Joy Can Be Learned

I recently joined the Viva Toastmasters Club to improve my ability to use words to inspire others to seek healing through mental health resources. For my ice breaker speech, I was invited to share a few things about myself. What I wanted members to know is that 1) I work on my own healing, 2) why I build communities for healing, and 3) I’ve taught myself feel joy. Below is the transcript of my speech. I hope you are inspired!

Joy Can Be Learned, by LuAnn Oliver

I am a sad person. This is what I believed. You may have heard someone say before, “I am a happy person.” For years when I heard this, I thought “that is not me.” “I must be a sad person. Maybe that is just who I am.”

I am LuAnn Oliver. I am a wife, a mother of three boys, and a mind-body couples therapist. I love my job. I love helping people find joy and peace and purpose. I’m grateful to the toastmaster’s group for creating a space where I can learn how to craft my thoughts into words that can touch hearts.

Photo Credit: Jon and Melissa Photography

My opening might have made you feel uncomfortable. Maybe sad. Maybe you labeled yourself as a sad person or a happy person like I did. Whatever the case may be, I have good news: 

Joy can be learned.

I was the youngest of six children and grew up in a town called Bountiful. In a place named Bountiful, being sad was a sin. If not a sin, most definitely a weakness and possibly a failure. 

My dad always put a smile on his face, but I never quite trusted it. I yearned to know what was underneath that smile.

Bountiful, Utah | Circa 1988

I remember my third birthday. I got a strawberry shortcake doll and stroller. Yet I was sad. I’m not sure why. Maybe I didn’t want the doll. I don’t know.

Bountiful, Utah | Circa 1981

As I grew up I had good times. I have great memories. The best was building with Legos with my siblings. Every summer we built a whole city that covered the basement floor. I had fun with my friends, too.

Junior high was oddly delightful, despite the iconic crooked glasses picture you see here, I was popular and fun—the 8th-grade secretary. People liked me. They especially loved my laugh.

My laugh dissipated as I moved through high school and into college. One thing my family did teach me was to work. Work is what mattered. One must always be working. While I learned to work, I didn’t learn to play. I quit track because I thought I had to work. I began to wonder how everyone else was having fun. I was sad and lonely, but I didn’t know why.

As luck would have it, I fell in love and got married. Having a partner was nice, but the sadness stuck with me. As my life moved along I became determined to find happiness. I wanted to understand. I wanted to understand my dad. I tried to get to know the truth behind his sadness – without much luck. I learned a lot about myself. I got a degree in social work and eventually discovered my love for sitting with individuals and learning about their life – learning what makes them happy and what makes them sad. I loved to help them find self-compassion as I was finding compassion for myself.

Glacier National Park | August 2021

My husband loves to play. Before we had children or much money he persuaded me to buy a bike. A nice road bike. He bought one too. Combined they were worth more than our car. In other ways, he taught me to invest time and money in things that I enjoy. Turns out there is more to life than work.

And I have made a discovery. 

Joy can be learned. 

For years, while I found more joy, I wondered if the sadness would ever go away. Talk therapy helped me understand and unravel some of the fuel behind my sadness. In the midst of my quest, I signed up for a training in Yoga Nidra, not entirely knowing what it was. I just heard it was like mindfulness on steroids. I would be there for six days – 3 to experience and 3 to learn. I could not have anticipated the impact it would have. On day four I found myself crying off and on throughout the day. Unrelenting tears. I wasn’t even talking about my feelings. I was just resting. Relaxing and settling my nervous system, releasing my mind and thoughts. As I did, my heart had more space. Space for a more accurate truth. I opened a well of compassion, for my dad and for myself. 

While I’d grown to resent the way he hid from me and everyone, on that day I felt grief for the joy he missed throughout his life and the joy I’d missed in mine. It was just a few months before he died of cancer. 

Somehow a weight was lifted. A layer of the onion peeled back. In the days and weeks that followed, I began to feel random moments of joy for no reason at all other than my heart was whole.

Today I feel joy in the smallest moments. Recently I felt joy while walking from my office to my car. And while sitting on my porch. And, of course, when I ride my bike. 

Photo Credit: Jon and Melissa Photography

Despite my commitment and determination, the process of healing wasn’t on my timeline. Though I give myself credit for discovering joy. For learning joy. I claimed the joy that is mine. It is my wish for all that they may unburden the pain that is not theirs to carry. I wish for them to restore their hearts and awaken the authentic joy that has been theirs all along.

I am at times sad, at other times happy, sometimes hurt, in love, afraid, excited, irritated, or content. They all visit and they all pass. Alongside all of them. 

And joy can be learned. 

Join Our Club

Viva Center Toastmasters is a club for therapists/mental health professionals. In keeping with the mission of Toastmasters, the club provides an opportunity to develop and sharpen your oral presentation skills through practice, peer feedback, and mentoring, in an environment of mutual support and encouragement. 

There are many opportunities in our community to speak publicly about our work to raise public awareness, contribute to the knowledge base on our field, and advance an informed and compassionate understanding of mental health. Through practice, with guidance, and in a supportive setting, the program helps people become dynamic communicators. The skills learned in Toastmasters can be applied in a range of settings.

The Viva Toastmasters Club meets virtually bi-weekly on the first and third Thursdays from 9:00-10:00 am.  

Should you have any questions about the club, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me through the contact form.

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