When Happiness & Joy Arise, Watch Out for This Dangerous Tendency

timeless-beauty-capturing-ancient-greek-goddess-athena-ultrarealistic-splendor_960911-22041I was a couple of months into a new relationship, so very much in the honeymoon phase.

This romance had caught me by surprise. I’d been online dating for a few months and it had been a comical, lukewarm experience.

This beautiful man, however, I had met in real life. He asked me out in person, off the apps entirely. I had next to no expectations for us and yet somehow found myself swept off my feet, feeling all the in-love, fluttery feelings I stupidly thought I had outgrown.

Being older, experienced, and aware of the intoxication of this phase I knew that it just couldn’t last.

So I found myself asking, while in deep telephone conversation with him one night: how long before we get tired of each other, do you think?

I had tossed it out as kind of light, flirty, jokey, aware.

Of course, the question belied my own insecurity and a kind of protective need for inoculation against what I viewed as inevitable pain. Right now things are good and it can’t last. Obviously.

Instead of answering me in a light, flirty way he was silent for a bit and tried to answer my question seriously.

Which woke me up in that moment very, very abruptly.

Why was I asking a question whose answer I didn’t want to hear or experience?

We humans do this kind of thing a lot when things are going well. We begin to get fearful. Things can’t stay so good. The other shoe’s has got to drop soon! What’s about to happen? How can I best prepare myself for the inevitable worst?

Of course, there are reasons for this. I appreciate what Brene Brown says about it which is basically we’re terrified of joy because we’re terrified of being vulnerable so we try ‘to dress rehearse tragedy so we can beat vulnerability to the punch.’

It’s vulnerable to care about people so much. It’s vulnerable to have such sweet, deep connections because the reality is all of it does end one day. We will feel pain at losing what we love.

Brene says the key is to be grateful. And I love this and agree.

Being truly grateful allows us presence in the moment. All of us will die one day. All of what we have will turn to dust. In this moment, though, we can be grateful.

When we can be in the present moment gratitude, instead of asking what will go wrong, we can orient ourselves towards what can go right…bringing us to the magic question:

How does it get better?

It took a me a minute but when I saw what was happening in that phone conversation with my boyfriend, I stopped him.

I didn’t want to know the answer to that stupid question, I really wanted to know: ‘How does it get better?’

‘How does it get better?’ has become something of a mantra. I pull it out in the joyous moments with him. And even when I think things can’t get any better, somehow they do.

It’s not to say things are perfect, that there are no hiccups, no tough spots. Of course there are.

But the relationship and our time together keep exceeding my expectations and the limits of my known experience.

So now I try to catch myself in the questions I ask in all areas of my life — do I actually want to have this answered? Do I want to be orienting towards this answer?

This is a practice. We likely ask a lot more questions than we realize — especially in the realm of our thoughts and mental chatter.

It certainly doesn’t work if we’re in a bad situation where we feel miserable or despairing to ask how it gets better. It can land as a futile, sarcastic, offensive, or even bypassing question.

But we can always look towards a better question and an orientation more towards what we do want such as “What can I appreciate right now?” Maybe it’s sunshine and cool breezes. Maybe it’s having my warm coat on this cold miserable day.

I did something like this the other week as I found myself incredibly grumpy and irritable coming home from downtown (a place I often loathe being).

I sat on the streetcar and watched my irritation grow as I found ways to privately complain about nearly every person I saw.

I asked myself — what could I look at with appreciation? What are some things that I like right now and that are pleasing to me?

I began to pick out colors of the clothes people were wearing, and some of the styles. I noted art on the street that I could appreciate. I saw many dogs who brought a smile to my eyes with their sweetness and innocence.

I continued that for the entire trip and when I got off the streetcar, my grumpiness had left me.

I continue to find that the right questions are truly magical and offer us a solid way forward in this maze of life. If you find that that the track you’re on isn’t quite what you want, I invite you to look at the questions you are asking.

Where do you really want to go? What are the answers you really want to know?

Ask those questions.