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The False Happiness of the World, or why cotton candy is evil.

By Heather Oman

We live near a large amusement park. I happen to love roller coasters. Sadly, this love is not shared by my family. Neither my son or my husband are into this particular kind of thrill seeking (which shocks me about my son, actually, as we are talking about a kid who went to the ER when he was 2 for a concussion because he was trying to do a flip off the diving board).

My husband is so opposed to amusement parks, in fact, that I haven’t even bothered to include him in our family yearly pass, knowing that it would be a waste of money. He would rather almost do anything else than suffer through a day at the park, and so I go with my children and my friends.

“Why do you hate that place so much?” I asked, expecting the typical answers: it’s too hot to walk around all day in the heat, roller coasters aren’t fun, it’s too expensive, it’s too dirty, there is too much exposed, tattooed flesh on people who really have no business exposing so much tattooed flesh. (Seriously, after day at the park, I want to scream, “Put some freakin’ clothes on, people!!!”)

“It’s about the false happiness of the world.”

Um… what?

“You know, the false happiness of the world.”

Um, actually, I don’t know what the heck you are referring to, my dearest love.

“The seminary videos. Didn’t you see the seminary videos, where all the bad things happen at amusement parks, like the bad guys are offering false joy in the roller coasters and cotton candy?”

Ok, again I say, WHAT? I never saw such a seminary video. The only seminary video I really remember was the one about twins who sort of hated one another, but one of the twins did the dishes for her sister, even though she was late for ballet class, and I remember thinking, Yeah, like THAT would ever happen.

“I dunno, I guess I always just associate amusement parks with false happiness, like it’s offering thrills that are transient. Like overpriced, fake, sticky joy,” my eternal companion says.

Seriously, have you ever HEARD of somebody so overthinking a roller coaster?

I told him that such a preposterous idea surely came not from seminary, but from his father, an art historian who abhors all things kitsch. He admitted that growing up, his family probably could not have afforded to take the entire family to a theme park, so to compensate, his father probably assigned some moral failing to such activities. Somehow, my husband has harbored the notion from childhood that only people of an inferior mind could find pleasure in something as trivial as a 205 foot vertical 90 degree drop going 70 mph.

Well, call me a dunderhead, because I think that ride ROCKS.

And when DH described his particular moral stance to my sister, she practically fell off her chair, she was laughing so hard, and although she didn’t say it in so many words, it was clear she thinks my husband might be slightly touched in the head.

My sister and I, incidentally, recently had a fantastic day at the theme park with our children, her husband, and our parents. My husband stayed at the office and worked. Serves his silly childhood falsehoods right.

What childhood notions have you carried into adulthood? Are there associations that you have with certain things that can be ascribed to your childhood or adolescent perceptions? And perhaps the most important question of all—did YOU see that video about the bad guys offering false joy at the theme park? ‘Cause I’ve been to the park a few times already this season, and the only thing I’ve seen offered there is overpriced trinkets, bad pizza, and one heck of an awesome time.

About Heather Oman

(Prose Board) lives in the south with her husband, her two kids, and her wiggly black lab. She is a licensed speech language pathologist, but spends most of her days trying to teach her own kids how to say please and thank you. She is a member of the Segullah Editorial Board, and is the founding member of the blog Mormon Mommy Wars.

48 thoughts on “The False Happiness of the World, or why cotton candy is evil.”

  1. I think the video is the one used at the 1964 World's Fair in NYC "Man's Search for Happiness". We used it a lot in my mission.

  2. About two paragraphs in I started reading with my hands above my head, yelling "WoohoooOOOOO!!"

    Haven't seen the movie, would LOVE to go on those rides!

    I think the only notion I've bought forward from childhood is that I should do my work first, always, then more work, before the fun stuff.I SHOULD do that but if I don't, it doesn't stress me as much as it used to.

    I wanna go on the rides!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. I really don't like theme parks and roller coasters – but I'm pretty sure it has more to do with control issues than anything intellectually lofty.

    It might also have something to do with the fact that my parents thought fun ideas included finding the largest sculpture ever constructed of Paul Bunyan made entirely out of seashells, or spending a month in northern Ontario looking for some stretch of road that was 120 kilometers of perfect straightness. Family fun in my family always involves a lot of driving and strange 'museums'.

    But cotton candy is for sure evil.

  4. I've heard of roller coasters being used as metaphors for all kinds of stuff- but an amusement part dispensing false joy is just the cherry on top. Fascinating.

