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3 min read

What is foreboding joy and how can I avoid it?

woman experiencing foreboding

Have you even experienced a joyful moment only to have it interrupted by the unwelcome thought, "I'm so happy that something bad is probably going to happen”?

This is what we call experiencing foreboding joy. Coined by researcher Doctor Brené Brown, this term describes when a feeling of joy is disrupted by a worry or fear of impending doom or unhappiness.

This is a similar phenomenon to cherophobia, which is a fear of happiness, though it is not quite the same. Foreboding joy allows you to feel joyful moments, but it is quickly followed by fear or dread that something bad will occur to balance out the joy you feel.

Brené Brown's book "Daring Greatly," she posits that foreboding joy is a way that we subconsciously protect ourselves from this vulnerable emotion. "If I don't feel joy, then I won't feel extreme disappointment."

How can experiencing foreboding be harmful?

Always waiting for the other shoe to drop can get in the way of experiencing joy. Joy is a fleeting emotion (and is meant to be). We'd love to feel it more, but this isn't a possibility. Therefore, an important part of feeling true joy is living in that moment of joy.

Foreboding joy steals this present moment for us by tacking on worst-case scenarios to exciting moments like a new relationship or a new job. Catastrophizing can dampen the joy that is happening and bring our attention to some situations that may never happen. It's not only a bummer, but it can take away from the potential benefits of feeling joy in the first place.

How to Combat Foreboding Joy

The good news is that there are some strategies you can try to implement to create a better environment for experiencing joy and avoiding foreboding joy.

Learn to be grateful for what you have.

A top tip shared by Brené Brown is practicing gratitude. This doesn't have to be complicated; it can be as simple as taking a moment every day to jot down a few things that you are grateful for, even very small things. Being intentional in spending time feeling gratitude can help cultivate hope and optimism, which can lead to feelings of happiness.

Embracing the opportunity to build resilience.

Use foreboding joy to build resilience. This may seem counterintuitive, but look at this vulnerable emotion as an opportunity to make yourself stronger against foreboding thoughts. Every time your brain tries to steal your joy, challenge yourself to ignore negative thoughts and realize that this reset can make you emotionally stronger.

Work on self-awareness.

Human emotions are a funny thing. Often, we feel but don't take the time to really focus on the feelings or the why behind them. Becoming more self aware can help give us more control over the thoughts and beliefs that drive our feelings.

For example, let's say that you are feeling joyful because you got a promotion at work.

Your mind may say, "Yes, I got promoted, but I'm probably going to screw it up somehow and lose my job altogether."

Your response to this may go something like this: "This is not a true thought. I am qualified, or they wouldn't have promoted me. I'm not going to think about this anymore."

Try to Honor the Good, Not the Bad

Don't give in to experiencing foreboding joy by allowing it to go unchallenged. You can honor yourself and others by realizing that, even in worst-case scenarios, you don't have to allow bad things to steal joy from other parts of your life. For example, just because a friend lost a job doesn't mean that you should allow them to enjoy aspects of your own job and be grateful that you have them.

Rather than focus on the negative, allow the good things in your life to be a tribute to others' losses rather than groveling in the negative or allowing fear to steal the joy in your own life. This in itself is a form of gratitude.

Can therapy help?

Foreboding joy isn't a mental health condition, nor will it necessarily lead to one. Cherophobia can develop if you begin to fear joy every time you experience joy, but even then, symptoms may not progress to the point that treatment is necessary.

However, if you begin to feel that foreboding thought is causing anxiety and getting in the way of your ability to experience true joy, then therapy with a licensed professional in Brooklyn can be a way to explore this vulnerable emotion and offer coping skills and techniques to manage stress and implement positive thinking.

The Bottom Line on Foreboding Joy

Joy is the most vulnerable emotion, as it is a fleeting one that doesn't show up to order. If you are always waiting for the other shoe to drop when you experience joy, then your life can lose a lot of potential happiness out of fear. You deserve to feel happiness in the good moments of life, so if you suffer from foreboding joy, you can implement some of the tips found here and in Brené Brown's book. By learning self awareness, practicing gratitude, and building resilience, you can learn to combat foreboding joy over time.

If your emotions feel out of hand or you feel the despair of possible loss over any feeling of happiness, then it can be worthwhile to try therapy to help build self awareness, identify and change foreboding thoughts, and explore the possibilities of why you may be feeling vulnerable. Happiness is possible with some knowhow and practice.

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