People are often cruel. Let your inner light shine brightly anyway!
You know those fun, bubbly, naturally upbeat people who always seem to endlessly ooze happiness and positivity? Well, not all of us are like that.
While I'm always kind and thoughtful, feeling "joyful" is something I truly struggle with (and have my entire life). In fact, sometimes I am even afraid to feel too happy. And it turns out, I’m not the only one.
"If you ask me the most terrifying, difficult emotion we experience as humans, I would say joy… no question," Dr. Brené Brown, notable shame and vulnerability researcher and bestselling author, once told Oprah.
But, that's crazy, right? If happiness is what we want most in life, why on earth would experiencing joy feel so scary?
Sure, there's the age-old superstition about the proverbial "other shoe dropping" — the idea that if too many good things happen to you, the Universe will "punish you" by raining down misery and catastrophe.
But there's actually an even more painful (and traumatizing) reason we’re scared to embrace joy in our lives: Humiliation.
Think about it. In order to let true joy in, you must let your guard down. Joy requires an open heart, relaxed mind, and lowered defenses. And in that moment of innocent whole-heartedness, it's easy for some jerk to take a potshot at you and knock you down.
Having joy disrupted by random catastrophe is hard, but what's so much worse is when someone deliberately takes sick pleasure in shaming the joy out you.
Why? Because you were "foolish" enough to show excitement, innocent elation, joyful appreciation or goofy playfulness, and in that moment of exposed vulnerability, the other person goes for your throat. Shaming you for daring to let your guard down. Embarrassing you in front of others for even attempting to enjoy your life and learning how to be happy.
When we feel shame and humiliation this way, as Brown explains in her truly phenomenal book, The Gifts of Imperfection, we either "move away, by withdrawing, hiding, silencing ourselves... move toward, by seeking to appease and please... or, move against, by trying to gain power over others, by being aggressive, and by using shame to fight shame."
None of the above are healthy or ultimately helpful. So, what should you do when some jerk (whether that's your mom or a total stranger) hurts your heart and humiliates you for being happy?
Chin up, friends. Here are 5 truly powerful ways to bounce back when someone steals your joy and takes the wind out of your sails:
1. Know who to share your joy with in the first place.
In a social media world, our impulse is to tell everyone our business, broadcasting our most precious life moments to anyone who has ever randomly "liked" us. But in doing so, those moments are no longer held sacred.
"Our stories are not meant for everyone,” says Brown. “Hearing them is a privilege. We should always ask ourselves this before we share: ‘Who has earned the right to hear my story?'"
If your sister chips away at you because she's jealous of your marriage, don't share your joy with her. If you don't want bitter people leaving deflating comments on your Facebook wall, don't post that personal update. Choose wisely who you share your stories with. Don't offer up your most poignant life moments to people who won't truly celebrate them with you.
2. Let yourself feel the sting.
“Cruelty always hurts, even if the criticisms are untrue," Brown says in The Gifts of Imperfection. And please know, cruelty hurts because it was meant to.
Someone taking a potshot at your joy wants to watch the light go out of your eyes. They enjoy the idea of hurting you energetically. Their cruel comment is the verbal equivalent of physically slapping you in the face.
You're not weak if you feel the sting of that. So, call a trusted friend and cry if you need to, vent in your journal, admit to someone you trust that the criticism hurt. And then move on to the next step.
3. Stay true to you.
Now that you've been shot in the heart with an arrow of shame and humiliation, it's decision time. Someone is trying to make you play smaller with their hurtful comments. Do you bend to that hater in this moment (and push the arrow further in yourself) or do you stay true to you and pull that sucker out?
If you stop wearing the dress you love because your "friend" passively-aggressively criticized it, she wins; she controls you (and she knows it). So does your competitive co-worker if their snarky comment about your project idea diminishes how much pride and excitement you feel about it.
It's easy to start hiding ourselves to "stay safe" from having our joyful moments shattered, but as Brown says in her book, "Courage is telling our story, not being immune to criticism. Don't shrink. Don't puff up. Stand your sacred ground... Sacrificing who we are for the sake of what other people think just isn't worth it."
4. Increase your joy with gratitude.
If you only have one light of joy glowing in your heart, it's all the more devastating when someone tries to snuff it out. One of the best ways to cultivate shame resilience is by increasing your stores of inner joy.
And according to Brown, the single most powerful and effective way to flood your life with authentic joy is with gratitude.
"In 12 years of research,” she explains, “I've never interviewed a single person who talks about the capacity to really experience and soften into joy who does not actively practice gratitude. Period." The thing is — we think if our life is joyful, then we'll feel grateful. But it's actually the opposite: when you practice gratitude, feelings of joy grow exponentially.
But having an "attitude of gratitude" won't cut it. Gratitude is an action, one you must practice regularly and tangibly. So, write your daily gratitudes down in a journal, create a ritual with your spouse or your kids, and each say what you're grateful for that day as you say goodnight to each other. Doing so will fill your heart with so much light and joy, the sting of petty haters won't last long.
5. Protect other people’s happiness.
Here's the deal: you can't complain about how harsh and horrible it is for someone to burst your joy bubble, and then turn around and cruelly do the same to others. You know how lousy it feels to have someone take a swipe at your happiness, so doing that to others is just… mean.
So your husband laughed "too loud" at a friend's joke. Big deal. So your friend felt excited about an achievement you think is completely stupid. So what? Don't trash talk other people's moments of lightness. The world has enough cruelty and misery in it.
Defend other people's joy like it's your own. As Brown says, "Courage is contagious." Every time you stand up to defend joy (yours or someone else's) you give other people permission to do the same.
To learn more about shame resilience, courage and cultivating true joy in your life, watch Dr. Brené Brown's powerful TED Talk and buy her truly life-changing (and mindset shifting) book, The Gift of Imperfection.