I'm not sure if it is because I am a parent now or because I am getting hormonal/sentimental as I approach the end of pregnancy #2 but I have been contemplating happy endings. Today, I want to talk about how I firmly believe that the happy ending should be preserved in literature, television, and film.
There seems to be a growing section of the parenting and psychology realms who are not convinced that happy endings are healthy for children (or maybe it is the large amount of dysotopian young adult literature but that is another blog post). Now, I am not an expert on psychology or childhood development or even literature. But I am a fairly well adjusted woman with a definite affinity for fairy tales and fantasy literature and an absolute addiction to a good happy ending. This addiction does not mean that I am a Disney princess freak (I actually have problems with some aspects of them) but I think that most of the works of classic literature that we still love hundreds of years later are the ones that give us the hope of happiness.
I decided to do a little bit of research into the concept of the "happy ending." There is the Disney happy ending (perhaps the most common?), the psychological happy ending, and the happy endings that I would like to talk about. From what I am reading, apparently these (especially the Disney endings) can make us expect real life to be the same way and to be dissatisfied with any other outcome. While I can appreciate the logic behind such an attitude, I think such proponents miss the larger picture.
There is a new growth of research from psychologists that suggests that what happens at the end of a narrative or situation is what colors our memory of the situation. Whether we remember a year fondly because of happy times with family and friends during the holidays or loving a restaurant experience because dessert was good, our overall thoughts and feelings have been most strongly influenced by the ending (for a little bit of "light" reading on the subject, check here and here).
While I can appreciate the science of the human brain and its interaction with our emotions, I think happy endings, especially other peoples' happy endings in books, movies, or real life, are necessary to a fulfilled, forward looking human experience. Happy endings remind us of a necessary element of our lives - hope. As we move through time, we are only allowed to look in two directions. As we look back, we may become bogged down in the perceived failures. When we look forward, we see...unknowns. If those were my only options, I have to admit that I would have very little desire to get out of bed in the morning.
But happy endings - big or small - give us hope for what could be, what is possible still. Whether I am reading my dearly beloved Jane Austen's novels, talking to a friend who is having a good week, or merely getting dinner on the table on time, I have experienced a happiness. A happiness that is complete in and of itself, with no need of validation or analysis from an outside source. Heck, as the mother of a toddler, even getting through my morning coffee is a happiness.
But the point is that there are people out there who think this is silly, or worse, unnecessary. People who would seem to discount the value of a happy ending. Let me be clear - I am not arguing for a head in the clouds, only seeing rainbows and butterflies kind of existence. Rather, I am arguing that happy endings like you find in Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Anne of Green Gables, blogs, A Series of Unfortunate Events (books or movie), and others like these give you a realistic happy ending. There is hard work, there is heartache, but there is triumph and contentment and satisfaction. There is fulfillment in the situation they end up finding themselves in - because they stuck it out and it is their happy ending. It is not always the princess marrying the prince. Sometimes it is the school teacher who finds that marrying the principle and doing what he/she loves is the real place where joy and happiness reside.
So, my dear blog reader, keep reading blogs. Keep cheering people on who have found a way to make a living doing what they love, moms who are keeping families together and finding personal fulfillment, and communities that are strengthened by one member's happy ending. We will keep people hoping in a better day tomorrow and the world filled with happy endings.
And with that, have a beautiful, happy ending, day. =)