Vulnerability in/and Joy

I can’t remember not feeling a great deal of concern over the topic of joy. Whether or not I’m a happy person, if I’m not then why not, and whether everyone’s obsession with happiness is warranted. For a variety of reasons, I feel like I stopped being happy around 10. And I wonder, is anyone actually as happy as they say? They can’t be, otherwise there wouldn’t be entire sections of Barnes & Noble devoted to the subject. To quote myself from July 2016, “In reading through my journal entries from the last six months, I feel like all the joy — optimism, has gotten beaten out of me.” And many of my journal entries throughout college were concerned with the topic of joy in some form — why ­can’t I be happy? What is it about this place that makes me so unhappy? Am I just not trying hard enough?

For a while now, I’ve been coming to terms with my fear of vulnerability (clearly, I spend a lot of time reflecting on my mental/emotional self. Try it). And I think that fleeting attitude towards joy is more related to vulnerability than I realized. I don’t like feeling vulnerable around other people. I try to be calculated and exacting with myself in social situations. I often get described as personable and sociable, although I consider myself a deeply introverted person. Engaging people in conversation, especially people I don’t know, is tiring, but not an altogether vulnerable experience, because I have my comments planned out (which according to psychology YouTubers is a sign of anxiety).

In combating those empty kind of interactions, I tried to let the people I’m close to in some more: to have real conversations and listen to what they have to say, instead of crafting how I want both of us to feel when it’s all said and done. I’ve found myself having conversations that I’d previously think of as word vomit, where I’m thinking aloud, without a plan or conclusion to my thoughts — without a point, and feeling very open in doing so. And in those moments, I’ve felt the most comfortable and well received, understood even. And I’m better able to recognize when others are doing the same, confiding in me in a way they might not with others.

I often feel like my joy, which I’ve seen glimmers of during those moments of openness…vulnerability, is overwhelming. My laugh has always been loud, easily identifiable. It scares me to feel as unbound as I do when laughing. In taking stock of the moments I felt miserable, closing myself off probably had something to do with it. Even in relationships, I’ve tried to push people away the moment I feel vulnerable. I worry when other people have the ability to make me happy, in pronounced ways. My reasoning is that if they’re able to make me feel that happy, they easily could make me feel the opposite. And I’ve gotten accustomed to being miserable on behalf of others. There’s a lot of trust that goes into allowing someone else to make you happy.

While this could be its own article, I also conflate success with unhappiness and sacrifice. And my senior year of college, if I found myself having too much fun, I’d quickly spiral into thinking how I could be using that energy elsewhere, more productively. I’d limit my carefree moments to solitary ones, singing and dancing alone, able to laugh at myself, but switch to being very dry around others. I’ve had partners comment on the moments they’ve seen me be carefree. It usually involved music and they said it made them feel like they had access to something most people don’t.

And I recognize how much of this work needs to be done by myself. How many of us are actually vulnerable in our own thoughts, able to say to ourselves, “This is what I want” without a sense of shame? People act in peculiar ways when they don’t know what drives them. And that might be from a lack of honesty with one’s self. A few years ago, I made a pact with myself to stop keeping certain topics off limits in my own thoughts. My sexuality, any negative thoughts about my partner, actively planning my future — all were subjects I tried very hard to avoid any real reflection on. And once I was able to think more carefully about them (even going as far as writing them out), I felt a weight being lifted off my shoulders.

In raising this question of vulnerability and happiness to someone who in fact makes me very happy, causing me great distress, his response was, “The happiest people are the ones who make the best decisions as to when and with whom to be vulnerable.” I aspire to that. I want to settle into being comfortable with vulnerability, and trust those around me enough to see my joy, and take care of it.