Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy. Happy? Joy. Joy!

I watched a sweet and touching movie the other night, a film adaptation of Maeve Binchy's novel, Tara Road. Maybe if your life has been perfect, you won't be able to relate to this movie, but I found myself connected to these female characters.

The story is about two women, one in Connecticut, the other in Ireland. Each of them has suffered tremendous loss. Marilyn, in Connecticut, tragically lost her teenage son who died in a motorcycle crash at his birthday party, where he had just received the bike from his dad. This boy was her only son, and without him, Marilyn has become numb to life, and to her husband. Ria, in Ireland, finds out that her husband is leaving her for his younger, pregnant girlfriend, despite the two children and the life they have built together. The two women, in an attempt to get some distance from their pain, and some privacy to evaluate their lives, end up switching houses for a month.

Ria, staying in America in Marilyn's house, gets to know Marilyn's friends, who are charged with looking out for her. One friend, a restaurant owner, especially takes an interest in her, and is tender with her pain. As Ria vents about the abrupt end to the life she felt secure in, about the nonsensical decision her husband is making to leave her, to leave their two children, the beautiful home they built together, to leave the life they have created, the man says to her in an offered explanation,

"Some people think they were put on this earth just to be happy."

Maybe nobody else caught that line in the movie. It slips by just as simply as it is offered. But to me, it was the theme of the whole story.

Like I said at the beginning, if you've had a perfect life, then you might not even bat an eye at this saying. You might not even understand why it stands out to me like it does. You might even argue, "Well, of course! Who doesn't want to be happy?"

Well, I do, for sure. But I think there's something better. After all, "men are that they might have joy."

My first husband left our marriage, because, well, because he was not happy, he said.

"But what about the children?" I pleaded.

"They'll be happier if I'm happier. I need to be happy. I deserve to be happy."

Well, all these years later, I'm not sure if the decision he made has been fraught with total happiness. Sure, he claims he's happy, and in many ways he probably is, but I wonder if he sold out something richer, something more satisfying, for something immediate, and beguiling. What if he capped out at happy?

I do it too. All the time. We live in a world that whispers of the pursuit of happiness. What if it's mostly a lie? What if happiness is like the basement level of what we can really have in this life, if we'd be content to be unhappy sometimes momentarily?

What if we miss out on a lot of joy in our search for happy?

I think 2009 will be about my quest for joy. You know how when you clean out a closet the whole place gets messier than before you ever opened the doors? Maybe happy would have been never opening the doors. After all, with the doors closed no one can even see the disarray. Maybe joy comes after overlooking the mess of everything strewn about, in anticipation of the order that is sure to follow. I don't expect that my joy will be full by Dec. 31 of this year. I expect that I will have some happy, and probably some unhappy. But I think I'd like to invest in the long-term plan.

I just may be surprised.


Julie Wright said...

Jenna, I love this post. I had a friend who once advised me to never trade the great life for the good life. I think of this sometimes when things are hard and I want to just have a moment of "happy" Sometimes having true joy means you have to wade through some unhappy, and through some miserable, and even some genuinely happy. And there at the end is the great life . . . real joy.

Annette Lyon said...

I'm with Julie. This is really profound. The whole, "I deserve to be happy" thing is touted on TV and by pop psychologist, but what they don't get is the difference you laid out here between happiness (which has a layer of selfishness) and true joy.

You've given me food for thought.

Don said...

Good insights, Jenna. Many of the problems that are affecting the world today have root in the soil of selfishness and a false sense of what will make us happy.

I'm with you - here's to finding the joy in 2009!

Josi said...

I think maybe Happy is the stuff going on outside of us--nice things, fun activities, good sex :-) but Joy is something that takes place inside; internal peace, self-satisfaction for things we've done right, good sex with someone you love and trust to love and trust you as well. Not that I'm there, but your post definitely inspired me to ponder on it some more as well. Great post--and good luck!

Misty said...

Jenna, you just always write the best posts. Seriously, you do... this is a wonderful new year post. And really, the truth about happiness is that it isn't something we find or accidentally stumble upon. Happiness is a choice. Anyone, in any circumstance can choose it.

Have I ever told you that I think you are amazing? Because, I do...

Wonder Woman said...

I saw this movie a while ago and really liked it, too. I enjoy just about anything that gives me a different perspective on life.

I'm glad that there's a difference between happiness and joy.

And it sounds like you had quite the year. You learned and experienced so much.

Anonymous said...

Your post seems to be one of struggle and one of endurance in a second marriage. And, one of doubt with the question "did I make the correct decision in my second relationship?" You seem to be a woman of grace, insight, intelligence, with a strong motherhood ethic. This you can take joy and happiness in. But, does this translate into a successful wife or companion? Maybe too much expectation from a mate on your part? If you are not physically abused give your current husband time to mature and grow to your level or you need to grow to his level for both of you to find common ground and to be satisfied and happy with this commonality. I doubt if there is ever a "movie perfect" relationship.

Kara said...

I've always thought of being happy as something that happens for a moment. It's very fleeting. Joy is what you feel for eternity. It comes from deep within our soul and is something we radiate.

As President Monson said, May we find joy in the journey -- here's to a joyful 2009!

Luisa Perkins said...

I'm reminded of an MK saying: "The good is the enemy of the best."

I can't figure out why I'm not getting notified when you post. Must figure it out, so I'm not late to the party each and every time.

Garden Anywhere Box said...

Jenna, I appreciate so much your comments on happiness and joy. Your blog posts, imho, are inspired.

When dh and I were first married and the kids were coming along, I found myself unhappy a lot. Money was tight. My husband traveled for his job and I was home with three active boys. I wondered what happened to the "white picket fence" ideal that I thought accompanied marriage.

We went through rough times and I even considered divorce. It was not that I wanted to marry someone else. I just wasn't happy where I was. I don't think I even wanted a divorce. I guess I would compare it to a person who talks of suicide. They don't always want to do it. They just want someone to notice that they are truly hurting and not happy.

Well, we stuck it out. I don't think my husband was the happiest of campers either. We seemed to be going in the same direction, but on parrallel paths. Our paths would cross occationally, but not often. There came a point in our marriage that was truly make or break. We had hit rock bottom. There was no where to go but up or apart.

We decided to go up. Through counseling and prayer and a lot of talking, we finally found the joy that only comes, I believe, after you have hit the bottom and have to both make the choice to go on.

I don't think we would have experienced the level of joy that we now do, if we had not been allowed to visit the very lowest depths and come through to the other side.

My dh is now the bishop in our ward. I read him your column about happiness and joy. He said that he hears all the time, "I'm just not happy. I deserve to be happy." I can totally relate because I said those same words. I think he can relate to and counsel others because he has walked where they are walking.

The thing is that we were never promised happiness. The Delaration of Independence only promises the pursuit of happiness. Through this pursuit, I believe that we will find joy.