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Tuesday
Jan182011

Don’t get too excited

My friend was telling me about this great job she’s being considered for, and while describing how fantastic it sounds, she cut herself off by saying, “I know, I shouldn’t get too excited, it might not happen.” Which prompted me to ask, why couldn't she get excited? What’s “too” excited, anyway? She wasn’t wetting herself (I don’t think). And what’s so dangerous about excitement? She’s not insane; it’s not like she’s going to run out and buy herself engraved business cards with the new position she may or may not have.  If she doesn’t get the job, her disappointment will not be lessened by the knowledge that at least she didn’t let herself get excited. (How unseemly that would have been!)
 
Sort of related: one day when I was around six, I was holding hands with my friend and skipping around like a goof, laughing uproariously, when I tripped and bonked my mouth on the gravel. As my mom mopped up my tears and bandaged my chin, I clearly remember her telling me this: “Laughter always leads to tears.” I told my friends this years later, and it became a running joke whenever we laughed at anything: “We should stop,” one of my friends would solemnly declare, “before the tears come.”
 
Now, I may have misheard my mom; she may have meant “laughter while hopping up and down with your similarly uncoordinated friend will always lead to tears,” but either way I think part of me believed the original statement, and still does, a little.  I’m often concerned that I’ll look foolish being happy and excited, because there’s probably bad news lurking just around the corner. And I don’t think I’m alone in that. I think many of us suspect that the Universe is going to see us feeling happy and confident and boldly carrying forth and it’s going to be all, “Ah, good, now I know whom to take down a peg.”  And then everyone will laugh when we think we see a bee in the bathroom stall and run out screaming with our skirt hiked up to our waist. For instance.
 
It’s all fantasy, of course. The Universe is busy with other things, like birthing galaxies and expanding. It’s not looking askance at anyone for thinking too much of themselves.  So why not be exactly as excited or pleased or hopeful as we’re feeling? Just let ourselves be, for once? Cut ourselves a huge goddamn break? The disappointments and bad news will come no matter what we do, but meanwhile, keeping yourself in check in anticipation of that moment is just a terrible shame.

Reader Comments (56)

Alice: you have so many wonderful sides of you. Thank you for showing them all to us. I never know how much to disclose about myself, and what I think, but you know the right balance here.

You show me enough to make you vulnerable, and real. And I think that is why I always click over when I see that you've posted.

I have for years, feared being happy. In case I get smacked down. Then a therapist asked me, "do you REALLY think that the universe is sitting there waiting for you to be happy? To just smack you down??? REALLY?"

And then I realized the foolishness of it.

What is wrong with being happy? What is wrong with appreciating a few good rolls of the die that come your way?

"When we are in despair, we think it will never end. But when we are in sheer heavenly delight, we fear it will end too soon."

I adored this post. And I don't think I've ever "met" such a woman who doesn't fear what she posts. You just don't.

I love what you write.

Thank you.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteralexandra

Yep, I relate to your friend's attitude. Somehow it got put in my head that it will hurt less if I beat myself down before the excitement ever got built up. An abusive relationship in my head?

Which is to say that I love this post and the reminder to give myself a break. Thank you for this.

Also, reading this: “Laughter always leads to tears.” Made me laugh. Excuse me, I must now go cry...

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJammie J.

I think perhaps it's that the more happy and excited you are about something, the worse the feeling of disappointment if it goes away. I try not to get too excited about things that aren't for-sure for that reason.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWendy

Hehe- thanks for this post. I am very suspicious when I am too happy. Getting excited and getting one's hopes up is a good thing and something I am going to work towards!

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

You guys are leading me to suspect that this "first laughter, then tears" saying is Italian in origin, since my mom's Italian. And here I thought her people were so happy-go-lucky!

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteralice

Oh my! My mother used to say, "You'll cry as much as you're laughing before you go to sleep," or something similar to that. Ugh. Way to spoil the fun moment. You're right, it's still there in the back of my mind. And I'm still a little afraid to be completely free and full of joy ... waiting for the other shoe to drop. Why DO we do that?

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCresanna

My mom told me "the more you cry, the less you pee" so I learned early on about dehydration.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarinka

Get out of my head!! Here I am trying to not get too excited about a way out of a shitty situation. And there you are saying such smart things. You make me cry.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThy

My dad once told me, after I had interviewed for my dream job, "Don't get your hopes up." I know he didn't mean to, but it totally took the air out of my balloon. And as a consequence, in my own fit of poor judgement, I decided not to follow up after the interview. I didn't get the job. Was it because I didn't follow up as I should have? Or was it for another reason. I'll never know. Perhaps it was never meant to be. But I will, hopefully, never tell my kid not to "get his hopes up" about anything. Get those hopes up. Way up. Up, up, and away.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteraimee

Well, shit, I do this all the damn time. I was just thinking the other day about my tendency to think that if things are going really well, then disaster must be right around the corner. Nothing like throwing oneself into a panic attack even though NOTHING IS WRONG, because it could all be taken away tomorrow! On the flip side, I seem to believe that when misfortune happens, it is prophylactic against more bad things coming to pass -- as if there were some cosmic scoreboard that prevents us from having too much good or bad at any given time.

