Balanced Life: Avoid a Repellent Plotline

06/22/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011


I'm working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too.! Everyone's project will look different, but it's the rare person who can't benefit. Join in -- no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday's post will help you think about your own happiness project.

One of the key tools for a happiness project, I've discovered, is mindfulness. Which is unfortunate, because I'm a very unmindful person. (Take this quiz to find out how mindful you are.) But I see that the more aware I am of my emotions, reactions, and behavior, the more readily I can shape them.

For example, it took me years to notice a very obvious fact about myself: I have a horror of any plotline involving unjust accusation. I just can't bear it. I'd find myself intensely disturbed by books, plays, movies, or histories that other people enjoyed - if I was even able to finish them. Say, Othello.

I'm not sure when I developed this aversion. I haven't always had it; when I was a child, I had a fascination with the Salem witch trials, a subject that now I'd never want to study.

Once I'd noticed this revulsion in myself, I felt embarrassed about it. It seemed immature and unsophisticated to discount books, historical subjects, TV shows, and movies because of this antipathy. But as part of my effort to "Be Gretchen," I started to cut myself slack in this area. And it's such a relief!

My book group chose Ian McEwan's Atonement, and I'd read about twenty pages when my warning siren started going off. I never finished it (and I love McEwan). I bought but then never read George Orwell's Burmese Days
(and I love Orwell); ditto, Julian Barnes's Arthur & George (and I love Barnes). I can't watch a movie like The Fugitive. Many people have recommended The Shawshank Redemption as a terrific movie about happiness, but I've never managed to force myself to watch it. I read Alexandre Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo, and loved it, because I love revenge fantasies, but I had to skip the first section -- I flipped ahead to the prison escape and started reading there.

Was I the only person to have this kind of plotline issue, I wondered? I posted a question, and I've discovered that I wasn't as unusual as I thought.

"I thought I was the only "grown-up" who cringed at certain things portrayed in movies or TV shows. In my case, it's embarrassment. I hate to see characters subjected to embarrassment or humiliation. Often, I have to click the TV off when I see that coming. I hate to see people--even fictional people--hurt in that way."

"For me, it's the scenes of wild destruction of someone's big project. Like the big mess made in Elf of the store's winter wonderland. Horrible!! And all the worse when everyone else laughs their head off in the theater."

"Oddly enough, I cannot handle anything where there's potential harm to animals. I don't mind violent movies, but stay away from the animals."

"I can't stand the "missed connection" story-lines. You know the ones where two people *just* miss one another (the movie Serendipity was TORTURE to me). Funny what drives people up a wall :)"

"I can't handle driving scenes when I think there may be an impending wreck. Like if the driver is chatting away and not paying attention to driving."

"It sets my nerves on edge when the plot is driven by a misunderstanding between two people (usually the romantic leads) that could be solved in an instant if they would just communicate with each other. I want to yell "Just talk to him/her!" Unfortunately for me, this is the plot of about one-third of all romantic comedies."

"Anything related to dementia."

"When someone is sentenced to death or buried alive."

"Can't stand the domestic violence theme."

"Anything about a child in danger makes me too upset. Didn't bother me as much before I became a mother!"

"I can't bear to read about/watch supreme and unrecognized self-sacrifice."

"I don't like stories that start out with a lie that sparks more lies which leads to more lies."

"The evil twin."

"Sympathetic criminal trying to go legit, sucked in for one last score that you know will ruin his life."

"Anything having to do with torture turns my stomach."

"Fiction where everything just keeps going wrong 2 excess, whether it's a thriller or a comedy, it makes me anxious."

"I've had quite enough of women whose greatest ambition is to marry and they'll go to humiliating lengths to catch their man."

"When someone lies and you just know it will ruin everything in the relationship when the person lied to finds out."

"I don't like plots where the momentum depends on the main character doing incredibly stupid or self-destructive things. I will usually stop reading if that starts to happen."

"I personally can do without disaster films where everything hinges on an unrecognized genius, who is also trying to get back together with his estranged family."

If you can identify a plotline you find repellent, consider letting yourself avoid it! Don't force yourself to read or watch, just because you "should" find it enjoyable.

How about you? Have you identified a plotline you can't stand?

* Do you live in Calgary? A Canadian writer based in Calgary is looking to interview fellow Calgarians who have launched happiness projects. Her name is Alison Azer and she can be reached at

* Interesting (and reassuring) article on Gimundo about a study that shows that parents today spend more time with their children than did previous generations.

* The book The Happiness Project has been bouncing around the New York Times bestseller list for fifteen weeks now! - including hitting #1! You can...

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If you're inspired to start your own happiness project, join the 2010 Happiness Challenge, to make 2010 a happier year.