Learning To Embrace JoyAug 28, 2022
Foreboding Joy. I didn’t make it up. I had never even heard of foreboding joy until I read Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. If you haven’t read Daring Greatly, stop what you are doing and get a copy. It is a fantastic book that delves into the ideas of courage and vulnerability. Dr. Brown explores the misconception that courage is essential, but vulnerability should be avoided because it is a sign of weakness. As she investigates the topic, it becomes apparent that courage is impossible without vulnerability.
Joy is assuredly something I have experienced in life, but it is not something I have actively spoken about. If you ask me about joyous times in my life, I can rattle off many things:
- The day I was accepted to college and medical school
- The day I got married
- The birth of my children
However, I never examined what comes after joy. What is the next feeling? For me, it is a deep-seated fear that something terrible is about to happen. It is the sense that I cannot experience extreme happiness without something bad lurking around the corner. That, my friends, is foreboding joy. It is the thief of joy. It is a joy stealer. And, worst of all, it is incredibly prevalent. Let me give you a recent example.
My family rented a Florida home with a pool and a canal in the backyard. The weather was perfect. My kids are young enough that just having a pool and some sunshine is enough to keep them happy and fulfilled. After an incredible day of swimming and playing, my son gave me a huge hug and wouldn’t let go. “I love you so much, Daddy.” My heart swelled with joy. As we got out of the pool, I wrapped him in a towel, and we walked down to the dock to watch the mullet fish jump out of the canal water. As four-year-olds often do, he stepped closer and closer to the edge to look at the water below. Without warning, images of an alligator snatching my son off the dock invaded my precious moment. I pulled my son away from the edge and scanned the water for any signs of danger. As a New York transplant living in Chicago, I can assure you that I have absolutely no idea what I should be looking for, but that didn’t stop me from trying. My wife joined us on the dock, and I was able to snap back into the perfect moment with my family.
Thoughts of tragedy stealing away a moment of extreme joy is foreboding joy. Why does it happen? Joy is a feeling that leaves us feeling the most vulnerable. By imagining or rehearsing tragedy, we reduce joy in an attempt to minimize our vulnerability. According to Brené Brown, “We’re trying to beat vulnerability to the punch. We don’t want to be blindsided by hurt. We don’t want to be caught off-guard, so we literally practice being devastated or never move from self-elected disappointment…Scarcity and fear drive foreboding joy.”
If you were to ask me if I want more joy in my life, you would get a resounding ‘yes.’ Of course, I want to experience more joy. Who wouldn’t? What I have come to realize, however, is that to experience more joy, I have to allow myself to be more vulnerable. But how? How can I welcome more vulnerability into my life so that I can experience more joy? What is the antidote to foreboding joy? The answer is simple: Gratitude.
This isn’t to say that we aren’t all grateful for the amazing things we have in our lives, but we frequently forget to “practice gratitude.” What is the difference? The difference is actively calling to mind the things we are grateful to have in our life. In the moments we feel most vulnerable, it is important to lean into gratitude. Gratitude is the opposite of scarcity. Gratitude is remembering the abundance of the moment. It is examining this snippet of time and recognizing that it is enough and that we are whole and worthy of joy. At that moment on the dock, when the terrible images began to swirl, I was able to look at my son and experience immense gratitude for the moment. Gratitude for the father-son moment that I hoped would never end. And with that gratitude, I was better able to allow vulnerability and joy.
I will leave you with some key points from Daring Greatly:
- Joy comes to us in moments–ordinary moments. We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary.
- Be grateful for what you have.
- Don’t squander joy.
That last point is the most essential. Don't squander joy. Joy is one of the most sought-after emotions. Why spend time dampening or lessening this incredible emotion? By leaning into the vulnerability of these moments, you can learn to fully embrace joy.
Does foreboding joy prevent you from enjoying ordinary moments? Does it keep you from showing up how you want at work or home? How would your life change if you could learn to embrace joy?
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PS. I get a lot of inspiration from music lyrics. Many people use inspiring quotes (and I do too), but music really speaks to me. I hope you find inspiration in the songs too.
Indigo Girls - Closer To Fine
If you want to read the lyrics, click here.
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