    While I love amusement parks- roller coasters are awesome, and there is no such thing as too fast, too high, or too upside down- I kind of find it endearing and cool that your husband takes such a stand. Of course, I'm not married to him. 😉

    There's a place for kitsch. It's not in my living room, but there is a place for it.

  5. OK-I hate amusement parks mostly because I am terrified of Roller Coasters, excessively long drops and anything that tosses me where I don't want to go. I like your husbands "excuse" for not enjoying theme parks. Dedspite my fears, I want my children to have the amusement park experience, so I look for people we can go with who would ride all the rides, so my kids can go on them too. I have no desire to conquer that fear (nor do I think I can; my body just won't allow it 🙂
    I too think cotton candy is evil (and gross!!!).

  6. Hmm. Well, I realized the other day why I shake a gallon of milk (every time) before I open it. When I was young we bought milk at a dairy and we shook it to get the thin layer of cream (that hadn't been scooped off) mixed in.

    One of my children was villainizing another of my children for shaking the milk. "I do it," I stated simply. When asked why, it took me a few seconds to realize WHY. (Though I know that since my childhood I have come to believe that shaking the milk before opening it, freshens it up. I mean, would I really just do it just because I have ALWAYS done it? Apparently.

  7. The amusement park is a metaphor for worldly pursuits. There at the end of the scene the girl who with an armful of plastic dolls drops one and it breaks. She makes a face. It is not about the rides or the cotton candy, it is about the what is left when you get home and realize the is worthless.

    Amusement parks are not fun. The rides make me sick and the standing in line for a couple of minutes with my stomach in my throat just isn't the what I call a good time. Neither is standing around either waiting for or trying to keep track of the kids that spoils it for me. The last time I went to one it rained all day.

  8. Bill, that's the ride I was talking about–205 foot drop going about 75 miles an hour (and the one that is pictured in the OP). If a goose hit me after going over that pond on that drop at that speed, and I lived to tell the tale, I'd say it was a miracle too!

    'Course, nobody asked the goose how it felt. Poor goose.

  9. I too love roller coasters (and cotton candy, when it's made properly and doesn't come in a plastic bag, THAT stuff is evil). But my mom has definitely given me some of her weirder hangups. I've overcome the ones about the wrongness of cable/satellite TV and Costco, but I won't let my daughters own Barbies and I still kind of think that video players in the car are decadent–even though they're really great for long trips.

    (In case you're wondering, my mother objects to cable and Costco because she doesn't think she should have to pay for TV or to go shopping. Which I understand–but Costco is necessary for suvival.)

  10. I thought it was sweet the way your husband opened up his feelings about it to you, and then lets you go anyways. I saw that video too when I was a teenager (Man's Search For Happiness) and actually, it left me with a bad taste in my mouth too about amusement parks. Really it did.

  11. LOL…really!
    I remember Man's Search For Happiness- I think my family may have seen it during our discussions with the missionaries a loooooong time ago. I understand your husband's feelings, but I feel that way about carnivals- you know, the pick up and move overnight kind- rather than amusement parks. Totally nasty and skanky and just ick. My dislike for amusement parks is for the usual "normal" reasons- don't like rides/heat/lines/keeping track of kids. I'm glad my kids didn't inherit my dislike of being hurtled through space- they have a great time with their dad. I go now to corral the grandkids and do enjoy myself watching them have fun.
    Now, cotton candy on the other hand is heavenly. 🙂

  12. Yay! comments are back on. I love amusement parks. I love roller coasters. I don't like excessively spinney rides they make me motion sick. Hmmm…relics from childhood? So this one is a little weird, but here goes. First the origins, my mom unconsciously anthropomorphized everything just a little bit. Not like giving it voice but instinctively sympathizing with it and wanting to reach the measure of its creation. Think the Charlie Brown Christmas Special and the the little pitiful Christmas tree. I have to fight against that urge constantly. For instance imagine ripped pants you could mend them or chuck them and you really should chuck them. Now imagine feeling the need to mend them because you feel a little bad for the stupid pants. Having to over think that reaction all the time and chuck the pants. That's my little bit of crazy (well one of them anyway). Next thing this is a thing that I got from my dad. I was a grownup at the time but it stuck. When you make a sandwich it tastes better if the meat faces the mustard side of the bread and the cheese the mayo side. It just does.

  13. Hmmm, the thing about a metaphor is it is a METAPHOR that represents something else more significant. Or maybe I just have always liked amusement parks.

    Then again, my husband and I came from families with opposite beliefs about going out to eat. My parents sent the message when I was growing up that going out to eat was something you did when you felt lazy and food coming from a restaurant–especially a fast food restaurant–was the epitome of paying too much for mediocre food.

