Who doesn’t love a good fairy tale? Cinderella loses her slipper but ends up finding her prince charming. Sleeping Beauty is awakened by a kiss from her handsome prince and Snow White triumphs over her evil stepmother’s plan to destroy her by the kiss of…you guessed it…her handsome prince. It’s the classic good trumps evil narrative we all love. The prince gets his princess, the evil doer is vanquished and they all live happily ever after.
The happily ever after template is a common cultural format that emphasizes victory over struggle, conquest over defeat and the promise of a new and glorious future on the other side of pain and anguish. It is a template that gives hope and allows us to believe that a new tomorrow is just on the other side of the horizon.
It’s all good…right?
It’s all good as long as you are the one who gets the fairly tale ending.
Real life, however, doesn’t always play out like a Disney fairy tale. In the real world, relationships end, people lose jobs and life has a tendency to smack us up side the head on a fairly regular basis. In short, real life is often more like a nefarious Grimm fairy tale than a Disney movie.
The assimilation of the fairy tale, happily ever after ending, as a cultural norm, seems to have really taken hold towards the end of the second world war. The hope of a brighter and safer future loomed large in the late 1940’s and with the expansion of the television sitcom in the 1950’s, the happily ever after paradigm grew legs and began to show up as the generally accepted or preferred narrative for movies, television programing and radio broadcasts. The iconic 30 minute presenting problem, conflict and resolution sitcom model helped propel the happiness expectation into overdrive and happiness quickly became a highly sought after and expected commodity or outcome.
Today, the expectation of a happy life is easily identifiable as the new normal to which the majority of the population aspire. We all want to be happy and if we are not happy, we worry that we may not be normal.
As the happiness model or expectation has continued to grow and the cultural expectation of a happy life has solidified as a normative value, a somewhat sinister and countercultural movement of worry and emotional distress has also been gaining momentum. In alarming numbers, people who find themselves unable to achieve or maintain the happiness mandate often become concerned with their perceived lack of happiness and worry they are somehow defective or even ill.
As a result, sadness, loneliness, grief, fear, anger and other forms of emotional distress have increasingly been redefined by the culture as abnormal and maladaptive. In large part, a whole industry of pharmaceutical, medical and psychiatric interventionist have sprung up to identify, treat and medicate the relationally, emotionally, behaviorally and spiritually unhappy. Because after all, if we are unhappy, there must be something wrong.
What tends to get lost in this discussion about happiness and the desire for the fairy tale ending, is the fact that real life is seldom an ever increasing trajectory of pleasure, increase and happiness. Real life contains struggle and sadness and pain and experiencing these aspects of life does not make one abnormal or ill. It simply makes one human.
When we get lost in the fairly tale myth, we lose our perspective on what a normal life looks like and how to deal with inherent difficulties that life brings. If you lose a life partner to death, it is normal to feel sad and lost and angry. Betrayal by a trusted friend can bring feelings of confusion, frustration and fear.
People who experience great trauma may pull into themselves as a way of managing their pain and guard against further emotional damage. For the most part, much of what we label mental and emotional illness is actually a very normal reaction to an abnormal situation.
So is the happily ever after ending nothing more than a child’s fairy tale? Is it possible to be happy even when life serves up difficult and perplexing challenges?
The good news is YES! Life can be full and rich, abundant and HAPPY because happiness is choice.
Yeah right… Now before you tune me out…let me explain.
The inherent problem with the happily ever after model is not the desire to be happy, it is the way happiness is being defined. In the happily ever after model, happiness is defined as the absence of any type of problem or difficulty. Happily ever after conjures up images of blissful, trouble free days where conflict is nonexistent and everything I want is everything I get. Happiness defined in this manner is not obtainable because it is founded on a false assumption…that in order to be happy, life must be free of difficulties.
We all know that life comes with it fair share of difficulties. So if happiness was dependent on the absence of difficulties, happiness would be nothing more than an elusive, fairy tale that only happens to Disney princesses. The good news is that real happiness is not dependent upon circumstances or outcomes. It is an attitude or way of being, we choose.
Happiness, defined through the lens of choice, is a largely a reflection of our fundamental beliefs and our perceptions. It is a state of internal soundness and peace that transcends our external circumstance or position. In many ways, happiness is a byproduct of an internal sense of well-being and contentment that supersedes the situational and often transient events that impact our lives. Thus happiness is an internal event that has very little to do with whether or not life plays out in our favor.
The happily ever after model has unfortunately become a normative, societal paradigm. As individuals, couples and families increasingly strive to live out this fairy tale model in real life, they often become disillusioned by their inability to find or maintain a life free of conflict and difficulties. They worry about their worries and anxiously fear their relational and emotional struggles are evidence of some type of emotional or mental deficiency. Within the context of the current cultural definition of happiness, the ability to find contentment and internal peace in the midst of real life struggles increasingly feels like an elusive and fanciful fairy tale.
The good news is that happiness, true happiness is neither a fairy tale or an unobtainable dream. A truly happy relationally, emotionally, behavioral and spiritualty life is not only possible, it is possible for you!
To learn more about living a truly happy life in the midst of real life difficulties schedule your appointment online or call the main office at 317-760-0604.
Happiness and a rich, abundant and satisfying life is possible! There is hope!
Chrysalis Connections, LLC
Relationship Counseling and Consultation
429 E. Vermont Street, Suite 208
Indianapolis, IN 46202