A troubling facet of joy: Exhilaration

When joy gets stuck: Exhilaration

We’ve looked at the three happiness-family emotions: contentment, which is like a deep and healing breath that follows a sense of inner achievement; the giddier state of happiness, which bubbles up, takes your hand, and skips with you into the bright future; and joy, which arises when you’ve worked to arrive at a place of beauty and full-bodied communion.

However, there’s also an often-frantic emotional state that arises when you try to cement yourself into the territory of joy: It’s called exhilaration.

In exhilaration, you become not happy and silly, but skittery, delirious, and ungrounded. Natural contentment and joy tend to be very grounding, and though happiness adds a lightness and frivolity to you, it doesn’t actually unground you. Happiness can help you feel like a hopeful kid again, but exhilaration can make you feel hyperactive and nearly fraught – as if your happiness will disappear if you take your eyes off it for one second.

Exhilaration can feel very good and empowering, but you have to be careful in this emotional territory.

Exhilaration prompts you to keep moving from one “happy” thing to the next – from one bite of comfort food to a whole cake in one sitting; from one pleasant idea to a hundred better ones; or from one stimulating love affair or ecstatic purchase to the next, without ever stopping to feel any grief or remorse about this erratic behavior.

Though endless happiness is celebrated the world over, unending exhilaration brings just as much trouble as unending depression, anger, fear, or despair. All emotions can be damaging if you imprison them, just as all emotions can be healing when you know how to work with them honorably.

Imbalances in any emotion bring about turmoil, but the dramas of overly exhilarated people are often deeply unsettling. Exhilaration can spin people into extreme levels of activity; they may become chaotic and self-destructive, or wildly and unrelentingly industrious.

If you try to paste a haunted smile onto your face and throw yourself into a nightmare of never-ending exhilaration, you’ll destabilize every part of yourself.

Joy, happiness, and contentment are meant to be as fleeting as anger, grief, fear, or any other emotional states. They were never meant to be held hostage or used to gain prestige in an emotionally stunted world.

The practice for exhilaration

If you tend to get into feedback loops with your joy, and exhilaration becomes troubling for you, you can learn to work with your joy in more intentional and mindful ways. You can do this with my empathic Rejuvenation practice (it’s in The Language of Emotions and in The Art of Empathy), or with other forms of mindfulness training.

Remember that there are no positive or negative emotions; all emotions are natural and necessary reactions and sensibilities that should flow freely.

Enjoy your happiness, your contentment, your joy, and your bliss – and then move on as you’re meant to. You have more work to do, more emotions to feel, and more life to live.

Thank your joy when it arises, but also remember to thank yourself. Your joy is a part of you, and you don’t have to chase it down or imprison it.

Free your joy!


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