GUEST POST BY MEREDITH ROBERTSON
This is my reminder: You can find joy anywhere if you choose to look.
When I was a freshman in high school I certainly didn’t know this. That year, I went through what I regard now to be one of the hardest times in my life. From an outside point of view, it made no sense—I was blessed with a nice house, a handsome dog, the most supportive family, and tons of friends. But despite all the surrounding joy, I found myself in the clutches of a sad time.
That was the first thing I learned: you can have everything it takes to be happy, and still not be happy.
It doesn’t mean you are broken, it just means it is time to grow into something better.
This sadness originated after I had my first “friend drama”, where I suddenly found myself navigating high school without my childhood BFF. Although it sounds silly, I was brokenhearted. I wasn’t able to shake it, and soon found that I allowed this sadness to linger too long and seep into other aspects of my life. Instead of bouncing back to the fun loving kid I had always been, I gave myself permission to stay sad. It was easier to sit in an emotion than to do the work to feel better. As a stubborn teen, I convinced myself that I didn’t need fixing anyway.
My mom had been my greatest friend during this time. Eventually, after seeing me struggle for too long, she placed a huge glass bowl of quotes on my desk, instructing me to pick one from it everyday. I said no. As both a teenager and someone who had always been self sufficient, I found it horrifying to accept any form of help, and I was embarrassed to admit I needed it in the first place. But, after weeks of feeling exceptionally sorry for myself, I decided to pick one quote from the jar.
“In the depth of the winter, I finally realized that within me there lay an invincible summer.”—Albert Camus
This simple sentence caused a great change that day. It was as if someone had turned the lights on and reminded me of a magic I had always known, but buried deep inside me. I tucked the slip of paper in my pocket and carried it around that entire day.
The next morning, I tentatively picked another quote, nervous I wouldn’t find this magic remaining. But again, the words I read were exactly what I needed to hear. For the next year I picked a quote every morning, completely sure there was a reason behind the timing of each message. If I didn’t understand it immediately, I carried the slip of paper around with me throughout the day until I could apply the lesson to some part of my life. Through this process, I became wiser, gentler, more understanding, and most importantly more joyful.
It wasn’t until a whole year later—after hundreds of quotes littered my walls and pockets—that I finally presented my story to a group of teens at school. Bravely, and with an open heart, I admitted that my life is not picture perfect.
In the days immediately following, kids began stopping me to tell me about their own stories, asking if they could have jars like mine too. I realized then how wildly absurd it is to be ashamed to show people how you feel. Everyone goes through hard times, and that day I was reminded of the beauty that comes along with openness.
By admitting my weaknesses, I was able to gently allow others to do the same.
Telling my mom about what I learned from my peers, we put together small plastic jars filled with my favorite quotes on yellow paper—enough to pick one every day for a month. We decided upon the name “Meredith’s Jars of Joy,” and created an email address for people to contact us.
A few weeks passed, and our inbox was suddenly flooded by requests from complete strangers, leading us to start mailing jars across the entire country. By the end of the first year, we had sold roughly two thousand jars.
During all this excitement, I received hundreds of personal letters and messages thanking my mom and I for helping spread joy. People wrote about suicides that were prevented and families that found comfort during grieving. These letters are humbling and always make me cry. It is wild to know that because I was able to overcome my own situation—one that, at the time, I would have traded for anything else in the world—other people are able to find joy as well. To complete this circle of giving, we decided to donate all of our proceeds to a charity called Family Promise, which houses homeless families.
Almost four years ago I sent out that very first jar, and since then my life has changed dramatically.
I have learned that, much like adventures, you can’t simply wait for happiness to arrive at your doorstep. You need to plunge head first into the world with enthusiasm and seek your joy.
That is the secret—it’s not about waiting for joy to find you. It’s choosing to find it for yourself.
Through my daily quotes, I’m reminded of what has been true all along: there are beautiful things everywhere. Do you see them?
Meredith Robertson is a sophomore at Middlebury College, majoring in English. She is Co-founder of Meredith’s Jars of Joy, a non-profit that she runs from New Jersey with her mom. Aside from this passion, she is interested in poetry and the outdoors. She is enthusiastic about communities of strong women, and considers her life-long goal to be continuing to strengthen bonds between women across the world.