If arachnophobia is the fear of spiders and hydrophobia is the fear of water, what on earth do you call the fear of joy?
I grew up with cautions about not getting too excited, because “the other shoe will fall.” Believing the bad would always follow the good became a pervasive superstition, as maintaining caution was advisable when things were going very well and feelings of joy arose.
I’m sure we all know, or may even be, one of those people who refuse to get excited and happy about the good things in life, instantly scanning the horizon for doom and gloom when things are going well.
These societal beliefs are rampant today and they rob us of experiencing our joy and happiness.
Adopting this belief caused me to mute my feelings for many years and I often felt foolish by “getting carried away” by feelings of gratitude and happiness. I felt immature when joy filled my being because it didn’t seem like the “adult-thing” to do.
Really? Is joy just for kids? I think not. We all want to be happy, to live happy and joyful lives. It would seem to follow that allowing ourselves to experience our joy would be easy and natural, something we’d all seek. Yet it seems it might be more difficult than we might think.
Researcher and author Brené Brown calls our tendency to mute joy “foreboding joy”. Foreboding joy is the human tendency to squelch feelings of joy out of fear the good many not arrive or continue.
According to Brown, allowing ourselves to experience joy requires a degree of vulnerability. We’re afraid of feeling hurt or let-down. This all-too-common protective mechanism arises out of a need to protect from disappointment and, shielding feelings of vulnerability, prevents us from being a whole-hearted people.
In understanding this, I’ve really questioned the cost of this ingrained habit of protection. While it may protect me from experiencing feelings of disappointment, it also robs me of life’s sweetest gifts and the ultimate prize of happiness and joy. It robs me of recognizing the pleasure the simplest things in life offer me on a daily basis.
I’m grateful to have awakened from this insidious belief system that kept me locked in a world of muted tones—a beige-coloured world—and has offered me the experience of experiencing life in technicolor. I’m willing to be vulnerable.
Multiple studies reveal one sure-fire way to increase joy and happiness is to, first, be grateful.
I’ve had both a formal and informal gratitude practice for years. It’s no coincidence I began to experience more joy as I actively and consistently engaged in practices of gratitude. As Brown’s research reveals “the relationship between joy and gratitude is an intriguing upward spiral.” This upward spiral, Brown goes on to write, is, “such a great antidote to the downward spirals that we always hear about, and unfortunately, sometimes experience.” (Atlas of the Heart, p. 206).
Our happiness matters, as happy people tend to:
• Be healthier, with stronger immune systems
• Have better relationships
• Experience greater vigour and energy
• Have a better sense of humour (I crack myself up)
• Live longer (and maybe we want to because we’re happy)
Practicing gratitude boosts the production of neurochemicals and hormones that support well-being. The research on gratitude is compelling because our brains, bodies, and relationships all benefit from practicing gratitude.
We can re-wire our brains for gratitude and joy, and the benefits are real. When we engage in gratitude practices over time, there are lasting changes in the brain, particularly in areas associated with decision-making and learning. I’ve found the good far outweighs the bad; I just used to give the bad more attention than it’s worth.
Even if we can’t find anything to be grateful for, the mere practice of stopping to look for something to be grateful for creates a shift. I attest to this because, for me, it’s been a beautiful upward spiral of growing happiness and joy for me.
You can increase the power of gratitude to improve happiness and joy. While merely listing what we’re grateful for is helpful, thinking about why we’re grateful for the items on our list enhances the benefits we receive.
Try this out for yourself, paying attention to how you feel inside. Think of something you’re grateful for, pause for a moment, and notice how you feel. Then list the reasons why you’re grateful. How do you feel now?
I experienced joy vicariously though watching my children, but had been conditioned to be ‘mature; and not drink it in for myself. As I practice gratitude, joy builds and I feel lighter and more youthful, I have more energy and find there’s far more to be grateful for than dread.
As our world re-emerges from a time of great change and fear, remembering to be grateful for what we may have taken for granted, spending time in this feeling through a gratitude practice, may be one of the most powerful things you can do for yourself, your loved ones, and your life.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.