And they lived happily ever after

Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.
Viktor Frankl
1905 – 1997

Most of us grew up learning from fairy tales; Cinderella, The Three Little Pigs, and The Gingerbread Man are just a few of the stories we heard as children. They tended to have happy endings, with the traditional closing line being “And they lived happily ever after.”

While fairy tales are certainly a valuable teaching tool, I think our society has come to expect that life will actually turn out like the fairy tales: that there will come a point when we overcome our struggles and life becomes bliss, and then we live happily ever after.

As I reflect back on life, there were many times when I thought, “I’ve crossed the last hurdle; now life is going to be easy.” I thought that finishing high school marked the end of a real challenge and life would be more comfortable. But then came college.

When that was done, I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking I could stop struggling and start the “happily ever after” part of life. But instead of the fairy tale ending, there were more challenges: getting a job, getting married and raising a child. Here’s what I discovered: life never really got easier. Each new chapter brought new hurdles.

We have more material prosperity than at any time in the history of the world, yet for the most part, we aren’t content with what we have. I think the dissatisfaction occurs largely because we still expect some future time when our struggles are behind us and life is easy.

One reason the lottery and other “get rich quick” schemes have such wide appeal is that most of us are still looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We want to be free from the challenges of life. We want the storybook ending.

But if you study the people who have achieved the most in life, their purpose was never to reach Easy Street. Their driving purpose was to make a difference. They weren’t trying to escape the struggles of life. They knew that becoming the best versions of themselves meant welcoming the challenges life threw at them.

Most of us were conditioned to avoid problems. We certainly weren’t taught to welcome adversity. But adversity is the best way to learn and grow. Life is really about growing, becoming the highest and best person you can become.

But to be that person, you need to give up the notion of happily ever after.

Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
Viktor Frankl

Copyright © 2012 John Chancellor

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And they lived happily ever after — 2 Comments

  1. Well said, John. It’s so true. Life is a series of challenges. Meeting those challenges is what keeps things interesting and also gives one a sense of accomplishment. If you look upon each of those challenges not as an end goal but rather as an opportunity to learn and grow, you’ll have a much richer life.

  2. Susan,

    Thanks for your thoughtful and insightful comments. It is a difficult lesson to learn and accept, but you are correct, the sooner we do the richer our lives.