What is happiness?

The writers of Doc Martin may not be trying to get into the philosophical definitions of happiness, but the fact that finding happiness is very important in the show certainly makes me want to interrogate it. At the end of season 3 when Martin and Louisa decide not to marry, Louisa tells Martin that he wouldn’t make her happy and Martin responds that she wouldn’t make him happy either.Then in season 6 episode 7 Louisa again tells Martin that she isn’t happy and that she isn’t making him happy. He is flummoxed and can’t understand why people always care so much about being happy. That comment, in turn, bewilders Louisa and she simply gets up to leave. Putting aside the problem I have with Martin saying Louisa wouldn’t make him happy when he’s spent so much time and effort wishing he could have her in his life, and being miserable when it looks like she has rejected him, we can’t help wondering what would make them happy.

If Aristotle is right and “eudaimonia (Greek for happiness) actually requires activity, action,” and that “eudaimonia, living well, consists in activities exercising the rational part of the psyche in accordance with the virtues or excellency of reason. Which is to say, to be fully engaged in the intellectually stimulating and fulfilling work at which one achieves well-earned success,” then Martin’s concept of “happiness” is likely to stem from practicing medicine. However, in recent years the psychologist C. D. Ryff has highlighted the distinction between eudaimonia wellbeing, which she identifies as psychological well-being, and hedonic wellbeing or pleasure. Building on Aristotelian ideals of belonging and benefiting others, flourishing, thriving and exercising excellence, she conceptualized eudaimonia as a six-factor structure:
-self-acceptance
-the establishment of quality ties to other
-a sense of autonomy in thought and action
-the ability to manage complex environments to suit personal needs and values
-the pursuit of meaningful goals and a sense of purpose in life
-continued growth and development as a person
Under this scheme, both Louisa and Martin would struggle to feel a sense of well-being. In particular, Louisa seems to hate not having a sense of autonomy, and she has previously wondered about her sense of purpose. During series 6, we see that she is happy as a mother and is depicted as taking great joy in having a child, and she appears to have a purpose when it comes to being headmistress at the school. What she doesn’t have is the affirmation or reassurance that she is succeeding as a wife and companion. Her autonomy is perhaps compromised most by her inability to get Martin to do almost anything she suggests. He won’t go see a psychiatrist, he won’t talk to her about his concerns, he doesn’t like to participate in most activities, and he doesn’t want to take a holiday with her. Martin seems lost when it comes to feeling in charge of his situation and has not really reached a place of self-acceptance. Obviously his upbringing has a lot to do with this. He feels most comfortable at home and in his routine. On the Ryff scale, he has autonomy but not much else. He does seem to have achieved some sense of well-being from having a wife and child, although at times we’re not sure about that.

I think Martin is right to question why happiness is such a significant feature of life to most people. We can’t be happy all the time. What we need is an overall sense that our home life is satisfactory, that our social lives are fulfilling, and that we have a sense of success in some aspect of our lives. The home life is the one in doubt in this series and Louisa cannot find that place where she is in a comfort zone, while Martin hasn’t really pondered whether his home life is how he’d like it to be. Surely having his mother in the house has changed their home life tremendously. It was somewhat rocky before, but now they have very little time alone and his mother is demanding and quite judgmental. I don’t care who you are, when your mother criticizes you, it hurts.

Marriages all have ups and downs, although this marriage has not been allowed to have many ups so far. Talk about no honeymoon!! Poor communication is often the reason for marital discord and boy is this marriage dealing with that! Ruth can talk to both of them and they are lucky to have someone like her to turn to. They need an intermediary and an opportunity to work together in some way. Go take a walk with James, take a drive somewhere for a couple of hours, go have that picnic Louisa dreamed of (without the earthquake), build something together, whatever. Even if something crazy happens it would still be something they did together and would not take Martin outside his comfort zone. I think they could both be “happy” after that. Louisa’s injury has a chance of bringing them together. We’ll see what happens.

Originally posted 2013-10-15 17:31:57.

18 thoughts on “What is happiness?

  1. Canuck Doc Martin fan

    “Her autonomy is perhaps compromised most by her inability to get Martin to do almost anything she suggests.”

