The Vulnerability of Joy

by Adair Swayze, LPC

To let ourselves sink into the joyful moments of our lives even though we know that they are fleeting, even though the world tells us not to be too happy lest we invite disaster—that’s an intense form of vulnerability.” –Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

Joy is one of the so-called positive emotions. At the emotional salad bar, most of us would choose joy and happiness over dread, heartbreak, or confusion. It feels good to feel joy. Our hearts leap. Smiles break out on our faces. We feel butterflies and giddiness. We want to share our joy with others. We want to celebrate.

However, any of us who are living whole-heartedly have learned that joy is not always simple or safe. Feeling joy fully and sharing it with others especially when the source of the joy is uncertain comes with major risk. Getting excited about a new job possibility may mean later feeling silly and emotionally exposed when they hire someone else. Allowing the joy of a new possibility to rise and swell means that later we may feel small, deflated, and foolish. And for many of us that pain has been severe enough that we have learned to shut down joy the moment it starts to appear. We try to live without risk of pain.

Risking disappointment is scary and heavy and it is especially heavy to do so alone. I have learned that inviting safe whole-hearted people into my joy and disappointment feels risky but good. It means that when disappointment comes, I will not be alone to hold whatever feelings rise. My people will be there too and can help me hold disappointment well. If I feel small and foolish, I will need to be reminded as I was recently by a friend, “You have been so brave on this adventure and that is not foolishness.”

When disappointment threatens to take us out, we need reminders of kindness. When joy feels good and fleeting, we need celebrating witnesses. Vulnerability means inviting others into the uncertain rhythm of joy and loss, excitement and disappointment. And it is not safe, but it is good to be joined wherever our hearts most need connection and community.


Adair is a Licensed Professional Counselor who enjoys working with individuals,children, teens, and families in the Marietta & Kennesaw area. Learn more about her and other therapists at Foundation Counseling here.

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