The Happiness Trouble

“I just keep on running faster, chasing the happily I am ever after.” (Lyle Lovett, “Her First Mistake”)

I used to love watching the science-fiction TV series Haven. In it, some people have a sort of paranormal illness called troubles. Activated by an emotional trauma, the troubles cause all sorts of weird phenomena, like Amy’s did in one episode, “Exposure.”

After Amy learns that her fiancé, Morgan, has cancer, her trouble starts sending people to an invisible netherworld after she takes their picture and prints it out, which she did to Morgan. Unable to find him, the town presumes him dead or gone.

Police officers Nathan and Audrey (the series’ main characters), however, figure out that Amy’s trouble is the cause and attempt to resolve her trauma, which is the only way to end a trouble. When Audrey and Nathan finally crack the code to Amy’s trouble, they use it to send Nathan to the netherworld to find Morgan.

In the netherworld, however, Morgan is cancer free so he goes to extreme lengths — even murder — to prevent Nathan and Audrey from succeeding and instead tries to bring Amy into his world where they can live happily ever after, cancer free, as portrayed in this climactic scene:

AMY [to Morgan]: Why are you doing this?
MORGAN: Listen to me for one second. This was the only way. [Nathan] was going to end this and I was going to go back in my body and then… my cancer. I can’t do that. But here we can be together.
AMY: But those [murdered] men… Morgan, did you?
NATHAN: Amy, the picture you took of him on his birthday. That’s the man you wanted to be with. That was his last birthday. Right before he found out he had cancer.
AMY: Yes. Morgan, how could you do this?
MORGAN: Amy don’t listen to them.
AUDREY: You wanted so badly to keep him like that, to capture that exact moment, that’s when your trouble…
MORGAN [pointing a gun at Audrey]: SHUT UP!
AUDREY: But he’s not that man, all right? He’s gone.
MORGAN [looking at Amy]: I am not gone! I’m right here!
AMY [shaking her head]: No. No. They’re right. You killed those people. The Morgan I wanted to marry never would have done that. You are not the man in that picture. Not anymore. That man died a long time ago.
[blinding flash of light]
AMY: What happened?
NATHAN: We’re back.
MORGAN [pointing the gun at Nathan]: Why couldn’t you leave us alone? Why do you guys get to be together and we can’t? [shoving the gun in Nathan’s face] Why are you the only one who gets to be happy?

Like Morgan, Amy, and many others, I’ve spent a lot of time pursuing what I thought was happiness. Unfortunately, my pursuit of happiness has more often than not led only to loneliness and pain, and robbed me of countless growth opportunities that seem to only arise in the face of trial. Maybe I should reconsider this whole pursuit of happiness thing. Will I ever be happy? Is happiness what really matters? Is obtaining happiness the meaning of life? On the contrary, I’ve learned that the sufferings in my life — from the mundane to the nearly tragic — have lead to more growth than any happiness ever has.

“Earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” (1 Corinthians 12:31)

The reality is that much of the happiness I sought — my adult “pursuit of happiness” if you will — was fleeting and often damaging. My unchaste life brought only loneliness. My drinking led mostly to bad decisions and hangovers. My material pursuits brought only debt. Worst of all, my endless pursuit of happiness and avoidance of even the smallest self-denial left me incapable of sustaining even the best relationships. As in Haven so it is with me: the happiness trouble is activated by emotional pain and leads right back to it.

A quote from Matthew Kelly’s Rediscovering Catholicism was instrumental in my faith renewal a few years ago and remains with me even now:

“Stop trying to put together a master plan for your life and for your happiness. Instead, seek out the Master’s plan.”

Or, as the prophet Jeremiah (29:11) put it a few years earlier:

“I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.”

I think they’re on to something.


Image: Trouble Vision by Viewminder