Gretchen Rubin

The Happiness Project

"The Office," Pam and Jim, and the Mystery of Love. Plus the Weekly Video.

The right way of a relationship!

Posted Mar 09, 2010

My husband and I record The Office and watch it together, so I felt a little guilty for catching this scene on live television the other night, until I realized it was a re-run. But I couldn’t turn the channel – the scene featured my two favorite characters, Pam and Jim, and I’d never seen it before.

A friend told me that when she was studying to be a family therapist, they’d watch clips of the Carol Burnett show, Mama’s Family, because it showed how to do everything wrong. I love watching Pam and Jim, because it’s the rare instance on television of watching people behave in a loving way in a loving relationship.

In this scene, Jim surprises Pam by driving her to his parents’ house and announcing that he’s bought the house. At first, he’s excited and proud of his cleverness – by buying from his parents, they’ll save a ton of money, etc. We see Pam’s stunned look as she takes in the low ceilings, the ugly art bolted to the wall, the shag carpet, the garage that Jim tried to fix up as a makeshift art studio for her.

Jim begins to panic as he sees the house through her eyes and realizes the magnitude of what he’s done. This is where the beauty of the scene begins.

Instead of getting angry or defensive, Jim acknowledges the reality of how Pam might be feeling. He acknowledges that he made a huge step that involved both of them without consulting her. He acknowledges that she might hate it, might want them to do something else. He gives her a way to disagree with what he’s done.

There’s a long, agonizing pause. Then Pam says, “I love it.” Jim can’t believe his ears. Pam repeats, “I love it! You bought me a house.” She hugs him, and says again, “You bought me a house.”

It made me so happy to see watch that unfold. I have to say, it brought tears to my eyes.

Then it occurred to me…

One of my resolutions is to Imitate a spiritual master, and my spiritual master is Saint Therese of Lisieux. I often puzzle over a particular line she wrote, an observation that seems very significant to me, but that I don’t really understand: “for the love of God and my Sisters (so charitable toward me) I take care to appear happy and especially to be so.”

What does Therese mean by this, exactly?

But this scene from The Office suggests the meaning of Therese’s words. What if Pam looked around the house and hated it -- but then realized that the truly loving thing to do for Jim would be decide to love it, to love Jim’s gift to her, of which he was so proud, that he had worked so hard to give? And not just to pretend to love it, but actually to love it? To appear happy but especially to be so.

Now, to pretend to be thrilled to live in a house that you hate is beyond the capacity of ordinary people. But a great saint like Therese, who practiced heroic virtue, could do it. Something to think about.

(When I tried to watch this scene again on the internet, I couldn’t find it – but I did discover that it’s “Frame Toby,” the ninth episode in the fifth season, and aired November 20, 2008. Please post the link if you know where it is! I’m paraphrasing from memory here.)

* 2010 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2010 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2010 a happier year, this month’s focus is Work. Last week’s resolution was to Aim higher. Did you try to follow that resolution? Did it help to boost your happiness?

This week’s resolution is to Enjoy the failure.

If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…
Enjoy the fun of failure.
Enjoy the fun of failure. At least try.
How I managed to make myself happier after a big professional disappointment.

If you're new, here’s information on the 2010 Happiness Challenge (or watch the intro video). It’s never too late to start! You’re not behind, jump in right now, sign up here. For more ideas, check out the Happiness Project site on Woman’s Day.