You Don’t Have to Eat a Troll to be Happy

Alright. So I took one for the team and went to see the Trolls movie with my 6 year-old. I was expecting nauseating unredeemable slush, but instead I learned this:

You don’t have to eat a troll to be happy.

Or, in everyday language: happiness is not something you acquire by consuming, rather we learn to find happiness in our present circumstances through the giving and receiving of love.

Astonishing right? Keep reading it gets even better…

Here’s the quick background without spoiling the film. These creatures named Bergens live in a society where everyone is miserable except for the one day a year they get to eat a troll (which are conveniently located in a tree with a cage over it in the centre of town). The belief that only eating a troll can bring happiness is sacrosanct; the townsfolk repeatedly say “everyone knows that”. When the trolls decide to escape for good, the Bergens become increasingly despondent and angry because the only source of joy in their lives has vanished. They set out to recapture their bliss (the Trolls) and a struggle ensues between Trolls and Bergens, involving multiple captures and escapes.

Since you’re all wise readers, I’m sure that you knew this lesson already. You’ve had your moments of enlightenment where you’ve recognized the futility of material things and their inability to bring joy and peace.


But why are we still living as if eating trolls, er, I mean acquiring and consuming things is an unquestionable and critical ingredient to a happy life? It’s as if we’re under some kind of spell. (I like the imagery of eating our happiness because so often we seem convinced that it’s not just having what others have, but actually having the very lives of others that will fix our inevitable dissatisfactions with life.) I think we’re so immersed in the belief structure that tells us we need to consume to be happy we scarcely even recognize that it deserves to be questioned in the first place.

The writer of the screenplay, Erica Rivinoja, offers us a rather astonishing commentary on this problem of unquestioned beliefs that shape our lives. The message she offers in this film is that seemingly impenetrable orthodoxies can be illuminated, challenged, and broken by sacrificial love. The Trolls of this movie, not by sheer force of argument, but by loving each other and their enemies, teach the Bergens about the true nature of happiness. It is only when Trolls show compassion and care for their captors, that they are able to awaken the Bergens to the truth.

Whether you’re delighted or appalled at the results of the US election this week, it’s hard to deny that the world is very contentious place these days. Each side has their orthodoxies, their systems of belief that are inviolable and shape their way of being in the world. The campaign seemed to be a forum for shouting and competing with a commitment to jamming down the others’ throats each side’s own way of seeing and believing. Hatred and animosity seem to grow every four years with nothing really ever getting resolved no matter whose side “wins”.

And yet this little film that I’m sure will scarcely be remembered even a year from now, captures a truth that could guide us all in how we engage this troubling reality in our world. We will never convince each other of the “truth” of our positions, largely because our way of seeing and believing is often too threatening to the “other” side. But an animated Troll reminded me this weekend that radical, self-sacrificing love can transform realities in ways that political campaigns never will. I’m not going to go so far as to call this film “sacred”, but if we let it speak to us from behind its tackiness, it can remind us that seeing enemies with compassion changes us, which then allows us to love in ways that change the world.

The time has come to set aside our political alliances and viewpoints. There is no common ground to be forged on the issues, only a common humanity that can learn to love at great cost and risk to our own agendas. What this trippy little high-school muscial-ish film reminds us of is the power of sacrificial love to awaken in ourselves and others the very best our humanity has to offer. No government leader, no matter how corrupt or bigoted, establishment or misogynist can take that away from us. We may be entering a dark period in history, but our ballots and our governments are rather small compared to the votes we make each day when we choose paths of love or paths of selfishness and fear.

If watching a movie aimed at 6 year-olds can awaken this kind of realization in us (mind you the soundtrack was pretty good), I think real experiences of love could do so much more in changing this deeply fearful and unhappy culture we live in.

So the choice is not Donald or Hillary, it never was. The choice is how you and I will go about our lives in the days that follow. What will we awaken and nurture in each other? Can we look at our enemies with compassion? Can we find their humanity and love them no matter how dangerous and undeserved it seems? Can we open ourselves to love from others and let our own firmly held “everyone knows that’s true” be challenged?

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