What keeps you from being joyful?

Graduating from high school. Starting a new career. Training for and finishing a race. Getting married. Big and small, these are all momentous occasions that likely took preparation, execution, and maybe some blood, sweat, and tears. In the end, there’s reason for joy and celebration. But, how often do we actually celebrate and cherish these moments in a way that honors the hard work and accomplishment? In our daily lives, I believe we sometimes intentionally prevent ourselves from experiencing the joy and happiness we deserve to feel when it comes to our greatest accomplishments.

Like all of us, I am not immune to this phenomenon. In December, my two-and-a-half years of reading text books and writing papers drew to a close as I walked across the stage at Indiana Wesleyan University to receive my Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling diploma. It was an exciting day, filled with some of my friends, family, and professors who had helped me along the way. But I kept noticing these nagging thoughts creep into my mind. “Well, the real work is all ahead of you. Get ready for the uphill climb.” And, “Don’t get too excited about your success. Who knows when you’ll hit your next challenge. You might not feel so great then!”

Many of you can probably relate. Why is it that thoughts like these pop up even when we’ve proven to ourselves, “We can do it!” These negative thoughts obstruct our joyful moments and prevent us from being able to feel genuine accomplishment and deservedness. Brené Brown, an author, speaker, and researcher, has a term for this pattern. She calls it foreboding joy. Brown states that, “Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience.” She says that when we feel uncomfortable with the vulnerability of joy, we cope by mentally preparing for the next disaster. By never letting ourselves be too happy or hopeful, we shield ourselves from sadness, disappointment, and from being caught off guard. Here’s the downside — when we attempt to protect ourselves from feeling the bad stuff, we give up feeling the good stuff.

So how can we really celebrate and be joyful in the moments of our lives without letting those nagging thoughts steal our joy? Here are a few ideas.

  • Practice celebrating and being joyful for small things. Create little incentives in your life for small tasks, like going out for dinner as a reward for sticking to your exercise routine for one week.
  • Be aware of your thinking. Ask yourself, is this thought helpful to me or is it hurting me?
  • Read Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly and learn more about vulnerability, joy, and how to live whole-heartedly.
  • Practice being in the present moment. Those nagging thoughts are usually about the future or the past. Focus on being grateful for what’s in front of you and let those worries fade out of the forefront of our mind. Picture those negative thoughts floating away like a leaf floats down the river.
  • Consider seeing a counselor to talk about some of these issues. This can be a huge first step to new self-discovery.
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