5 Ways to Stop WorryingBehind all this, some great happiness is hiding. ~Yehuda Amichai
I woke up excited about the day ahead. It was a year after I’d left my job and a promising new way of life was taking shape.
I wrote for an hour at my big wooden desk in the morning light. With rich Castro coffee and a cat curled near my feet, I felt expansive and loved.
The promise of breakfast wafted through the house as I headed for the shower. In the shower, an idea for a fun blog post series came to me, and I found myself singing an ABBA tune.
But then it hit me.
This is not normal. This can’t be right. Mama mia! I’ve been happy for too long this morning.
Suspicious Of Joy And Good Fortune
The light and happy scene right before Something Terrible happens is such a part of our cultural psyche that it’s a movie cliché.
Like me, you may have an inner-neurotic George Costanza and an inner live-your-dreams Oprah.
When my life starts looking more Oprah than George, George shows up and says something like, “Not you! You don’t get to have this kind of life. Who do you think you are, Oprah?”
The fear is so common that Dr. Brene Brown gives it a name in her bestselling book, Daring Greatly. She calls this feeling joy vulnerability. In an interview Brown said:
“If you ask me what’s the most terrifying emotion we feel as humans, I would say joy. … We think, I’m not gonna soften into this moment because I’m scared it’s going to be taken away.”
Sometimes we are barely conscious of this fear, but it’s a chronic, low-level anxiousness we feel when, theoretically, we should be happy because we are experiencing the thing we wanted.
Sometimes we even unwittingly sabotage what’s going right. We might start an argument, overspend or flake out.
Unconsciously, we’re so scared of the pain of having our happiness suddenly taken from us that we’d rather take it from ourselves first — so as not to be surprised.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Debunking The Superstition
I’ve come to realize that life and moods may ebb and flow, but there is no precise algorithm that says you must become miserable after being happy and you must lose something big every time you gain something big.
For example, a few years ago, a close friend and I got together to go dancing and realized that everything seemed to be going well in our lives.
She had a new job, we both had happy relationships and I had a fabulous new 1920s apartment. We were celebrating!
And then we got scared.
As that joy vulnerability feeling hit us, we decided the only thing holding these good things in balance was the fact that we both still had crappy cars!
And then, many months later, we both got better cars. Did everything fall apart? No. Life was just life before and after the cars. Ebb and flow, but no direct what-goes–up-must-come-down correlation.
I don’t deny that pain and loss happen in life; I just don’t believe in a rule that makes bad things happen because good things happen. Life is more complex than that.
Consider this: My friend did lose her job at some point, but it turned out she wasn’t in love with that job and losing it led her to something better. Bad luck? No, quite the opposite.
Transcending The Other-Shoe-Drop Fear
Because my inner Oprah and George battled over my psyche for years, I spent a lot of time investigating how to transcend that “When is the other shoe going to drop?” fear.
I’m happy to say that Oprah is winning now. What follows are the practices that have helped me settle into living a dream instead of sabotaging it.
1. Adjust to New Limits
We must realize that needing to adjust to a new normal is … normal. This insight comes from Gay Hendricks, author of The Big Leap and other books.
He writes that when you feel nervous because things are going too well, you’ve hit your sense of the upper limits of what feels normal.
That can feel so overwhelming that we need to just sit quietly with the new normal for a while.
Oprah has two homes in paradise and gets to improve other people’s lives on the regular. I remind myself that in spite of being so poor in childhood that she was taunted for wearing potato-sack dresses.
In spite of suffering years of abuse, Oprah became a person who adjusted to some pretty high upper limits. Why can’t I?
2. Remember Children And Animals
How do kids and animals — free of neurotic thoughts — respond to experiencing pure joy?
With pure joy and no regrets. We were born knowing how to do that.
3. Practice Savoring As Gratitude
Imagine making an amazing meal for someone, only to have them say, “I refuse to eat this, because I don’t think I deserve it.”
That is not gratitude! Brene Brown has recommended practicing gratitude to transform joy vulnerability. I also entertain the possibility that perhaps we exist, at least in part, to give Life — or the divine — the experience of joy through us.
This rather trippy idea came to me one day like “zing!” as I was marveling at flowers and trees growing along the sidewalk. It felt like the presence of Life itself was experiencing this beauty through me.
4. Have Faith In Your Coping Abilities
Know that you DO have the ability to deal with let down and loss. This one is key, because some unconscious part of us says,”If I don’t thoroughly enjoy this, then I won’t have to suffer if it goes away.” Our minds habitually assume that loss is unbearable.
Yet, as a Buddhist teacher once told me, no one ever died from a feeling. Most of us have, at some point, been terribly sad, cried many tears, received the support of a friend or counselor, and lived to be OK again. Feelings are temporary.
5. The More I Can Receive, The More I Can Give
Make this your mantra. This truism is helpful when we feel guilty for enjoying life while some people are not. The irony is that if we don’t allow ourselves to fully receive things that make us happy, we’ll have less to give.
Also, when we are enjoying life with gratitude, we exude a happy, generous energy that benefits others. Research has found that moods and generosity are contagious.
When I allow myself to receive and experience life’s goodness, I become more likely to compliment strangers and make my friends smile.
Courage to Stay Present to Joy
Back to that morning that joy vulnerability hit me in the shower. When I realized what was happening, I caught myself.
I thought, “I need to go through what I’ve learned about this feeling, because I’ve been waiting my whole life to live this way. “
Wearing my favorite red pants and brown boots, I grabbed my laptop and walked out into the sunlight. On the long stroll to a café, I rolled the five concepts above through my mind and they gradually calmed me down.
It’s an ongoing practice. I’ve had to remind myself of those ways of thinking a number of times since that day, but they help me find the courage to keep walking into my dreams, awake and full of appreciation.
When we live in perpetual fear of the other shoe dropping, we sabotage ourselves from being present to what’s good, and we shrink from the bigger life presenting itself to us.
The next time you start to panic or tell yourself you don’t deserve some new prosperity, love or other wonder that has shown up, try this:
- Take a deep breath and recognize that what you are feeling is normal, but you don’t have to let it take over.
- Stop to consciously receive the gifts. Think of savoring them as your job. After all, it strengthens your ability to bring joy to others.
Tell me, have you experienced the other-shoe fear too?