Happiness Is A Serious Literary Problem

All right, the title is stolen. Dennis Prager wrote a book called Happiness Is A Serious Human Problem, and made such an impression on me with his title that it is never too far from the surface of my mind. What last jarred it to the top again was a blog post entitled, Do Happy Endings Present A False Reality?

Happy endings, as the author points out, regularly come under fire. To borrow a line from Bolt, people are not happy with happy. The dark, the tragic, and the morbid are on the market and gaining more and more. Happily-ever-afters are not only rejected by many people; they’re disdained. Happiness is a serious literary problem.

Sarah Sawyer, in her blog post, defends happy endings because of the “ultimate happy ending to come”. And it’s true that we have been promised that. Christianity is a stern religion, but it is not a pessimistic one. In the Bible, like in the old fairy tales, the villains get their just deserts and then we all live happily ever after.

But I would like to defend happy endings on shallower grounds. Happy endings are good because happiness is good. People talk about “feel-good entertainment” as if it’s well enough in its (low) place, but I have yet to see any especial virtue in entertainment that makes you feel bad.

Do happy endings present a false reality? Strictly speaking, “a false reality” is the very definition of all fiction. But to take the question as it was meant, I would have to answer: In what universe is happiness unrealistic? There is a great deal of happiness in the world right now, and there will be even more in the world to come. Of course, there is pain in the world now, and there will be pain afterward. The question between happiness and unhappiness in fiction is not a question of whether to be true to reality, but of which part of reality to be true to.

In the objection to happy endings, there is implicit an idea – sometimes it’s little more than a feeling – that tragedy is more realistic than happiness. And I reject and dislike it. “We are an Easter people,” Augustine declared, “and Alleluia is our song.”

God made us for joy. He’s calling us to it still. And if we can say with C. S. Lewis that God is the ultimate reality, then we can also say that the ultimate reality is good beyond our understanding. It’s not right to disdain happy endings, not when “our glad Creator” gives us drink from His river of delights, and in His light we see light.

2 thoughts on “Happiness Is A Serious Literary Problem

  1. Thanks for the mention, Shannon! You are correct that our universe has as much joy as pain, though there are those who would claim otherwise. Happiness has value, and Scripture highly lauds joy. It speaks of laughter as good medicine, and the joy of God providing strength. So when our fiction imparts a sense of joy, I see that as a good thing. 🙂

    “God made us for joy. He’s calling us to it still. And if we can say with C. S. Lewis that God is the ultimate reality, then we can also say that the ultimate reality is good beyond our understanding. It’s not right to disdain happy endings, not when “our glad Creator” gives us drink from His river of delights, and in His light we see light.”
    Yes! Beautifully expressed.

  2. You’re welcome – though I should thank you for posting on happy endings in the first place. It got me thinking.

    Thanks for commenting. I appreciate it.

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