Don't miss the happy ending

I’ve always loved fairy tales. In my pre-literate days, I imagine I was satisfied with fluffy Disney productions like Cinderella, 101 Dalmations and Snow White. But as I started to read, the big animated musical finales didn’t adequately wrap up all the problematic loose ends. Cinderella’s hubby had a shoe fetish, Pongo needed a lesson on birth control, and Snow White’s prince was trying to snog a girl in a coma. I worried about what happened after Happily Ever After. (Note: this was before I’d ever heard about Into the Woods or Politically Correct Bedtime Stories)

Actually, my favorite fairy tale was the Little Mermaid. No, not the corrupted Disney version, but the original version by Hans Christian Anderson. Besides all the dramatic pathos and yearning , I love that it is an open ended story … the little mermaid has the promise of an eternal soul, and the reader is left to imagine all the adventures the little mermaid will have as her ethereal body flies around the world bringing comfort to those in need.

These days my life is pretty predictable. Work. Dance. Meet with friends. The occasional date. One foreign vacation a year. Pretty routine. Nothing very fairy-tail-ish about it. Nothing even exciting enough to write up in an alumnus review. And yet, I think I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. There are no huge happy endings in sight. However, there are myriad little happy endings. And while the drama-seeking part of my soul still longs for that big ending, the secret to my happiness is that I’ve learned to notice and celebrate all the little happy endings. Or, in LDS-speak, “Count my many blessings.”

I’m reminded of something I read earlier this year in The Jane Austen Book Club. It’s not a great book, but an enjoyable read if you’ve got a lot of spare time. However, the great pearl in it was this passage.

“Bernadette,” Prudie said. She’d reached that pensive, sentimental state of drunkenness that everyone watching so enjoys. “You’ve done so many things and read so many books. Do you still believe in happy endings?”

“Oh my Lord, yes.” Bernadette’s hands were pressed against each other like a book, like a prayer. “I guess I would. I’ve had about a hundred of them.”

On the deck behind her was a glass door, and behind the door a dark room. Sylvia was not a happy-ending sort of person herself. In books, yes, they were lovely. But in life everyone has the same ending, and the only question is who will get to it first. She took a drink of peach margarita and looked at Daniel, who was looking back, and didn’t look away.

What if you had a happy ending and didn’t notice? Sylvia made a mental note. Don’t miss the happy ending.

Sometimes happy endings can seem so insignificant that they fly out of my mind by the next day. One of my favorite rituals with my old roommate Perky was to sit and talk in the hall. I’d be just coming home from work, needing to unwind, and she’d be getting ready to leave for work. And we’d just share the high and low points of the day, things we’d learned, and things we had planned. Sharing helped me notice more about myself and her. More than anything, it reminded me of childhood conversations I’d had with my mother, which always started with, “So, what did you learn today?”

So, I hope this doesn’t sound too preachy, but don’t miss the happy endings. Take a sip out of Pollyanna’s cup. Count your many blessings. If you need help finding them, ask someone you can trust to help you. This existence is an open-ended book, write your own happy ending(s).


Jana is a university administrator and teaches History. Her soloblog is

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  1. tracy m says:

    Dora- if you want a beautiful rendition of the real HCA Little Mermaid, you HAVE to see this one:

    Sulamith Wulfing is an amazing artist, and she illustrated some of the old fairy tales in a way I think you would appreciate.

  2. Caroline says:


    What a great post.

    When I was young, I certainly thought of marriage as the huge happy ending of my life. Now that I’m 7 years past that point, I realize that that huge, great event is not enough to keep you happy. Even if you have a great husband like I do. It really is the small everyday things – an intimate conversation with a friend, a beautiful sunset, a well written paper – that helps keep me content.

  3. Deborah says:

    “These days my life is pretty predictable. Nothing very fairy-tail-ish about it. Nothing even exciting enough to write up in an alumnus review. And yet, I think I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

    Mmm. . . I really loved reading this. Thank you.

    I heard a poem this week that made me cry, for much the same reason that your post made me smile.

    by Eleanor Lerman

    This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
    the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a
    stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have
    your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman
    down beside you at the counter who says, Last night,
    the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder,
    is this a message, finally, or just another day?

    Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
    pond, where whole generations of biological
    processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
    speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
    they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old
    enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
    There is movement beneath the water, but it
    may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

    And then life suggests that you remember the
    years you ran around, the years you developed
    a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
    owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
    genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
    become. And then life lets you go home to think
    about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.
    Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
    who never had any conditions, the one who waited
    you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
    you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
    so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you
    were born at a good time. Because you were able
    to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
    stopped when you should have and started again.
    So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
    late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
    then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
    while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
    with smiles on their starry faces as they head
    out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

  4. Anonymous says:

    After reading “The Wide Sargasso Sea” by Jean Rhys I’ve never been able to enjoy “Jany Eyre” in way I had before. It’s as if blinders were torn from my eyes.

  5. Maria says:

    Thanks, Dora, for a thought-provoking post. I have so much to be grateful for and feel happy about in my life.

    It’s strange, but it’s so easy for me to complain about my life–too much homework, long hours at work, frustrations with my calling, etc. But it’s good for me to remind myself that no one is making me do these things–I chose my path and now I should make the best of it. How lucky/blessed am I that I have so many choices and options in my life? It truly is amazing to take a step back and look at everything I have been given.

    And, beautiful poem, Deborah. I needed to read that this morning.

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