Help me find happiness! Literally!
August 19, 2011 12:20 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for fiction that is short(ish) and has happiness as a theme. By happiness, I mean any of the following: factors influencing happiness, someone gaining/losing happiness, pondering the meaning of happiness, money causing/preventing happiness, thinking something will make you happier and it does or doesn't, etc. Snowflake details inside.

So I am teaching an English 10 class and our first unit has a kinda lame set of short stories that revolve around the theme of happiness. We used to do articles about money not bringing happiness (in relation with lottery winners) to lead into John Steinbeck's The Pearl.

Well, we dropped The Pearl and the lottery articles, and are left with these short stories:
-The Necklace and False Gems (de Maupassant)
-Happy Man's Shirt (Italian fable?)
-Kite Runner (short excerpt about Amir wanting Baba's love while forsaking Hassan's love/friendship)

They're fine, but we have looked around to find others that would fit and not be A) too hard, or B) too long (I know, that's what she said). We're not finding anything that makes us happy.

Ideally, the story would be around 8-10th grade reading level and be between 1 and 8 pages. We're a pretty liberal school (urban, diverse, young and social media-aware), so it's okay if it contains swearing or "adult" topics. We also will reformat the text to match department guidelines, so if the formatting is weird, that's okay too. Ideally, it will be available online, but that's not essential.

I'd also consider creative non-fiction or even a novella if it was awesome (around the same length as The Pearl, give or take 20 pages). I've pulled all the FPP's with articles about happiness, so I'm not really looking for those.

Bonus points for anything "world lit"-y. Basically, non-western, but kinda-sorta-Europe too. Double bonus points if it would fit into our Small School themes: Green Issues/Environment, Digital Media/Arts, and Law, Language and Culture.

Thanks Metafilter!
posted by guster4lovers to Education (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Ted Chiang's short story "Liking What You See." In the near future, a small college requires students to participate in a pilot program for calliagnosia, a neurological procedure that makes people blind to physical attractiveness. Self-conscious students opt for it in order to forget about their perceived ugliness, while others who've had it their whole lives struggle with the realization that they're handsome or beautiful when they finally have the effect disabled. Ex-lovers see each other with fresh eyes, politicians and corporations tinker with the effect for their own gain, etc. It's presented documentary-style through a few dozen snippets of faux interview text, so there are many different perspectives.

But the dilemma boils down to: is it better to be swayed by attractiveness (or use yours to sway others), or to see the world completely objectively? What makes for a fairer, happier, better society? It's an interesting question, and the story clocks in at about 21 pages (when copied into Word).
posted by Rhaomi at 12:49 AM on August 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

That was a really interesting read; thanks Rhaomi!
posted by guster4lovers at 1:30 AM on August 19, 2011

Ray Bradbury's The Happiness Machine, which is a chapter from Dandelion Wine, springs to mind.
posted by jon1270 at 2:20 AM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Greg Egan's short story "Reasons to be cheerful" would be highly suitable I think. There is a fair amount of scientific jargon in it, but the actual content shouldn't be too hard to read.
posted by leibniz at 2:29 AM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is a long shot...but I've always found that Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books left me feeling happy. I see that he has three books of short stories. I would think at least a few of the short stories would capture the tone of his novels and fit both the happiness and worldliness bill.
posted by pandabearjohnson at 3:06 AM on August 19, 2011

A lot of O. Henry's short stories revolve around this.
posted by Caravantea at 3:19 AM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

"The Ugliest Pilgrim," by Doris Betts. It's one of the most moving short stories I've ever read.
posted by gt2 at 3:45 AM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ursula LeGuin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" would probably generate a lot of discussion regarding happiness at the expense of others.
posted by tully_monster at 4:05 AM on August 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

I have taught Joyce's "Araby" to my college prep 9th graders in the past. I think it is challenging for this age group but manageable because it is so brief, and it suits your requirements.
posted by katie at 5:08 AM on August 19, 2011

How Much Land Does a Man Need? is about a very good man thinking that more land will make him happier. It's Tolstoy, so be warned.
posted by segfault at 5:11 AM on August 19, 2011

seconding The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by LeGuin... provocative and profound.
As they did without monarchy and slavery, so they also got on without the stock exchange, the advertisement, the secret police, and the bomb. Yet I repeat that these were not simple folk, not dulcet shepherds, noble savages, bland utopians. There were not less complex than us.

