Why do people always want to read about misery?

The simple answer? Because it makes them feel fortunate.

Lately I was reading a short story of a blogger who calls herself Athena Minerva. It was titled A life of Halcyon Days . For those among you not familiar with the word Halcyon; it doesn’t refer to a popular sedative (halcion aka triazolam) but denotes a period of time in the past that was idyllically happy and peaceful.

halcyon

It was a 35 pages tale about a young introvert woman in search for a soul mate that sounded suspiciously autobiographic.

For a while I couldn’t put my finger upon the reason why the story irritated me. Then I realized; no arc from happiness to despair and back to happiness. The story just sundered on from moderate happiness to extreme bliss. Agreed, there were some little dips where some minor setbacks were experienced, but nothing soul wrenching, aside of an introvert’s tendency to magnify little disturbing signals carelessly emitted by other people.

The reason I gave this story a more than cursive glimpse is that shortly after reading it, I was trying to compose some email to family and friends wherein I wanted to expand about last week’s events and received warnings of my own soul mate not making it sound to blissfully.

I huffed and asked, “Why can’t I tell people that we’re doing fine?”

She answered, “Because they’ll resent you!”

I answered, “But they’re family and friends!”

She retorted, “A reason the more for not making them jealous. People only want to hear from other people as long as they’re more or at least as miserable as they feel.”

It made me reflect about the whole specter of literature. And indeed, Les Misérables wouldn’t have been such a big hit if it would have been called The Fortunate. So it works for many other great works of literature (don’t get me started on this issue …).

It’s always about someone’s misery, the way people called it over themselves and how they were punished for their mistakes. Some literature expands towards a redemption arc, but in such case, we want the protagonists to suffer before they see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Isn’t that a vicious thought?

Anyway, I gave  A life of Halcyon Days four stars. Because it made me think about some atavistic human behavior after I almost dismissed the manuscript as insignificant.

And on a more personal note: I’ll not write emails about how we spent the Sunday afternoon on the beach and went for some sangria afterwards. Instead I’ll write about our plumbing problems and the troubles we have to find qualified workers.

5 Comments

  1. Interesting thought about the requirement of misery and/or negative situations for good stories. I have to say that I agree with your assessment. The only… exception… if that’s the right word, is the idea that it’s not the misery so much as the journey from misery to happiness and success. Like you said, the protagonist must suffer in the good stories. I guess that’s true. But is it about making the reader feel more fortunate, or is it about bringing the reader along during the journey from that misery to happiness? Is it more about giving the reader a sense of triumph in the end?
    As for daily correspondence, there are some people that resent seeing people they know (friends, family, etc.) being happy and successful, especially if it seems more happy and successful than they are. That’s called jealousy, and it’s a crap emotion. Why would anyone resent a friend or loved one for having success? Why wouldn’t one be happy for them? And yet…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Usually most authors with a redemption arc keep embroidering on the theme that who does good, receives good (in the happy ending stories at least). I don’t know many stories where the author got away by giving all the goodies at the end of his novel to the antagonist or an evil protagonist while in real life the scammers get almost always away with everything.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with your wife’s views! She is totally right in advising you to never let anyone know – even family and friends – that everything is sunny in your garden. Its not like people are out to despise our every achievement and happiness but just that, as you said, its makes them feel far better about themselves when we are in trouble.

    And about this blogger…wow…I didnt know about her or this short story. But since you gave it 4 stars, it must really be something worth reading! ❤️❤️💕

    Like

    1. A life of Halcyon Days is in fact a little bit disappointing reading material. I just gave it four stars because it made me think in that particular context. Let’s say that I was in a generous mood because she inspired me for this post.

      Liked by 1 person

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