Something kind of magical happened when I sat down to record a conversation with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic. It was like the whole exchange happened in some sort of suspended space. The room filled with a certain lightness. Wisdom rained down like drops from heaven but without all the heaviness that often comes with being schooled by someone you sense is profoundly in the know.
When Gilbert's episode aired, the response validated everything I had felt in the room. People emailed and posted and shared. They couldn't stop talking about it, offering how they kept listening over and over, taking notes, laughing, crying, and loving every moment. It just made them happy. Apparently, this response to her presence is not all that unusual. What was it about her, I wondered, that made her so magical? Sure, there is the fact that she openly believes in magical thinking; we all want to find a little more fairy dust in our lives. There was the seemingly endless flow of stories and wisdom and hope that tumble ever so effortlessly from her. But there was something else. Something I didn't key in on until I the saw the transcript of our conversation.
Reading through the text, a single word surrounded by brackets kept appearing over and over. There was not a single minute that passed without the transcriber noting that she "[laughs]." Was it just that I was so funny? Anyone who knows me knows the answer to that question is a definite no. It was all coming from her. She was cracking herself up. Gilbert was astonishingly comfortable in her own skin, unapologetically herself, unconditionally joyful. She made me want to be the same, and she gave me hope that I could let go and lighten up, just like her.
I jumped on Instagram shortly afterward to check her feed. There I found a parade of pictures and images that radiated not just joy but, again, comfort. One shot showed her made up for the camera and stage. The next showed her without a stitch of makeup, her hair up, glasses on, with a touch of bed-head and the comment "If you're wondering what an author looks like when she wakes up on the long-awaited morning of her book launch: here you go! The glamour never ends." Also in her stream was a video of her dancing around in old sweats like nobody was watching, while two friends played drums and bass behind her. She was telling the world, "I'm real, and I'm not going to hide from you. Let's dance!"
Brené Brown, same thing. She's spent decades researching shame and has shared openly about her own struggles with it in all parts of her life. At the same time, she is unapologetically, shamelessly herself. She makes no excuses and brings all of her funny, sardonic, brilliant, offbeat, nonconformist, playful Texan self to everything she does. As with Gilbert, there is this sense of confident ease, true lightness, and joy that radiates from her. And I wondered, why don't we all act this way?
That's when it dawned on me. You can't just choose to be joyful.
For some, there may be deep wounds, layers of trauma or pathology that neither this nor any book is capable of healing. If that is you, by the way, please take the steps needed to find someone truly qualified to help you reconnect with your beautiful and worthy self.
For far more people, though, there's something else going on. Something that stifles their ability to just choose joy.
Before you can choose joy, you have to choose you.
That's what Gilbert and Brown have done. There is a certain heaviness that seeps into every part of life when you walk through each day trying to be someone else. The energy put into hiding who you are and then building any number of alter egos to satisfy society's expectations of who you are eventually becomes crushing. You may be able to keep up the illusion of survival or even joy for a short time, but in the end it always drags you down. The longer you wear the mask, the harder it is to keep up the facade, to muster a modicum of civility, let alone joy. At some point, you have to choose. Will you continue to hide, living under the weight of expectation, or allow yourself to be seen?
The moment you choose you, the heaviness begins to ease. Seeds of lightness begin to grow. That doesn't mean all of life's problems drop away, but you get to turn loose the wellspring of energy that was being used to prop up the illusion, using it instead on the process of reconnecting with people, joy, meaning, and lightness.
Excerpted from How to Live a Good Life. Copyright © 2016 by Jonathan Fields and published by Hay House, Inc. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.