Reading Notebook #13: What Makes You Happy Comes From the Inside

Six Feet Under

This is taken from a Salon interview with Alan Ball, creator of Six Feet Under—my most favorite TV series, with the most hard-hitting ending of all time.

[Nate] just has the wrong idea of what’s going to make him happy. He feels that happiness comes from someone or something outside of himself. So he changes his circumstances over and over trying to find the right thing, hoping, “OK, this is my escape. I finally found the right person, or the right situation.” And you know, that is a lesson that a lot of people never quite get, that it [happiness] doesn’t come from outside. And the explanation of what’s wrong is projected onto others. Yeah. “The reason I’m unhappy is because I’m in a bad marriage. The reason I’m unhappy is because this person doesn’t understand me.”

[Well, if you go out with enough people, eventually you start to notice a pattern!]

Right! At some point, no matter who it is, you’re going to drive each other crazy.

Because even if you figure out something, something bigger is going to come along that confuses the hell out of you. And for characters who are soulful and have a soulful connection to life … One of the enduring themes of the series is that trying to figure out the right thing to do is such a mystery, it’s so baffling. So many times when you do the quote right unquote thing, it makes your life harder, and you don’t get rewarded for it. Then you get into the whole question of what is right and wrong. Is there a black-and-white universal right and wrong, or is there what’s right for you, or is there what’s right for people you love, or is there what’s right for the global community? Life is infinitely complex and I feel like we live in a culture that really seems to want to simplify it into sound bites and bromides, and that does not work.

I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for Nate and his desire to get to the root of things and be authentic. And I think he’s difficult to describe because he’s so complicated. Probably what is at the root of a lot of his less than noble actions is that, while not serving those who he’s committed to well, there’s something admirable, on some level, about still having this childlike hope of finding the right thing. Because there is the notion of, you know, you grow up, you lose your illusions, whatever, and you have to do that to become a functioning adult in society, but there is something fundamental that gets lost, a kind of joy. So I find him to be a deeply tragic character and a deeply romantic character. Whether I would say he’s just a garden-variety asshole, no, I don’t think so at all.”

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Posted in Life Philosophy, Reading.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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