Why do We Like Happy Endings?

Many people like stories with happy endings. I am among them. We prefer such stories. We are ready to accept almost any hardship that the characters of a narrative face while the story unfolds, as long as it ends well. As the famous John Lennon`s quote goes: “Everything will be okay in the end. If it`s not okay, it`s not the end.” 

Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels

Of course, it is uplifting, inspiring and encouraging. But we know that in life things don`t always end well. Despite all the goodwill, effort and hope. Tragedy, disaster, loss, suffering still happen. So, is our preference for the happy-ending-stories just naïve wishful thinking, denial and turning a blind eye to the harsher side of life? Sometimes – yes. But I think that`s just the surface of it. 

Our preference for happy endings in the stories we encounter has deeper and more meaningful roots, in my view. Perhaps somewhat ironically, we need to believe in the good to have the confidence to deal with the bad. Why is it ironic? Because, as adults, we know there is absolutely no guarantee that the ‘good’ will win the day, or that we will manage to deal with a problematic situation. We know we may fail, even catastrophically. Yet, if we want to at least give it a try, we need some level of confidence. Where does confidence come from? I would say, from the narratives that have shaped our lives.

I use the word ‘narratives’ here in the broadest sense. Whatever happened to you, wished or not, the environment, family, culture, society, institutions, movies, books, songs, election campaigns, commercials, and so on. All these things shape us. Our narratives. They include and influence also our personal account. The story I tell myself about myself. What I can and cannot do, who I am, what my goals and values are, or what they should be. This starts at a very early age.

Imagine if all the fairytales and other stories we listened to when we were children had bad endings. Each adventure, journey, friendship, loving bond crashed, cut at the roots or levelled to the ground just when the first hope emerges. Every time. How does it feel? I am sure I do not speak only for myself when I say – terrible! And we are adults. We are supposed to be able to handle tough stuff of life. Yet, how could we learn to handle it, if all our narratives would’ve had bad endings ever since our childhood? 

To toughen up our stress resistance, we need to develop a stress resistance ‘base’ in the first place. And I don`t think this applies only to childhood stories, although, of course, our early lives are crucial periods of our overall development. As an adult, if I shy away from any negative narratives, it might be a sign that I do not feel strong enough to handle that negativity. A sign to me that I should take seriously. 

The way I see it, we like stories with happy endings because they tell us that we can handle life`s challenges. Importantly, they do not guarantee the success of our quest. As we mature, we understand this. However, happy-ending-stories show that there is a part of ourselves that can help and even save us when we are in a dark place. To be able to handle the darkness of life, we need to develop self-confidence that comes from the light of happy endings.    

keep exploring!

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