Wiring My Brain for Joy

My friend Jini shared a lovely thought in a comment one day: that as I scan the world to find delights to share, I’m essentially rewiring my brain for joy.

We know about the plasticity of the brain and how, even as we age, our brain has the stunning ability to form new connections between neurons and actually reorganize itself. We continue to learn new things all the time. And even though we might not exactly remember the details of the book we just read (ahem), we gobble up and retain information continuously.

Jini’s point, I think, is less about retrieving information and more about acquiring it. We know the Gospel saying, “Seek and ye shall find; knock and the door shall be opened to you.” Jesus is nurturing faith and our relationship with God. Yes. And the saying also aptly describes our emotional relationship to our personal world view. And the choices we make each day in navigating what happens to us.

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The island of Santorini, Greece

For better or for worse, when we’re moving about, we tend to see what we expect to see. Experts talk about confirmation bias — of harvesting selectively, if unconsciously — to validate our perspective. Or they talk about seeing through the lenses of countless eyeglasses, acquired from countless hurts, that we pile over our eyes; yes, we see, but the distortion from so many lenses piled together — each, perhaps, useful in its time — separates us from what’s actually there before us. We think we see with crystal clarity. Maybe we do, maybe we don’t.

Since beginning My Year of Delights feature 5 weeks ago https://fashionedforjoy.com/category/my-year-of-delights/ I’ve discovered delights tumbling onto me like puppies. I’d feared scarcity of material and, indeed, launched the feature to challenge myself. Now I suffer the choices I need to make. (I even have a reserve, in case I experience the unlikely day with no delights at all.)

How is this happening? Because I’m keeping my metaphorical eyeglasses sharp and because my brain is actively looking for material. Mine are not rose-colored glasses: the tints I see are true life colors, not feel-good distortions.

At first, and still a bit today, I’d walk about literally asking myself, is this a delight? Or that? Now I feel like a part of my brain is busy scanning my environment for pleasing things while the rest of me attends to the official business at hand. And my brain bleeps every now and then to report its findings.

This may be nothing more than the practical art of paying attention or the spiritual discipline of being fully present. Certainly, it’s those things. And I maintain it’s far easier than those things. All I’m doing is looking for joy, or a moment of delight, or a tiny incident, a view, a tableau that becomes sea salt-and-almond dark chocolate for my soul.

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My gift to myself: a bar of Shoyu, by Kingsbury Chocolates of Arlington, Virginia.

In five short weeks, my aging brain has stretched its hamstrings, rolled back its shoulders and loosened its hips to stretch in crazy directions. Starting in the springtime helps, of course, but it’s more than that. My brain — all limber and juicy — has even organized categories of delights: nature, people, laughs, surprises, histories, mysteries and beauty.

In fact, while writing this, while savoring the cool morning and gazing out the window (the original smart phone distraction), I saw a chipmunk dart about the road as though trying to decide whether to approach the squirrel resting comfortably there. How close would he get? Would they have a bit of small mammal communion? Two yards, and no: the chipmunk scampered back. (I guess that’s like me not taking a chance with an elephant.)

A distraction, yes. And a delight.

I find myself watching how dogs move their legs and noticing the companionable talk of the people walking them. I look for minnows in the creek and the tiny white water splashes caused by creek-bed rocks. I listen to the birds, stray music from car windows and a magnificent contralto on the radio. I notice my heart respond to Mozart and the pleasure of detecting evening woodsmoke through an open window.

These things pile up with carefree abundance. (Oh look: a scarlet finch dancing with a sparrow, then perching on our conical arbor vitae like a Christmas tree angel.)

So I ask two things of you. Be patient with me as I share ordinary things that bring me outsized delight. And give this a try.

The delights are there all around us, waiting to be plucked and inhaled. Waiting to change how our brains experience the world, waiting to soften our clenches and ease our muscles just a little bit.

Look for one delight each day. You may be surprised how many tumble into your lap.

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Majka, my “Grand-Jug,” who is part pug, part Jack Russell Terrier and all delight.

I wrote this piece for Five Minute Friday, a faith-based community blogging site at  https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/06/13/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-goal/ Scroll all the way down and check out the other short essays on the topic of “Goal.”  

9 thoughts on “Wiring My Brain for Joy

  1. Patricia Searle June 15, 2019 — 4:50 pm

    Your story reminds me of someone I know who has been told to keep a gratitude journal, presumably to change their “lenses”. I have started looking for grateful moments, and they are balm for the spirit!

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    1. Thank you, Patricia. I agree. These small moments — so many, actually! — are indeed a balm for the spirit. And I wonder: when we’re “like that,” are we in turn a source of gratitude for others? I think so. Keep inspiring us, Patricia!

      Like

  2. Patricia Searle June 15, 2019 — 4:50 pm

    Your story reminds me of someone I know who has been told to keep a gratitude journal, presumably to change their “lenses”. I have started looking for grateful moments, and they are balm for the spirit!

    Like

  3. “.. ordinary things that bring me outsized delight..” Such a blessing to have the ordinary transformed by wonder. Thank you for the invitation and encouragement to notice the beauty and blessings around us. Visiting from Five Minute Friday.

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    1. Thank you, friend, for reminding me of the power of wonder. Yes, I think that’s exactly what it is. And from wonder we travel quickly to exaltation. So, God’s always part of it. Thanks for visiting. I hope to see you again soon!

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  4. “…delights tumbling onto me like puppies…”

    And then a Pug-pic! YESSS!!!!!!!

    I’ve got confirmation bias, yes
    it’s the apple of my eye,
    I choose to see what does express
    the thought that I won’t die.
    I see the exidence in the mirror,
    but refuse to take its grim report
    and even though it’s getting clearer
    my heart offers a stern retort.
    ‘They may be tumours, and quite fatal
    but I was not born for this sad end;
    the strength that God imbued, prenatal
    is what will give me will to mend.
    Some think me foolish when I speak,
    but ’tis the bright Son-light I seek.

    #1 at FMF this week.

    https://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com/2019/06/your-dying-spouse-632-god-of-second.html

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    1. Dear Andrew — Thank you celebrating Majka, my “Grand-Jug,” who is part pug and part Jack Russell Terrier. She is delightful. I especially thank you for your poem. I love the entire message and the language delights me. For example, this: “the strength that God imbued, prenatal.” Such lovely rhythm and absolute truth. Thanks for your visit!

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  5. This is brilliant. I, too, will begin scanning for delights immediately. I love that your brain has changed in response to this exercise. And now I want shoyu!

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    1. Hi, Carolyn. It’s fun to scan for delights, like easter eggs in the grass. Your words remind me that my Mom used to spot things as we were driving and would call our attention to them. Think of the fun you can have! And the seeds you’ll plant.

      Like

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