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Q and A for Teens: Afraid to Enjoy the Joy

October 3, 2013 | by Lauren Roth

I have a good life, but I’m afraid something bad is going to happen.

Dear Lauren,

I feel like I have a very good life, but it seems that everyone has to have some bad in their life, so I’m afraid something bad is going to happen later….

Lauren Roth's Answer

My client was going out on her first date post-divorce, and the potential suitor sounded like a fantastic match for her. I said to her, “I’m so excited about this man! He might be THE ONE!” Do you know what her response was? I’m sure you can guess it, because it represents the kind of thinking most people engage in: “I’m not letting myself get excited, because it might not work out.”

Most people enjoy the joy in their lives only in a guarded, relatively apprehensive manner, not fully trusting that the joy will stay. But that kind of living results in limiting the joy in their lives.

You can’t save yourself from heartbreak, heartache, sadness, longing, and loneliness by holding your happy moments at arms’ length.

The happy moments will exist in your life. And the sad moments will exist, too. The smartest thing to do is to enjoy the joyful parts fully. Not enjoying them fully doesn’t protect you against the pain of the sad parts.

Not enjoying the joy doesn’t protect us from pain. It just makes us miss out on joy.

With my post-divorce client, we discussed this, and my suggestion was: “Why NOT enjoy the anticipation and excitement that ‘This might be the one!’? Why NOT allow yourself that extra joy of anticipation?” Once we discussed it, she was able to lean in to the joy and fully experience it. She was able to allow herself to be excited by the prospect of “This relationship might work out beautifully!” And she fully enjoyed that joy. The end of that particular story was: that man was not “The One” for her. But guess what? She enjoyed lots of joy and excitement along the way. She experienced joy as it came to her and had more joy than she would have had otherwise.

Not enjoying the joy doesn’t protect us from pain. It just makes us miss out on joy.

I have my own personal example. Probably because I have a handicapped sister, I always knew: Pain happens. Difficult things happen. People are born handicapped. People get sick. People lose money. People die. In sum: Pain happens in life.

Knowing that reality, you can do one of two things. You can wait for and anticipate the pain, and say constantly, “Oh no oh no oh no I know the pain is coming soon oh no oh no oh no….” OR you can live your life fully and happily, loving life and loving the good and reveling in all the good and think, “I know pain might come, but right now life is good, and that is very nice. And if and when pain comes, I will deal with pain then.”

I was more of the first kind of person. I always thought, “My sister Rachel was born very handicapped. That taught me that bad things do happen. So when will my pain come?” I wondered that before I boarded planes (“Maybe today is the day the pain will come and this plane will crash!”). I wondered it when my parents were going for their yearly physicals (“Maybe today is the day the pain will come and one of my parents will find out they’re sick!”). I wondered it when my husband was driving home from a late night out (“Maybe today is the day the pain will come and he’ll fall asleep at the wheel and DIE!”). I wondered it randomly (“Maybe today is the day someone in our family will get sick or die or both!”)…. I wasn’t constantly walking around in a state of worry, but I always had this realistic, pessimistic expectation that “Pain Will Come” in the back of my mind.

But here’s the kicker: it didn’t protect me when the pain came. 15 years ago, “that day” finally arrived. My husband came home from the gastroenterologist, pale and shaking, and told me: “I have a tumor.”

Guess what happened? The pain came. And I dealt with it. Of course it was hard. But I dealt with it. Of course it was painful. But I dealt with it.

The pain did come, and I dealt with it just fine.

All those years of being afraid that “Maybe the pain will come today” were kind of worthless. Because the pain did come, and I dealt with it just fine. I’m not saying I enjoyed the painful process, but it didn’t destroy me, the world didn’t blow up, the universe didn’t cease to exist…. I dealt with it.

Yes, pain comes. And it will probably come to your life, too. But when it comes, you’ll deal with it then. And until it comes, enjoy the joy. The joy is good and it’s here now. When the pain comes, then it will be here. But until then, don’t invite it in early by anticipating its arrival. By all means, anticipate joy—because then you have the joyful experience plus the anticipation of joy. But why add the anticipation of pain to the pain that will probably come?

Enjoy your joy. Thank God for all the good he gives you every moment of every day. Love your life. Live your life NOW. If or when pain comes, you will deal with it, and you’ll probably deal with it better than you think.


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