Much ink has been spilt over the millennia about what it means to live a good life or to have a purpose. For some people purpose has been a calling from God while others see a more Earthly cause, but in almost all cases, in the stories I’ve heard and read, there’s been a shared myth; The Happy Endings Myth.
In literature and in movies we are treated to the comforting idea that life can be understood in simple, linear terms. According to Joseph Campell Author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, this linear story arch often looks like this:
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
This is a nice idea. You can see the appeal of this one shot redemption story. And this appeal has lead to many imagining that real life can be understood in these terms. That you can travel on your own hero’s journey and come back transformed forever. The truth of the matter is different, but not entirely in a bad way.
My favourite personal insight, if you’re not already aware, is that some things in life are hard but not complicated. This insight leads to new ways of approaching these simple but formidable challenges. Finding a purpose, finding meaning and reason in life, is hard and not very complicated, but it’s a little more complicated than The Happy Endings Myth allows. Because a happy ending, in real life, is almost never an ending. It’s simply a moment of clarity.
To use my own journey as an example, over the last couple of years I’ve had many moments of clarity and insight, moments of change and transformation. From choosing to start my own business to figuring out who I could help and how I would approach it, discovering and refining my message and the rest. Each one of these moments was a happy one, but none of them was an ending. In fact, each one was a call to action. If anything, life offers us beginnings, not endings.
So that’s what I propose: in place of The Happy Ending Myth, we should create the reality of Happy Beginnings. Whether it’s the start of a new job, a new relationship or something else large in scale, or just the adoption of a new way of working or a new idea. Moments of clarity and change aren’t endings, they’re beginnings.
Happy Endings aren’t really. Happy Beginnings are and they happen all the time. By seeking these out we won’t fall victim to the pernicious belief that a single moment will bring about some kind of steady state of happiness and completion. Life isn’t static. If life were an ocean your job wouldn’t be to find a comfy island to rest on, it would be to learn to ride the waves.