The Practice of Joy

Yesterday Andrew was giving me a hug.  You know one of those really good ones that seems like it’s lasting forever.  Well, some people might hate long hugs, but me, oh, I neeeeed them.  Anyhoodle.  He was giving me a hug, I was sinking into it, then I had an image flash of him being eaten by a bear on one of his adventures or falling off a cliff because of his crazy driving.

I seriously thought through both of those scenarios.  What would I do without him?  How would I survive?  What would my day-to-day look like?  Then I backed away from the hug because my thoughts got too dramatic.

I realize I do this a lot.  I’m in an overwhelmingly wonderful moment with him, then I picture his death.  I know, hilarious, or not so much…

It was so interesting to find in reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, this is actually a common thing.  

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Are you ever standing over your beautiful children while they sleep then imagine something horrible happening to them?  Are things going really well with work so you expect the bottom to fall out?  Too good to be true?  Brown says this is our mind’s defense mechanism to keep us from experiencing joy.  Why?  Because to realize how good you got it, then fully embrace the moment is terrifying.  It requires vulnerability which is really hard for us to naturally do, so we beat joy to the punch.  We wont be caught off guard with disaster.  So we think of every scenario that will ruin the circumstance.

Again, I’ll speak for myself in saying I do this all the time.  I’ve never been so fulfilled in a relationship.  So loved and cared for, and deep down inside I think it’s too good to last.  Something this amazing can’t be long-term.  I’ve experienced so much heartache, disappointment and suffering in my past, so now I have my defenses up and by golly I’ll be prepared for the worst.  ‘Cause I’m a survivor!

“We’ve learned that giving in to joy is, at best, setting ourselves up for disappointment and at worst, inviting disaster.  And we struggle with the worthiness issue.  Do we deserve our joy, given our inadequacies and imperfections?” (Brown)

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Life has been going really well lately.  We’re not rolling in the dough (haha, this will never happen to a photographer and yogi) but we have food and our bills paid.  We get to travel to breathtaking places.  And our relationship gets deeper and stronger by the day.  I’ve been in survival mode and really struggling with mental health for so long, but now it’s seems like I have a little reprieve.  And I don’t really know what to do with all this.  I’m not used to it and I don’t deserve it.  It really is too good to be true.

Can you relate to avoiding the moment for fear that it’s too good?

So what does joy have to do with vulnerability?  Vulnerability is a complicated issue.  I’m seeing this play out in my own life.  It takes guts to open up about yourself and share with others without the assurance that they will receive you and not judge.  It takes courage to revel your flaws in a relationship without knowing if they will be able to handle it.  It’s a huge risk to love wholeheartedly and open yourself up for disappointment.  Why?  Because we’re dealing with other people.  People who are imperfect and have their own issues they’re working through.  People make mistakes and hurt other people.

So I defend.  I put my walls up so others can’t get too close to hurt me.  Haha, what freaks me out even more is when they’re not hurting me.  When there is non-judgement and love, I again think too good to be true.  This is going too well, they’re going to eventually hurt me, and I’ll be prepared!!

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Well.  I’m tired of living this way and I’m making steps to change it.  I don’t want to just trudge through this life without ever really connecting with others.  Life really is too short for that.

So where do we start?  How can I start accepting joy in my day-to-day?  It’s surprisingly simple yet so hard.  Brown says we combat foreboding joy through gratefulness.

I mentioned this in another post and I’ve been working on listing the things I’m grateful for.  This has not only helped me survive through depression, break unhealthy looping on a subject, but it’s also helping me to truly experience joy.

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So now, when Andrew and I are on a walk, the sun is setting, colors splashed across the sky and he gently puts his hand on the back of my neck and my heart swells so that it feels stuck in my throat, I’m working through not freaking out.  I let the waves of joy wash over me and start saying, sometimes out loud for Andrew’s enjoyment… “I’m so thankful for you.  Thank you for that sweet touch.  I’m so happy we can go on a walk together.”

After I’ve had a good chat with a friend, where I was able to just be myself and she didn’t judge but loved me, on the way home I list again, “Thank you Lord for such a caring, genuine friend.  Thank you for giving me a safe place to open up.  Thank you for taking care of me in that way.”

It’s ooey gooey, I know.  But for me to list out what I’m thankful for, I’m realizing how much I have to be thankful for that I don’t acknowledge.

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I’ve met some people who just seem to have the gift of joyfulness.  Something that goes beyond emotion, there in spite of the circumstance.  And I wonder at them.  I’m thankful for them in my life, but I truly wonder.  For me it’s more of a challenge to be joyful.  It takes vulnerability, courage and an active practice of gratitude.  Haha, who knew joy could be so much work??

As usual, I have good days with it, and not so good days.  But I do know that I am experiencing a change in my life through the work.

I would love to know your thoughts!  Does any of this hit home?  Not at all?  Is it just me who has to work at it?  Comment below or send me an email (ellen.liz@gmail.com).  I’d love to hear from you.

Meanwhile, cheers to the practice of joy!!

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3 thoughts on “The Practice of Joy

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