In Defense of Happy Endings

Lately I’ve realized something in my reading and writing habits: I like happy endings. This is not a new realization, really, but I started thinking about it recently in a new and deeper way.

As a kid, I loved Disney movies and similar stories, where everything was tied up in a neat little bow and they all lived happily ever after. I didn’t like feeling sad, and so I sought out happy stories with happy endings.

As an adult, I still like happy stories with happy endings—but there’s more to it than that. It’s not as much about everything ending on a perfect tidy note, but more about ending on a strong or redemptive note.

So many stories today (books, movies, shows, etc.), are grim, negative, and just plain depressing. I totally understand that not every story should be kittens and rainbows all the way through, but I do believe that negative or unpleasant stories should have a positive ending. Or at least, have something positive in the ending.

A happy ending isn’t appropriate for every story—but I believe that a redemptive ending is. Humans inherently desire peace, comfort, and love. We want to believe that the world can somehow be better than it is. We want to believe that life is worth living, and that there is still hope left in the world.

The most memorable and impactful protagonists or even anti-heroes in stories are the ones who speak to hope in some way. Even a grisly, traumatic, hopeless story needs to have some element of hope or joy or a promise of something better—otherwise, what’s the point?

A redemptive element I believe is present in some way in every good story. Not every story needs to have a Disney princess ending. But I believe that every story, in one way or another, should leave you feeling a little bit better about yourself or your world for having read or watched it.

Happy, positive, or redemptive endings do matter. Because we all want to believe in hope.

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4 thoughts on “In Defense of Happy Endings

  1. I’m all for this! Especially this “redemptive ending” of yours, it’s a great term. 🙂 There’s nothing I hate more than the kind of downer ending, where everybody struggles and in the end, it’s all for naught. It makes me feel the author’s there just to smear poop in my face. There’s gotta be at least an inner resolution of some kind before I can accept an ending like that. A great post, thanks!

    Oh, and have you any experience with Joe Abercrombie’s work? I understand he’s at the forefront of what they call “grimdark” these days, and I sort of feel I ought to browse through at least one of his texts, for education’s sake. Should I?

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    • Yeah, there needs to be some kind of positive learning experience, if nothing else, in an ending. A story that goes from “life stinks” to an ending of “life still stinks” and nothing more is, in my opinion, worse than a story that ends with “and it was all a dream.” In other words, why did I bother reading this?

      I’ve heard of Joe Abercrombie, but know nothing about him or his work. I doubt I’d be a fan of the grimdark genre, and I’ve never read anything of that sort. I do support the idea, though, of reading outside of your favorite genres on occasion, to learn more about other writing and storytelling styles.

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      • Yes! Part of why I dislike the concept of “art for art’s sake”. Even if we aren’t consciously aware of it, every story we read or write has an effect, and promotes either a certain idea or a certain world-view. And if all the story wants to do is pee in my cereals, why bother? 😀 For the same reason, I don’t believe in the idea that entertainment is “only a bit of fun”. It can be that, but it’s always something more, too.

        Yes, me neither. And from what I understand, he’s some white dude writing about white dudes doing violent things, and I’m struggling to steer myself away from such stories. But sometimes it pays to know what’s du jour, so maybe I’ll give him a chance. 🙂

        Aw, Grace, see you’ve made me think! 😀 Thanks for the post!

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