If you’re here for the first time, I’ve been writing a series of posts on the body language of various emotions, so authors have a quick reference when they get stuck writing diverse characters. It’s so easy to fall into the same old repetitive action tags. I can’t tell you how many times I used to have characters looking away and looking back at another character in the same scene, then looking away, then looking back. Then looking up, then looking down. Looks upon looks upon looks. Researching and writing these posts are as much to break my bad habits as they are to help you. 🙂
You can check out the rest of the series here.
Now, since so many of the emotions we’ve covered so far are a little gloomy, I thought we’d lighten the mood today. We all (hopefully) know what joy feels like, but I’ve still struggled to write joy that doesn’t seem wooden. I’ve also read some happy characters that seem almost cartoonish in their happiness, and others that seemed too vanilla in their most triumphant moments. Let’s inject a spark into those happy scenes, shall we?
Joyful Body Language and Speech
- For the most part, the character will seem relaxed, with open palms, legs slightly spread, and relaxed shoulders. However, characters experiencing great joy might have some opposing body language happening simultaneously. The character may have one arm dangling by their side, hand open, but the other arm could be tight, with a fist pounding the air. The greater the joy, the more likely some kind of tightness may creep into the posture, like someone jumping up and down, screaming, while holding someone else by the elbows.
- Arms thrown wide. In an aggressive posture, this would be seen as a challenge, but the joyful posture is lighter and more relaxed, with open palms. This action is especially present in characters who have just achieved something enormous and a great weight is lifted from them, or characters who are stars of some kind – from sports to pop, people performing for a crowd will often open their arms when they’ve accomplished something. Think of it as an ‘I’m free’, or ‘I did it!’ stance.
- To add to the last point, high fives. Happy stars like giving high fives, because it energises them, but also energises the fans, which buys the star more adoration and equals more happiness. When a teenage girl is high fived by her pop star crush, she may hold the hand to her heart and squeal – and will probably vow never to wash the hand again – while the star will keep high fiving, because it gives them a sense of importance and validation, adding to their joy.
- Happy people tend to touch others more, or allow others to enter their personal space, or touch them. Happiness comes with a good dollop of feeling relaxed and comfortable, and comfortable people are more open to others in their personal space. Also, most people become more energised when someone shares in their happiness, as stated in the last point, and touch is a great way to make it clear just how energised they are. For this reason, happy characters hug, pat others on the shoulder or back, hold hands, etc.
- Looking up. Many people instinctually turn their faces to the sky when they’re experiencing great joy.
- Hands folded behind the head.
- Dancing, tapping feet to a rhythm, swaying from side to side.
- When sitting, the legs may be casually flung open, planted straight on the ground or crossed, but there is no tension in the muscles.
- Playful behaviour, soft punching or shoving, wrestling, sticking out tongue, etc.
- Children might open their arms so their parents will pick them up, or run to their parents.
- Some adults will run and fling out their arms to be picked up too!
- Lots of laughing.
- Some people cry when they’re extremely happy (I’m one of them 🙂 ). These tears do often come with random laughter, though happy criers may still cover their faces just like sad characters do.
- Any big emotion can cause a little extra sweat, and happiness is no different. So, heightened colour and a sheen to the skin. 🙂
- Happy people tend to speak with gesturing hands, the greater the joy, the larger the gestures. However, when the elation turns to content, the gestures tend to lessen and the hands will hang loosely by the character’s sides.
- Remember the teenage girl from above somewhere? Her breathing may be super fast, and her voice will probably be really high pitched. Many characters experiencing extreme joy will share these traits. On the other side, since happiness goes hand in hand with feeling comfortable and relaxed, many happy characters will breathe more regularly, with lower voices.
- Positive words, expressing of relief or joy, more jokes.
- Whistling, singing, whooping, or humming.
- Just like the first point in the body language section, some facial muscles may still be tight too, for example, the lips might be pulled tight to expose the teeth, BUT the mouth corners will always quirk up into some semblance of a smile, and the jaw will be relaxed.
- Smiles that crinkle the corners of the eyes, and show the upper teeth (this looks more joyful than a close-lipped smile and most people instinctively show their joy by grinning with exposed teeth, EXCEPT if they’ve trained themselves not to show their teeth for whatever reason).
- Stoic characters probably won’t smile with exposed teeth, except if they’re experiencing intense joy. As always, they’ll likely show micro-emotions, like a quick, close-lipped smile. This action may be repeated a time or two, but stoics tend to get their emotions under control fast, then hide their true feelings.
- Smiles are contagious, so your other characters might start smiling too. 🙂
- Along with the crow’s feet, the character might squint a little, showing less of the sclera.
- Lots of eye contact, and regular blinking.
- Twinkling eyes.
- The eyebrows might be raised with extreme joy, or will remain straight and relaxed when content.
- Raised cheeks.
What Joy Feels Like
- Light, like you’re floating.
- Warm and fuzzy, like sunshine on bare skin.
- Butterflies in your stomach.
- You may get goosebumps, or the back of your neck tingles.
- Feeling invincible, or that you can accomplish anything.
- You notice more beautiful things in nature, like a bird chirping, or the way the light shines through the trees.
- Food tastes better and there’s a melody in everything.
- You don’t get annoyed as easily.
- More things amuse you, and you laugh at more.
- The urge to help others find joy too.
- Feeling like you’re at the right place in the right time.
Have anything to add? Leave your thoughts in the comments! I love hearing from you.
Until next time.
2 responses to “Let’s Write Joy”
Loved the article, great how to communicate joy and great insight into the physical presence of joy does in the body.
I am researching about emotions and how it is expressed as I am trying to grow and target my on social media presence (sarahpardo87)
There was another article about music that pin pointed the 13 emotion we have, I would love some more insight into they physical body expression of the other positive emotions (I saw you shared about more negative emotion on your other articles.
This is the link to the Berkeley article: https://news.berkeley.edu/2020/01/06/music-evokes-13-emotions/)
Hi Sara. Thanks for the comment. 🙂
I love the idea of writing more posts on the happier emotions, but I haven’t focused on that for two reasons. One, most authors (including myself) naturally find writing the happy emotions easier. We all know the feeling of butterflies in our stomach, or how someone can light up when a loved one enters the room, for example. The struggle is usually in adding depth to the negative emotions, without always relying on the old cliches.
And two, the happy emotions tend to have similar body language. Being in love and being joyful overlap quite a bit in terms of actions and facial expressions, so I figured writing one would cover most of them. But I’m totally open to trying them out, if someone would find that kind of post useful. 🙂