I have a perfect life. No, really I do. I am honestly and truly married to the best man on earth who treats me like a queen, I have two beautiful healthy children, we are financially secure, and there are no crisis’ going on in my life right now, big or small. Isn’t that wonderful?? It is! But this perfect, beautiful life of mine used to terrify me. Crazy, right?!? My life was just too good. . .too good last. Something terrible was right around the corner, I just knew it! Something tragic and life altering was going to happen any day now and my perfect world was going to come crashing down around me.
Have you experienced moments like these? Where everything in your life is going so perfectly that your chest suddenly swells up with the fear of “what must be coming”? Or maybe you’ve found yourself staring at your sleeping child in wonderment and love and in an instant that joy was ripped from your chest and replaced with an overwhelming fear of a long list of unbearable tragedies could take them away from you. That, my friend, is called foreboding joy and it is robbing you. Foreboding joy is when you don’t allow yourself to fully enjoy the good moments in fear of what bad thing could happen to take it all away from you in an instant. And I used to be a pro at it. It was a defense mechanism for me. Anytime I was experiencing a beautiful heart-swelling moment, I was quick to catch myself. It was like I was trying to keep myself in check, slapping myself on the wrist for letting my guard down. It sounds crazy, but I thought that if I truly felt overwhelmed with joy in those moments, I was inviting something terrible to happen. I was tempting fate. So instead, I imagined every worse possible scenario. As Brene Brown puts it, I was “trying to beat vulnerability to the punch. We don’t want to be blindsided by hurt. We don’t want to be caught off-guard, so we literally practice being devastated or never move from self-elected disappointment.” I was so sure that if I was expecting it, then somehow that terrible tragedy I had imagined, would be more bearable.
I can tell you from personal experience that foreboding joy doesn’t work. It doesn’t help soften the blow or make it any easier when that terrible event you “prepared” yourself for actually happens. In just 2 days, it will have been a year since I found out about my ectopic pregnancy. And it was incredibly hard. It was crushing. So much more so than I ever could have rehearsed in my mind. And trust me, rehearse I did. I was only about 7 weeks along but that gave me plenty of time to 1) stop myself from getting too excited about my pregnancy before I was out of the danger zone aka the first trimester and 2) to imagine how hard and devastating it would be if I did lose the baby. I was foreboding joy. When my worst fears became a reality, not for a second did it feel easier, nor did I thank myself or feel like I had saved myself any amount of pain because “I was expecting it”. It still hurt. It was still an unbearable feeling of loss and sadness. It wasn’t easier. It didn’t feel more bearable in the least. In fact, it just robbed me of the joy I could have had in the few short weeks I did have with my baby. And that’s what foreboding joy does! It robs you of the joy in the good moments with a false sense security that it will make it easier when tragedy does strike. That’s not how it works. In fact, we need to let ourselves fully enjoy those moments because it’s that joy that helps carry us through the hard times when they do hit.
Those of you who did the opportunity assignment from my “Ordinary Does Not Equal Meaningless” post, did you find yourself foreboding joy? You are not alone, in fact you are far from! In “Daring Greatly”, Brene Brown shares that 80% of all parents she has interviewed have experienced the same thing. So, what do we do about it? The best way to combat foreboding joy is to practice gratitude! Brown specifically uses the word “practice” because actively showing gratitude is much more powerful than having an “attitude of gratitude”. I make an effort to practice gratitude in two different ways.
The first is by having a gratitude journal. This week, make a special effort to take just a few minutes each day and write down five things you’re grateful for. You can go out and buy a special gratitude journal if you want or just write it on a sticky note, it doesn’t matter. What makes the difference is if you actually do it or not 😉 This is a super simple technique that has helped me a lot. I found that, as I was doing this, throughout my day I was constantly on the lookout for things I could write in my gratitude journal. Your brain finds what you tell it to go looking for. If you’re looking for the bad or the negative in your life, it will find just that. If you’re looking for things to be grateful for, it will find them. So you decide. What do you want to focus on? What do you want to find? I want to find joy so I practice gratitude.
The second way I practice gratitude is to make an effort to replace my fear with gratitude. When I find myself foreboding joy, I do three things. First, I stop myself by saying in my head, “No. This is not helping” and literally stopping that train of thought. I just don’t let it go on. I then recall the joy and love I was feeling and let it sweep over me once again and this time, I don’t let my fear stop it. Finally, as I let myself soak up and enjoy that wonderful moment I practice gratitude. I say in my head or out loud, what it is exactly that I am grateful for in that moment. Whether it be my warm cozy home that provides a safe haven for my family or my two year old doing his best to sing twinkle twinkle little star with me as I’m putting him to bed. I let myself just soak it up. This takes some practice, so don’t feel like you’re doing it wrong if it’s not super easy to switch from the place of fear to a place of gratitude. Keep at it though. The joy I feel on a daily basis has grown so much now that I practice gratitude and have learned how to better control my fear instead of letting it control me.
I am by no means perfect or all knowing in this subject nor am I happy go lucky all of the time now but doing these things has most definitely helped me find more joy in my life. I hope it does the same for you 🙂