Why Do We Love Sad Stories

My favorite stories are ones where we know up front that everyone will die by the end of the story, except one left to tell the tale.  What I don’t fully understand about myself is why I like thee stories so much.  Why don’t I like happy stories with “and they lived happily ever after”?  What’s wrong with a happy ending?  Happy stories give us hope, they fill us with good feelings, why, oh why, do I run from them? 

First, I think they end up being predictable.  I know what’s coming and that bores me out of my mind.  Also, they are unrepresentative of the real world. Granted, most stories are, that is their nature.  I think that’s where the deviation comes for me.  In a story where I know up front things are going to go south quickly, it’s all about the story.  In a happy story, there isn’t much suspense because it all has to be happy go lucky and nice.  There’s no real tension because I know it will work out in the end.   

We like to watch

There’s something more real in a story that ends badly.  Maybe it’s the morbid fascination of watching bad things happen to other people that we all have.  I’m sure cavemen couldn’t look away when one of their own was mauled by a wild animal.  We all think, “That’s so horrible… I’m glad it’s not me.”  So a story based on the same phenomenon has a draw to it that speaks to a deeper level in us than a happy story does.  Happy stories are for children, right?  We want them to have good, positive experiences.  But the first time you read a story where things don’t end up all that good, you’re left with an odd sense in your mood. I think my first experience with this phenomenon was either The Great Gatsby or Daisy Miller, it’s been a long time ago.  But both stories resonated with me on a much deeper level than anything had before.   

These kinds of stories speak to different levels of our psyche.  Let’s face it, we’re not afraid of the good parts of our subconscious.  We’re concerned with what lurks beneath the surface.  What if the thoughts I can’t control are destructive and harmful?  Reading about others having this fight, or going through this unwittingly makes us watch with wonder.  Shakespeare was the king of everyone dying except one to retell the events.  Hamlet is a great example.  Done right, it’s a trip down the path of a lunatic, or is it?  There’s enough in there to keep you wondering if Hamlet is actually crazy or just using crazy as a convenient excuse to do what he wants. 

We learn from fear

Virtually all of these stories end up teaching us something, too.  I recently read Jude the Obscure, and I’m not sure what I learned from it, but it’s easy to see why it was not well received by the public at the time.  Hardy was blasting English society and it’s senseless ideas of right and wrong throughout the book.  I had to stop reading it on some days because my mood was already dark.  That story won’t make things any better.  The story of an honest man who struggles his whole life, only to meet bad ends probably just hits too close to home with me.  But I finished it and love it now.  However, Tess of the d’Ubervilles is one of my favorites, and I never felt the same dread at reading it.  So morbid is fine, as long as I don’t associate with the main character too much.   

I guess there is one exception, which I can almost say I’m ashamed of.  I love Les Miserables. No, not the play, not the movie, I refuse to see either.  I mean the full, unabridged book.  That does have a happy ending.  Although, one that still ends in death, it’s a death at the end of a life full of strife.  It is my favorite book at this point in my life, superseding “Lolita” by a small margin.  After that the list gets murky, there are a lot of great books that I’ve enjoyed that follow the same path.  My novel will probably not end up happy. Write what you know, right?  I’m not saying I have a bad life, but shit happens, and I’ve seen it happen a lot.  But more than that, all these stories have affected me on a deep level.  I suppose I have the makings of a listicle about the darkest books I’ve read.  Easy to pull 10 out of that list. 

Also, for whatever reason, great authors tell dark stories.  Not many are happy-go-lucky tales.  Even the ones, like Les Miserables, that end up happy, have a lot of dark throughout them.  That’s what I’m drawn to, light a fly to a bug zapper.  Take a woman and give her an impossible situation that probably leads to her death, and I’ll be first in line to read the book.  That’s probably the book I should write.  But, I’m no closer to understanding why I love these types of stories than I was at the beginning of this rant. 

I don’t want to know

And I’m OK with that.  I don’t need to understand everything about myself.  I just need to know what I like and what I dislike. I only figure those things out by trying them.  I have a saying, “I’ll try anything once, twice just to be sure I like it or not.”  I struggle that much with things I like and dislike. There’s a lot of gray area in my gray matter.  My analytical skills are blind on myself.  It’s frustrating but liberating.  God gives us that which we can handle, right?  Maybe, I just can’t “handle the truth” about myself.  That’s very possible.  

I try to be humble and try never to think I’m better than anyone else, but there’s always that little voice somewhere deep in the back of your mind that says, or rather does the old “wink, wink, nudge, nudge.”  I’m just being polite, mannered.  Deep down, I think I’m something special, I’m sure of it. I’m as sure of that as I am that I am not special. People are drawn to me because I’m friendly, funny, a good conversationalist and I speak my mind.  They claim I’m smart.  It’s possible none of that is true, and I’m just good at hiding the parts I know no one likes.  Because make no mistake, I’ve built a career on two things, people like me, and I’m good at learning technology and explaining it to others.  That’s it.  You do not have to be smart to be likable.  I don’t think you have to be smart to be able to learn things fast.  I just was fortunate enough to have exposure young.  I’m like a technological version of the Hulk but without all the green stuff and anger. 

At the end of the day, I think we’re all searching for something.  We usually don’t know what that thing is.  I’d love to sit down and enjoy a happy, sappy story.  I wish they could make me cry with happiness.  That’s just not who I am.  I want to watch or read a story that pulls at my heartstrings, cuts them, ties the loose ends badly, and starts pulling again.  I guess that’s the crux here, I need to feel, and the non-happy feelings are much more complex than the happy ones.  We are complex, emotional, irrational beings trying to pretend we are not.  It makes for great drama and great storytelling.  

Now on to my own tale of woe and strife! 

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6 thoughts on “Why Do We Love Sad Stories

  1. Listicle, it’s words like this, that make reading worth while.

    There is a great bountiful amount of information in this writing, I do believe at some point to have to allow yourself to be venerable and listen to a neutral party on the outside, take notes, ask questions, allow what comes through the door, I think you would be surprised, do be afraid of yourself as perceived by others, you might actually be energized by what they have to say.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Unfortunately, I still care too much about what people think of me to want to solicit their feedback. I’ll just stay in my bubble. If I get compliments, I just think people are being nice. And if they criticize me, then I want to punch them in the face. So the happy medium is to just stay to myself.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I am more on the happy story side of things- I prefer those sort of stories.

    However- I can love sad stories. I don’t like the pure sad stories. They somehow have to go beyond that sort of nature. You have to satisfied at the end.

    Still prefer happy stories

    Liked by 1 person

  3. it’s absolutely beautiful what you wrote and very relatable . i am also not a fan of happy endings . they sure are very predictable . But my boyfriend is a huge fan of it and we argue a lot on this . I will definetly show this to him . Thank you , much love 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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