As if that weren't enough, even though I consider myself to be a happy, optimistic person, I am CONSTANTLY managing my own expectations by reminding myself not to get my hopes up or throwing in disclaimers ("It'll never happen"; "it's so unlikely"; "naturally, it won't work out") to keep my emotions in check. And yet? It really doesn't temper my disappointment when things really don't work out. So what is the freaking point?

I am dumb.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLawyerish

Ah, another soul-crushing generational adage. My mom once told me, "There's always truth in kidding." That one still trips me up.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSally McGraw

This past summer, I interviewed for my dream job, only to not get it. The interview was the most fun interview I ever had (probably because 95% of the panel are dear friends of mine), the process was amazing because I was going after a job with other really smart and talented people, and was chasing a position at a school where really smart and talented people all work. I refused to allow myself to get too excited, but why?! I had more fun during the process than I ever did in any other interview process before, and the woman who beat me out for the job is infinately more qualified than I am for the position! Silly me. I missed out on all the sheer enjoyment of that week because I didn't want to get too excited.

I think to some extent all of us females are conditioned to be waiting for the other shoe to drop. It's a disorder we all struggle with. Maybe we should want that shoe to drop? Maybe it wouldn't be so bad? Here's to ending the worry, and embracing the joy.

And to shoes dropping. I love shoes.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen

This, today, I needed. Perfect.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermae

Agreed! I just celebrated some good news over at my blog and it felt, well, good. It's important to enjoy the positive when it comes, there is already enough negative bubbling around us!

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAsh

Alice, this is beautiful, and a very appropriate reminder for me today. Thank you!

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPinkie Bling

This is the same kind of thinking behind the traditional idea of the Evil Eye, with the notion that any overt good fortune is in danger of being noticed by The Forces of Evil(tm) and promptly thwarted.

It's also the theme of a lot of Greek tragedies, wherein the protagonist's good fortune wins him a big ol' smiting. I used to worry about that vaguely whenever I had good luck, but remembering that Zeus probably isn't interested in zapping me with a lightning bolt helps.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCobwebs

Can't say it better than Allie Brosh:
http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/08/this-comic-was-inspired-by-experience-i.html

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnother Kate

Amen.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

I've been SOOOO guilty of this through life. In fact I often hesitate to tell anyone about anything I am "working on" lest it all fall through and I spend a lot of time having to explain why it didn't work out. I'd rather not have to fess up to failure to the masses, all because I was over zealous in the planning stages!

However, on the vast opposite end of the spectrum, I am even more guilty of reminding myself things aren't going to stay bad forever. When I am in tears, I remind myself that laughter will return. Just as I might reel myself in when I am happy (which, face it, takes away some of the happy, which is SILLY), I also pick myself up when I am sad.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

This is too true. I have the unfortunate added feeling of "jinxing" things all the time, like if I get too excited about something I will somehow cast a kind of hex on it and it won't end up happening. A wise therapist once said, "Do you really think you have that much control over the universe?"

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDevon

I like the kind of crying that follows laughing so hard I wet my pants and pull my ab muscles. That kind of crying is okay.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdgm

Ok, that's a pretty funny saying I'd never heard. On the other hand, I wouldn't tell someone not to get excited or to go ahead and get excited, whatever works best for them is ok with me :) When we were trying to get pregnant I would always assume it wouldn't work out (IUI, IVF, whatever) which would piss my husband off, he thought I was jinxing the whole thing. It was really the only way I would not sink into a pool of despair. It's a somewhat extreme case, I know, but getting too excited about a new job for me is the same, the dissapointment just lingers more, if that makes sense.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

Uggg did I need this, like 6 months ago!

Too often I try to shield myself from disappointment by not letting myself get excited about the possibility of something wonderful. When no matter if I try to 'shield' myself, or allow myself to be excited it will hurt if it doesn't happen.

Sometimes we're so scared to be happy we keep ourselves miserable even when it doesn't call for it.

I believe we should be a bit excited about everything in our lives; the good and the bad. I will tell you 1 year ago I too applied for a position in which I was very excited about. It was the only job I searched for that truly spoke to me and my desires. I was more then excited and knew the job was mine. Sure enough, I'm still there and if I didnt get the job I would've searched for more like the one I applied for. To top it off, the job I was hired for is the best job I ever had. I go to work happy everyday and I'm excited about that.

January 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

This seems to be the flip side of "Things could be worse." Don't get happy, because that will make things go wrong! But if things are going wrong, don't be depressed, because they're relatively good (and I assume the mean old universe is going to make you see how bad they could be if you don't cheer up: If you don't stop crying it will give you something to cry about).

This one doesn't work either. Like, you can have a miscarriage and still have to euthanize a pet. You can have a terrible vacation and someone close to you can die, all in the same week. Or you can marry a great guy and get a dream job within months of each other.

OK, off to feel whatever I'm feeling.

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSlim

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