It’s Not Always About a Happy Ending

Happy ending

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In wrapping up the preparation of a workshop for later this month, my presentation close is, appropriately enough, about endings.

Endings are a big deal: We end our babyhood by learning to walk. Our little kid stage ends on the first day of kindergarten. High school or college graduation may be seen as the end of our formal education. (Although I encourage you to be a lifelong learner.) Our first job with a paycheck and the accompanying first apartment end our years of being financially cared for by others. Retiring is the end of a connection to the actively working world.

All are big deals, indeed. Endings have a sense of significance if done right.

But I have seen and heard speakers reach the end of a speech or presentation and unceremoniously announce, “That’s all I have.”  OR “That wraps up what I wanted to tell you.”

I call that type of ending the Porky Pig close — “Th-th-th-that’s all folks!”

Effectively closing a presentation is one more relevant way to engage your audience so they will remember your message. That’s because we human beings have a tendency to recall endings which can help us connect to the main message.

Daniel Pink’s book WHEN, The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing details fascinating studies about endings and how an ending of significance helps us recall more of the event and makes it more satisfying.

Lest you think I forget what I’ve written about, yes, I have mentioned this book before in my post Time is Not the Enemy. And yes, his book is THAT good to deserve multiple mentions from me.

Here’s a fascinating idea: Our speeches and the stories we share don’t necessarily have to have a happy ending to be well-received and long-remembered. In fact, says Pink, a more satisfying ending contains an element of poignancy which he defines as a complex emotional mix of happiness and sadness.

Online dictionaries couch poignancy in these terms: “evoking a keen sense of sadness or regret…something that deeply affects the emotions…sharply emotional.”  Indeed, the root word origin is the Latin pungere, meaning to sting or pierce.

I like Pink’s understanding best…that bittersweet, roller coaster ride of emotions that wash over your heart where you’re laughing or smiling or gently nodding your head yes even as tears fill your eyes and the lump in your throat makes it almost impossible to swallow.

A perfect example of an ending filled with poignancy is the last five minutes of Toy Story 3. The boy Andy is all grown up and leaving for college. The remainder of his favorite little boy toys (unexpectedly including Woodie) are boxed up, and he delivers them to Bonnie, a little neighborhood girl.

“I’m going away now and I need someone really special to play with them,” Andy tells Bonnie, as he hands over ownership.

Go ahead and watch the ending on the YouTube link below and try not to feel anything. I double-dog dare you.

Daniel Pink says, “…the most powerful endings deliver poignancy because poignancy delivers significance. Adding a small component of sadness to an otherwise happy moment elevates that moment rather than diminishes it.”

We may think we want a happy ending; after all, we’re programmed for it as in, “And they lived happily ever after.”

But Pink goes on to say, “The best endings don’t leave us happy. Instead, they produce something richer—a rush of unexpected insight, a fleeting moment of transcendence, the possibility that by discarding what we wanted we’ve gotten what we need.”


Porky Pig

Toy Story 3 ending



2 thoughts on “It’s Not Always About a Happy Ending

  1. Judy Jones says:

    Entertaining and informative! Loved the video! Never saw the movie, I guess we will have to watch it now. Again Norma, your “lesson” is extraordinary and so captivating. I enjoy your blog so much.

    • Norma Thatcher says:

      I cannot believe you’ve never seen the movie! Watch it for the ending if nothing else….even though you already know the ending. Act surprised when Greg cries.

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