The Affects (2): Enjoyment – Joy
In a previous post, I have discussed affects in general. In this, the second in a series, I look at the individual affects; this time ‘Enjoyment – joy’.
Affects and brain activity
Affects are linked to brain activity, and brain activity can be in one of three patterns – increasing, remaining steady or decreasing. The affect ‘Enjoyment – joy’ is a positive affect. However, it is, somewhat surprisingly, is equated with a decreasing level of brain activity over time. Nathanson says ‘I ask you to accept the idea that anything capable of causing a decrease in the rate and intensity of neural firing …. will trigger the response of a smile’ (p.79).
This brings home the point that it isn’t the enjoyment that is causing the decrease in neural firing. Rather, the decrease in neural firing is causing the affect that we experience as enjoyment. Such times for us are times of relief, such as when we the thing we were concerned about is no longer a worry for us, or when any other form of distress is removed. The more sudden and unexpected the relief, the more profound the feeling of enjoyment.
Nathanson also notes that the awareness of this affect further leads to increased levels of this affect. For instance, when we know we are enjoying something, brain activity decreases even further and we enjoy it all the more. This can lead to a long, slow decrease in brain activity that we know of as contentment or pleasure.
As with other affects, you can see when this affect is triggered in other people; they smile, or, in some cases, laugh
It is surprising that this positive affect is linked to a decrease in brain activity. It seems to imply that a good way to experience this positive affect – and therefore positive feelings – is to discourage brain activity. This seems contrary to our experience; that we can enjoy things more and more as the experience becomes more and more intense, such as being a spectator at a sporting event, or sex. In this case, we need to remember that we aren’t talking about a decrease in pleasurable stimulus, but a decrease in brain activity. Think about it; when we enjoy things more and more it might be that we are switching from thinking about things to experiencing things; as we enjoy more, we think less.
A troublesome thought
I must say as a theory, however, that I am troubled by the seeming implication that enjoyment cannot be sustained in the long term; brain activity can’t keep falling forever! Perhaps the answer that a long-term good mood is actually made up of periods of ‘interest excitement’ (where brain activity increases) and ‘enjoyment – joy’ where it falls. Kelly (p.17) feels that this cycle leads us to a good understanding of the interactions between baby and care-giver, especially in the way that affect can be contagious.
The next article in this series will be the neutral affect of ‘Surprise – startle’
References: Kelly V. C. (2009) “A Primer of Affect Psychology” www.tomkins.org/uploads/Primer_of_Affect_Psychology.pdf
Nathanson D. L. (1992) “Shame and Pride: Affect, Sex and the Birth of the Self”, Norton, New York