Thursday, March 19, 2015

Embracing Joy

I'm not sure I can put a finger on it exactly, or list all the reasons why, but I've been feeling a deep sense of joy recently (this feeling may or may not have coincided with the advent of my baby finally sleeping 12-13 hours through the night). Life certainly isn't perfect, things are still busy and stressful and there are many days where normal life frustrations get me down (remind me to tell you about the day I yelled at my son so intensely he peed his pants...)

But overall, life is so, so good right now.

Which scares me.

You see, when things seem to be going well for me, my mind inevitably reacts with questions: Why are things so good right now? Is it because something terrible is about to happen? Nobody is allowed too much happiness in life, I bet something horrible is going to happen soon. I be there's going to be a car accident. Someone's going to die. Someone's going to get sick. What's the worst possible thing that could happen to me right now? How can I be prepared?

You get the idea.

I never really used to think much of this tendency of mine to dwell on negative future possibilities until I read Dr. BrenĂ© Brown's Daring Greatly last summer. If you haven't read this book yet, you probably should. I even recommend buying it. It's one that needs to be revisited over and over again.

Brown is a researcher in social science, and she studies fear, shame, and vulnerability. One of her arguments is that in order to avoid shame and pain, people put on different forms of mental armor or shields to protect themselves, things like numbing, perfectionism, cynicism, etc.

One mental shield she called "Foreboding Joy". People who use this shield are incapable of enjoying the happiness of the moment. Instead, they are constantly worried about the possible bad things that could potentially happen. In this way, they refuse to acknowledge the joy that is in front of them, waiting for them if they would just feel it.

It was a strange experience for me, to read about this part of myself in her book, and realize for the first time what a disservice I was doing to myself by forever dwelling on these negative possibilities and mentally trying to prepare myself for the worst.

It meant I was refusing to simply feel the joy.

It's been surprisingly hard to turn that side of my brain off. There's a part of me that feels it's very productive for me to to imagine these possible future scenarios and try to prepare for them. But I realized there's a deeper issue going on. When I have these negative worry thoughts, it's not just because I'm trying to be prepared, it's because there is some part of me that honestly believes I don't deserve this moment of joy.

There is so much pain in this world. So many people have hard struggles. I have friends and family so close to me going through such terribly hard things, and I wonder, what have I ever done to deserve happiness? What did I ever do to get such a beautiful life?

I feel guilty that my life is so happy.

And I also feel like it won't last, because I don't deserve a happy life, and so it's only a matter of time before that super horrible thing happens.

But what Brown's book has also helped me see is that I am doing no one any favors by dwelling in this negative space. Decreasing how much I enjoy my blessed life doesn't help anyone else who is suffering. It only unnecessarily adds misery to the world.

So I am working on it. I'm trying so very hard to just let the joy flow through me right now. To just swim in the cuddles of my baby, and laugh with my three-year-old at tickle time, and soak in the knowledge from my grad school classes, and love my husband more, and enjoy one more slice of chocolate pie because I'm nursing, and just let it swirl around and fill me up. The joy is right there, all around me.

This is a season of joy. Seasons of pain and sorrow may be in my future, but that doesn't change that this is a season of joy. I don't need to feel guilty about it, and I don't need to reject it.

I just need to embrace it.

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