Brené Brown: The Fast Track To Genuine Joy

Nov 27, 2013 | Updated Nov 27, 2013

brene brown
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I used to stand over my two kids while they slept, and just as a profound sense of love and joy washed over me, I'd imagine horrible things happening to them: car crashes, tsunamis. "Do other mothers do this," I'd wonder, "or am I unhinged?" I now know from my research that 95 percent of parents can relate to my constant disaster planning. When we're overwhelmed by love, we feel vulnerable -- so we dress-rehearse tragedy.

Though I study scary emotions like anger and shame for a living, I think the most terrifying human experience is joy. It's as if we believe that by truly feeling happiness, we're setting ourselves up for a sucker punch. The problem is, worrying about things that haven't happened doesn't protect us from pain. Ask anyone who has experienced a tragedy; they'll tell you there is no way to prepare. Instead, catastrophizing, as I call it, squanders the one thing we all want more of in life. We simply cannot know joy without embracing vulnerability -- and the way to do that is to focus on gratitude, not fear.

The good news is that joy, collected over time, fuels resilience -- ensuring we'll have reservoirs of emotional strength when hard things do happen.

The Dare:

Stop the train.
The next time you're traumatized by "What ifs," say aloud, "I am feeling vulnerable." This sentence changed my life. It takes me out of my fear brain -- i.e., off the crazy train -- and puts me back on the platform, where I can make a conscious choice not to reboard.

Be thankful.
Recently, when a turbulent flight caused me to start planning my own funeral, I remembered something I'd learned in my research: Joyous people are grateful people. So I used the fear alarm in my head as a reminder to feel grateful for my kids, my husband, and my work. Even more effective: Speak your gratitude aloud to others, or write it in your journal.

Start a practice.
I believe joy is a spiritual practice we have to work at. For me, that means appreciating everyday moments: a walk with my husband, fishing with my kids on the Gulf Coast. It means not living in fear of what I could lose, but softening into the moments I have.

Brené Brown, PhD, researches vulnerability, shame, courage, and worthiness at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work.

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