths-based, which an individual utilizes a known character strength in a novel way or develop what they have further [75]. Lastly, a third very well-known PPI is the ‘Acts of Kindness,’ which, as the name suggests, asks individuals to take part in being kind to others in a variety of ways and has been linked to increasing well-being and positive mental health [76]. While there are many more, most types of interventions could be considered subtypes of the above mentioned. These simple means of PPI can be employed in several settings including the workplace, school, or home. 

Chair of Joy 

A newer PPI that is currently being utilized to target individuals as well as corporations is the ‘Chair of Joy.’ This would be considered a more ‘mindfulness’ type of meditative practice, but it could also encompass ‘loving-kindness’ type of meditation. This type of PPI is flexible to be curated toward the individual and their needs. The process is a very simple one and only has four main components: sit, breathe, think, feel. 

Sit: Why is being in an upright seated position important in a meditative practice to increase joy? A study done by Nair et al. [77] tested whether posture played a role in mood. Not to suggest this for current or future guided meditative practices, but these individuals were actually strapped with physiotherapy tape in an upright position and given a reading task. After the task was complete a linguistic examination was conducted and the individuals with the upright posture had an overall more positive mood and higher self-esteem. Other preliminary studies have also concluded that upright posture can alleviate mild depressive symptoms [78, 79].

There is also something to be said of safety. An article about Medical News Today on panic attacks, recommends finding a quiet spot to help focus and to create a “mental space” [80]. A panic attack can feel just as the name suggests. Stress has been known to cause these to occur, but finding making room in one’s mind and feeling safe by being in the seated position can be helpful, not just for depression and anxiety. Stress can cause a number of physical and mental ailments and the purpose of the seated position in the steps of the Chair of Joy is paramount to breaking the cycle of stressful and depressed thoughts. 

Breathe: Breathing is a very important factor in many meditative practices and really can affect physical and mental well-being. This has been exemplified in a study by Ma et al. [81]. Participants were trained to breathe at 4 breaths/min for 8 weeks and the control group were not trained. Diaphragmatic breathing was seen to reduce cortisol [stress hormone] levels, had better attention span, and a more positive mood. So, breathing itself is a very important aspect of preparing and engaging in meditation, particularly in the COJ method. As with the mental aspect of meditation, practice would likely increase these results in people naïve to the process. 

Trained yogis actually use a technique where they alternatively breathe slowly from each nostril. This is a very practiced and can be a difficult technique to master for an amateur, but traditionally on average an individual takes about 12-20 breathes per minute [82]. Swami Rama emphasizes his yoga nidra students to breath and be conscious of one’s breath throughout the nostrils, chest, navel and throat [83].

Using this technique, it is important to be in a relaxed position i.e., sitting. Rama’s student’s lie down which is not convenient in many scenarios throughout one’s work or school day. The breathing technique is something that will take some practice to do, but once an individual gets control of their breathing calming down and relieving stress and depression becomes a whole lot less of an insurmountable task. 

Think: One could argue that being in a meditative state means the lack of thinking and using cognitive processes, but in truth those who are practiced emotional alleviating cognitive control tasks have an increased activation in many brain regions, including those important for attention and positive mood [84]. It has been found that visualization exercises can reduce feelings of anxiety and increase this positive mental state [85]. The COJ method asks that the individual visualize a safe and enjoyable place for meditation. This has been done in several other PPI practices, but this is not exclusively a visualization exercise. Individuals are asked to, as much as possible, place themselves in that mental spot with using other senses as well [smell, touch, auditory]. This is to be an immersive emotionally alleviating cognitive control experience. 

Although, COJ is a cognitive task similar to that of meditation. It is a more purposeful tool that is supposed to be easy and reproducible for many individuals. One comparison to make would be that it is supposed to take minimum effort to do so. In effortless awareness meditation, the posterior cingulate cortex emits a 40-57Hz according to an EEG. This is a similar goal to COJ [86]. The purpose of the cognitive state elicited by performing the COJ exercise is to effortlessly be aware of oneself in a safe, pleasant space. 

Feel: For mental health it is important for the meditative process for individuals to allow themselves to feel. Meditation has been around since Vedic times in ancient India and one of the core aspects of true meditation is to be in touch with the deeper inner self [87]. The COJ PPI creates the mental space for this possibility. To be in touch with the inner self allows for the expansion of cognitive processes that was indicated in Fredrickson’s ‘Broaden and Build Theory’ [9, 10, 32, 33]. This immersive experience should allow one to truly inhibit negative emotions and bring forth true positive affect. 

It is important to note that our cognitive processes control how we feel and vis-versa [88]. Though it might seem simplistic, neuroanatomically, our emotions feedback into our emotions as well [89, 90]. The purpose of the COJ is to enhance the positive feedback our brains have the capability of doing and to distract from the negative emotional loop people are subject to through the stresses of daily life and enhance mental health. 

Overall, the COJ can be utilized at home, school, or at work. This particular means of PPI is something that can be practiced individually or can be peer guided. The importance of the simplicity of such a PPI is that it can be manipulated to fit the current circumstance of the individual and incorporate other aspects utilized in similar methods of PPI. 


This review’s aim was to describe the importance of having joy, well-being, and overall positive affect in an individual’s life. Not only that, but it serves to suggest several means of attaining joy as well. It also highlights several means of meditative positive psychology interventions and introduces a new simple PPI [COJ] that can be considered for future use in subsequent studies.

There are many ways that a joyous life can be gained or increased. Whether that is finding one’s ‘Chair of Joy’ in its simplistic form or other means either actively or passively. 

Joy is something that can be gained from practice over time. It could be considered a mood that is realized more learned. This practice of obtaining joy is not just an individual exercise. It can be practiced and given to others. Future studies need to broaden the scope of the demographics related to joy. It may be beneficial for later studies to consider conducting experiments remotely as to cast a wide net and better pinpoint the practice of joy that does not only pertain to the individual but can be utilized to analyze what works best for certain demographics. 

Studies could also benefit from parsing out what joy, well-being, or positive affect from temporary emotional states considered to be hedonic happiness or pleasure seeking. Joy is a more stable internal state of mind that needs to be maintained rather than just spontaneous reaction to an external event. Doing so may give more consistent and accurate results rather than lumping happiness and joy together as is quite often done to measure subjective well-being.  


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What we do at JOYELY in our corporate programs offers products and services that promote joy in the workplace.  The Culture of Joy programs offer team-building activities, wellness programs, and training sessions on work-life integration.  We make sure all interactions are engaging, interactive, fun, and relatable, as well as easy and simple to understand.

JOYELY’s Chair of Joy Experience and specialized joy-enhancing techniques help increase productivity and build upon profitability strategies while decreasing turnover. We do all this while creating a healthier and more successful business.

Each company we work with is unique!  At JOYELY, we consider the needs and values of each corporation we decide to work with. For example, we pay particular attention to the company mission and make sure there is an alignment of our approach and joy with the company’s mission or values.

Overall, we clearly communicate with corporations the extreme value of joy and the powerful science that backs a Culture of Joy.  Our own unique research is outlined in the article, 21 Science-Based Reasons Why a Culture of JOY Is the Most Important Decision Your Company Can Make in 2023 will begin to create great results quickly.

We offer a 1–2-hour complimentary COJ Experience to select companies as an example of the Year of Joy Corporate Program.

Simply reach out to our JOYELY Team at or you are welcome to connect with our founder, Sheryl Lynn at 949-303-5219 or