At the end of my daughter’s Kindermusik for the Young Child classes this week, a fellow student came bursting out of class, with delight and pride, exclaiming to her mom that she “matched Ms. Carol’s pitch!” (Ms. Carol asks her older students to sing back to her when they get a stamp, “Good-bye Ms. Carol,”—using music to create an I Love You (TM) ritual, and giving the students another opportunity to develop their musical ear.) While I don’t make it a habit to eavesdrop on the conversations that other caregivers have with their kids at the studio (so, you know, don’t be paranoid when you see me there that your conversation will end up on the web forevermore!), this one caught my ear. That girl, sharing the contentment of her accomplishment, excitedly sharing it with her mom, exuded pure joy.
Joy. It is one of the most profound human emotions that we can experience. It can also be a really difficult emotion to experience, because it betrays our vulnerability. An addict, for instance, may be as likely to experience a relapse after a joyful experience as he or she may be as part of a depressive experience, because both can be very overwhelming and difficult to face alone. Certainly, not all of our habits are unhealthy. Candy Crush, exercise, shopping or eating can all be good things, if they hold an appropriate space in our lives. But if we turn to those things so as not to experience emotion (joy or sorrow), we are numbing. And I have learned that we cannot selectively numb–if we numb the pain, we also numb the joy in our lives.
Of course, it takes regular practice for me just to sit with strong emotions. I tend to forget when I’m in pain that it will pass, and that when the joy comes it will be worthwhile. Child-rearing, of course, is one big petree dish in which to practice vulnerability and courage. Or, as my dad used to say, “Kids are a lump in the throat or a pain in the butt.”
Brené Brown, author and shame researcher, teaches that joy comes when we practice gratitude:
“We can spend our entire lives in scarcity . . . just waiting for the other shoe to drop and wondering when it will all fall apart. Or, we can lean into the uncertainty and be thankful for what we have in that precious moment. When I’m standing at the crossroads of fear and gratitude, I’ve learned that I must choose vulnerability and practice gratitude if [I] want to know joy. I’m not sure that it will ever be easy for me, but I have learned to trust this practice. For that, I give thanks!” (Brené Brown, blog post, What I’ve Learned About Gratitude and Fear 11/23/11, accessed 4/10/15).
But, she notes, we can’t just say that we practice gratitude—we actually have to have some measurable way of marking that for which we are grateful:
One of the Song of the Heart values is joy. So, as a community, this week let’s practice gratitude in a specific, “tangible” way. When you come to class, check out the paper that will be posted on the wall, and add something for which you’re grateful. And ask your kids! What good thing has happened to them today? It can be something specifically you find to be grateful about Kindermusik and the Song of the Heart studio, or it can be something about another part of your life for which you give thanks. Then, when you’re in class, dare to lean into the joy of singing a lullaby with your child or dancing with your preschooler—be OK with the fact that the moment is fleeting, and give yourself permission to feel it completely.