“For happiness one needs security, but joy can spring like a flower even from the cliffs of despair.”

— Anne Morrow Lindbergh

We celebrate the anniversary of someone’s birth with cake and candles with singing and gifts, all with the intention of sharing happiness with the person who is celebrated that day.  It is hard to be unhappy when surrounded by friends and family who deliver their tokens of appreciation and esteem.  A birthday party is a happy time; but when the streamers have been taken down and the party is over, when the house is dark and the birthday is done, when there is no family to surround us and life is difficult, we still can feel the joy of simply being alive. Happiness comes and goes, and it is lots of fun, but joy resides deep within the soul and abides with us even when there is no happiness to be found.

Recently, I wrote about making the choice to be happy — about happiness being something we choose to find rather than something that might pursue us.  A friend challenged me that day, reminding me that there are people who suffer from depression and cannot choose to be happy.  She was right; and as someone who has suffered from clinical depression, I can tell you that in those days I could barely choose to get out of bed, let alone feel happy to face another day.  I am no longer depressed.  The huge pile of life experiences that weighed me down at the time have been sorted and filed and don’t seem so impossible; and through examining that pile and working on the sorting, I have learned ways to keep the heaviness of life better under control.  Depression is a huge and heavy burden; and there is little happiness to be found in the mountain of debris that comprises such heaviness.  What remains true, however, is that at the very bottom of that heap of sadness — right in the heart that is being crushed — there is joy.

That was the great lesson I learned while undoing depression.  Depression lies.  It tells us that happiness is for other people and not for us.  It tells us that happiness is dependent on the circumstances of life, and then it goes on to list all the impossible circumstances that stand between us and anything that resembles being happy.  Depression convinces our minds that we face a hopeless future.  Each time we move aside a bit of debris, it drops two more pieces in its place and laughs as we try to escape its control.

The blessing of depression was this:  In feeling beaten down and crushed, in feeling unable to lift all the junk that had taken residence on top of my shoulders and weighed me down, I had no choice but to retreat and rediscover my own insides.  It was there that I discovered my joy.  Underneath all the heaviness, I found a tiny spark that whispered in an equally tiny voice.  What it whispered was, “hope.”  Sometimes a whisper gains our attention more readily than a shout; and soon I was straining to hear the voice of hope and learning to tune out the loud voice of despair.

We cannot control the world and guarantee that happiness will come our way; but we can tend the spark that shines inside of it all and grow it steadily until its light becomes bigger and brighter and easier to find.  We can choose to cultivate joy, right in the middle of all the stuff that clutters our lives.  Like gardeners whose beds are overgrown, we can choose to give up on our dream of fresh vegetables or we can choose to pull some weeds and discover the beauty that still grows, whether we can see it today or not.  When happiness seems far away, remember that joy is always with you.  Go to the dark places underneath all the debris — it is there that it shines brightest, even if it only is a tiny spark.