My life is great. So why is this thought keeping me up at night?
So a few weeks ago I had one of those fleeting moments where I realised everything in life was going great. My husband and I had finally settled into a new home that we adore. His work was going amazingly well. I had some fabulous writing projects on the go. The kids were thriving. And I’d finally bought a dryer (look, don’t judge me).
Wow, I thought. Life is great! GREAT! And for a moment I was flooded with happiness and joy about how well everything was going. And then, as it always does, sheer dread kicked in.
This can’t last, I thought. Oh my God, I’m too happy. Things are too perfect. It’s just a matter of time before the other shoe drops.
Horrible, awful things happen to people all the time. I should know. They’ve happened to me. Blind-sided me. So when happiness walks through the door, I instinctively go into caution mode. Don’t be TOO happy. Don’t let your guard down. Any minute now life is going to bite you in the arse.
Sound familiar to anyone else out there?
Looking back I’ve lived this way for pretty much my entire life. And it’s an exhausting and boring way to live because it means that when happiness comes you never truly allow yourself to lean into it. You always ALWAYS hold back to protect yourself. Don’t be too happy because life will punish you.
So thank God one of my friends put me onto Brene Brown.
Brown is a renowned vulnerability and shame researcher and TED X sensation. And I’m now mildly obsessed with her and her books. According to Brown we all use a range of strategies to protect ourselves from feeling vulnerable.
Alcohol. Food. Sex. Drugs. Shopping. Social Media. Perfectionism. And – here’s the one that stopped me in my tracks: joy-foreboding.
And it’s exactly how it sounds.
Joy-foreboding (or dress-rehearsing tragedy) is about our inability to allow ourselves to feel joy in case it doesn’t last. In essence, Brown says that for some people (ME!!!!) joy brings with it a feeling of terror because we are so afraid the moment won’t last.
Take a look at this clip where Brown discusses joy-forboding with Oprah Winfrey (go to the 1m 35 second mark and start from there).
Can’t watch the video? Don’t panic.
Brown succinctly explained joy-foreboding in a 2012 interview with the Huffington Post. She kicked things off my saying that joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience.
“And if you cannot tolerate joy, what you do is you start dress rehearsing tragedy.”
Dress rehearsing tragedy, she explains, is imagining something bad is going to happen when in reality, nothing is wrong.
“How many of you have ever stood over your child while they’re sleeping and thought, ‘Oh my God, I love you’ — and then pictured something horrific happening?” Brown asks. “Or woke up in the morning and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, job’s going great. Parents are good. This can’t last.”
During her research, Brown says she met people who had a profound capacity for joy. The difference, she says, is that when something really blissful happened to them, they felt grateful. “Instead of using it as a warning to start practicing disaster, they used it as a reminder to practice gratitude,” Brown says.
Of course I have my moments but now when I feel my mind going into some kind of death spiral of all the bad things that “could” go wrong, I stop and feel grateful. I am grateful that right now today, my family are well. I’m grateful that my children are safe, tucked up in their beds. I am grateful that right now – all is right in my little patch of the world.
These days when joy walks through the door, I grab it with both hands. Life’s too short not to lean in to the good moments and appreciate them when they arrive.
Dr Jo Lamble’s 5 tips on how to avoid joy-foreboding
I went to Australian psychologist Dr Jo Lamble for some tips on how to better manage this habit of joy-foreboding. Here’s what she had to say …
1. Learn to focus on there here and now. Try not to worry about the future because anticipation is usually worse than the reality and thinking about the future will cause us to miss today.
2. Practice mindfulness = learning to observe our thoughts, feelings and surroundings without judgment.
3. Practice being grateful. You are not going to jinx anything by feeling grateful for your life and loved ones. Being grateful increases happiness.
4. Know that we are resilient creatures. When bad things happen, we somehow learn to cope.
5. Preparing for disaster won’t make it easier if something bad happened. You can’t imagine pain – physical or emotional, so it’s pointless to try.
Have you ever experienced the type of fear Bec’s talking about? What do you worry about? And how do you overcome that concern?
This post first appeared on Mamamia.
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Over the past 25 years Rebecca Sparrow has earned a living as a travel writer, a television publicist, a marketing executive, a magazine editor, a TV scriptwriter, a radio producer, a newspaper columnist and as an author.