Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

What Makes House Happy?

Romantic love is the answer? Really?

Splashed across the cover of this week's TV Guide is a huge picture of TV doctors Hugh Laurie (House) and Lisa Edelstein (Cuddy). Dressed for dancing, Cuddy has her arm around House's neck, and House has one hand near her breast and the other a bit lower than that. What interested me more, though, was the bold-faced headline, "HAPPY AT LAST?"

As of the first episode of the new season, House and Cuddy are playing house. Notice that the TV Guide headline does not say, "Together at last?" but "Happy at last?" almost as if the two were the same thing.

House, of course, is infamously misanthropic and miserable. The view that if only he became coupled, he would then be happy, is the most conventional one. (Never mind that the research begs to disagree.) House's BFF Wilson also believes in the power of relationships to improve well-being, but his take on the meaning of relationships is broader and more enlightened than TV Guide's. For example, when Wilson discovered (along with the rest of the team) that House had faked cancer in order to get access to some potentially awesome pain meds, he suggested that House instead try spending more time with the friends and colleagues who care about him. House has his own thoughts on the matter (doesn't he always?): He thinks it is hard to be happy when your leg hurts all the time.

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Yes, I do realize that House is not a real person. Still, I like to play this game of pretending he is. Let's also pretend we get to pick just one key happiness-promoting factor. In that spirit, here's what I think makes House happy: solving seemingly impossible medical mysteries that stump everyone else. True, he is a crank even though, week after week, he's the one who comes up with the insight that eluded all of the other smart medical professionals. My position is that he would be even more miserable if he could not routinely put his stunning talents to the test. What he does at work is challenging and meaningful. Not that he'd use the "meaningful" word himself.

Try this thought experiment: What if you subtract the work and add Cuddy? Give House a job that would be reasonable to most other people, just not to him. Let him have a great relationship with Cuddy. Do you think he would be happy?

He surely would not be House. The nice-guy, listen-to-Cuddy version I saw in the kick-off episode was a complete bore.

[UPDATE: There are some great observations in the comments section. For example, think about where the real relationship chemistry is on the show. There are interesting points made about other shows, too.]

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She is a visiting professor at UCSB.

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