Saturday, January 10, 2009

Happily Ever After

When we were young, the stories read to us, or the Disney movies we watched in excited anticipation, almost always ended with the phrase, “and they lived happily ever after,” usually after the girl married the handsome prince and they rode off into the sunset. No wonder our expectations for love and life are so high! Happily ever after is a high standard - no fights, bounced checks, dented cars, screaming children or skinned knees - just sunshine and bliss and happiness forever and ever.

I have always felt that our entertainment was warping our view of reality. On TV and in the movies, everyone is beautiful and whatever problems they are having are wrapped up neatly in an hour (minus 15 minutes for commercials of course), their dialogue is full of the kinds of things you wish you could think of on the spot during your fight with your boyfriend, and they look better cleaning their house than I did at my high school prom.

There are studies that say people who watch a lot of TV tend to have a misplaced view of reality – feeling that the world is a more dangerous place than it is because of the violence and crime they see on the tube. For me, it has always been the opposite. I see happy people with great lives, love and talent, when I watch, and I wish my life were like theirs.

It’s easy to forget the wardrobe and makeup team and time it took to make Jennifer Aniston look effortlessly beautiful, and we rarely see the mundane parts of anyone’s life on television. No taking out the garbage, or scrubbing the kitchen floor or dealing with the clogged toilet. Their lives seem exciting and fulfilled, they rarely fight with their friends, and if they do, it’s always quickly and easily resolved.

The problem arises when we compare ourselves to the characters on television, in books or movies without the reality check of their personal trainers and chefs to help them keep in shape and eat right, and the overall fantasy of the silver screen. The truth is that behind the scenes even the beautiful people have problems and feel insecure.

We all want “happily ever after,” but there’s no such thing. Life is a journey filled with ups and downs, joys and sorrows, triumphs and disappointments. And what a boring life happily ever after would be anyway. What would life be without the occasional pain that teaches us our most important lessons? We have to be careful not to bring a happily ever after attitude to our own life events too. Weddings can be wonderful, but marriage will certainly be bumpy at best.

In cancer treatment, it’s easy to believe that life AFTER will be joyous again too. When you are doubled over throwing up or staring at your eyebrow-less face or bald head in the mirror, even normal life can seem like a fairytale. However, it takes a while to bounce back, though others in your life might not quite get that. Hair doesn’t grow back in a day, and neither does the idea that you are invincible. That might not ever return. A new perspective is born; and thank goodness for that. It can mean a new appreciation for the good things in your life, and a recognition that the challenges we feel are so insurmountable in daily life, are really not that bad after all.

Life is beautiful – and ugly, and desperate, and hard, and unfair, and peaceful, and loving, and joyous. And even if we don’t always have control of what happens to us, we always have control about how we respond. I have found that many of my biggest problems are of my own creation – they’re all in my head - and only I am capable of getting them out. Margaret Bonnano said, “It is only possible to live happily ever after on a day to day basis.” It might even be an hour-by-hour basis or a minute-by-minute basis, and when we find ourselves slipping into despair or life hands us a new challenge, we have the power to overcome it, and to find ourselves a stronger person on the other side.