    My husband's family believes going out to eat
    is the greatest thing ever and that taking me out to eat was a gesture of great generosity.

    Hence I get offended that they don't want to eat my delicious homemade food, and they get offended that I dislike going to Taco Bell with them. And don't even get me started on the fights dh and I have had over it–sheesh!

    However, when I think about it rationally, what it really boils down to is my parents liked to cook and so do I, but dh's parents hate to cook and so does he.

  14. I have to say I totally relate to what your husband is saying…and it's interesting that I got the notion from a similar source. I studied painting at BYU and I remember my professors once telling us something along the lines that the place on earth that most nearly represents hell is Disneyland. I had the same reaction as you, like what the??? And I shot off a bunch of questions and probably accusations, but in the end I came to think he was right. He basically talked about how Disneyland is fun…for a few days. Now imagine if that's where you lived forever…. that 'fun' would basically turn into hell. It wouldn't take that long for the fun and thrills to wear off. Now compared to the pure joy that Heavenly Father is offering us…a joy that lasts for eternity well you can see that Disney 'fun' is no comparison. I believe his main idea was that fun is a cheap imitation of true joy.

    That said, I still love me a good roller coaster. Bring it on!

    Also, your main question…what childhood perceptions have followed me into adulthood? I'd have to think about that…

  15. I have to say that I agree with Miggy and your husband. We went often to amusement parks when I was a child, and I always had fun. In fact, I had never contemplated the emptiness of the parks' fun until I read your post, but it makes perfect sense. The mingling of exorbitant pricing, meaningless thrill-seeking, the general lack of substance… I don't know, it just seems like a distraction from better, more substantial joys. It reminds me of the "Good, Better, Best" talk by Elder Bednar.

  16. My husband and I both grew up in families with little money to spare and parents who compensated by (consciously and unconsciously) glorifying being poor and disparaging being 'rich'. It took me about a year after buying a new car to stop feeling guilty about it. We bought a house and I somehow still feel somewhat 'wrong' about it. We're both aware of these issues and discuss them often. It's interesting how stuff you pick up when you're a kid just sticks with you.

    I have to admit that I do feel a bit 'morally superior' to amusement parks and see them as overpriced, kitchsy places that are just there to take all your money. I also hate roller coasters and crowds, so I guess it's just not my thing. One of these days I think we'll take our kids to Disneyland just so they have the experience, but it will probably take me about a years worth of mental preparation to do so.

  17. Nobody's seen Disney's Pinnochio? Since I never attended seminary regularly, I had to learn about evil amusement parks from that movie. Plus roller coasters make me nauseated. I guess I'm in the stick-in-the-mud camp that goes to "work" while the rest of the hedonists go to Disneyland. Although I do enjoy taking someone to Disneyland who's never been, as long as you don't make me ride that space mountain thing.

  18. My husband and I went to a local amusement park for our anniversary a few years ago. We left in less than 2 hours feeling very old and sick. We've both enjoyed roller coasters in the past but that day we couldn't handle it. We haven't been back, too much money to feel sick.

    I have absolutely no weird hang-ups from my childhood, everything I do is normal and purposeful (HA!). There are some doozies with my husband though – he refuses to go swimming (another reason amusement parks are a bust). Oh, it's not that he scared of the water, he just doesn't like it. His mom says the same thing. It's a real shame because they lived right on the beach for years.

    The decision to do something even when your husband doesn't go along is something I've had to do with camping, events involving large crowds, shopping, swimming… People who see me out and about without him think it's sad or wrong or whatever, but I don't want my kids, or me, to miss out because of his choices.

  19. When I was growing up we were never allowed Christmas lights at all. Not on the tree, not as any kind of decoration anywhere. They were banned by my mother. Why? It's simple, if you turned them on and there was a problem you would be electrocuted and die!! As a grown up I allow Christmas lights because they look Christmassy and I don't want my children to miss out. However, I am still terrified of the things. I am convinced that one day one of my children will die when they switch them on. Thanks mother for that hang up.

    Love amusement parks, particularly roller coasters by the way. Adore candy floss too, but only the kind you buy freshly done on a stick while you wait. Also, it must be pink, any other colour is not proper candy floss.

  20. Disneyland is the HAPPIEST place on Earth!!! Seriously, people. I love that place!

    Of course after 4 days its not 'fun' anymore…its not meant to be. Nobody would want to live there. Nobody would want to live camping in a tent or or at the water park or in the museum or at church either. Doing anything over and over and over isn't fun.

