Why are We So Afraid of Joy?


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my own relationship to joy and how disconnected from it I have felt. Anxiety? We’re pretty close pals. Disappointment? I’ve had a good ol’ dose of it these past few years. Fear? Frankly, it feels like a most constant companion these days.

But joy? It feels so elusive.

It seems as though it’s the one thing I yearn for, and yet in the moments when I can choose it, I notice myself effortlessly slipping back into comfort, into complacency. I catch glimpses of it, and it’s in those moments of pure joy that I can feel the fullness of my existence. And so I wonder, why is it that I continue to deprive myself of these experiences when they are so life-giving?

I’ll bring it back down to reality and share an example. For me personally, I know that physically moving my body brings me a lot of joy. My preferred methods of movement (walking & yoga) take on a spiritual component for me. When I’m walking, I generally aim to go tech-free so that I can be an active observer, participant, and witness with nature. When I’m practicing yoga, syncing my breath to movement, allowing the moving meditation to take hold of my physical being, that’s when I feel most connected, most alive.

And yet, there are days, weeks even, when I cannot bring myself to do either. I allow my busyness to take the lead. I allow my deadlines to dictate my time. I allow this idea of needing to be wildly productive in order to be valuable act as my guiding force. 

Although this example of taking a movement break to find joy amidst my daily responsibilities is a comparatively minor situation in the overall scheme of things, I began noticing this joy disconnect permeate through other facets of my life. I go through these periods of self-sabotaging behaviors where “self-care” slips into numbing, and without mindful attention, it ultimately becomes damaging. 

So that’s what I’ve been exploring on my own recently. Why is it that I’m so afraid of joy? Why is it so difficult for some of us to identify our desires? And even more difficult still to voice them and ask for what we need?

I’ve been journaling about this a lot, and also getting well acquainted with my two latest obsessions Esther Perel and David Whyte. And two of their concepts that struck me most are: 

  1. Esther Perel mentioned on her episode of On Being that “desire is to own the wanting.” 

  2. In David Whyte’s Crossing the Unknown Sea, he shares this concept of captaincy, where we no longer place praise and blame in an external source or figure (like a crew might do with a well-appointed captain), and instead find a way to reclaim our own captaincy so that we again take full responsibility for our actions and our role in the outcomes.

What seems clear to me then is this correlation between joy and sovereignty. To fully feel desire, we must own what it is we want. To fully realize our potential and to live into the truest versions of ourselves, we must detach from this notion that someone else, or our external circumstances, are to blame.

As I started diving into this line of inquiry even further for myself, I realized that my fear of joy stemmed from a deep sense of doubt, a doubt of my own capabilities to transform my experience. I was trapped by my circumstances, allowing them to feed into this sense of overwhelm, creating a narrative that I was incapable of relief, unable to access joy. The more I let overwhelm become my condition, the further away from joy I drifted.

What I discovered is that when a lack of joy is present, despair, desperation, and disillusionment take over and run the show. This wicked combination leads to a disconnect with the soul. From there, it spirals wildly so that we start to feel abandoned by our truth, and we begin to seek validation in our circumstances to confirm our worthiness. In this delicate state, we are more susceptible to coercion and persuasion. We begin to listen outside of ourselves for validation, confirmation, hope, answers, and the further we stray from the truth of our inner voice, the more power we transfer over to others. In effect, we renounce our captaincy. 

If we consider this to be true, we could then argue that connecting to our joy, that is owning what we want, is how we reclaim our sovereignty.

And traditional systems of power don’t like that. They want us to be on edge, anxious, and fearful. In those states of being, we’re much more malleable. 

I truly believe that as we tap back into our joy, it creates a direct connection with our soul. When we operate from a soul-level, we transfer the power back to us. And this is what is so scary. 

When we open up to joy, and henceforth our sovereignty, we become responsible for our words and actions. It requires us to get up from the cozy bleachers and step up to the home plate of life and take a swing. And that, my friends, is terrifying AF.

I see now that unconsciously I was avoiding joy on a grander scale because I was afraid of my own power—the power to expand my field of vision wider than my own personal experience to see a more universal perspective. This power of a perspective shift is everything. It changes the narrative, it dispels doubt, and it amplifies the voice of my soul.

I am slowly making these shifts so that I don’t view joy as something to be attained as a reward after an accomplishment. Instead, joy is becoming a necessary and critical component of the creative process and my daily life.

Regardless of your current circumstances, how might you invite in a little more joy in order to reclaim your own power?

If you’re feeling like you could use someone to connect with and talk about how you might incorporate more joy into your everyday and use it as a reclamation tool for your sovereignty, please know that I am here! Sign up for a free, 30-minute chat with me during my Virtual Office Hours. I’d love to connect and hold that gentle space for you.

Originally published on: Pass/Fail
Photo credit:
Creating Light Studio