Afraid to be too Happy

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, poses with her photoshopped pictures from her new book.Holding a huge photograph with both hands raised high, I wove my way through the photography lab around students, worktables and computer stations, with my eyes transfixed on the image before my face, like I was waltzing with a tall lover. Fourteen times I lifted a new larger-than-life-sized photo from the printer, and danced across the crowded room, admiring my work as I carried each piece to the wall, to be hung.
“Behind you,” I chirped, passing my classmates. “Ooooops, excuse me,” I cheeped. “It’s so amazing to see these enlarged,” I crowed to students I’d never met who, attracted by the display, stopped to congratulate me. “Harry, can you take a picture of me and my photos?” I asked my photography instructor. Hiding my glasses behind my back, I smiled at the camera thinking, this is too much fun. This is scary.

At the end of class I bundled my fourteen huge prints into a humongous folder, and drove home singing. And the next two nights, I was hunched over my computer doing more work, staying up past midnight both nights. I would allow myself only small doses of happiness. I couldn’t stop working; I needed to keep striving.

What is joy anyway, this thing I’m supposedly always on the lookout for? I keep advocating for living joyfully, but I’m always worried something bad will follow, that my happiness might be taken away. Maybe I’m afraid I’m not worthy of happiness. Or maybe joy seems too frivolous for a mother whose daughter died.

Depression, you’re saying. But, am I not entitled to a little depression after that?

A little sticky-note on my computer’s keyboard says, “I deserve joy.” It sits below the fortune from a Chinese fortune cookie that, between two tiny smiley faces, reads “All your hard work will soon be paid off.”

With all our wishing and wanting, you’d think we would learn to grab every opportunity for joy with two hands raised high and hanging on. You’d think we’d be waltzing with whatever joy comes our way for all the crazy, blessed, depressed or high-flying time we have left.



What gives you joy? How do you hang on to it? And how would you help someone who’s afraid of being too happy?

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10 thoughts on “Afraid to be too Happy

  1. Elaine Mansfield

    Thanks for this. It makes me think about how I consider joy, hard work, sorrow. May we all have joy–but I think we overemphasize joy in this culture, so I’m not adverse to acknowledging the dark, depressive, or grieving side of life. My practice is to hold the two side-by-side, although sometimes the balance teeters off center. Like now because my brother just died. It feels right to experience grief more than joy, but that doesn’t mean the flowers aren’t making me happy. I watch the tree swallows swoop (joy) even though they chased away the bluebirds (sad). I hear the sound of the rose breasted grosbeak (joy) even while my hearing distorts the song (sad). While Vic was dying, I read Sonnets to Orpheus by Rainer Marie Rilke in my women’s class. Rilke often writes about finding joy within sorrow or sorry within joy. He gave me a priceless gift which I’m still practicing.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      I do need to read more Rilke. And I want to think more about finding joy within sorrow, and sorrow within joy. It’s too easy to beat myself up about being sad and depressed, especially when my friends are expecting me to come across as carefree and upbeat. They are very uncomfortable if I write several articles in a row exposing my grief. Then I feel compelled to go in search of joy and share it so they can see I’m “making progress.” Yeah, joy is overemphasized. Why do we have to keep balancing our grief and joys? Cheers, Elaine.

  2. Lynne Taetzsch

    When we’re worried that joy won’t last, we tend to push it away so we don’t get too attached–at least I find myself doing that. Yet we know, as you say, that nothing lasts, that all is impermanent, and there will be cycles of joy and despair and everything in between. Would it be nice if we could just BE WITH that joyful moment when it comes–accepting but not clinging?

    Ah well . . . .

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Yeah, I’m a clinger myself. I either deny or clutch frantically. It’s so difficult to ignore the impermanence of everything. Yes, it would be fine to simply flow with the ever-changing nature of it all. But learning this will be a lifetime process. I’m still working on jumping over the waves when they come, and settling into a relaxed float in between, rather than always standing guard, watching for the next big wave to roll in. New mantra: Jump, float with joy. Jump, float with joy. Jump, float with joy.
      Cheers, Lynne.

  3. Jill Swenson

    Beautiful photo of you in front of your artwork.
    Those fortune cookies are magical in helping your wishes come true.
    Joy to you!

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Well I guess I’ll have to keep eating those fortune cookies now. Usually, if I don’t like the fortune or if it is entirely inapplicable to my situation, I toss the cookie. I went through a ton of tossed cookies before that particular fortune appeared. Joy to you too, Jill. Does that sound like a fortune?

  4. Monica

    I also worry, that something bad will follow. Then I think, of course, it will. Bad things happen, and good things happen. That is how life works. Still it takes an effort to think in a different way after a tragic loss. Thanks for sharing your message, Robin.

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Thank YOU Monica. Too sad that we spend all this time and energy waiting around for the bad thing that we expect to follow. I keep chanting, “Love my grief, love my grief, …” and “love what happens, whatever it is, love what happens ….” Yes, it takes an effort. Long extended efforts with private conflicted conversations in my head where I end up convincing myself it will all be okay, and that I am grateful for my pain. But after a tiny piece of Merci Chocolate, I’m usually smiling again. Cheers!

  5. Margaret

    Oh, Robin, you DO deserve this joy! I want you to have a show of your photo art – will it happen soon? After you put the book together?

    I remember when I felt joy for the first time 2 years into my divorce, I literally felt like I was having a heart attack – it was such a foreign “bursting inside” feeling. Then I just laughed and realized, “this is what JOY feels like – it can happen even while I am suffering!” As Br. David says, “Joy is the happiness that does not depend on what happens.”

    You have been healing, working, creating, walking, reaching, learning, remembering, honoring and loving – this joy is the culmination of so many ways you have grown…with Marika inside you.

    Bask in it!

    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Thank you so much for your inspiring words, Margaret. I’m working on welcoming joy. Lifetime process, in my case. Tomorrow I pick up my framed pieces (22″ by 34″ each from the book) and I’ll be hanging them in the President’s Office at Tompkins Cortland Community College for the summer. I don’t think I’ll do a reception though. I don’t believe I can get very many people out there and up the stairs to the Pres’ Office. So right now I’m not planning an event for my debut solo show. Maybe if I can get into a space downtown in the fall?
      But the book is done and I’m very pleased with it. It’s tiny and sweet. And I was able to keep prices down. When I look at it I know I could not have done this without some input and inspiration from Marika. Thanks for acknowledging her presence in me. Cheers!


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