"And so, they lived happily ever after..." Happy endings, we love them, we live for them, we curse stories that don't end with them. From the moment we are introduced to books and storytelling we become consumed by the idea of a 'happy ending.' Every Disney movie, fairy tale, and children's book ends happily, loose ends tied up and all. It's probably why we're so fixated on the idea of happiness in general. Every young person's goal is to "end up happy." That's all we want, to be happy. Because, from a young age, we're exposed to things concluding happily and perfect and all neat and tidy. Sure, the characters go through their ups and downs, but ultimately their story ends on a good note, a happy note if you will.
So, when we come across a story that leaves us questioning where the characters end up, we become frustrated. For our whole lives we've seen characters grow and get knocked down, but become better because of it, We've seen them deal with issues we can relate to and maybe some situations we've gone through ourselves, and a lot of the time they end up okay, maybe even better than okay, they end up happy. Things turn around, something clicks and all of a sudden everything becomes clear; they land their dream job, they marry their one true love, or they find the confidence to be who they truly are. In the end, despite everything, our protagonist comes out on top. They finally see what we've known all along and they make everything right, as it should be. So, how are we supposed to react when a story ends with a cliffhanger? What happens when our favorite character makes all the wrong choices and the author leaves the ending up to our imagination?
We, as people, gravitate towards stories and storytelling because, despite their fictional portrayal, they're more in tune with reality than they seem. The point of a story is to teach readers (or viewers) lessons they can apply to their own life, to challenge them to absorb a different perspective and to think outside the box. They're an escape from our own world, it's true, but through the lives of the fictional characters we develop a better sense of ourselves, others and the world around us. Therefore, when a story doesn't go as we expected, when the couple doesn't end up together, when the friendship dies, and when a character doesn't prove to have grown by the end, we begin to question the destiny of our own stories.
If our beloved fictional characters don't end up happy and fulfilled, where's the hope for the rest of us? We connect to these characters because we see ourselves in them, we see our own potential through them, but what happens when they leave us...disappointed? What happens when they fall short and don't deliver a satisfying end to their story? Where does that leave us?
We tightly hold onto the concept of a happy ending because they told the best stories. The ones filled with adventures, courage, heartbreak and honor because, in the end, good always triumphed. We cherished these stories because we knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that they'd end up happily. That things would turn around, eventually. When you take the happy ending out of the equation you throw us for a loop. We feel lost because if the characters we've journeyed alongside for hundreds of pages or so can't see what's so clearly right for them, how can we expect ourselves to? If Barney Stinson couldn't change for the better, for himself, does that mean that people don't truly change? If Rory Gilmore is still a mess at 32, how long will it take me to find myself?
Happy endings give us hope. Happy endings are a reminder from our childhood that our fairytale ending is possible. Without them, we're forced back into reality. Without them, it becomes clear that real life isn't so different from the stories we read in books. Not every story has a happy ending, or maybe just not the happy ending you were expecting, but neither does life.
Never forget the essence of your spark!