    I guess no one should go on picnics or eat fancy meals or go boating or buy a car or a house or clothes either. 'Cause its all material and doesn't matter and only supports the false happiness that the 'world' tries to trap you with! Anything that makes you happy except church and General Conference is false happiness! 😛

    Really…you guys pay for your camping stuff, and permits and gas and whatever….and our family will go to Disneyland! 😀

  21. Ok, maybe your husband and I are related – same story about amusement parks at our house. One time our grandparents took us and we didn't want to go on the rides, we said – We shouldn't be here.

    Also, let's see: not cooking on Sunday, not going out to eat, esp at lunch from work if you're a girl – no girly lunches, 2 meals on weekends and incredible guilt if something has to be washed. Other than that – nothing 😉

  22. OH, I forgot the most important – if you leave the toaster on the house will catch on fire and the dog will die and it will be your fault- so…. didn't have a toaster for 50 years.

    we always drove around the block then went back in and made sure everything was unplugged in the house.

  23. I'm not sure I really have any hang-ups from my childhood. We never went to Disneyland and hardly ever went to any amusement parks simply because my parents couldn't afford it.

    I am still not keen on amusement parks. I hate roller coasters because I don't like heights. I do go with my dh and kids to Lagoon here in Utah once a year, for their sakes, and it's OK. I also do not care for swimming… no particular reason, I just don't.

    My dream vacations would be visiting historical sites. Even as a child, I loved this. However, last time we interrupted a vacation full of swimming and recreation to visit a restored house, you would have thought my 7-year-old was being sent to the torture chamber. I tried to explain to him that I'd spent the entire vacation doing things that weren't my favorite for his sake, so he could spend 30 minutes doing ONE thing that I like to do. But he didn't buy it for a minute.

    One of my peeves is Disney movies. A friend is aghast that my 3-year-old dd hasn't seen Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, or most other Disney "fairy tale" flicks. Well, I don't want those movies ruining the real stories for her! I am saving those stories to tell her when she's a bit older, and I don't want her seeing the movies first!

  24. Well, there seems to be a few patterns here:

    1. There are amusement park people.
    2. There are non-amusement park people.
    3. Cotton candy is evil and must be destroyed.
    4. Cotton candy is yummy and misunderstood
    5. I am now painfully aware that I can't swim.

    Jendoop's comment reminded me of why I can't swim. My mother wouldn't let me take swimming lessons because she thought I would drown. Oh the irony…now I really CAN drown because I don't know how to swim! Oh, Wait! Fat floats. Never mind.

    Thinking about it now, I seem to remember something in her reasoning about catching weird diseases and such. Forget the epic amounts of chlorine in the pool. Still makes no sense to me.


  25. My grandfather was type 1 diabetic his whole life, so my dad equated sugar with all things bad. My siblings and I are all closet sugar junkies since we were allowed ONE PIECE OF CANDY A MONTH in childhood. I still remember a tearful confession that I had 'sinned' and eaten sweets at a slumber party.
    Ah the memories…

  26. Rebecca…
    I shake the milk EVERY TIME i open it, and I've only ever had store bought milk. Even after almost 5 years together, my husband still makes fun of me.

    fat floats. that made me laugh. thanks.

  27. I *gasp* didn't buy a car with cash. That's more of a hangup with my husband's family. DH still is uncomfortable with it. Almost makes me want to just sell it so he doesn't have to think about it anymore.

    As for me, when I clean the whole job has to be done. A room isn't done until it's picked up, vacuumed, dusted, walls & windows washed. Which is why I hate cleaning. My husband is the same way, but without my perfectionist anxiety. He just does it (bless him).

    I did not see that seminary video. I did, however, see The Phone Call and as a result felt a lot more confident about myself after. At least I didn't have to go around explaining bassoon as like "a balloon with S's."

  28. I eat all my vegetables first because my mother pounded into my head that I was going to eat them either way, and they were a lot better warm than cold. Now I like most veggies, and I still wolf them down right at the start.

    Also, if I were to buy myself a Happy Meal today, I would neatly set the toy aside until I had finished all my food.

    Like not finishing my french fries would be the end of the world at this point…

  29. I HATE roller coasters. Thanks to an overactive fight or flight response I get panic attacks, which have been triggered by far less than a roller coaster. When we went to Disneyland my husband spent the first part of the day trying to convince me to go on the rides there because I was convinced I wouldn't enjoy them… I went on one, realized that Disneyland rides hardly count as roller coasters, and then spent the rest of the day going on as many rides as possible.

