Waiting for the other shoe to drop used to be my way of life. I would be happy, and instantly feel worried for when this time of joy would inevitably end. I told friends that happiness was cyclical; you had good times and bad times and it was really one or the other.
What I didn’t know is that I was foreboding joy. As the queen of self-help (Brené Brown) puts it, I was dress rehearsing for tragedy.
Every single person should read Brown, by the way (The Gifts of Imperfection is a great starting point). But in the meantime, here’s more info on foreboding joy, and how you can get out of it.
What is foreboding joy?
I’m no therapist, but I tend to think of it as a defense mechanism. We try to prepare ourselves for the worst in order to lessen the pain that we feel is inevitable—key words being “the pain we feel is inevitable.”
What this looks like:
- Telling yourself you’re not going to get the job or the promotion
- Writing off compliments instead of accepting them
- Not allowing yourself to get too excited about something
- Thinking and focusing on worst-case scenarios—this is sometimes a helpful tool, but not if doing so lessens joy
Where does it come from?
When was the first time your excitement for something led to disappointment? I’d bet most people have memories that span back to early childhood, and that scenario only repeats itself throughout our lives, often growing with even more severity.
But whether it’s worrying more about getting teased for being a nerd than celebrating that you’ve won the school spelling bee (*raises hand*), getting unexpected bad news, or just going through any kind of trauma, going from happy to sad is an assault on the senses. It’s a jarring experience that quickly teaches us how to cope.
Yet that’s the thing about coping: we often stay in survival mode and wear our heavy armor, even when we don’t have to.
Joy is vulnerable.
It’s not just sharing our feelings that makes us anxious and scared, it’s also joy. Whether we realize it or not, our feeling that joy is fleeting makes us want to avoid it altogether. Unfortunately, this has about the same effect of never traveling out of fear that the plane will crash. We end up stuck.
Instead of running, we can be grateful.
Waiting for the other shoe to drop is exhausting, but we only recognize how taxing it is when we stop doing so. One of the best things we can do is to allow space for our joy and express gratitude for it.
We also need to remember that joy is not the big things. It is always the little things. If our coffee tastes good, if we’re reading a good chapter, if a loved one gets us a glass of water, these are moments of joy. Focusing on those ordinary moments and not running from our happiness is what life should be about.
Joy is scary. However, it’s not as scary as a life without happiness. Bad things will happen regardless of how much we try to prepare. Spending the limited time we have thinking about how the worst is upon us is, simply put, a waste. Allowing joy to wash over us is a baptism that makes life worth living.