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“If You Want a Happy Ending That Depends, of Course, on Where You Stop Your Story”

Orson Welles

We all want happy endings. We are conditioned to believe happy endings are possible, especially in the United States where happy endings are synonymous with the American dream.

Per Wikipedia, “The American Dream is rooted in the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims that “all men and women are created equal” with the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

So at least in the western world and other cultures variously impacted by its influence, people have internalized the belief that our lives should be happy.

I personally believe that beyond this being part of our cultural programming, it is also a part of our DNA in the same way that plants naturally move toward the light to survive. Many plants will actually bend themselves outside of their natural growth habit to reach towards light. This is a phenomenon known as phototropism.

If you see the process of ‘moving toward the light’ as an organism’s instinct to become fully actualized and reach its full potential to thrive, it’s not that far of a stretch to apply that drive to the human instinct to likewise bend toward that which promotes a life of flourishing and happiness.

How then do we reconcile this concept with the endless vicissitudes of life we all encounter? These are the cycles and sometimes whole chapters that we all would rather avoid but must get through. They range from job loss, death of loved ones, divorce, financial devastation, family dysfunction, and profound instability at some level that creates chaos. Some lives have more vicissitudes than others, but no life is without events that test and challenge us.

The research on happiness that has gained widespread recognition born out of the field of Positive Psychology has determined that up to 50% of our happiness level is genetic. That is, we have a happiness set point, or baseline, that originates from our biological parents. So half of your happiness is preset!

Of the remaining 50% of the happiness pie, the research shows that 10% is circumstantial and 40% is intentional.

So with the data on happiness research, I asked the question based on my genetic link to the psychological and emotional states of both my biological parents (mom biopolar & suicidal, dad an alcoholic depressive) “does this mean because I had unhappy parents I am doomed to a sad life?”

Not at all! It just means that I have had to be more intentional about my own happiness.

Despite the difficulties, disappointments, setbacks, failures, and abject despair we have all undoubtedly faced, it is important to remember that the story of our lives is continuing, as long as we are inhaling and exhaling.

“In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in a dark wood, where the true way was wholly lost.”

Dante in The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Canto I)

This is the celebrated line from one of the most difficult poems ever written, Dante’s Divine Comedy, a 14,000+ line epic on the soul’s journey.

We have all gone through the dark wood more than once. And we will all undoubtedly encounter this place again. It is part of the human experience, intentionally choosing to find balance between the light and the dark.

The journey continues. Life is not static, it is in constant flux and we are tasked to face ongoing change.

For all of us, our lives change through chance, crisis or choice. It is in our choices as we write our own narrative along life’s journey that we shape our destiny, rather than lamenting our fate.

“A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes” ~ Hugh Downs

We all get to decide on the ending to our story.

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