I used to think miserable was chic and busy and stressed accessories du jour. When I was a teenager on msn webcam chat with a friend (as I was basically every evening) her mum said I’d be pretty if I smiled a bit. During this phase of my life I was definitely into the ‘sultry/moody’ look. Deep down, of course, I wanted to be happy as we all do. But I learned quickly it was easier to have something wrong and speak of the negative. To always be seeking happiness, but never finding it, for fear of it slipping out of my grip.
Now I consume content (blogs, podcasts, books) where people are actively speaking of their happiness. Engaging with the feeling of being content, of being and having enough. Not only this but I am often (no, not always) one of these people myself. I still struggle with engaging with the positives over the negatives, but I’m working on it and I’m aware of when I’m not doing it.
In Daring Greatly Brené Brown argues “joy is probably the most difficult emotion to really feel”. During her research on vulnerability, shame and living a wholehearted life she identified the difference between happiness and joy:
“Participants described happiness as an emotion that’s connected to circumstances, and they described joy as a spiritual way of engaging with the world that’s connected to practicing gratitude.”
For me, joy is intertwined with happiness – which is not solely dictated by circumstances. As Gretchen Rubin describes happiness is partially determined by genetics and environmental factors, but also by our actions, thoughts and behaviour. So, for me, both happiness and joy are related to a way of being in the world.
The thing is people often assume that to be self-admittedly happy means everything is easy and great all the time. The reality is that to be happy does not mean being free from struggles. It means living with the good and the bad that, and accepting that you are and you have enough. It’s fostering an attitude focusing on the positives more than the negatives, and coming from a place of gratitude and abundance.
And that is hard. And I realised one of the reasons this might be is that to say “I am enough” and come from a place of abundance means to go against the rat-race of our society. The constant seeking, striving to attain, grasping for more and better that we are conditioned to do.
There’s another aspect that comes into this too, and that is vulnerability. Brené Brown goes on to explain that joy is the most difficult emotion because “when we lose the ability to be vulnerable, joy becomes something we approach with deep foreboding”. Brené explains that we live in a “culture of deep scarcity – of never feeling safe, certain, and sure enough”. This makes joy feel like a set-up, that familiar too good to be true feeling.
Feeling happiness and joy is vulnerable, scary and difficult. Chances are you already know all this, deep down or on the surface. But I wanted to talk about it because I believe that by airing these things we can begin to deal with them. Also, I wanted to acknowledge that experiencing joy and feeling happy is challenging, just like changing your life is, and you aren’t alone if you feel this way – it’s pretty much the norm!