The Difference Between a Happy and Unhappy Ending

I had a thought yesterday about the nature of the unhappy ending. The thought was this: The only stories that end unhappily are the ones that end too soon.

Now, I was thinking specifically of memoir, but I think the idea mostly holds true in life and other stories as well. I think we’re on this Earth for our benefit and if we wait long enough we’ll see that things get better, with the ultimate reward after this life being greater than we can even imagine. To me, the statement above is a theological one. And true.

Of course, there are other, more philosophical schools of though. A friend on Twitter, the great, golden-toned podcaster Tom Racine, told me his feeling was the opposite. He cited the movie The Graduate as an example. If that movie had ended 15 seconds earlier then it would have a straight up happy ending. As it is, The Graduate has one of the all-time great, ambiguous, where-do-we-go-from-here endings as the two leads sit on a bus together and their smiles fade and and the movie cuts to black. Fantastic, but not at all happy.

But what if the story continued and we saw the couple 20 years later? Maybe they’re not even together anymore, but who’s to say they’re not happy then?

The point is, I think the unhappy state is largely one of impermanence. The potential for ¬†happiness is always greater and, what’s more, constantly achievable. People are always free to choose otherwise, but I like to think most roads to lead to happiness. We just gotta follow them all the way.

What’s your take? Do you think most endings are happy or unhappy?