My Rant on how Happiness is Portrayed in Storytelling

Warning: Below there be spoilers. But, since the following rant involves the crappy endings of some books, movies, and TV shows, I can’t really help it. Please forgive me if I ruin something.

Years ago, I was happily reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. The millionaire Japanese man had seen through the plump frumpiness of the female apartment concierge. He saw through her pretense of being dimwitted so that people would leave her alone to devour art, literature, music and philosophy. He recognized the intelligent, beautiful woman hiding from the world. Because of this, she started to break out of her shell. He took her out on a wonderful date and treated her like a queen. She blossomed. (I was so happy. I love seeing someone grow and blossom. It’s one of my favorite things.) The next morning, the woman is still glowing from date the night before. Fantasizing about the future ahead of her, she leaves the apartment to go shopping, steps off the sidewalk, is hit by a truck and dies. The End.

Yep. I’ll give you one more minute to let that set in.

If I hadn’t been in public when I read the end of that book, I would have thrown it across the room. I was so very, very angry. This is a story-line that I see over and over again. Perfect moment of happiness when BAM! Hit by a truck and dead. Don’t believe me? Let me list a few more examples.

Copyright 1998 Charles Roven and Dawn Steel and Warner Bros.

City of Angels (1998) – Meg Ryan in her moment of perfect happiness. Hit by a truck.  

 

 

Copyright 2012 Julian Fellowes and ITV Studios

Downton Abbey (2012) – Dan Stevens glowing in his moment of perfect happiness. Hit by a truck.  

 

 

 

Copyright 1992 Stephen Woolley and Palace Pictures

The Crying Game (1992) – Forest Whitaker finally escapes captivity. He is smiling as he makes it to the road and freedom. Hit by a military truck carrying the men sent to save him. Yeah. Pretty Brutal. Also, if you watch the clip, it gets very violent after he gets hit by the truck.  

 

Copyright 1957 Leo McCarey and Jerry Wald 20th Century Fox

An Affair to Remember (1957) – Deborah Kerr heading to the Empire State Building is in her long-awaited moment of happiness. Hit by a car. Given, she doesn’t die, but the premise is the same.  

 

And what is that premise? You can’t be happy. If you find happiness, you get hit by a truck and die. I think this is a TERRIBLE message to be sending out to the masses. “It’s not okay to be too happy.” Also, it’s flat out lazy writing. Really, you can’t think of anything better than being hit by a truck? But that’s a whole other topic.

Aren’t we all hoping for that moment of happiness? When everything seems right with the world and we can just smile? Why are the story tellers of the world giving us the message this is a bad thing? This message of happiness isn’t only portrayed as the dramatic being hit by a truck at the purest moment of happiness. Often, just if a character becomes happy he will soon die. Now, I understand that for good story telling you need conflict, and if everyone is happy there is no conflict. And I know that there are plenty of movies that have happy endings. BUT, the fact that when I’m watching something and a character has finally found the love of their life, or has finally found their place in the world, and I think to myself, “Well, they’re going to die,” and they do? There is definitely a trend happening.

The Walking Dead is another perfect example. It would take too much time to list all the people who, during a zombie apocalypse, finally found happiness and then get eaten by a zombie. Abraham and Noah are two character that easily come to mind.

What am I trying to say here? I’m saying that there is a belief in society that you shouldn’t be too happy. And, sadly, there is some research to back this up. According to studies, too much happiness can make you less safe. Research shows that when you are extremely happy, you tend to focus on only the positive as you try to maintain the feeling of elated happiness. Because of this, you may be unaware of dangers in your environment like, say, a moving vehicle. You are just so happy you aren’t paying attention to what’s around you. Depressing, yes?

But I think that’s crazy talk. We want to be happy. We are striving to be happy. We don’t want to be miserable just so we can be safe. So, I think there is a solution to this conundrum.

Don’t watch movies and TV or read books anymore. Just Kidding.

As we are striving for personal growth and healing, we naturally become happy. We become self-confident. We learn to love who we are. And, truth be told, this transformation happens so gradually that one day you look around and think, “Wow! I’ve come a long way! And look, here I am!” Don’t be afraid to walk the path to happiness. Don’t be afraid to blossom. The path has ups and downs, easy parts and difficult parts. But it is a steady road. And as you grow, you become more mindful and aware. Do don’t listen to the crazy, lazy story tellers out there with their dumb trucks. Don’t worry. Be happy.

 

Copyright 1998 Martin Brest and Universal Pictures

Honorable Mention – Meet Joe Black (1998) – Brad Pitt meets the love of his life. Gets hit by two cars and dies. Since this scene is used to move the plot forward rather than end the movie in lazy writing, it only gets an honorable mention.  

 

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Heather

I am a yoga and meditation teacher, energy healer and I teach Enneagram workshops. I'm here to help people grow and find their true selves.

2 thoughts on “My Rant on how Happiness is Portrayed in Storytelling”

  1. How did I miss this blog? So good, Heather!

    As a writer always trying to cover my bases, I agree that the lazy death ending is just that – lazy. The attempt at shocking the reader into a sense of immediate sadness is cheating them of a complete arc.

    Just my two cents.
    Camille

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