Haruki Murakami in his book Kafka On the Shore says, “…like Tolstoy said. Happiness is an allegory, unhappiness a story.” Reading this I was reminded about two things. One, the TV series Mad Men. Two, Tolkien’s book The Hobbit.
John Hamm, playing the central character Don Draper in the Mad Men TV series, is a hedonistic ad man who loves to get his way in the advertising industry. Once, a smug CEO tells John Hamm, “We are happy with our current agency. Why would we want to do business with you?”. Hamm replies, “You say you are happy with your current plan but what is happiness except that which you feel before you want more of it.” Happiness is always a moving target. The moment you think you have arrived, happiness is the next thing – always pointing to something else. An allegory is always pointing to something else. Happiness is an allegory.
In the Hobbit, Gandalf gets thirteen dwarfes and the hobbit Bilbo to go on an adventure brimming with hardships. Every time Bilbo faces hardships, whether it be fighting the trolls or getting drenched in the rain, Bilbo wishes he were back in his cozy home sitting by the fire with a cup of tea and a slice of cake (so British!). Bilbo’s team faces many hardship in their journey until they reach Rivendel, the Elf land, where they rest for 2 weeks. Tolkien says there was nothing really to report on the 2 week stay in the Elf paradise, as it was period of happiness and peace. The story starts again when they leave Rivendel to face the next stage of hardships in their journey towards the lonely mountain. It is being disturbed from our happy homeostasis that makes for a good story.
Happiness is an allegory as happiness is always pointing to something else. One does not get to rest in happiness. On the other hand unhappiness makes for a better story because suffering and struggle makes for a good story. If the prince did not have to suffer crossing seven seas, climbing seven mountains, defeating seven monsters to get to the princess, it wouldn’t be meaningful story or romance. In fact, one could almost say, blessed are the unhappy for it makes their story more meaningful (Matt 5:4). That is why unhappiness in not (always) a bad things after all.
Ps: Want to read more about what makes stories meaningful? Here is one way A Way of Stories…