I'll start this post on an honest-yet-rude note and admit that I've been judging a good portion of the Internet. Here's the thing: I can't deal with the twee Pinterest-esque slogans about "picking happy" and "acting in joy" and "choosing contentment."
It isn't that I don't believe in those things. If yoga has taught me anything, it's that our thoughts have a great deal to do with our happiness. But something about the choosing joy really bothered me. Like, I would LOVE to choose joy. I would.
But what about the crippling anxiety I feel when things seem to be going well? But what about the slideshow of terrible things that run through my mind whenever I feel content? Doesn't the onslaught of good things happening in my life these days simply mean that a storm is around the corner?
Choosing joy makes me anxious.
Deciding to be happy feels rough sometimes because it's just another reminder of how anxious I am much of the time as I move through the day. It's easy for me to choose to-do lists, or to choose actions, or to choose busyness. I can choose snark or drama or complaining. Those things don't register as anxiety for me because they give me the illusion of control because I'm doing things or reminding myself that I'm not TOO happy so there's nothing to lose.
When I saw Brene Brown speak about vulnerability, she mentioned being on a wonderful date with her husband before being overcome with anxiety. What if someone shot them dead? What if the unspeakable happened? It took them out of the date and into anxiety land.
This scenario was so familiar to me that I could barely breathe as I listened. For me, a quiet night at home turns into a terrible fear that someone is going to break in. An ignored text convinces me that I was foolish to believe someone would want to be friends with me. Minor setbacks can send me into a tailspin of negative self-talk. I routinely agonize over something terrible happening to Andrew, my family or my cat (judge not). Until I heard this respected, intelligent woman speak about this, I believed I was alone and crazy (that second part might still be true).
Dr. Brown says that joy is the most terrifying emotion to experience because we feel so vulnerable. It's easier to dress-rehearse tragedy and it's a way of assuring ourselves that death or the loss of a relationship or any other sad event won't hurt THAT bad because we've already played it out in our mind. The reality for anyone who has ever experienced a heartbreak is that no amount of mental practice can prepare or save us.
The good news is that there's an antidote to this fear. For me, step one is choosing to be a little more selective about what I watch. This means SADLY a total withdrawal from the shows that I tend to binge on --- like Law and Order SVU. Call me crazy, but that show fills my mind every time I take a shower/come home late/leave my house in the darkness. I really don't need anything else to make me more nervous.
That said, Pretty Little Liars terrifies me but you can send A to pry that from my cold dead hands SO THERE.
The second step? Gratitude. I don't currently keep any sort of gratitude journal or anything like that, but lately, as I've been processing all of these crazy things Brene Brown spoke on, it's been a constant reminder. To be grateful. Even when things are feeling crappy. Even when I'm terrified. Sometimes, it's a struggle. But mostly, when I'm present enough to remind myself to find the good, that heavy anxiety evaporates.
I don't think I'll ever be a "choose happiness daily" person, but I can definitely work on being a "choose to find the good while feeling terrified" person.