What Secret Truth of Life is illustrated in the movie Junebug? The Second Splendid Truth.

As a special surprise for me, the Big Man rented Junebug last night; he knows it’s one of my favorite movies.

We watched it for the first time last July, and I was struck by Happiness-Project-y it was. It’s all about the nature of happiness, and love, and many other things as well.

Seeing it for the second time was even better.

This time, I realized something I hadn’t, before. The happiness hero of the story is the pregnant daughter-in-law, Ashley. She doesn’t seem like she would be, but she is.

She overcomes her competitiveness and dislike. She takes the blame so her new sister-in-law doesn’t get in trouble. She responds cheerfully when people are rude to her. She is thankful, easily pleased, and trusting. She acts happy.

The Second Splendid Truth is that…
One of the best ways to make myself happy is to make other people happy.
One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy myself.

As a consequence, I have a duty to be happy, because my happiness is so important to other people’s happiness. That means, then, the duty to fake it when I don’t feel it.

Problem is (and I certainly fall into this trap), when you act happy, and people believe you are happy, you don’t get credit for being cheerful, enthusiastic, and energetic. People assume it’s coming easily. You’re taken for granted, and while sometimes people will be lifted by your happiness to become happier themselves (which is good), sometimes people will feed off your happiness as a cushion for their own unhappiness (which is bad).

The first time I saw the movie, I thought that Ashley is a simpleminded, sweet, friendly, lonely chatterbox.

But with the benefit of having seen the whole movie, this time I saw that Ashley is choosing to act happy. She’s also desperately unhappy.

But her happiness (partly real, partly faked) lifts up everyone in the movie. Everyone depends on it.

Oops. It just occurred to me that this post will mean nothing to folks who haven’t seen the movie. Sorry. I could go on and on…if you haven’t seen it, and you’re interested in happiness, you’ll love it.

Oh, how I love Lifehacker. It makes me feel like I can learn to do anything, and do everything better.

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  • Thank you for reminding me to watch Junebug again! I must share it with my loved ones. Such a gem of a film. And you’re right, the Amy Adams character is revealed as far more emotionally sophisticated than her sleek and stylish art-dealer sister-in-law. A good film to help deal with holidays with family!

  • senderista

    I haven’t seen Junebug, but your description of Ashley seems to fit the heroine of Amelie as well. Always trying to make other people happy, while desperately unhappy herself.

  • I have my reservations about whether this is such a wise path myself. My guess is that authenticity is probably the wisest way of being. It certainly promotes intimacy, which has to factor in to happiness. You know how it feels when something bad happens, and you look all around and everyone is cheery-cheery-cheery, and they look as if nothing ever goes wrong in their lives and they never have a down moment? And everyone’s family seems so full of wholesome exuberance? It can be a relief to know that other people go through times when they feel down (and live through them), that other families have problems, and that you’re not the only one in life who faces challenges and sometimes feels discouraged. (See the Buddhist parable of the mustard seed.) It can be such a relief to admit to a friend that things are hard, and have the friend admit that they sometimes face hard times too. And in my experience, people who grit their teeth and masquerade happiness often take it out on other people in subconscious ways. What I think might help is to try to find a few moments of genuine joy in a difficult day — so you have a little space of genuine happiness — not faked happiness. That’s a model I find inspiring.

  • Every morning make the decision to have an amazing day.
    I know this sounds too simple to be effective and practical, but it absolutely works.
    Every day I choose to have an amazing day and mostly, I have them… not because I (of myself) am amazing, but because an amazing attitude will produce amazing behaviours, amazing conversations, amazing experiences and lessons and in turn, amazing days.
    It just does.
    Decide to be that person. No matter what happens, have an amazing attitude, do amazing things and create amazing results, by choice. It’s not about situations, events, circumstances, other people or luck…

  • I had never seen Lifehacker before. Looks really great!

  • beth_nc

    In light of Faculties’ comments, I think there is a balance between cheerfulness and authenticity. Authenticity is essential to true intimacy, and you shouldn’t have to respond to bad treatment by being happy or cheerful.
    However, in most casual interactions, simple cheerfulness is appropriate. For example, yesterday I woke up feeling out of sorts. Don’t know why, just woke up on the wrong side of bed. But what’s to be gained in acting on those feelings and being crabby to people? That’s when you can trick yourself into feeling happy by acting happy.

  • To make yourself Happy by making other people Happy to me seems to be a great idea.
    I do enjoy for example to Give Gifts.
    BTW if you like to give gifts also, you might want to consider to have a look at the special Christmas Music CD’s I have Presented in a special ‘Video-Splash-Widget’ on my site. (I did select some of the greatest artists for you – and everybody reading this blog – because I like to Give everybody the Pleasure of Great Music for a Happy Christmas.)
    However to feel the ‘Duty’ and to fake being Happy, doesn’t really sound O.K. at all. (only if you really begin to feel Happier because of it.) ‘Duty’ equals ‘feeling obligated’, that doesn’t sound like a ‘Happy feeling’ to me! I do think that feeling Happy might actually be more something you are obligated to yourself.
    All the Best,

  • Tracy

    Dearest Gretchen~
    I love your blog!
    Especially today’s entry…
    You are so right.
    Thank you for sharing this today.
    Happy Wednesday~