Happy In The Same Way

by Randy Murray on May 23, 2011

Tolstoy was wrong. Happiness can take many forms. But drama calls for conflict. Stories of happy individuals, let alone happy families, are very difficult to write. You often see happy people portrayed as simpletons, oblivious to the true nature of life. Tragedy is much easier to write about than simple, domestic happiness. Melodrama can hold an audience enthralled for decades: just look at soap operas, episodic TV, telenovelas.

Happiness is subtle, often quiet, and it is infinitely personal.  Happiness is something that’s very difficult to relate to a broad audience. It is shared like a secret.

“I’m happy,” he whispered over his drink. “I don’t know how to talk about it.”

“Don’t try,” I told him, “You might spoil it.”

The audience is a ghoul. It cherishes stories of pain and loss, roots around in them, hoping for surprising turns. I think that readers and viewers actually fear stories of happiness. I think that we worry that in learning the intimate details of someone else’s happy life we might make our own lives seem drabber, even hopeless. There is no release, no catharsis in the happiness of others.

When friends tell us about the success of their children, their recent promotion, their victories large and small, we say, “That’s nice,” and stifle a yawn. But let them share about even the littlest loss, losing their cell phone, getting in a fender bender, ripping their pants, and our attention leaps into focus. We seek to comfort them, look for more details, and sniff for blood.

Maybe happiness is the ultimate private experience. I know that my happiness is rooted in my family, the core of which is my love of my wife. No one really wants or needs to hear about that. But let me tell you about the pain in my back . . .

Test this for yourself. Are you really interested in other people’s happiness? Is the heart of your own happiness interesting to other people? Are you happy in the same way that they are?

Happiness is something that seems small, private, personal. It is not joy, it is not being transported with bliss. Can you describe your own and, even if you could, would you share it?


The Happy In The Same Way by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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