When we lose the ability or willingness to be vulnerable, joy becomes something we approach with deep foreboding. . . . We’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. . . .
The concept of foreboding joy as a method of minimizing vulnerability is best understood as a continuum that runs from ‘rehearsing tragedy’ to what I call ‘perpetual disappointment.’. . . Both ends of the continuum tell the same story: Softening into the joyful moments of our lives requires vulnerability. If, like me, you have ever stood over your children and thought to yourself, I love you so much I can barely breathe, and in that exact moment have been flooded with images of something terrible happening to your child, know that you’re not crazy nor are you alone. About eighty percent of the parents I’ve interviewed acknowledged having that experience. The same percentage holds true for the thousands of parents I’ve spoken to and worked with over the years. Why? What are we doing and why are we doing it?
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 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.
. . . (gratitude) emerged from the data as the antidote for foreboding joy. In fact, every participant who spoke about the ability to stay open to joy also talked about the importance of practicing gratitude. The pattern of association was so thoroughly prevalent in the data that I made a commitment as a researcher not to talk about joy without talking about gratitude.