Niagara Gazette

March 31, 2013

JOYRIDE: Can vulnerability be key to happiness?

Michele DeLuca
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — There is a monster in my sight these days and I am working hard to vanquish it, stabbing away with my swords of optimism and reason. It is, however, putting up a powerful fight.

The monster that threatens my peacefulness is something that Americans don’t like to talk about much — but it’s something each of us must deal with. Our lives depend on our ability to do it well. I’m talking about looking into a future that holds weakness and vulnerability, the kind that crushed my father and now seems to be threatening my agile, full-of-attitude, 83-year-old mother.  I’m talking about getting old. 

At every stage in my life I have participated enthusiastically in the possibilities for the rebirth of myself.  Marriage. Parenthood. Career changes.  Every change in circumstance has offered me the chance to consider who I am and who I want to be. But, this mid-life stage I’m at is dangerously close to a time when a happy ending cannot as likely be constructed by good luck and hard work.  

All the great spiritual masters say acceptance of things as they are is the secret to a happy life, but how does one surrender to decline? It’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Surprisingly, I’ve never given it much thought before. Death does not scare me. Decline does.

Today is Easter, the holiday in which millions of Christians celebrate the return to life of God’s son after his death on the cross. His message promises eternal life. Yet, even those who most devoutly believe must be challenged by the thoughts of their own last road.

As for me, I’ve always liked to research things before they happen. When I got pregnant the first time, I borrowed armloads of maternity books from the library. Marriage meant relationship research. 

Death has always seemed a more perplexing puzzle. I started reading books about death in my 20s, to get a head start on the inevitable losses to come. I’ve since learned you can research something to death and still not be prepared for it.  So, I’ve begun the research on decline.  But, for now, my plan is simple — find more pockets of joy to brighten my days, and continue to try and figure out the best ways to live full out.

I’ve recently stumbled across a presentation on my favorite website Ted.com, where the world’s most interesting humans speak about their lives work.  The talk was by Dr. Brené Brown, a college professor and researcher who has concluded that vulnerability is the key to happiness. Apparently, one cannot be happy when emotionally shielded, armed and helmeted against any and all danger.  The key to a better life, she said, is found through opening yourself to relationships and experiences and being as honest as possible with yourself and others about who you are.

She says that joy lives there. And creativity.  And better relationships. 

Dang.  I don’t like being vulnerable.  And neither does she. As a scholar and researcher, the news that everything good comes from being vulnerable led her to a nervous breakdown.  Or, as her counselor called it, “a spiritual awakening.” She’s pretty funny on that Ted talk. You should catch her if you can. She was also on a recent Super Soul Sunday on Oprah’s channel, which you can check out on Oprah.com.

She says we all have moments of vulnerability and that we often turn them into rage or disconnection or numbness or perfectionism, but we all do something with them. The key is to recognize them, feel them and ultimately make the choice to simply stand in the uncertainty. “When you know what you’re feeling and why, you can slow down, breathe, pray, ask for support — and make choices that reflect who you are and what you believe,” she says.

My current belief is that “Baby Boomers” are going to change the way our culture ages.  What we don’t yet know is exactly how they’re going to do that. So, on this day celebrating a miraculous return to life, Brown’s vulnerability research is information I am willing to consider.  This whole column is an exercise in following her advice and trying to “stand in the uncertainty.”

She tells me that the joy lives there.

I guess I’m just going to have to wait and see.    

Contact Michele DeLuca at 282-2311, ext. 2263.