“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ~ Brené Brown
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I recently gave pause to the concept of “joy” after reading about the theme of the 2016 International Conference on Physician Health – “Increasing Joy in Medicine”. We hear the word joy a lot at Christmas time because “rejoice” is the verb of joy. Day to day, it would seem that we use the word happiness far more than joy even though joy is defined as: “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.” In fact, joy is probably a more accurate depiction of what we search for in life – it refers more to given moments in time than a constant state of happiness – thereby more achievable.
Are we afraid of joy?
Coincidentally, this past week I was reading one of Lissa Rankin’s lessons in her 21-Day Practicing Compassion Challenge where she indicates, according to Brené Brown, that joy is the most terrifying emotion we experience as humans. At face value this seems counter-intuitive but the reasoning behind it is spot on. In an interview with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday, Joy: It’s Terrifying, Brené explains our fear of joy so well. She says that we dress rehearse tragedy to beat vulnerability to the punch. In essence, we wait for the other shoe to drop when we start to feel joy.
I can think of many examples in my own life of foreboding joy. One that repeated itself time and time again was when my son was between one and two years old, and I was in an extremely high stress time of my life as a second year family medicine resident. He went to a day home during that time, and on days I would drop him off, I would drive away visualizing him falling down the stairs and either dying or never being the same again. I always thought this was a reflection of my anxiety, but in actual fact, I was so full of love for my son, married to the most amazing man and on the career path I could have only dreamed of – but instead, I was dress rehearsing an unthinkable tragedy so as to make the pain more tolerable.
In reality, our dress rehearsals do not make the pain any more tolerable, however, it takes a great deal of vulnerability to feel joy. Brené uses the example of watching your sleeping child and feeling a flood of love and joy, then we instantly think of losing them. I imagine we can all easily think of so many of these types of moments.
How do we embrace joy as opposed to fear it?
1) Practice Gratitude: The benefits of gratitude are undeniable and continue to multiply. Joy and gratitude go together as a powerful supplier of positive emotions. As Brené teaches, people she has interviewed that have experienced extreme tragedy in their lives miss the little things. These are the things we must practice being grateful for – the moments of everyday life.
2) Be Mindful: Mindfulness transforms lives. Period. When we are mindful of the moment, and it is joyous, we will feel it and embrace it. Fear doesn’t exits in a present moment of joy.
3) Be Vulnerable: Vulnerability is at the heart of Brené’s work. It is something that is so difficult for us to be, but necessary to live a full life, or as Brené says, a whole-hearted life. We really do have to be vulnerable to feel joy. By being vulnerable, we are allowing ourselves to experience joy and not be fearful.
I truly enjoyed every minute of writing this post. I can think of so many times in my life that joy felt foreboding and I waited for ‘the other shoe to drop’. Fortunately, through my work on this blog and in physician health, I have really tried to practice gratitude and be more mindful and vulnerable – it has definitely made a difference.
I want to dedicate this post to a dear friend of mine that I lost this week. She brought great joy to my life in many of the moments we shared. She may no longer be an angel among us, but she is certainly an angel watching over us.