Happily Ever After
happiness in a consumer driven world
Happily Ever After
And they lived happily ever after....
That’s a lie.
we just keep trying till we die
just wish until we were
It’s there, underlying much of Western literature and media. Good people are rewarded. Good people usually make it to the end of the horror movie. Good people go to heaven. Literature and movies are not always doctrinally sound. Good people are happy. It’s possible to want to be good more than we want to be happy. Media tells us what happiness is, creates an expectation that if we are good we will be rewarded, however what is offered as a reward is not actually a real possibility. We’re offered a unicorn and then we don’t want the much more useful goat.
There are many things that human beings fear. Few of them cast a longer shadow than death with a side of damnation. It’s there in our subconscious, a stew of Sunday School, after school specials, and an array that will never forget our own failures. This leaves many people vulnerable to promises. Advertising loves making promises.
Promises are cheap. Resources to fulfill them are not. The list of things that we need to feel those positive feelings is much longer than anyone would like to read and it grows longer all the time. The number one token of value that is desired above most other things is currency, dollars, coins, and plastic. American society, in particular, pays a great deal of respect to property rights (Ely, 2019). John Locke, Adam Smith, and Thomas Hobbs wrote interesting ideas, a little daring and maybe a little blasphemous. What they weren’t is psychologists or anthropologists.
The pursuit of money and things doesn’t lead to happily ever after. In Rumpelstiltskin, a lie leads to promises that can’t be kept, straw to gold, with only a miracle wish left to protect the protagonist from the most dire of consequences. It’s that same kind of bargain that some of us have made with modern consumer culture, but knowing the name won’t help us.
So if that’s the problem, how easy is that to solve? Many people try to guess the name of the guy who spins straw to gold. The problem is clearly selfies. The problem might be teenagers tying up the landlines, curling the cord around their fingers. Oh and one time the problem was definitely the reading of novels. It was scandalous, really. Casting blame is another form of straw to gold.
What is happiness if it isn’t the constant chase of treasure? If turning straw to gold isn’t happily ever after, and it isn’t because we will always encounter rooms with larger piles of straw, what is? The swirling stew of our subconscious mind isn’t very logical. It’s not a reasonable place. In the terribly thin and convoluted neocortex lives the storyteller module of our mind. We can choose.
What to choose though? Slick advertisements, people holding offering plates, and clamoring social media all want to offer us and an answer. The straw is for us. The gold is for them. We’re not so terribly different from some of our cousins and we can learn from them.
A dog is happy if they know where the boundaries are, are confident that food will arrive on time, if they can make their human smile and scratch their belly. A dog is happy with a nice long nap in front of the fire. Maslow gave us the ideas in his hierarchy of needs (Mcleod, 2020)as an aid to understanding human and by extension mammalian needs. It stands to reason that hungry dogs are not happy dogs.
Advertisement, poverty, and deeply entrenched fears keep us constantly hungry. It’s a hunger that an entire department store wouldn’t satisfy. It’s possible to be so hungry that one does know or doesn’t remember what not hungry feels like. Still the promise of happily ever after draws us on, keeps us going, handing over the gold of our lives for straw.
One of the most beautiful things about human beings is that what meets each person’s needs is going to be a little different than other people. There is more than enough for everyone. We need food, shelter, water, friends, love, goals, and hope. We need to become resilient because when our basic needs are met it starts to be much easier to be happy, but it’s not an ever after kind of affair. Happiness doesn’t work that way.
Honestly, we wouldn’t even want happiness as an everlasting constant. It would be jarring not to be able to grief a loss. It would be dangerous not to be able to be angry when boundaries are violated. Happiness and well being should be the road we travel with other emotions there as well to help us navigate.
If the myth of happily ever after is just a myth, why is it so pervasive then? Happiness happens after weight loss. Getting a house clears the way for happiness. Finding the perfect romantic partner is where happiness comes from. In some ways those things do, absolutely, contribute to meeting our needs. A lover is connection. A house is shelter. Having our body match our self-image is immensely nurturing. It can make it very confusing. Lovers also bring trauma. A house can be very stressful to own. Weight loss often doesn’t last, in part because ice cream is its own variety of gold.
Perfect euphoric happiness as a constant is neither possible nor desirable. Chasing it constantly benefits people who are being paid well to manipulate us. The message that there is always something better or newer or more wonderful than what someone else has is a toxic and debilitating message that guts what real joy and life there is out of living. It’s all well and good for a dog to have fun chasing their tail, but if it becomes a compulsive behavior that replaces healthy and satisfying behaviors, then it’s gone very wrong.
We must build a safe place to live, love people who are good for us with all our strength, live lives that we can take pride in, and build communities that support us. If we can do this, then happiness will not be a myth, a fairytale, but a lovely and mundane reality.
Ely, J. W., JR. (2019, June 04). Property Rights in American History. Retrieved May 22, 2020, from https://www.hillsdale.edu/educational-outreach/free-market-forum/2008-archive/property-rights-in-american-history/
Mcleod, S. (2020, March 20). Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved May 22, 2020, from https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html
About the Creator
I write a lot of lgbt+ stuff, lots of sci fi. My big story right now is The Moon's Permission.
I've been writing all my life. Every time I think I should do something else, I come back to words.
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