Joy Division

After a decade working as a therapist and holding space for the brave, beautiful stories I encounter along the way, I’ve had a curious finding.  Not one of these stories is identical, yet there is a familiar melody that builds if you back up and listen from a distance.  It’s like sitting on the back porch after a long day in the sweaty palm of summer as the crickets and katydids show off their grand cacophony against the stillness at dusk.  No song is in perfect harmony, yet the dissonance makes perfect sense.  

I’ve found this common theme checks out despite age, race, gender, or religion.  You ready for this?  Here it is: 

Humans are terrified of Joy.  

Beyond anger, sadness, grief, shame—you name it—we are far more resistant to feel joy than other emotions.  

Why is this?  

I call it “the other shoe syndrome.”  If we bask in moments of joy, small though they may be, eventually, the other shoe will drop, leaving us disappointed, or perhaps irresponsible, or even worse...empty.  We’re so afraid of the let down so we settle for scarcity and self-protect.  

Brene Brown says it best,

“When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding.  As a result, we dress-rehearse tragedy and beat it (vulnerability) to the punch.” 

In other words, joy is too risky.  Something terrible might happen on the other side so we opt out altogether and dumb down desire.  After all, if we run tactics on worst-case scenario, we have nothing to lose.  

Not so fast, Cowboy.  You simply can’t opt out of vulnerability.  You’re not like the rest.  You want more.  Hell, you’re taking precious minutes of your day you’ll never get back to read a blog post about self-awareness and development.  Chances are, you’re also a little weird.  I sure hope so.

To walk around on the planet with a heartbeat and a dream we must practice vulnerability.  Expansion requires it.  

Human beings have a negative bias.  I’ve heard it said, “we’re like teflon for the positive and velcro for the negative.”  After all, fear has kept us alive through the ages as a species.  However we don’t need it for survival in the same way we once did.  We can soften into joy if we practice it.  This takes some rewiring, though, hence the word “practice.”  

How do we practice?  I’m convinced it’s a three-fold process.  

When Joy flashes her tooth-y grin in your direction,  don't quickly look the other way—get curious.  Flirt with her, even if she’s there for just a minute. 

Then what? 

Pivot to gratitude.  Research shows the most joyful people in the world are also the most grateful.  This blows far beyond circumstance.  It’s a result of practice.  When we pivot to gratitude instead of scarcity, we build up new accessory muscles we didn’t know existed.  This, in turn, becomes habit over time.  

I like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s words, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” 

In that practice of gratitude for this joyful moment—breathe it in—stay with it.  Brain science tells us it takes three deep breaths or eleven seconds to form a new neuropathway in your brain.  By basking in these joyful moments, you are literally rewiring your brain to make you a more wholehearted, receptive person. 

By the way, this post is really for me.  They all are.  We write what we know because we’ve had to learn it.  I’m guilty of constantly chasing the extraordinary.  In this chase, I miss out on the tiny, ordinary moments bursting with joy: the quiet flurry of snow, the faint song being played on the piano in the other room, a perfectly poured latte, my niece’s delicious laugh, a text from a friend “just saying hi.” These simple sightings of joy are oxygen for the soul.   

This joy, this “sharp and wonderful stab of longing” as Lewis describes, is bittersweet.  It’s the good and the bad, the black and the white.  It’s toggling the both-and.  This season, I’m committed to that creative tension.  I’m committed to practicing those tiny, two-degree shifts that bolster desire.  I don’t want to go it alone though.  Will you join me?

Love & Gratitude,