I’ve always been a bit weary of celebrating and letting happiness overtake me. I’m both afraid I’ll be lost in the process and that I’ll over-celebrate. I just called celebrating a “process,” but that’s how I’ve experienced it most of my life.
The second I feel the urge to celebrate, part of my consciousness steps out from my body, walks a few feet away and turns to judge my reaction – to measure it on some sort of scale against the cause of the happiness. This judge’s job is to ensure the correct amount of celebration.
Freedom is a very important part of celebration. It’s like celebration’s partner, but when I take the first step of this measuring process – confining the happy emotion to a container in order to place it on the scale – I end the partnership. The freedom to express myself is gone. After I work out the correct amount of celebration, I’m left with measured happiness, which doesn’t sound like happiness at all. It sounds like an episode of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
This process of measuring happiness is completely unnatural for children. It must be taught, and unfortunately, I was taught at a very young age. When I reacted to things with what was deemed “too much joy,” I was met with condescension and undercutting comments that made it clear that my emotions were being judged as silly and invalid:
“You sure are jumping a lot.”
“You’re quite the dancer aren’t you?”
“Wow. That’s some loud singing there.”
These comments were delivered through a smiling face that failed to hide an undercurrent of fear – the fear that I might get out of control.
Through these reactions to my personal celebrations, I was conditioned to keep emotions close to a pre-established, low baseline. This baseline was never discussed, but subconsciously I knew it was there. I empathically felt it. Spikes above and below this baseline were bad. I didn’t know why, but I knew they were bad and should be avoided.
I wasn’t just conditioned by these negative responses to my celebrations. I was also conditioned by a lack of response. No one joined me in authentic celebration of my accomplishments and no one celebrated their own accomplishments. It’s possible that celebrations occurred off base, but I had no knowledge of this. The fact that I’ve lived off base for decades and still struggle to let happiness flow shows how deeply self-judgment was ingrained in me.
At some point in my adulthood, I decided to change all of this and to work on going with the flow of happiness. It’s been a work in progress. The first step has been to let myself off the hook for judging myself all of these years. I‘ve had no experience of life without judgment so I can’t expect myself to just let go without experiencing fear. Acknowledging that I’m starting from scratch relieves a lot of pressure and allows me to begin breaking the habit of judgment and replacing it with free expression.
Just recently, I realized that I’d been analyzing this measuring process to death, and I was using this analyzing to delay working on freely expressing myself. Investigating how and why I measure happiness had become a way of anchoring myself into the past so I could avoid the fear of the future, the fear of spiking high above the baseline.
Now that I’ve called myself out on that last roadblock it’s time to consistently take the very scary next step: to let go and celebrate, to practice over and over, to move through the fear and to see what happens as a result.
The judge has stepped out from me so many times that he created a very worn path, but this might have a positive effect. I think the path will remain as a reminder of where I shouldn’t tread, a reminder to stay present within myself. I believe that, over time, it will become habit for me to spontaneously jump for joy in celebration and the judge’s path will become overgrown, turning into a faint memory.