Experiencing Joy, Unapologetically and Without Fear

Gemma in my lap and Gioia looking on.

Gemma in my lap and Gioia looking on.

As some of you know, we had a miracle happen here two weeks ago. Two miracles actually, and their names are Gemma and Gioia.

Our goat Pasqualina gave birth to these two lovelies, which you can read more about at Goat Berries; containing my excitement, happiness, and joy has been impossible — as evidenced by my plethora of postings of photos and videos. I even gave the goaties names that showed just how wonderful I found their arrivals to be:

Gemma (JEM-mah) means jewel, and Gioia (JOY-ah) means joy.

Did you know that outwardly expressing so much happiness is actually a huge faux pas in Calabria?

Yup, it is, because when you show too much happiness, you invite feelings of invidia or envy . . . and that means malocchio can’t be too far behind. The Evil Eye, as legend goes, can bring about not only physical symptoms including headache and malaise but also good old-fashioned bad luck — especially jinxing whatever it is you’re so happy about.

So around here, many native Calabrians will play down anything good in their lives, avoiding what I suppose could be seen in the worst light as bragging but what many of us would just consider, you know, being happy, knowing it, and showing it.

[Why do I feel the sudden urge to clap my hands?!]

As faithful readers know, I love so many parts of this southern Italian culture, but this is one I just can’t get with. In fact, I actively refuse to.

Look at these baby goats for goodness’ sake! How could I possibly pretend that I don’t smile from ear to ear every single time I even think of them let alone watch them bouncing around, off walls, off their mother, and off whatever else gets in their way.

Life is good, folks, and when life is particularly good, I, for one, am not going to live in fear that others may have some kind of special control over what happens if I open the door to their envy just by showing some happiness.

Beyond that, I also refuse to hold back my joy in anticipation of the other shoe dropping or live under the belief that something must inevitably go wrong if something has gone right.

I choose to revel in any and all joy that comes my way, in that moment, unapologetically and without fear.

Luna watching over Gemma.

Luna watching over Gemma.

Has anyone ever told you not get your hopes up about something? Right up there with the worst advice ever IMHO. The idea is that if you refrain from feeling “too” happy or excited or hopeful, your eventual disappointment (and believe you them, it’s coming!) will be somehow lessened because you refrained from being “overly” happy in the first place.


Yes, you’re going to be disappointed if something goes wrong or doesn’t come through the way you expected or hoped it would — and that’s always a possibility since nothing is guaranteed in life. It may even hurt like hell if you wanted it enough.

Questa è la vita.

But is your disappointment really lessened if you held back your happiness? I don’t think so.

The only thing you’ve done is robbed yourself of experiencing that glorious high, that wonderful feeling of *JOY* you were too afraid to simply drink in, feel, appreciate, and honor in the moment, mindful of the opportunity you have been gifted.

Allowing yourself to feel joy in the moment is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.

I don’t know about you, but I will not deprive myself of deep, mood-lifting, soul-enriching joy in the quest of fooling myself into thinking that by doing so I’m somehow protecting myself from the bad things in the world (which, we all know you can’t do no matter how hard you try) or sparing myself the hurt I’ll feel if/when they happen.

Instead, I will continue to allow myself to feel the height of happiness and joy in each and every moment it’s offered to me — and, apparently, keep inviting malocchio till the goats come home.

Speaking of which, I have some kids to check on.

Do you allow yourself to experience joy in the moment?

50 Beans of Wisdom to “Experiencing Joy, Unapologetically and Without Fear”
  1. 05.07.2012

    Beautifully articulated Michelle and I share your sentiments 100%. I also have a hard time with this part of Calabrian culture! Love reading about your joy! Keep on smiling as you watch your “lovlies” romp! I haven’t seen any pictures but I will look for them now! Reading you write about them makes me want to paint them! I feel an idea coming on!!! (big smile!)

    michelle Reply:

    The only thing cuter than real live goaties are renditions of them hahaha…thanks for your kind words, Liana…these calabrese sure are teste dure 😉

  2. 05.07.2012

    Yes, I allow myself to experience joy in the moment. Like you I have occasionally found myself in social situations involving individuals who believe that any show of happiness/success is distasteful or bound to bring trouble.