The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain. If you can't lick 'em, join 'em. If it hurts, repeat it. But to praise despair is to condemn delight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else. We have almost lost hold; we can no longer describe a happy man, nor make any celebration of joy. How can I tell you about the people of Omelas?
posted by jammy at 6:05 AM on August 19, 2011

We read the Pearl in 8th or 9th grade and it always kind of 'stuck with me' as well as the classic winning the lottery/paralyzed example/study. Both are the quintessential examples of 'what you think makes you happy doesn't necessarily in the end'. (I am change-resistant apparently!) But at my HS where I work they teach 'The Giver' which is also about a modernistic society. Also Martin Seligman does a lot with 'Positive Pyschology', it might be worth it to look him up.
posted by bquarters at 6:24 AM on August 19, 2011

Drink Entire: Against the Madness of Crowds or The Story of Love by Ray Bradbury, in Long After Midnight. The first is mostly about regret for passing up love and happiness because the price seems to high; the second is about love coming at the wrong place and time but is very sweet. The Laurel and Hardy Love Affair, also by Ray Bradbury, but I've forgotten which book and I can't describe the story with any justice without rereading it.

Actually, Bradbury hits these themes often, but these are the first three that sprang to mind.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:01 AM on August 19, 2011

What about O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi"? The couple are happy, very happy, in spite of having almost nothing and losing their most prized possessions. It's their loving relationship with each other, and arguably their personalities, that make them happy, and I think that's a core lesson.
posted by amtho at 9:18 AM on August 19, 2011

Miranda July's short story Birthmark, about a young woman who removes her striking facial port-wine stain (thinking it is what stops her from a complete, happy life) is an interesting take on the "be careful what you wish for" plot.
posted by lrrosa at 2:59 PM on August 19, 2011

Wow - thanks everyone! I like the suggestions, particularly The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, Birthmark, and Reasons to Be Cheerful. It's a long unit, so I'd still appreciate any other suggestions anyone may have!

@bquarters - maybe our schools shared plans. We did Pearl/lottery articles AND a Seligman article or two in the old unit. We dropped it for two reasons: 1) the kids read Of Mice and Men in 9th grade, and loved it. When they saw Steinbeck's name on the cover, they assumed it was OMAM part two, and when it didn't live up to that, they were frustrated and really struggled to finish the unit. 2) It was taking us 8 weeks to read, and we couldn't justify that time when we were covering the same themes and skills in the rest of the unit. It wasn't my favourite book to teach, so I don't mind dropping it. The middle schools do The Giver as well.

@crush-onastick, jon1270 and amtho - we use four Bradbury stories in 9th grade (Sound of Thunder, All Summer in a Day, There Will Come Soft Rains and another one I can't remember now...) as well as Gift of the Magi. The 9th grade team wouldn't love us for taking from their curriculum...we've already stolen a few so I don't mind leaving them the rest. :-)

I really appreciate all the help and I've enjoyed reading the stories! Thanks again!
posted by guster4lovers at 7:39 PM on August 19, 2011

Shirley Jackson's wonderful story The Daemon Lover (from The Lottery and Other Stories) can be read a number of ways; I think of it as a terrible, bitter tale of a woman who dared, for a moment, to imagine that happiness might be within her reach—and ends up tortured, humiliated and driven mad as a result. Not sure if that fits your remit, though!

[And on preview: Oops, too late!]
posted by hot soup girl at 7:46 PM on August 19, 2011

Short stories:
"The Veldt" by Ray Bradbury
"The Rockinghorse Winner" by D.H. Lawrence
"The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin
"The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs
"Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut
"Brokeback Mountain" by E. Annie Proulx

A little longer, but relatively quick reads:
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
The Diamond as Big as the Ritz by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Longer options, just in case you were curious or wanted to trade in some shorts for a long:
The Shipping News E. Annie Proulx
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Silas Marner by George Eliot
McTeague by Frank Norris (and Greed by Stroheim)
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
posted by CCCC at 9:28 PM on August 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

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