Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.
– Joseph Campbell

Joy is a fascinating emotion that we’re often in tension with. On the one hand, we want it, desire it, long for it, and go to great lengths to create it. And on the other hand, when it arrives we often subdue it. 

Have you every noticed this?

If so, that’s what Brené Brown, PhD refers to as ‘foreboding joy’. Essentially, it’s an experience of subduing joy to protect ourselves from potential devastation of being caught off guard by something painful. 

This is a survival tactic learned from past experience when in a joyful moment, something “bad” happened unexpectedly… the other shoe dropped… the accident happened… the betrayal was revealed… the awful phone call arrived… and so on. 

As you consider your own life, you can likely find examples of this. If so, you may also recall just how devastating it was to be dropped from such a ‘high’. In fact, this can cause “Little T” or “Big T” trauma.

What most people don’t recognize consciously, is just how vulnerable and “exposed” it is to be in joy.

This is because in a state of joy, our hearts and energy centers are wide open. We aren’t on guard, vigilant, or in protection-mode.

Instead, our hearts are exposed and open – not just to the bliss of joy and happiness, but to unexpected pain/hurt. 

And our brains are hard-wired to avoid pain. 

It doesn’t take many of these experiences for our nervous system to learn that “joy isn’t safe”, and help us avoid the potential pain of ever being caught off guard again.

And so we forebode joy, or impend doom. 

Other reasons we may subdue joy is due to our upbringing or social conditioning. We may have heard, observed or been taught things like:

– “What are you smiling for? Wipe that smirk off your face!”
– “How are you always happy? You must have an easy/pampered life.”
– “It’s not normal/okay to be happy in this situation.”
– “You’re too happy. What’s up?”
– “You’ve got rose-colored glasses on. Be careful/get real.”

Further, we may diminish joy for fear of being thought of us prideful, arrogant, or unrelatable. 
If so, once again… pain. With a brain wired to avoid pain, we can learn to subdue our joy feelings, even though we want them.

With that as background, let’s dive into the wisdom, feelings and message of the beautiful emotion of JOY itself.


According to Karla McLaren, author of The Language of Emotions, joy is similar to happiness and contentment, which helps us look forward with hope, satisfaction and delight. 

The feeling of joy is bright, light, open, spacious, and present/in the moment.

It comes with a smile or easy laughter. Chronic pain is often lessened, and we may even feel “soft”… meaning it’s the perfect time for your kids to ask to stay up later or have that second piece of dessert. 

The function of joy
It indicates that there’s a sense of wellbeing. 

The potential message of joy
Something is going well; there is something to acknowledge and celebrate. 

The action…
Joy encourages us to be in the moment and carries a celebratory energy, which we often desire to share with others. It encourages genuine connection with either ourselves or others. 

As with all emotions, joy itself is neither good nor bad, and can be expressed either cleanly or harmfully (eg. gloating or boasting to the person you got the raise over, or won your game to, are examples of potentially harmful expressions of joy).

Joy Questions:

1. What is there to feel joyful about?
(If nothing comes up to question #1, what could you feel joyful about if you really tried?)

2. Is your reaction appropriate to the situation?

3. What is your joy in recognition or celebration of?

4. Who would share this joy with you?

5. Who would you like to share your joy with? (Remember, this can be with self or others.)

6. How will you celebrate?