Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hit Joy Head On: Gratitude and Joy Avoidance

I'm ready  Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (affiliate link) by Brene Brown. One fascinating section of her book discusses joy avoidance. Joy avoidance is the process people use to mitigate the vulnerability they feel when touched by pure joy. Brene uses the example of watching her children sleep. Just as she gets the lump in her throat because they are so beautiful and she loves them so much, her mind begins every worst case scenario of things that can go wrong in their lives. It's as if she feels so open in her joy that she is afraid of it. If something horrible happened to her kids it would crush her, so she tries to squash the joy in hopes of avoiding the possibility of pain.

I completely understand. I have been known to hear someone say "Wow! Your day is going great!" and tell them to please not say that out loud until the day is done. My husband calls it superstition, and he's right. Somewhere deep in my psyche, I believe that proclaiming something wonderful can make it go away. My rational mind knows this is hogwash, but it's deeply ingrained. After reading the book, I realized I've been a joy-avoider.

What does a joy-avoider do it get over it? Thankfully, Brene has researched that as well. In her research with those she calls "Wholehearted" people, every person who had a strategy to short-circuit joy avoidance said the same thing: cultivate a practice of gratitude.

Gratitude. It turns out being thankful for the things that bring you joy makes it harder to shut down the joy. Thankfulness also helps you deal with life when the disappointments happen. When you've dared to feel real, deep joy at the good things in your life, and they go wrong, gratitude gives you the perspective to know good things are good whether they last or not. It's called a practice of gratitude because the Wholehearted people worked every day to be thankful, and did not rely on the whim of the moment to dictate their level of thanks for what they had.

In this Thanksgiving season, let's all try to hit joy head-on instead of avoiding it. And when we hit it, let's be thankful. Your gratitude will increase your joy!

Thanks to african_fi for the use of the lovely photo.

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