Monday, December 7, 2015

Is a suspension of disbelief a requirement for true happiness?

So here's a question for all of you: is suspension of disbelief a requirement for happiness? As writers, all of us need to be aware that suspension of disbelief is incredibly important to a story. For lack of a better example, it's the trick that the Wizard of Oz pulls on anyone that walks into his throne room. "Behold the great and powerful OZ!" Just don't look behind the curtain or you may be disappointed. However, what led me to ask this question of you was not a movie like the Wizard of Oz. Rather, it's a roleplaying game: Dungeons & Dragons. Allow me to explain.

About five months ago, I decided to explore the Fifth edition rules set that was issued in 2014, and run a game for my friends. Now, just a little background, for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about Dungeons & Dragons is basically "bad improv" (I think this is fair to say) in a fantasy story that is (hopefully) masterfully narrated by a person in the role of Dungeon Master (I say this tongue-in-cheek). However, improv can be incredibly fun so don't knock it until you try it. :)

Of course there are rules and all that, but that's not what I'm going to talk about. Rather, it's the observation that (in the role of storyteller or "dungeon master") it's my pleasure to entertain folks, and a lot of this job has to do with storytelling tricks that are supposed to seem random but (in all actuality) they aren't random at all. Having difficulty following? Here's an example: a player's character comes across a magical weapon that is the exact weapon in which they are specialized. Mind blown, right? What a coincidence! Sooo crazy. Sarcasm aside though, I've noticed that no one complains. In fact, they seem to be really happy with the story.

So I got this idea in my head about how we all kind of trick ourselves into thinking that we've done something ourselves when we really haven't. For example, I work with handicapped people who (with the aid of a team of non-handicapped people) are able to climb mountains or even bobsled. Those accomplishments are theirs (with like ten other people working full time to make sure they succeed). So weird, right? But it's a "suspension of disbelief" and leads me to this statement: the joy you feel in accomplishing something is totally yours with the hidden acknowledgement that you should never EVER peek behind the curtain. I can think of lots of examples in life where someone's happiness about something depends on a suspension of disbelief that what happened to them was accomplished through a) skill, b) hard work, or c) brilliance. Nevermind that a whole team of people may have also been involved. Nevermind that it could have been just pure blind luck.

So what do you think? Are a lot of life's pleasures dependent on a certain level of disbelief? Here's another example (albeit absurd): is there a suspension of disbelief with regard to the food we eat? Are we all comfortable with eating fried chicken and beef because we don't see what makes it possible to put those things on our table? I would imagine that most people don't even give it a moment's notice. Rather, ignorance (as they say) is bliss, and the more and more I think about this cliche, the more and more I believe what it says about all of us and a very important key to something many of us find elusive: true happiness.


  1. When I go to the Chinese buffet places I try not to think about what I'm eating or how long it might have sat around just so long as it tastes good.

  2. Ignorance is bliss when it comes to eating any kind of meat.
    Most accomplishments aren't done on our own. We're both published authors - did we do it alone? No. Doesn't take away the joy.
    A requirement for true happiness? Peace. One's heart must be at peace.

  3. An interesting discussion. I believe the key to happiness is not hiding the truth from one's self, but rather lowering all expectations and learning how to accept things and live in harmony with nature and other people.

  4. Food is one of the things I am just blunt on. If a lion can eat meat so can I and we humans are often more humane than the lion. Truth hurts but lies often destroy. A little hurt never killed anybody. But I do agree that there is a certain illusion required. It is when the illusion turns into a delusion that we have the real problem.

    1. That's very wise: "It is when the illusion turns into a delusion that we have the real problem." That should be a meme on the internet.

  5. I once worked at a fast food restaurant and I couldn't eat any of it, except the big cookie. I'm sure if I worked in a meat factory, I wouldn't want meat either. Perhaps when everything is so processed, it just becomes disgusting. Most of us aren't around it, so it doesn't bother us, yet most (I hope) know the reality of it. Sheena has a great point.

  6. Sometimes I don't know how any of us ever get through the day without some form of suspended disbelief about the world around us. It's freaking insane out there. *may have just read the news before coming to your site*

  7. We all need help to accomplish great things in our lives. No one does anything truly alone.

  8. What a thoughtful post. I think Eugene O'Neill once said something about how a life without illusions is unbearable, and certainly in his plays the characters need some kind of illusion just to keep going, even though those illusion can also harm them.

    I like how you help handicapped people achieve their ambitions. But if they need ten people's help, maybe that's just a good allegory for how we're all connected anyway.