Have you ever felt a moment of intense joy that started to bubble up inside and out of you and then...you stopped it? Dimmed it down? Wiped that grin off of your face out of embarrassment, self-consciousness, or even...guilt?
I went to a little girl’s 5th birthday party in Victorian Gardens in Central Park, an amusement park with lots of rides for kids (and no clowns!).
When we arrived, she was riding one of the mini rollercoasters, looking really bored...yet she didn’t stop riding. She went on the ride at least five or six times by herself while we were there. Sometimes a smile would start to slip out, but she would either put her face in her hands or scrunch her lips to try and frown.
We waved at her from the sidelines while she did her best to hide her face from us, trying to look like she wasn’t having any fun. The only time she really smiled was when her 81-year old grandfather got on the Jump Around Frog ride with her, being silly and making more noise than anyone.
With his silliness, she couldn’t hold it in anymore, and her joy spilled out. She giggled.
I used to hide my joy like that. Sometimes I still do.
I’ve always envied people – even acquaintances or people I’ve walked by in an airport – who were so expressive that when they were really excited and happy about something, they showed it.
When they were furious, I saw, heard, and felt it.
When they were really sad, they let me know it and cried.
I used to think that they couldn’t hold it together, so they had to show their emotions and be messy. It was easier to judge them as being out of control than face why I felt so triggered by them.
I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve had the same expression on my face for my entire life – not quite happy, not quite sad, and definitely in control. For most of my life, even though I’ve felt everything from ecstasy to despair, my face would never show it.
When I was 12 years old, my best friend told me other kids didn’t find me approachable. I was quiet, kept to myself, and didn’t ask anyone for help. My mind was always working, and even though I felt like I was experiencing a lot of emotions inside, that’s as far as they got. I expressed myself in my art or through writing in my journal, but felt alone most of the time: dark and messy on the inside and a tidy put-together package on the outside.
What’s the cost of holding in your joy?
Looking back now, I realize the price of showing my joy was that, it brought attention to myself.
When I was having too much fun, giggling and squealing with joy, my father would tell me to stop playing and remind me that I should be working – either helping in the kitchen, or doing something productive. I learned to sequester my joy and felt like I needed to apologize for it.
“I’m sorry I was laughing too loudly.”
While the price of showing joy can feel high, the cost of holding it in is much higher. Countless medical studies have proven that unexpressed emotion can cause illness. The good news is that even more studies have confirmed: expressing positive emotions can promote better health. (link to: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/features/positive-emotions-health-kubzansky-html/)
As an adult, I’ve consciously worked on giving myself permission to express whatever I’m feeling inside. It hasn’t been easy, especially expressing joy. My habit of always wanting to be in control of my emotions sometimes gets in the way, especially in situations where I don’t know people very well.
Sharing my joy with my partner helps. Around him, I feel completely at ease and safe being my joyful, happy self. I also share my joy when I’m dancing, especially in Qoya classes.
Finding spaces and people that are safe and supportive, I’ve learned that joy isn’t meant to be squandered and kept to yourself.
Contained joy is not true joy.
Joy expands when we express it, not only within ourselves, but in our world, like an inflatable joy balloon. It is the most contagious state of being, and people who witness your joy get to experience it, too.
Sometimes, this means they catch your joy and carry it on to share with others. Sometimes not. If they were trained to contain their joy, then your joy might make them a little angry or annoyed.
That’s OK. They might think to themselves, “Thanks for reminding me of something that I am missing” They may feel your joy on the inside and be out of practice in mirroring it back to you.
Either way, we’re meant to share our joy. I never really understood the effect of someone else withholding it from me until I witnessed it in this little girl.
I watched her go up and down the mini rollercoaster, looking for her beaming little girl smile, to show that she was happy on her birthday.
I wanted to see her Unapologetic Joy, rippling out towards everyone in Central Park.
That’s when I realized my desire to see her smile wasn’t about her repressing her joy; it was about me repressing my own for too many years.
Or feeling guilty for having joy when so many people around me did not.
How do you tell a five-year-old that all you wish for her on her birthday is to express her Unapologetic Joy with love and reckless abandon?
You tell her through your own. Her grandfather’s Unapologetic Joy gave her permission to express her own, and together, their joy expanded, moving past them and into the hearts of all who saw them.
We need more joy as a resource in the world.
Not the Contained Joy that you hold inside and celebrate in a quiet moment in the car or in the safety of your living room.
We need more Expressive Joy, the celebratory, “Hell YEAH” kind that’s energizing, contagious, and tickles you from the inside out.
The throw-your-arms-up-in-the-air-and-do-a-little-dance kind of joy. The Joy Fountain kind of joy.
Be generous with your joy, and don’t apologize for it.
You never know who might need a reminder of the miracle of being alive.
Now over to you. What’s your relationship to your Joy? Do you express it openly? Or do you keep it to yourself? How do you feel when you see the Unapologetic Joy of others? I’d love to know – please share below!