Unspeakable JoyJan 05, 2022
Foreboding Joy. I didn’t make it up. In fact, I had never even heard of foreboding joy. I had also never heard of Brené Brown, the author of Daring Greatly, where I was first introduced to the idea of foreboding joy. If you haven’t read Daring Greatly, stop what you are doing and go get a copy. It is a fantastic book that delves into courage and vulnerability. We are raised to believe that courage is essential, but we should avoid vulnerability at all costs. We are taught that vulnerability is weakness. In her book, it becomes pretty clear 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, and the birth of my children immediately come to mind. I never, however, 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.
I recently took my family on a “COVID-friendly” vacation. We rented a home in Florida that had both 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 of 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 actually calling to mind the things that we are grateful to have in our life. In the moments that we are feeling the most vulnerable, it is important to lean into gratitude. Gratitude is the opposite of scarcity. Gratitude is calling to mind the abundance of the moment. It is examining this snippet of time and recognizing that it is enough. 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 the vulnerability and the 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.
Do you experience foreboding joy? How does it show up in your life? Is it keeping you from enjoying ordinary moments? Is it preventing you from showing up how you want at work or at home? Interested in learning more? If so, schedule a complimentary discovery session to see if physician coaching is right for you.
PS. I get a lot of inspiration from music lyrics. Many people use inspiring quotes (and I may too), but music lyrics really speak to me. I hope you find inspiration in the songs too.
Indigo Girls - Closer To Fine
Link to the lyrics:
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