In one story track of the Dandelion Wine, one of the characters, Leo Auffman, sets out to create a Happiness Machine after listening to low-spirited conversations among the old. Grandpa Spaulding, does let us know early in the process not to wait for the thing with bated breath, but we do.
Leo sets out to make his happiness machine imagining all the things that will make us happy. One quiet evening when he asks his wife what she thinks of it, she is stiff in her response, but Leo is too excited to notice that she doesn’t approve of the project. He spends more and more time creating the machine much against the wishes of his wife. He grows increasingly fond of what he is creating and neglects his family, too busy to notice the discordant strings starting to play out among the children. His wife tries to get him to see reason, and tells him that he is better off with his children, and spending time with them, but the excited Leo can barely wait to unveil the beautiful Happiness Machine to the world so there will never be discontent among the populace again.
It is only when he discovers his son weeping uncontrollably after taking a spin in the Happiness Machine that he fumbles. He is confused and cannot see where he went wrong. He pleads with his wife, Lena, and she too tries it out. At first, he hears her laughing, but slowly a deep wracking crying emerges from within the machine. Poor Leo – all he wanted to do was make people happy.
Lena comes out, and tells Leo that at first it was beautiful and she thoroughly enjoyed it. There was Paris, and all the wonderful places to see, right there in her backyard, but slowly a discontent set in. Hitherto, Paris and Greece were wondrous places, but not ones she ever dreamed of going to, and she was happy with her chores and the family. But now, the happiness machine had shown her everything that was possible.
What’s more, she goes on to say that she truly started crying only when the Happiness Machine took her dancing with Leo again. They hadn’t been to a dance in twenty years. Leo says he could take her dancing that very evening, but she says that is not the point, since all the Happiness Machine did was remind her of those golden times and foolishly wish for it again instead of treasure the memory. The children have to be fed, chores need doing around the house. Who wants a sunset to last forever? The sunset is only beautiful because it does not last forever. The whole time I am thinking I have my real life to get back to. My children to feed, my home to clean, my work that awaits me. Oh Leo, how could you forget that real life can never match up to what a Happiness Machine says my life should be like?
The story finishes with Leo realizing that a Happiness Machine was there with him all along – he was just too absorbed to notice it. One that doesn’t always work, but will do – his family.
A book written in 1957. Brilliant.