First we have to define what a 'happy ending' really is. Isn't the phrase itself a bit contradictory? How can something be happy when it's about to end? Of course, in a story we can say that if a couple finally finds their way into each others' arms and shares a passionate kiss (or a passionate night), get married, look back at their life and feel happy, that's an 'official' happy ending. A conclusion to the story that's being told. Okay, so the story (or book) ends, but where does that leave the characters? Aren't they just at the beginning, rather than the end?
I once heard that every story can have a happy ending, it only depends on where you end it. I couldn't agree more! Just think about it. The author has full authority to decide where to end the story, thus creating an ending, but that doesn't mean that the story truly ends there. Sometimes we don't want to know what happens after that blissful moment, because it's enough to know that the couple is happy right there and then. Whether they will become a screaming, arguing shadow of themselves in let's say ten years' time or live happily ever after, it doesn't matter. Personally I love stories that start after that happy ending, or ones that go beyond. I enjoy a glimpse behind that particular curtain, and find out what happens when the purple fog has subsided and there aren't anymore butterflies. But that's just me.
I guess deep down everyone needs closure. When readers become fond of characters, they root for them, wanting them to achieve all the happiness they deserve. They need to know that the characters "will be okay". They might be creations of one's mind, but can take on a deeper meaning than that. When we read something, it's totally up to our imagination to interpret what's written down. We read between the lines, and even give the story a meaning the author didn't even think about. The characters have a life of their own. While reading about their struggles, heartbreak and achievements, they become part of our lives.
And the happy ending? Well, that's crucial in this process. Letting them go in a positive, reassuring way helps with our conscience and sense of our own achievement. Maybe it really doesn't matter what happens after the last chapter. Maybe the whole point is to make the impossible possible. To achieve the unachievable. To create an ending that couldn't be happier. Or rather a happy beginning. I think I like that version more, whenever I write. To give readers a sense of a happy beginning, which is also the end of the story of course, but includes way more than that. It creates a promise. A promise that won't be fulfilled, but that's not its purpose anyway. It simply needs to be there.
Sometimes that's all we need. The possibility for things to get better. So, there is always a happy ending when it also means the beginning of something even happier. Time will tell the rest (and in this case, our imagination). I would say that the same applies to life itself. With a little bit of imagination, we can see that promise in our day to day life. Every day brings us a new promise, a new chance at a happy ending (or rather happy beginning). We just need to make sure we don't miss that chance.
So, yes, happy endings are as real as the stories (or the characters) themselves. In real life, well, I think a happy-in-between is equally important. Okay, I think I will go now and create another happy beginning. Bye for now, and don't forget: the choice is yours, so why not make the next day another happy beginning? Time will pass anyway, so we might as well enjoy every minute.