    To which I say: “pish, posh!” And just go on being joyful.

    michelle Reply:

    Pish posh is often an excellent response, Ally B — love it 🙂

  3. 05.07.2012

    Thanks, Michelle for this very timely reminder!!! I am sooooo the product of this Calabrian sickness, and currently dealing with my aging Mom, who is its personification. Your post has fortified me for another encounter. ps…..L O V E the new goaties 🙂

    michelle Reply:

    Hugs to you and your mom, Carol, and thanks for the love to the new little ones 🙂

  4. Sam

    One thing I never learned to like was roasted kid goat. My Calabrian family and friends who were immigrants would eat that once a year in connection with some festival. I recall a friend bringing over a couple in his trunk that he had bought from a farmer and was showing them before taking them to the butcher. I and my sisters cried. I never got to like the taste. Too gamy.

    Do Calabrians or Italians still eat kid goat?

    I assume your “kids” will be spared?

    michelle Reply:

    Calabrians still love kid, and I think it’s still pretty common throughout Italy as well. I’ve had it (pre-my goats), and it’s OK, though I do prefer lamb. We won’t be eating ours, no, and we do try to place any kids we can’t keep with people who are going to raise them either for milk (if they’re girls) or for breeding (if they’re boys). So far, we’ve been lucky with not sending any to slaughter, but I have to be realistic and know that it could certainly happen someday.

    Rose Marie Milcetic Reply:

    Don’t let it happen Michelle. It can’t happen if you don’t let it happen.

    michelle Reply:

    Thx for commenting, Rose Marie 🙂

  5. 05.07.2012

    Very well expressed. All of the time we spend worrying is time that could have been enjoyed.

    michelle Reply:

    Worrying really is so useless, isn’t it? I keep seeing a Mark Twain quote floating around about it — “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

  6. Jeni

    Hallelujah Michelle!

    michelle Reply:

    Thx Jeni; can’t wait to meet you this weekend!

  7. 05.07.2012

    Yes yes yes and YES!

    michelle Reply:

    Sììììì! And thanks for sharing your gioia 😉

  8. Gil

    Interesting post! Personally, I never really gave threats of the malocchio much thought.

    michelle Reply:

    Gil, I’ve always had the idea in my head from growing up Italian-American, but I had *no* idea how seriously some people take it until I moved here. Whoa.

  9. 05.08.2012

    OMYG, they are too cute. Lovess. I must come to Calabria one day to pet one. Congrats and screw the naysayers. Let their be envy, just means you are doing something right 😉

    michelle Reply:

    I like that, Tanisha, that if there’s envy, something is going right…sad but true…..

  10. 05.08.2012

    I think the hardest thing for me about being an expat would be some of those differences about emotion and expression (well, actually when I’m there I even have trouble with things like remembering I’m not allowed to pick out my own fruit…). How could you not be joyful to have such cuties around?

    michelle Reply:

    It’s amazing how what we can think is a totally natural reaction actually isn’t natural, per se, but rather culturally taught…interesting stuff!

  11. 05.08.2012

    Joy comes upon you when you least expect it too. I’m thinking back to a perfect Spring evening stroll in Perugia last year last time I was there. A crowd gathered around a couple of student musicians in a vault with perfect acoustics. Shared joy is maybe the best kind. I love the way joy can just invade a crowd sometimes, like that evening in Perugia. I know the south too Michelle. I’m sad for the culture sometimes. The need to oppress real joy or to limit compliments or to turn a would-be compliment into the negative…. In my humble opinion now, I’ve got a sense this denial and fear of flying is somehow at the base of some of the problems…
    Now enjoy those wonderful new creatures and thank you!
    Janine x

    michelle Reply:

    That is a wonderful experience, Janine; I’m so happy you were able to live in the moment and appreciate it 🙂