    I’d have to disagree with you on this statement. I think Louisa has been able to get Martin to do almost everything she suggests. She wants to go on the offered honeymoon, he agrees. She wants him to go to the school concert, he’s there. She wants him to be more social, he invites a couple over for dinner. She wants James Henry to go to the library play time, he takes him. She invites his mother to stay in their home, he goes along with it. She wants him to give out the prizes at the sports day, he does it. All of these are activities WAY outside his comfort zone but he does them for her. I think the issue for Louisa is Martin doesn’t do them to the standard she expects. The honeymoon is a fiasco, Martin doesn’t act like he’s enjoying the concert, he invites the “wrong” couple over, he doesn’t really want to take part in the library play time, he is VERY uncomfortable with his mother since her true feelings came out in Season 2, he doesn’t say a speech and give out the prizes the way Louisa expects him to. The only request made by Louisa of Martin that I have seen him say NO to was her wanting to go on a holiday with him and James Henry.
    As for seeing the psychiatrist, sharing his feelings with her, going out together, Louisa has never come right out and told Martin to do them. She has hinted at it and suggested it but she has never said “You need to see that psychiatrist” or “You need to tell me what’s going on in your head.” And if she did, I think I would probably faint away because that’s just not in her character. But, given Martin’s character, I think it’s the only way she can get him to do them.
    It’s obvious he adores her; he just shows it the only way he knows how – medically. And we’ve seen that – over and over again – in the past six seasons. If Louisa needs help, if Louisa doesn’t feel well, if Louisa’s friends or students don’t feel well, Martin drops everything and races down the street to fix the problem. And the latest episode was no different. It must have galled him to no end to not get in that ambulance or to not be there in the hospital to help treat her but he did what Louisa told him to do – go home and stay with James Henry and leave her alone.
    She should be careful what she asks for.

  2. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    You are absolutely right about Martin doing most of the things Louisa asks him to do and about Louisa not always being so content with how he does them. I am thinking of series 5 when Martin cuts Louisa out of many of the decisions, e.g. when the christening should take place, what color their living room in London should be painted, signing the papers that determine James Henry’s name. I think she does tell him outright that he should call the psychiatrist and she makes several efforts to get him to talk to her — in the kitchen, while they’re making up his mother’s bed, and when she brings in breakfast. But he just can’t open up to her and that’s probably a part of his control issue. I also agree that the way he connects with her is through his medical prowess, which is also what impresses her about him many times. I’m sure he is supposed to be troubled by Louisa’s decisions to keep him away in the ambulance and at the hospital, and while sitting in the car he seems somewhat introspective, but possibly unable to really grasp what he did wrong. But isn’t Louisa’s reason for leaving Martin in season 5 that she can’t stand continually being shut out and now it’s happening again? In fact, I think we’re headed for that sort of reconciliation again at the end of episode 8. I could imagine Martin rushing her to the hospital, having some role in the operating room that may even give him some sort of breakthrough with his hemaphobia, and then telling Louisa about his parents and what his mother told him in season 2. Ruth is hopefully going to guide Martin and advise him how best to appeal to Louisa because, according to the trailer, he tells her that he wants to be with Louisa. (It may be easier for Martin to talk in a hospital setting because that’s where he feels in control more than any other place. The two times he has opened up to people are when he reveals how he became hemaphobic to Roger Fenn when Roger is in the hospital, and when he’s in the ambulance taking Peter to the hospital with Louisa.) That’s what I’d like to see for sure.

  3. KR

    What I feel makes these two chalk and cheese is their poor communication skills — and that is the foundation for their “unhappiness.”

    Martin: I see Martin as really extending himself this series. As you’ve both mentioned, he’s doing most of the things Louisa wants him to do. (Maybe not to her standards — but he’s attempting). He’s tried on several occasions to communicate clearly w/ Louisa. For example, on the honey moon he clearly says that he doesn’t understand when she says one thing, but means another. In episode 2, after the disastrous dinner, he seemed to want to talk it over w/ Louisa — but she’s already shut him out and walks away. When Louisa gets upset that he may have hired Mike w/o first consulting her, he reasons, “let’s just try it until Friday an then decide.” I felt he’s attempting to communicate w/ her. In other respects, Martin is Martin — he doesn’t talk. He doesn’t talk about his feelings about his father’s death, or his mother’s presence etc.

