The Joy Paradox

2019-05-12

In her Netflix special The Call To Courage, researcher Brené Brown outlines a very useful idea. I can’t remember what she calls it. I don’t even know if it has an actual name, but I’ve been thinking of it as Paradoxical Joy.

It turns out that some people experience joy primarily as a feeling of imminent disaster. It’s having your life totally together, being happy and safe, and instead of being able to actually enjoy your happiness and safety, spending your days white-knucked and tense waiting for things to go wrong.

It’s relaxing on a beautiful sunny beach and not being able to stop thinking about how you probably have some terrible illness, that the ocean is full of sharks and poisonous jellyfish, and having a weird certainty that even if you don’t go in the water a boat is going to beach itself and kill you.

It’s being so wonderfully, foolishly in love that you’re convinced you’re going to have a heart attack later today (or that they will).

Most people can relate to this idea immediately. Paradoxical Joy happens at some level to nearly every adult.

In her talk, Brown suggests only one thing she’s found that seems to help: gratitude. People who experience less paradoxical joy are the ones who practice feeling grateful.

Don’t be so afraid to lose something that you can’t enjoy it now. Be grateful to have it.

Of course, I’m giving that advice to myself, the reigning world champion of paradoxical joy. I won’t be able to compete in this year’s Paradoxical Joy World Finals though, because I’m pretty convinced I’ll be in the hospital recovering from my imminent heart attack.