For much of my life I believed that someone was either happy or they weren't mainly based on external factors. I'm happy if I love my job. I'm not happy when it's time to pay taxes. I'm happy when I'm in love. I'm not happy going through a divorce. I was always riding the waves of emotion, until I stopped being happy. I wasn't sure what was getting in my way. Then I learned I had built a resistance to it. I could say I wanted it, but my protective coping strategies where in the background guarding me from it.
What? How does a person become resistant to experiencing happiness or joy? Who doesn't want that all the time? If it's really possible - sign me up everyday!
I learned that I was not being vulnerable with happiness. I built walls and a comfortable fortress around my wounds and pain. I made beautiful fences around my heart, because I didn't want to get hurt again. On my side of the fence I was experiencing as much happiness as I could possibly muster, but I still couldn't feel it deeply, or from many other sources. When I questioned why my heart was aching for more meaning around love and joy, I had to look to the external factors for meaning. Maybe because my father and I have a strained relationship, my family and I had a disagreement, romantic relationships ended, I work too much, I don't exercise enough.....and the list goes on. But, my cognitive mind countered that with I have a therapy practice, I have a great daughter, I love my friends and I get to do many fun things. This created some real conflict internally.
I recently read 'Daring Greatly' by Brene Brown. She talks about how we have to be vulnerable to happiness. Yes, being vulnerable to happiness means opening my heart to joy and gratitude. My fortress is real sturdy! This is where I feel safe. I have created my coping strategy, to protect my heart at all cost because getting hurt sucks. Being vulnerable means I have to evaluate "the costs" of what I am doing. It means that I can try to feel joyful, I can try to rationalize why I should be happy, but it doesn't mean I can feel it deeply in my soul.
To be vulnerable, to allow another person to come into my garden and start loving me, feels quite dangerous. However, true happiness comes from aligning with my fear, appreciating its protection and recognizing that while it serves me, it also limits me. I am worthy of more happiness. This vulnerability isn't just about romantic love, but love with a friend, a parent or a sibling. I have to open myself, and again my mind immediately goes to the risk vs. reward (even as I write this) to show someone they can come towards me. I welcome you. I have to show up for my family, I have to open to love, I have to accept kindness from others, I have to appreciate myself more and embody gratitude.
Leaning into happiness means being with the uncomfortable parts of myself. If they are hard for me to love, will they be hard for others to love? Am I worthy of such happiness because if you saw my flaws, my weaknesses, my unhappy thoughts, would you be disappointed? If I'm always sitting in my fortress, I will never know. Plus, I am not giving the other person a chance to be themselves. I am sitting in the judges chair assuming they won't love those parts of me. I've been afraid that my joy won't last or there won't be enough, so it's safer not to be vulnerable. As much as I want happiness, I'm scared of losing it, which prevents me from opening my heart to the possibility.
I am developing more intention around gratitude, love, generosity, playfulness and joy. I am practicing appreciation for that in my life instead of hiding from it. I've realized I risk missing out on joy by always protecting myself. Part of me has been doing this:
"Once we make the connection between vulnerability and joy, the answer is pretty straightforward: We're trying to beat vulnerability to the punch. We don't want to get blindsided by hurt." (p 121)
In my therapy practice I work with my client's defenses, wounds, pains and sadness. I am always talking about taking a chance with vulnerability, to bring light into that part of themselves. It's only recently that I equated vulnerability with happiness. I mostly associated it with the more painful circumstances. Now I am giving more attention to letting people get closer to my heart. As much as I want to pull back, I am stepping forward. Vulnerability naturally runs the risk of being exposed, seen or acknowledged. Am I willing to move forward and let more joy in? I am stringing together moments of connection, compassion and love to let them shine in the darker moments. It's time to leave my fortress.