    My hang-ups come more from wanting to do the opposite of my parents. For example, after witnessing my mother try fad diet after fad diet (which she continues to do today) and never losing weight and only feeling worse about herself, I am staunchly anti-diet and look at diets (i.e. any temporary alteration of how you eat in order to lose weight) as inherently evil. Also, in our house we had the television on ALL THE TIME and today we don't have a television. I try not to go to extremes, and we do watch occasional shows on the computer through hulu, etc., but I do love not having a television (although it drives my mom crazy when she comes to visit).

  30. I'm foggy on the details, so bear with me. You'll get the gist of the story anyway.

    (I know my mother told me this story, but what I can't remember is if it was actually a "family story." Probably not, but if so, there may or may not be some genetical predisposition for creating family traditions such as these:)

    All her life, this girl had watched her mother prepare Sunday dinner. She watched how she peeled and boiled the potatoes. Paid attention to how they were mashed. Learned how to make delicious gravy. And how to prepare the roast.
    So, when she was married and had a family of her own, she knew just what to do. And she did it. Sunday, after Sunday. And her meals were delicious.
    One Sunday, her mother was visiting and watched her daughter carefully prepare the Sunday meal. She was startled when her daughter took the meat to prepare it for the pot, and cut off one of the ends of the roast.
    She hadn't seen that anything was wrong with that part of the roast.
    So she asked her daughter why she had cut it off.
    Her daughter was surprised at the question, as she had so diligently copied all of her mother's Sunday meal preparations for years.
    "You always cut the end off the roast." She said to her mother.
    Her mother had a good laugh, and then replied,
    "But honey, that was because the pan I had was too small."

  31. @katie – My mom has the tv on all the time too! We didn't have cable when she came to stay after I had my baby, and it drove her crazy. It was when Michael Jackson died and she felt so out of it because she couldn't have the news on to go over the same three factoids over and over and over again. 😉 We borrowed a lot of movies those couple weeks.

  32. I totally understand the hang-up with carnival "fun!" coming from the church videos! For some strange reason I feel like this whenever I attend a "regular" theme park or a carnival (can't stand them!) but DISNEY is DIFFERENT! My mom told me over and over again, Disneyland was clean! and friendly! and good people go there! I still love Disneyland and can't stand Lagoon!

    Also-this one is sad. My parents separated for several months when I was about 10. My dad would get us on Sundays and take us places like the Zoo or once to the Circus. My little girl pain about my parents got all wrapped up in guilt about going worldly places on Sundays and then MORE guilt for making my dad mad that I wasn't more excited to go and top that off with the cherry of guilt on top for having any fun at all when I got home and had to face my mother and all of HER issues with us being with my dad. I feel like bawling whenever I even see a Circus Adverstisement! But childhood issues? not me. hahaha.

  33. I've seen the video.

    And I don't like amusement parks, other than Disneyland, but not because of the false pleasure notion. I just get sick on the rides.


  34. I have a horrific hangup from childhood. I shared a room/ double bed with various younger siblings for years growing up. When I was around 9 years old, my grandmother once told me a story about her sharing a bed with many cousins and one of the really young ones got smothered in the night. I don't think I actually slept through the night without checking on my sister at least once until we had separate rooms in my late HS years. 30+ years later, I still don't go more than a few weeks without checking on my children, or my husband to make sure they are still breathing.

    I am sooooo careful about what stories I share with people, especially children.

  35. I think it has all been said. I rather enjoy amusement parks. I love roller coasters, even though if it is too wild I will get sick. The true evil is motion sickness. It keeps me from having my fun.

    It's true that amusement parks are overpriced, but its not as though you visit them every day. I like Cotton Candy too. It's spun sugar that melts in your mouth!! How can it get any better? Actually I like Churros better. I cannot resist that temptation.

    I can't think of any childhood things that I still do.

  36. My hubby hates amusement parks too, but mostly because he's a cheapskate. 😉

    Lagoon? take it or leave it. But, I LOVE Disneyland. I never went as a kid but we've taken ours every three ears or so. I love watching my kids eyes light up; I love the way they keep families together on the rides; I love the clean-cut, happy attitude of the employees and I love love love spoiling my kids with my undivided attention. Laugh if you will, but I get teary just walking through those magic gates.

    A childhood hang up? I know Diet Coke is fine for most Mormons, but I couldn't drink one w/o feeling like a lightning bolt would shiver down from heaven and strike me dead. 🙂

  37. My FIl won't fly because he says that Satan will have control of the airways in the last days. I think that particular piece of probably false doctrine was actually referring to the ocean.


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