Giving Thanks and Feeling Joy

At this time of year, especially this year, I have trouble letting myself feel joy. I am caught between a scarcity mindset (not feeling like I have enough money to buy nice Christmas presents) and a guilt mindset (refugees around the world don't even have homes right now). I think it's ironic that Black Friday follows (now coincides) with Thanksgiving, previously the only holiday when Americans weren't force fed consumerist incentives. Neither the scarcity nor the guilt allow me to feel joy, which is supposedly the sentiment of the season. 

I have so much to be grateful for: a healthy family, a beautiful house, my forthcoming book, a friendly workplace and prospects in the new year. And yet something dark is lurking in the back of my mind as I count each of these blessings. I can't name it exactly, but it feels like shame. I'm afraid to even elaborate on my blessings for fear of being immodest. Why do I deserve all these things? Am I allowed to feel happiness and joy in these things that are privileges to me and not to others? And, if I am so lucky, why do I want more? Is there something wrong with me that I can be so greedy?  

I turned for guidance this week to Dr. Brené Brown, vulnerability researcher and writer. I read her life-changing book, Daring Greatly, in 2012 but I've been re-reading it to try and integrate some of her findings into my life. She has helped me see that ingrained in scarcity and guilt is fear, which is what really hinders joy. Fear that what I have, and more importantly, what I AM, isn't enough. Fear that what I have won't last. Fear of allowing myself to feel joy. 

Scarcity and fear drive foreboding joy. We’re afraid that the feeling of joy won’t last, or that there won’t be enough, or that the transition to disappointment (or whatever is in store for us next) will be too difficult. We’ve learned that giving in to joy is, at best, setting ourselves up for disappointment and, at worst, inviting disaster. And we struggle with the worthiness issue. Do we deserve our joy, given our inadequacies and imperfections? What about the starving children and the war-ravaged world? Who are we to be joyful? If the opposite of scarcity is enough, then practicing gratitude is how we acknowledge that there’s enough and that we’re enough.
— Brené Brown, Daring Greatly p. 124

And so it seems that not allowing myself to feel joy isn't helping anyone. By feeling guilty about my life, I'm not making anyone else's life better, I'm not realistically changing either my situation or another person's. Instead, I'm just holding up a shield which stops me from appreciating the gifts in my life for fear that feeling true joy in them will make me vulnerable to losing them. 


When I read this three and a half years ago, I started crying. I saw how fear of joy held a tight grip on me. Letting it loosen, letting true joy and gratitude for my parents and my husband overwhelm me was emotionally scary. Letting them know how much I love them made me raw. "Don't squander joy," says Brené. This is good advice, and a reminder I need to hear repeatedly, especially at this time of year.