The author Roald Dahl wrote these words as spoken by the irrepressible Willy Wonka:
"And Charlie, don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he ever wanted. He lived happily ever after.”
Fairy tales have ended with some variation on the phrase, 'happily every after' for ages, being a well-worn saying by the mid 1800's. Within these three words we have expressed, as a culture, the basic belief that once we have all that we could want then things will finally go our way. This mindset runs deep within our materialistic western culture. If we could only just get ahold of everything our heart desires, so that it would go our way, then we would exist in the best of all possible worlds.
We have similar cultural mantras centred on the basic belief that "striking it rich" will set us free. We are constantly enticed by the notion that securing the power to control the levers, switches, and buttons that affect our lives (and our culture) is the means by which we can finally set our world aright. To summarize, he who controls his life (and/or the lives of others), who has everything he wants, is entitled to happiness (on this earth).
Being Americans we often think of these narratives as economic, or emotional. If we can just get the things, the lifestyle, or the people we want into our lives then all will be well. While certainly access to wealth is an important factor in meeting the needs of our existence and increasing our ability to enjoy life (whatever that means) then to that degree these are truisms. I say they are truisms and not ultimately true in the sense that eventually these stories begin to fail and we find our success soured by the complexity of life. These two areas of economics and relationships are not the only areas in which the narrative of control as a means to a successful existence is told. The third major area that these cultural narratives come into play is within our political life.
Within the politics of the United States we are often given two narratives of control (with each promising happiness.) The first, is the narrative of a personal freedom in which the main locus of power centers on the individual citizen rather than government. The second, is the story of a slightly limited individual in favor of a slightly more powerful government. Whie extreem views within these two narratives exist the majority parties still place more power and control within the hands of the individual (this is the USA after all). There is enough of a distinction here to be important (and even divisive as our current political environment shows.) Both narratives share a foundational belief that as long as we have enough power ourselves (or the right governmental policies are in place), and enough of those who share our worldview occupy the seats of power then we can animate our fairy tales and receive, "everything we ever wanted and live happily ever after."
In 2008 Barrack Obama was elected to office in a campaign that focused on hope, a hope that the USA could be a different (and a better) place following eight years of a Bush administration that initially swelled in support after 9/11; but had become unpopular as it navigated the country into two wars of attrition. For populists and Democrats alike there was a hope that with Obama in the seat of the presidency and the Democrats in charge of both congressional chambers that progressives could finally get everything they ever wanted, and that things would finally be, 'happily ever after.' While the country devolved into a stale-mate just two years into Obama's first term, nothing capped this progressive sense of hope more than the defacto legalization of gay marriage (a ruling actually hastned by conservative legal action in the states to institute bans on gay marriage) during Obama's second term.
Despite two years of governmental control president Obama and the Democrats were unable to close Guantanamo Bay or to meaningfully enact tax reforms. They had everything they wanted from a power perspective and yet they were unable to secure a 'happily ever after'. This was true too of George W. Bush who enjoyed Republican control and the pick of Supreme Court choices for six of his eight years in office; and yet Bush and the Republicans were not able to bring about any meaningful reform on their tent-pole right-to-life issues. With the recent election of Donald Trump to the presidency, he was elected largely upon a continuation of the fairy-tale narrative outlined above, a narrative that if we are honest, we know ultimately doesn't bring about what it promises.
How often do we actually see these themes of, 'everything he ever wanted,' and 'happily ever after,' working out in life in the ways that our culture conditions us to expect? Marrying our true love idol is no gaurantee of life-long bliss, neither is the acquisition of wealth. Politically we have ample evidence that there is no quick path to utopia within the the reach of either dominate party. There is little anecdotal evidence that getting everything we want can actually provide us with a lasting (or ever-lasting) benefit. Given the hollowness of the happiness narrative, what is it that we are actually looking for in life? I would argue that what we want most in life is satisfaction at a job well done after a struggle hard fought, in-short: hard work.
On the surface we may want the reward of success alone but intuitively we know that true satisfaction lies in the challenge to get there. To suddenly and unexpectedly end up on the mountain top, whisked along by a beneficial wind, may be novel and surprising for awhile however it would quickly give way to the desire to again enter into the journey to see what we missed along the way. As humans we find our meaning less in our successes and more in our struggles. It is time as a nation that we get back to the basic concept of hard work as its own reward and to place less hope in the hands of the politician, or in the promise of technology, wealth, or other people to bring us happiness and success.
Do you want happiness? Do you want success? These things are within your power to effect only when you give up on any hope for a quick ticket and instead invest into and and engage each of your days by embracing its own particular struggle.