I am fortunate enough to have lead a good life filled with lots and lots of good days. One of those good days was my 20th birthday. I had a FANTASTIC 20th birthday. It wasn't just a party — it was an entire weekend (my birthday happens to fall on the 4th of July, so it's always a weekend-long ordeal).
I started the day with a nice BBQ at my house with my closest friends and family. Then my friends and I drove to Lake Tahoe (a popular vacation spot a few hours away from my hometown) for the weekend, where they had a surprise party for me. The rest of the weekend was spent on the beach with every single one of my favorite people. It felt like one 72-hour-long dream. I remember looking around and finding myself in a room filled with people I loved so much and thinking to myself, "I'm so happy, I could just die."
I was obviously exaggerating a bit. But a recent study released by the European Heart Journal shows that maybe my exaggeration wasn't too far-fetched. Turns out, it actually is possible to be so incredibly overcome with joy that your heart gives out.
I wasn't surprised to find this out. My body is no stranger to that weird sort of happy-stress feeling. I was offered my dream job right after graduation and couldn't eat for days because of the nervous pit in my stomach. I met a boy I really, really genuinely liked, and his texts would simultaneously fill my heart up with a twist of joyful ecstasy and horrified, fast-paced nervous palpitations. I went to a legit ball in Paris this summer, and the whole fairytale experience was tainted by the overwhelming physical feeling of stress.
So what the f*ck is wrong with me?
Well, have you ever heard of takotsubo syndrome? It's OK, me neither. BUT DON'T WORRY GUYS. I got us. I did some research to figure out what it is. Takotsubo syndrome (TTS) is basically a stress-induced condition that causes a sudden temporary weakening of the heart. You know when people talk about “broken heart syndrome”? This is what they're referring to.
TTS has traditionally been associated with negative life stressors such as “grief, anger or fear.” But the study published by the European Heart Journal sought to find out how POSITIVE emotional stress influences TTS.
The study sampled 1,750 patients, 485 of whom were faced with emotional events that lead them to have a TTS episode. If the emotion leading up to the TTS outburst was a pleasant one, they referred to it as “happy heart syndrome.” If it was a negative one, they referred to it as “broken heart syndrome.”
Surprisingly, they found that about one in twenty cases were actually caused by HAPPY heart syndrome! Wondering what events were SO f*cking joyful that it made these patients' hearts weak? They provide us with a list:
Patient 1: Birthday party Patient 2: Son's wedding Patient 3: Meeting after 50 years with friends from high school Patient 4: Preparing 50th wedding anniversary (pleasant anticipation) Patient 5: Positive job interview Patient 6: Wedding Patient 7: Favorite driver won race car competition Patient 8: Becoming grandmother Patient 9: Surprise farewell celebration Patient 10: Son's company opening Patient 11: Favourite rugby team won game Patient 12: Emotional speaking during a friend's birthday Patient 13: Celebrating 80th birthday Patient 14: Winning several jackpots at the casino Patient 15: Celebration of normal PET-CT scan Patient 16: Visiting opera with her family Patient 17: Family party Patient 18: Unexpected visit from favourite nephew Patient 19: Grandchildren visiting from London (abroad) Patient 20: Becoming a great-grandmother
I don't know about you, but I noticed quite a bit of birthday parties on there. Luckily, my heart didn't actually give out on my 20th birthday. My body got a little anxious, but I survived.
Anyway, apparently how I was feeling wasn't that biologically improbable. It really IS possible to feel so incredibly overcome with joy that the stress ends up taking a toll on your heart.
When you think about it, it's not that hard to imagine. The intensity with which you feel love for someone on your wedding day could be compared to the intensity with which you feel hate towards that person after that person breaks your heart. Turns out, loving someone can f*ck you up just as much as having your heart broken.