  12. 05.08.2012

    I try not to swing to far either way, cause what goes up…. But in other news, what do you think about Beppo Grillo forming an anti-austerity government? I am so sad to read about people committing suicide in Greece because it is so bad there. A Swiss gentleman I once knew said that Italy was so poor after the war, if they hadn’t had gardens, they would have starved to death.

    michelle Reply:

    Not swinging too far either way seems somehow sad to me, but to each her own; sorry, not in the mood to talk politics, but it is certainly tragic with the suicides (it’s happening in Italy too). Talk to any of the older folk in the village and you’ll hear what life was like after the war here — widespread famine, pretty much, and that is why so many left for work elsewhere (Germany, Switzerland, US, etc.). One thing a Calabrian will tell you, though, is that Calabria has been in crisis forever — we’ll survive 🙂

  13. 05.08.2012

    It’s such a strange superstition! I think acting like you have NO joy in your life is a great way to welcome bad things in, not the other way around.

    michelle Reply:

    I completely agree; how does acting “eh” all the time ever encourage any good vibes to come your way? Nope. I don’t get it.

  14. I enjoyed this reflection.
    In the Philippines, when I was a little girl, every time I received a compliment (which was frequently) I had to deny it, and even say something to the contrary. It was both for luck and just a cultural thing in general. Babies were particularly vulnerable, and I it was bad to say something nice about a baby (like, Oh, look at those beautiful chubby legs!) You were in essence cursing the poor child. I thought it was kind of sad that a mother could not openly rejoice in her child’s good health.
    I have noticed, that this attitude even comes out in American culture, for women. There is an unspoken rule in many circles that we cannot be too happy or proud of ourselves, lest we make someone else feel less successful. This is awful! I have had to very consciously choose to share my joys and achievements, but there is always a voice in the back of my mind that an insecure friend may decide that I am too smug, or trying to make them feel bad for not having the exact same experience. But I want to celebrate other womens’ happinesses– and to do this, I have to be willing to share my own, as well.
    Good for you, Michelle!

    michelle Reply:

    Quite interesting reflections, Ariana; it’s just so wonderful to share happiness with others — really makes a great experience more complete IMHO 🙂

  15. 05.08.2012

    There is some of what you are describing in Belgium also I fear.. only it is not called malocchio. I therefore find your reaction to this phenomenon a very interesting read. And for the little ones, in bocca al lupo, (wolf’s wishes to your little goaties) !

    michelle Reply:

    Thx Anni!

  16. Rose Marie Milcetic

    Hi Michelle,

    Very interesting article you just wrote about the Malocchio or the underlying fear that “things are too good at present” and “something bad is bound to happen real soon”.

    I, like you, am so very very very very very thrilled at having these four mischievious puppies running around my back yard along with the three older dogs and one cat. Although they are so much work all day long, caring for them, feeding them, and cleaning up after them, they do bring me such unconditional love and joy. I stand in the back yard or inside the house at times that they are there and watch them and think those very thoughts. I say to myself “Gosh, it has been a year since I have had any sick pets here. All is good at present. It is wonderful.” Then I look at the oldest dog, Brindy who is 14 years old now and needs a bit of help sometimes getting up the steps to go out to the yard and I reach a bit of a low thinking that something bad will soon happen to her and my perfect little zoo will once again be torn apart by her illness and departure. I snap myself out of that negative thought immediately that sometimes creeps into my head and tell myself “all is well now so enjoy it.”

    I was brought up very Italian and yes I admit to having that Malocchio thing in my head also. I remember when my children were young and we would go out somewhere and the children were dressed in their best clothes and really looked adorable I was always told to pin a little “corno” to the inside of their clothing. Grandma would always say that sometimes when people would look at the children and see how beautiful they were that they would send the Malocchio to them without even wanting to — that it would automatically come just because they thought truly that they were beautiful, without any mal-intent on the part of the people thinking that they were adorable.

    When you feel that people might intentionally emit Malocchio vibes, grandma always told us to make the horns with your hand behind your back. In other words, when someone sees your animals or your house or your goats and says how beautiful they are, we are to immediately form horns with our hand behind our back in order to ward off anything bad happening. I know this all sounds so childish and ignorant and half of me believes it is poppycock but the other half of me admits to believing in it also.

    There, I have admitted to being an old fashioned Italian woman. LOL

    michelle Reply:

    Well sometimes whether you believe in it or not, it’s not going to hurt anything to make the horns just in case, so why not? 😉

  17. While I agree with you completely (show joy when you’ve got it) I can also appreciate where they are coming from. Deeply superstitious and utterly impoverished, a lot of time, life just didn’t give much joy. Babies died at birth, little kids dropped like flies. I know it’s got to be hard to let yourself feel anything if most of what you feel hurts. I bet the younger generation is better at this in Calabria.
    And the compliment thing that Ariana mentions from the Philippines? My mother growing up with a Pugliese mother experienced the same. No one EVER said she was a pretty little girl, because if they did, something bad might happen.
    Continue to show your American effervescence, your neighbors appreciate it even if they can’t act as you do.

    michelle Reply:

    I can understand where it comes from, yes, but at the same time, life is about growth, and the people I’m referring to aren’t suffering or starving or at risk of invading people, etc. It’s just terrible to always be so suspicious of everyone and everything good that happens (IMHO of course) — and it’s absolutely a choice. I don’t think most of the younger generation (at least the ones I know) are much better in this respect to be honest…it’s a tradition that doesn’t seem to be dying off, at least among the most “traditional” of families……..

  18. 05.08.2012

    Amen, and hallelujah!

    michelle Reply:

    Thx for coming by, Dianne 🙂

  19. SW

    Gioia – that’s my sister’s name!

    Anyway, nice post, Michelle – that’s so funny that downplaying things like happiness is Calabrian thing; many of us in my family do this (myself included). We seemed to have inherited *many* traits from our Calabrese ancestors…

    michelle Reply:

    Nature/nurture debate hahaha…thanks for commenting, SW 🙂

  20. 05.10.2012

    Oh joy, oh joy. What darling new little goaties you have, and I love their names. Of course you MUST not squelch your happiness. It becomes contagious and that’s a good thing. I know it must be difficult though, living in Calabria amid people who hold fast to those superstitions. I remember my mother, who was from Emilia-Romagna, succumbing to her Calabrian in-laws’ antiquated customs in this regard, but thankfully, she instilled a sense of expressing your happiness to me and my siblings.

    michelle Reply:

    Thanks for stopping by, Linda; I absolutely agree that happiness and joy can be contagious 🙂

  21. 05.15.2012

    Hi Michelle, thanks for this great post. You’re right. We can’t control what’s going to happen, so let’s enjoy the positive moments we have in their fullest. And congratulations on the new kids, so cute!

    michelle Reply:

    Thank you! We’re very excited to have them around 🙂

  22. Esmeralda

    Michelle how exciting for you.

    michelle Reply:

    Thank you!

  23. 06.05.2012

    Not just a Calabrian custom, I am afraid. The evil eye is a belief to a lot of people in India. There are customs to remove it and all kinds of stuff I can’t get behind.

    I agree. Celebrate your joy – our not celebrating now does not make sorrow any more bearable. Thanks for this one!

    michelle Reply:

    Yes, the Evil Eye is all throughout the Mediterranean and beyond…such an interesting tradition/superstition……glad you liked the post!

  24. 06.09.2012

    Thank you for writing! I used to have trouble expressing excitement and joy because my immediate circle did not know how to navigate those feelings, and always seemed in search of somethingsomething, so never really happy.

    I now embrace joy, and the journey. I call it my “toe-curling, arms-to-the-sky, full-throated rebel yell celebration of the path.” And I dig it.

    michelle Reply:

    Aaaah I *so* dig that, Nichole; thanks for commenting!



Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins
Pasta with snails alla calabrese
Onion, Oregano, and Thyme Focaccia
Oatmeal Banana Craisin Muffins
Prosciutto wrapped watermelon with bel paese cheese
Fried eggs with red onion and cheese
Calabrian sausage and fava beans
Ricotta Pound Cake