Joyul little African American girl, smiling

Did You Know We Can Actually Fear Experiencing Joy?

Sounds a little crazy, doesn’t it? However, in doing my research on this powerful concept, I came across some fascinating information and perspectives on what gets in the way of experiencing joy, especially the impact of fear that interferes with our joy.

According to Brené Brown in her book Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience (2021), joy frightens us because it reminds us of what we have to lose. Joy floods us when we feel deeply connected to the people, places, and experiences we value most.

On the website Heart-Mind Online in an article by Brené Brown’s Atlas of the Heart we learn the following: “If you’re afraid to lean into good news, wonderful moments, and joy – if you find yourself waiting for the other shoe to drop – you are not alone. It’s called ‘foreboding joy,’ and most of us experience it. 

The journalist who wrote the article says, “According to Brené, joy frightens us because it reminds us of what we have to lose. Joy floods us when we feel deeply connected to the people, places, and experiences we value most. At the same time, joy carries an undercurrent of vulnerability that threatens our ability to soak up its benefits; resilience, strength, and courage flow from joy when we let them. 

In The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama says, “Sadly, many of the things that undermined our joy and happiness we create ourselves. Often it comes from the negative tendencies of the mind, emotional reactivity, or from our inability to appreciate and utilize the resources that exist within us…. We create most of our suffering, so it should be logical that we also have the ability to create more joy. It simply depends on the attitudes, the perspectives, and the reactions we bring to situations and to our relationships with other people. When it comes to personal happiness there is a lot that we as individuals can do.” The Archbishop added, “It is how we face all of the things that seem to be negative in our lives that determines the kind of person we become. If we regard all of this as frustrating, we are going to come out squeezed and tight and just angry and wishing to smash everything.”

The authors of the book share research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky who says that there are three factors that seem to have the greatest influence on increasing our happiness: “our ability to reframe our situation more positively, our ability to experience gratitude, and our choice to be kind and generous.”

 In her book, Brené shares that, “In the midst of joy, there’s often a quiver, a shudder of vulnerability. Rather than using that as a warning sign to practice imagining the worst-case scenarios, the people who lean into joy use the quiver as a reminder to practice gratitude.”

The Bible tells us to fear not and to be anxious for nothing, for example as stated in Isaiah 41:10: “So do not fear, for I am with you;” and John 14:27 “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  (A Google search reveals that the Do not be afraid message appears 365 times in the Bible!)

From all this information I have concluded that we need to access our abilities to fight the fears that jeopardize our joy. I’m not saying it is easy to fight fear and anxiety but it is important to notice when fear is robbing us of joy and instead to put effort into combatting those thoughts and feelings. It is a power we have; we just have to access it. 

I wish you well on your journey to rid yourself of unnecessary and unhealthy fear.

Invitation for Reflection

  1. To what extent do you experience fear and anxiety? Is it more generalized or more focused on specific things or both?  What thoughts, feelings, sensations, images and/or memories pop up for you as you ponder this question?
  2. How does the information in this blog influence your attitudes, beliefs and behaviors with regard to fear and anxiety?
  3. What resources do you have in your life that might help you reduce your fears and anxieties which then can open gateways for you to experience more joy in your life?

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