Sometimes I think it is easy to feel disappointed. It can seem as if one bad thing is happening after another, and even the best moments seem to not quite meet expectations. I find that there is an – expectation→ anticipation→ disappointment – loop that occasionally tries to take over, and it can often succeed if I am not intentional about stopping the cycle. One of the ways I have found that best interrupts this disappointment loop is to allow the “anticipation phase” to be interrupted, by getting lost in unexpected moments of joy. I am going to explain this more by taking a step back.
I had this image as a child of what it would feel like to find an intense happiness bigger than I could imagine. I remember picturing that this happiness would take over my entire body by filling it up with exploding excitement as the sun shined directly on me and the sky broke open and poured down beautiful mess-free glitter. (Actually, I probably didn’t envision mess-free glitter, but the mom in me now hates real glitter, so the vision has been updated.) I would daydream about the moments that would create this happiness, a happiness that I now describe as the feeling of unrestricted joy.
I always imagined that I would feel this intense happiness at obvious times, such as my wedding day, meeting my child, winning the lottery, you know the big things. And yes, the unrestricted joy I felt in those moments was amazing (although the lottery winning is still a daydream). What I did not expect was to feel this at the most minor, seemingly insignificant moments. Yet, that is when it seems to show up the most, and it is those moments that have the most impact in interrupting my disappointment loops.
I think the reason for the unrestricted joy showing up in minor, non-daydreamed-about moments is partially due to just that, they are unexpected. I tend to daydream about the big things. For example, the day we were finally able to move into our home, I was ecstatic, but I had envisioned the moment in detail, from the picture we took together with the sold sign on our front step, to the feel of the key in my hands as I unlocked the door for the first time. I imagined the empty kitchen where we would drink cold water in plastic cups and eat pizza straight from the box, my purse holding a packed roll of toilet paper so that we wouldn’t be without if we had to use the bathroom. The day was everything I had imagined. Signing the papers filled my heart with excitement, even joy. However, there was no raining glitter, my heart didn’t burst with a level of intensity that I had never experienced before. I am pretty certain this is because it was expected, there was nothing to snap me out of reality. I knew that the day was going to be awesome, I knew that I was meeting a life goal that I had worked hard for and that it was going to be special. Compare this experience to the little moments where they joy starts to creep its way in.
I was driving down the street in my super cool minivan with my two kids sitting in their carseats and my son asked to listen to his new kid songs on CD. I pushed play and turned on the music louder than we ever listen to music in the car. Both kids were laughing and singing out loud. We pulled up to a stop light and I turned quick to look at the kids in the backseat: my little two year was copying all of her brother’s dance moves as best she could from her carseat, pumping her fist, stomping her feet, and clapping. She had the most carefree joy-filled smile on her face as she sang her baby-garbled lyrics at the top of her lungs. This gave her brother the giggles as he stared at her with genuine love reflected in his eyes. And then I felt it: the sun shined, the glitter flew, and my heart was no longer in my body. That moment of unexpected joy had caught me so off guard I can hardly describe it. I caught the giggles thinking how this intense joy found me driving a minivan listening to kid songs, something I never expected. But that was the thing, it was unexpected. There was no anticipation of the moment, of the day, of the feelings attached to it. I hadn’t driven that drive in my daydreams 100 times before. I didn’t find the feeling, it found me.
So now I watch for them, my little unexpected moments of joy where my face hurts from so much smiling and the mess-free glitter flies around me. I no longer take them for granted. The ordinary moment that is filled with joyful power no longer gets left as ordinary, but I capture it in my mind for rainy day remembering. I allow these memories to disrupt my disappointment loops and to keep in check my anticipation of the next big thing. Then, I write them down in my gratitude journal, I text my family or a friend about them, I let the kids know that they bring out that feeling in me. Then I keep them, the unexpected moments of joy, close to my heart always.
Author: Jessica is a wife, mom, school social worker, and aspiring writer. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters.