“Joy is not a thing; It is in us”

Photo taken 5/29/20, Cartersville Park in Provo, UT

The title of this post actually comes from a quote by Charles Wagner, a French pastor who lived 1852-1918. I found these words as I went on my walk a few days ago. What struck me about this quote was how simple it was. But there is beauty in its simplicity and a profound message to be learned in it.

Pondering these words brought to my mind my current life state. I often find myself thinking in my lonely moments of my bygone and present expectations. Expectations are not a bad thing, but they time and again mean my happiness hinges on their fulfillment. Case and example, at 18 I thought to be happy I needed to be married before 23, performing music and beginning a family. But just because that was the story for many of my friends didn’t mean it would be the same for me.

Did it leave me feeling discouraged and oftentimes brokenhearted? Yes. It still does. But as I grow older, this sorrow has caused me to to look deeper into what gives my life meaning. Now, the message I hear in church, movies, articles and books is “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” (Film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)

I recently also read an article in the June 2020 Ensign magazine issue by a young woman living through a similar situation. She also talked about “expectations”.

I believe one reason why people in their young adult years might feel frustrated by life can be explained in one word: expectation. Often what we expect—or what others expect or what a culture expects—doesn’t happen, leaving us feeling hurt, alone, betrayed, frustrated, or confused.

Sarah Griggs, “Life Not Turning Out How You Planned? Here’s How to Love It Anyway

When I read these words I thought how sad it is to live in the younger, more vibrant part of our lives wanting and longing for what we don’t have. Why aren’t more of us enjoying and loving each moment given to us? If we spend the majority of our life longing for where we are not, having what we do not, and knowing what we do not we will sow the fruits of bitterness within ourselves.

Photo of a rose I found in a garden on my walk 5/29

Is this an easy thing to understand? In theory it is. But in practice, our minds are accustomed to growth and goals. That growth is often associated with what we believe we need to be happy. We can acquire things, we can even become intelligent, knowledgeable people but the most important accomplishments and longings of the human heart TAKE TIME and TIMING.

For each person it is different. We can’t all step onto the same path and expect the same satisfactory, vanilla story. It is because we are all unique beings whose needs do not always match our wants.

This is actually my parent’s and friends’ speech to me. I struggle like so many others with understanding I have the capacity to be happy now. It is as Viktor Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” (Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning)

Art by Thalia Bee

It reminds me of one of my favorite concepts from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.As a child I often thought of the third book and loved the idea of having a patronus. For those who don’t know a patronus is, it is a animal projection a, “positive force. . . (of) hope, happiness, the desire to survive” born from a happy memory. They are used primarily to drive away dementors. Rowling described them thus,

“Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can’t see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself — soul-less and evil. You’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”

– J. K. Rowling, The Prisoner of Azkaban

I love reading of Harry’s triumph over these creatures. I love it because he procured for himself from his very soul the means for his deliverance. It meant he had power over the evil which surrounded him. It meant he need not be chained down by the tragedies and heartaches in his life. That is, if he searched deep within himself to do so.

I believe the same can happen for us if we strive to find the good around us and cultivate happiness within ourselves. Lincoln was once attributed to saying, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” This saying is given new meaning in knowing the details from his life. I loved how in the recent movie Lincoln (2012) it showed an intense moment between Lincoln and his wife. She, overcome still by the grief of her son, insists he couldn’t possibly understand her pain. His response made me wonder at the power of the human heart.

I couldn’t tolerate you grieving so for Willie because I couldn’t permit it in myself, though I wanted to, Mary. I wanted to crawl under the earth, into the vault with his coffin. I still do. Every day I do. Don’t… talk to me about grief. I must make my decisions, Bob must make his, you yours. And bear what we must, hold and carry what we must. What I carry within me – you must allow me to do it, alone as I must. And you alone, Mary, you alone may lighten this burden, or render it intolerable. As you choose.

Lincoln

It is hard to think such a great man, who did so much good, could have suffered from depression. It is hard because we think heroes such as Lincoln are untouchable, perfect archetypes. But he was human and he suffered. But I am glad he found within his heart ways to fight the grief of the war and rise up to meet the moment God gave him.

In any way we can we must fight away despair and discouragement because if we don’t we are eaten alive by it. More than that, we are made to find joy. It comes from aligning ourselves with God. It flourishes as we learn to love unselfishly and it defines our lives as we continue forward and let our lights shine for others.

To think that Joy is within us gives me a lot of hope. Life is truly a beautiful thing even in the midst of hard times. It is beautiful because people can create wonderful lives for themselves even in the midst of tragedy. It begins with a decision to be happy now where we are rather than to find happiness somewhere in an obscure place or future.

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