First, the set up: In the Harry Potter universe, a Patronus is a protective charm that one can use to, say, ward off Dementors. According to JK Rowling (via Remus Lupin)
“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… 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… soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 5
Also, to note, to cast the Patronus charm, you must point your wand at the dementors, think of your very happiest memory and yell “EXPECTRPO PATRONUM!” at which point, a tsunami of magical magic comes shooting out of the tip of your wand. It can take the form a silvery vapoury-based animal that chases away the dementor and protects the charm caster until the charm is broken.
My gentleman associate and I were watching one of the Harry Potter movies earlier this year (as one does, during the holiday Harry Potter Marathon(s) that happen periodically over the winter). And the conversation went like this:
Me: What memory would you use to cast the Patronus charm?
Him: [withering, “you know the Harry Potter-verse is fictional right” look]
Me: [undaunted] What’s your happiest memory? What would you use to cast the Patronus?
Him: I don’t know. I never thought about it.
Me: Same. I mean, I have some good memories, but I fear that if a dementor showed up, we’d be toast.
And that fact left me troubled. I sometimes struggle with anxiety and “recession” (which is my name for not-quite depression, but could go that way, if I’m not careful). And perhaps even depression proper. I’m not unhappy, there’s laughter in my house with La Famiglia and with my colleagues at online work every day.
So I revisited the conversation today:
Me: So, what memory would you use to cast your Patronus?
Me: We talked about this and you said you never thought about it. So you’ve had some time.
Him: Are you drunk?
Me: [undaunted] Your happiest memory. *sigh* Well, you’d best hope a Dementor doesn’t show up as we’re making our lunch, because I definitely can’t cast a Patronus now.
So why can’t I cast a Patronus? (HarryPotter-is-fiction and
Obliviate! Oblivious-gentleman-associate reasons notwithstanding). I’m not *unhappy*. Uh. Am I? I mean, certainly, my ability to do fun things and create happy memories has been seriously curtailed by COVID lock downs and the inability to see my friends and family, go places, and do things.
There’s a huge market for helping people be happier – which is great. If you can squeeze in an extra drop of happiness into your day, DOOOO IT! But I think that honestly, we’re just not good at recognizing what happy feels like. My weight management program had a series of days when we discussed what hunger feels like – there are a bunch of different types, and they’re easily confused. I think happiness is the same thing. I spend my day at an average happiness. When that muscle in my shoulder is pinching because I’ve been sitting awkwardly in my ergonomic desk chair, that takes a bit of the happiness away. When I bite my tongue while I’m eating lunch, that takes a little more. When I have a laugh with a coworker, that adds a bit. When I step outside in the frickin’ freezing night to walk King Louie, it takes a little bit away, but then along the way I see some houses I love to see, I walk through a park I love, I see the lingering holiday lights people still have on their houses, and it increases a bit, and a bit, and a bit more.
So yeah, I can’t cast a Patronus, but maybe since we managed to get through 2020 Fun-Pocalypse Bingo without punching the Dementors square, that’s OK. Not required in the Life Skillz toolbox. Maybe I’ll just focus on recognizing what happy feels like when it happens and not feel like I need to quantify the shades of difference between bliss, euphoria, joy, contentedness, or satiety.
A while ago, when I still worked at my office, I was printing some papers. There were a few pages mixed into mine. They were a graphic that said “In case of Dementors”. The girl who printed it showed up as I was separating her things from mine, and looked slightly chagrinned that I caught her. As a Potterhead, I had to know. She said that it was a chocolate bar wrapper, and she was making them for her friends as part of a mental health thing she was doing. My clandestine printer accomplice was wrapping chocolate so that when her friends were facing their personal dementors, they would have something to comfort them. They would know that she cared. I should have known, perhaps. Again, according to Jo Rowling:
“The mood-enhancing properties of chocolate are well known in both the Muggle and wizard worlds. Chocolate is the perfect antidote for anyone who has been overcome in the presence of Dementors, which suck hope and happiness out of their surroundings. Chocolate can only be a short-term remedy, however.
Finding ways to fight off Dementors – or depression – are essential if one is to become permanently happier. Excessive chocolate consumption cannot benefit either Muggle or wizard.”Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, chapter 12
And Jo isn’t right about everything. So yeah, if anyone wants to send me some chocolate *just in case*, I will dutifully continue to shout EXPECTRO PATRONUM at my gentleman associate on the regular. And that is definitely happymaking. For me, anyway.
Happiness is a continuum, and I’m OK with that. And if you’re not sure whether someone is happy or not, be a Patronus, not a Dementor.