Scary Joy



"Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others." - Cicero

The uplifting, all-out feeling of joy in the body is almost indescribable. For me, joy feels like goose bumps, laughter, and happy tears all at the same time. It is hopeful and exciting, enthusiastic, and even heavenly.

However, something often happens in the throes of joy that can turn happiness into feelings of despair. A little sneaky thought surfaces and reminds us that joy can’t last forever. Sometimes, I feel this impending kill joy as a nagging anxiety in my heart and throat, grabbing me out of the moment I was just in love with.

Recently, when I brought a new puppy home from the Humane Society, I was overwhelmed with how much I instantaneously adored her. She was soft and sweet, loved to play, and had delicious smelling puppy breath. We named her Poppy.

Colliding with the emotion of joy, however, was an ugly blanket of fear trying to suffocate all the goodness I was wrapped up in. “What if something happens to Poppy?" I questioned. I had cause for concern after all. We didn't know her early whereabouts and there was still a fresh wound after just having lost our last dog, Floyd. He had only lived with us for a year and a half and at the tender age of six, died in our bed of an auto-immune disease. I had to remind myself that this was an entirely different experience.

Upon contemplating this, I realized that no matter how normal or common the fear of loss is, allowing it to destroy joy is not acceptable to me. Consequently, I was relieved when I started reading, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, because she addresses this very issue. The book is brilliant, and Dr. Brown’s research on vulnerability is fascinating as well as helpful. Her definition of vulnerability, most simply put, is showing up and allowing ourselves to be seen. To be vulnerable takes truth and courage. I highly recommend both, the book and being vulnerable.

One of the most interesting sections of the book for me was the discussion of joy. Brown explains how we sabotage joy by trying to get to vulnerability before it gets us. Sometimes she says we even rehearse tragedy as a way to safeguard ourselves against being caught off guard. However, waiting for the other shoe to drop does not protect us, it just takes us away from the beauty of the moment.

Consequently, we have all experienced the ups and downs of life. When we are up, it is great, but it is a little frightening too, because we know deep down in our souls, we inevitably must come down. We just hope and pray with all our might that we don’t fall too hard, but, rather, slowly drift down to the soft ground only to bounce back up again soon.

The good news is, while we may not be able to stop this feeling of impending doom in the midst of our joy, we can do something to turn it around. And once again, the answer lies in the practice of gratitude. Brown learned in her research that participants view these moments of vulnerability as an invitation to practice gratitude. She found that people who kept a gratitude journal or practiced any kind of outward expression of gratitude built up resilience to being taken out of their joy.

Now the sadness I felt associated with bringing my new puppy home makes a lot more sense.  Loving openly and freely certainly makes us more susceptible to pain and suffering, but I believe it is also the only way to live life to the fullest.

Without allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, we build up walls attempting to keep out potential harm. The problem with this tactic is we then miss the luminous light seeking to break through and light us up from within.

I propose part of our purpose here on Earth is to feel joy to the fullest and then share it with the world. Although joy may be scary at times, more than anything, it is contagious and well worth the price of being vulnerable.