Lessons from Romance Novels on the Pursuit of Joy

by | Nov 8, 2023 | Blog

Lessons from Romance Novels on the Pursuit of Joy

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Do you ever feel ashamed for indulging in the things that bring you joy? You know, those guilty pleasures? It’s like we’ve been conditioned to believe that if something makes us happy, it must be childish or silly. As if there’s this unspoken rule that if something puts a smile on your face, it can’t possibly be intellectually stimulating or sophisticated. And I’ve been there, feeling ashamed of enjoying romance books, hesitant to let people know what I was reading or even admitting that I liked them. But reading these books has actually come to teach me the profound impact that shame and judgment can have on our pursuit of joy. Today, I’m sharing how to break free from the shame tied to our joy with the three lessons I’ve learned from choosing what makes me happy.


Lesson One: Navigating the Shame of Joy


For a big chunk of my life, I’ve felt this undercurrent of shame attached to the activities that brought me happiness. Bet you can relate to that too, right? Society often dictates what should or shouldn’t bring us joy. We often dismiss what offers us a sense of lightness or a happy ending as obtuse and frivolous. But indulging in hobbies and enjoying simple entertainment is not a moral undertaking.


I realized that I was carrying this shame baggage around because of my love for romance novels. I hesitated to share my reading list, even with my family. Why? Because I was carrying a belief that many of us inadvertently fall into with patriarchal norms, that it’s only acceptable to enjoy what men typically do. And because I had found joy in something made by women for women and actually enjoyed it, I felt ashamed about it because it’s not as serious in comparison.


It was fascinating for me to see this with myself for simply reading these books. I remember thinking, but what if I choose not to be ashamed? And if reading books for pure entertainment makes me happy, why should anyone else care? If I would rather read romance than read a trilogy about World War II or a self-help book, why is that to say one is better than the other?


However, the way we root out shame around the things that bring us joy is by rooting it out within ourselves first. You can start by realizing that you can talk about your joy without having shame and decide, “I will not be ashamed because this is what I want to do.” Other people can have their judgments, other people can think whatever they want. Don’t let that take the excitement of your joy away.


Lesson Two: The Power of Community


Brene Brown talks about shame only existing in the dark. That shame only exists because your feelings, your interests, or your joy are only experienced by you alone. But that belief can only be perpetuated if you don’t talk to others and share your interests and joy. 


I used to go about my life without fully realizing the immense popularity of romance and fantasy novels. While I knew that some people enjoyed them, my perception was quite limited. I associated them with the Fabio-covered books from my childhood, which I considered to be the stereotypical “romance novels.” However, as I delved into these genres, a new world opened up to me. My book club introduced me to the online community #BookTok, a massive, incredibly entertaining, and uplifting corner of TikTok dedicated to books and reading.


As I saw creators on #BookTok passionately discussed their love for romance and fantasy, my own shame about enjoying them started to dissolve. I began to feel a sense of belonging, realizing that countless people shared my interests. The joy I’ve found through #BookTok is unparalleled, and I’m thrilled to have discovered this hidden world.


I’ve realized the immense power of community in nurturing a sense of belonging and mutual understanding. The more we talk about the joys that we carry shame about, the more we become unashamed. It’s like a shield against shame and judgment. These communities provide a safe space to geek out about our shared passions and celebrate them together.


Lesson Three: Potential for Change


Since having been introduced to the online book community I had no clue about a few months ago, serves as a reminder that there’s a world of opportunities waiting to be discovered. So many passions and interests remain undiscovered because we’re conditioned to limit ourselves.


Coming back to your true self involves exploring what brings you joy and sparks your curiosity outside of your job and to-do lists. But what excites me the most is the idea that there are probably countless things out there to be incredibly passionate about. We simply have yet to even stumbled upon them.


Just a few years ago, I attempted to embrace a reader’s identity with lots of starts and stops. I’d set goals and make efforts to change my reading habits, but it often felt forced. Then, I discovered my love for reading romance. It transformed me into a voracious reader. It’s fascinating to think that something I wasn’t passionate about just six months ago now feels like an integral part of my personality. It’s my go-to topic of conversation with friends and a gratifying break from discussing coaching, personal development, and mindset work.


The valuable lesson here is that there’s so much out there to explore and enjoy, things we might not even know exist. Viewing the world through this lens offers boundless possibilities. Unlike the notion that our personalities are rigid and that we’ve already discovered all our passions.


I encourage you, no matter your age, to try new things. It’s never too late. I’m 41 now and only found this passion six months ago in my forties. Who knows what I’ll uncover in my fifties or sixties? There are endless adventures to be had.


Let Joy Be Your Guiding Light


There are numerous undiscovered sources of joy that many of us deny ourselves from fear of judgment from others. I hope to serve as an example that you can unapologetically pursue your joy, discover new ones, and give it the priority it deserves. Embrace it as part of your identity, allow it to shape your personality, and reveal the endless possibilities it holds. Let joy be your guiding light without shame or fear of what others may think.