Gretchen Rubin

A Little Happier: A Lesson From Harry Potter About Knowing Who You Are.

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Spoiler alert: go no further if you don't want to know about the story of Harry Potter!

One of my passions in life is children’s literature, and of course, I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. The other night, my nineteen-year-old daughter Eliza was in the mood for a Harry Potter movie, so we watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for the millionth time.

In the movie, there’s a particular moment that passes in a flash, and that disappoints me every time it happens, because for me, this moment is one of the emotional highlights of the entire series.

I looked up the passage to re-read it, and I realized that—surprise!—it has tremendous relevance to happiness.

As so often happens with this kind of memorable passage, I saw that the metaphoric meaning was very powerful, and stunningly obvious, once I focused my attention on it.

To set the scene:

Although he’s too young to be an official participant, against his will, Harry Potter has been illegally entered as one of four participants in the dangerous Tri-Wizard Tournament, and now he’s magically bound to participate. The first task is to steal a golden egg from a dragon, without being killed.

Beforehand, one of Harry’s professors, Mad-Eye Moody, tries to give Harry some advice without giving away the nature of the task (which Harry already knows, anyway). Moody says:

“I don’t show favoritism, me. I’m just going to give you some good, general advice. And the first bit is—play to your strengths.”

“I haven’t got any,” said Harry, before he could stop himself.

“Excuse me,” growled Moody, “you’ve got strengths if I say you’ve got them. Think now. What are you best at?”

“My second piece of general advice,” said Moody loudly, interrupting him, “is to use a nice, simple spell that will enable you to get what you need.”

Harry realizes that he’s best at the wizard sport Quidditch, where he’s a Seeker, because what he really excels at is flying. He’s really good at flying on a broomstick. And therefore the spell he needs is a Summoning Charm, so that when he’s facing the dragon, he can summon his Firebolt, his broomstick. So before the contest, he practices that charm.

On the day of the trial, the moment when Harry Potter faces the Hungarian Horntail, raises his wand, and shouts, “Accio Firebolt!” is one of the most thrilling moments in all seven books.

It’s when Harry Potter accepts his own nature, and his own strengths, and works within them to meet his dragon.

As John Keats wrote, “A Man’s life of any worth is a continual allegory, and very few eyes can see the Mystery of his life—a life like the scriptures, figurative.” Like Harry Potter!

One of the secrets of happiness is to recognize your lessons where you find them. Have you ever been struck by a big lesson in a surprising place?

If you’d like a PDF list of my 81 favorite works of children’s literature and young-adult literature, you can get it here.

If you want to see the moment in the movie, here it is:

P.S. For my proof-reading readers, Keats didn't capitalize "Scriptures" in the original. I just didn't want to put the ugly "sic" in the middle of a beautiful quotation.

 

Quote From the Podcast

A Man’s life of any worth is a continual allegory, and very few eyes can see the Mystery of his life—a life like the scriptures, figurative.
John Keats

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