This Will Be the Year I Say Goodbye to Foreboding Joy

As I write this, 2022 is drawing to a close, which doesn’t quite add up in my head because time makes less sense the older I get. Putting my disbelief aside for a moment, when I reflect on the last year, there is one word that comes to mind: joy.

I feel guilty and even a little suspicious about sharing this with you now, as if acknowledging my joy will somehow jinx it. I’m also fighting the urge to caveat this with a rundown of the hard and terrible things that have happened this year because I feel the need to justify my good fortune somehow.

But it’s true. On the whole, it was a joyful year for me—and not because it was marked by any of the splashy achievements or major milestones we’re accustomed to seeing on social media. “We closed on our dream home!” “Please welcome baby Lola into the world.” “I got a book deal!” If anything, I fell short on some of the more ambitious goals I set out for myself at the start of the year and took a few steps backwards according to societal standards.

Still, 2022 was the most joy-filled year I’ve had in a while. It was a significant turning point for me as well because it’s the year I finally came back to myself.

Throughout my 20s and early 30s, I wholly believed that the answer to living a fulfilling life hinged entirely on how hard I worked in every aspect of it. I thought that if I just tried a little harder, made myself more available and agreeable to others, all would be well. And so, I abandoned myself a hundred different times, a hundred different ways as I said yes to things I should have said no to and misplaced my self-worth by looking for it in various accomplishments and the people around me. There is perhaps no clearer example of this than the six years I spent trying to save a relationship that ultimately couldn’t be saved.

Through that experience I was confronted with the fact that some things are beyond your reach, no matter how hard you try. Effort is not always rewarded. Input does not guarantee your desired output. Wanting something doesn’t mean you’ll get it. There is no simple math to any of this.

When my relationship finally ended, I felt deep grief, but I also felt overwhelming relief. My heart was raw and tender, but I was no longer gripped by the all-consuming anxiety that comes from holding onto something that’s already gone. Yes, I was sad to let go and scared to start over on my own, but I also felt so undeniably light.

And that’s the energy I entered 2022 with: lightness. Lightness, which made space for joy to come into my life. And it did, in abundance.

At the start of the year, I began dancing again, a long-lost hobby I enjoyed greatly as a kid but stopped making time for as an adult. After multiple surgeries that left my body feeling stiff and foreign, dancing helped me reconnect with it and appreciate each movement I made as the small miracles that they were. Going to class regularly came with another surprise: I made new friends who have been a consistent source of joy throughout the year.

In March, my best friend of over 15 years got married in Costa Rica and we celebrated by ziplining down a mountain (a first for me) and dancing the night away, the way we often did in college. I can still hear a group of us screaming along to “I Want It That Way” at the reception. Our shoes kicked off, our skin sticky with sweat. Fluorescent glow sticks dangling from our necks. We were drunk off shots of tequila and the exquisite, but increasingly harder to come by feeling of being fully immersed in a moment. I felt so alive and grateful to be exactly where I found myself that night.

Yet, even as I’m in these joyful moments, there’s a pervasive thought that follows me around, a cautious voice that whispers, “Sure, this is great, but when is the other shoe going to drop?”

Brené Brown describes this fear as "foreboding joy," which she explains as "that feeling you get when joy is followed quickly by thoughts of worry and dread, an inner dialogue of ‘but what if this happens,’ or a sense of impending doom that something bad will happen to counteract the happiness you feel.”

In her book, Atlas of the Heart, she goes on to write, “No emotion is more frightening than joy because we believe if we allow ourselves to feel joy, we are inviting disaster. We start dress-rehearsing tragedy in the best moments of our lives in order to stop vulnerability from beating us to the punch. But there’s a huge cost. When we push away joy, we squander the goodness that we need to build resilience, strength, and courage.”

Given that the years that preceded this one were so full of strife, it feels uncomfortable to experience moments of ease in my life. I constantly worry that my luck will run out. But when I really think about it, it’s not just luck that brought me here.

I am here because I made and carried out a series of incredibly difficult decisions. An end of a 12-year relationship. A cross-country move. Beginning a new chapter that looked entirely different from the one I'd planned for so many years. I see and seek out more moments of joy in the mundane after coming to the humbling realization that it’s necessary to our survival in the hardest seasons. As Brown says, “Joy, collected over time, fuels resilience—ensuring we'll have reservoirs of emotional strength when hard things do happen.”

And so, 2023 is the year I have decided to say goodbye to foreboding joy and simply accept joy as it is. I won't delay it either. This life is precarious and unpredictable for everyone. It will unfold in ways that are both unimaginable and universal. Some years will be heartbreakingly brutal—illness, the loss of loved ones, jobs or identities that kept us anchored for so long—and other times, life will surprise you with its beauty—a new friendship, a conversation that changes your perspective or makes you feel less alone, a view of the ocean that stills you, reminding you that we're a part of something larger than any pain or worry we're currently facing—and there’s no knowing when you’ll experience either. We can’t prepare for future tragedies, but we can absolutely relish the joy we are experiencing now.

Jenny Jin Headshot Vertical 2023

Beauty Director

Jenny Jin is PureWow’s Beauty Director and is currently based in Los Angeles. Since beginning her journalism career at Real Simple magazine, she has become a human encyclopedia of...