    Louisa: Louisa expresses herself (most times) to Martin — but she has always been quick to react….and this works against Martin who can take quite a while to process situations. Before he has a chance to respond, she’s half way across town. That Louisa wants Martin to behave according to her standards is OK, but she must be patient and understand that Martin often doesn’t get what her standards are, or that she has them. She will need to slow down and explain her expectations to him clearly. After all of these years, she still doesn’t get that….even if in Series 2 she realized that he’s ‘Just what it says on the tin…Martin Ellingham through and through… Gruff, Monosyllabic, Rude…”

    It’s this basic communication pattern that may break these two up in the long run. He shuts down (or her out), she gets frustrated, and neither take the time or effort to really communicate about it. Or, maybe they just don’t see the pattern.

    I still have hope. I see Aunt Ruth as the savior of Series 6. She will be the catalyst to bring out the satisfactory resolution we’re all hoping for. The resolution of series 5 was that Martin admits that he really does love Louisa. The resolution for series 6 will need to be that Martin and Louisa finally come to understand each other more clearly — and breaking their dysfunctional communication patterns will point them in the right direction. So, Karen, hope you’re right — these two really need to get away together and have some quality time.

  4. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Thank you for your insights. I am in agreement with everything you wrote. They are both damaged by their childhoods and their coping skills are a work in progress. I am not sure why the plan this season was to make the relationship between Martin and Louisa so tense. During season 5 they lived together in much greater harmony even though in the end Louisa felt she had to leave because Martin was unable to understand that she craved some kind words along with his respect and recognition that her job as headmistress was every bit as important to her as his job was to him. There was so much more humor in season 5. This season Martin has been unbelievably glum and the humor has come much more from other characters, e.g. Penhale, Morwenna. With the exception of episode 1 when they get married and some of episode 2 when they host the dinner, Martin is preoccupied with his hemaphobia and rarely bumps his head or tells off a patient, or makes those awkward comments that have us snickering. Communication problems abound for sure, but I have the same hope you have that Aunt Ruth will bring them together again.

  5. Carol

    I surely hope that the last episode tomorrow holds some sort of positive resolution. I agree that the communication skills between the two are so poor, and my frustration, I believe, has to do with the fact that I believe that between two such intelligent people, at least one of them would have figured this out by now. It seems that Louisa would at least know by now that Martin DOES NOT DO SUBTLE and that he would have figured out to ask her exactly what she means when she says things. Am I just too optimistic?

    Of course, I guess the writers figure that if either of them reasoned this out, they would have no more show, but I disagree. I think there would still be plenty of room for fun AND drama.

    I think that many marriages suffer from these exact same issues, it is just that this one seems to be on such a large scale – i.e., lots of men (and women) don’t do subtle, but they do a BIT of subtle; and lots of women (and men) want their minds to be read, but don’t expect that ALL the time.

    My fingers are crossed that Ruth finds the right words tomorrow night for Martin, and that Louisa can somehow figure out her part too. If you have seen the baby in the trailer, you know that your heart will break in two if they can’t work this out.

    Here’s to a good S6E8!!!

  6. Santa Traugott

    Here’s the problem I have with our characters struggling with whether they are or will be “happy” together: I have a less romantic view of marriage. I do not think it’s about “happy ever after” and that its purpose is not for someone to be made happy or to make someone happy. It’s much closer to “ever after.” And I think when the writers make it seem like the goal of their marriage is or should be happiness, they are presenting that romantic view. Actually, I don’t think one’s happiness quotient changes a whole lot in marriage, once the honeymoon is over, unless, like our two characters, you are at the very margin of being “suited” to each other.

    It’s just living in partnership with someone, facing the world and its challenges together, rather than inward facing, and expecting to find your happiness in your relationship. And then the whole rest of that nice definition that you laid out, of what makes for happiness comes into play. That’s not to say that a good partnership is not deeply satisfying and fulfilling — but it’s the partnership in striving together that’s important here, not how many moments of happiness one has had from being together. (Not saying that those moments aren’t important — they are an important glue when the going inevitably gets tough — just that they aren’t the be-all and end-all).

    Their marriage is not working, in my view, because their individual difficulties don’t allow them to be truly partners, and if they can’t be that, then the loss of autonomy that marriage entails is certainly going to chafe, among other problems. I think that’s what Louisa means when she says that she’s not happy — she truly feels left out and to a degree, unsupported as well.

    I have a hard time thinking my way through this, and I’ve possibly wound up saying something close to what you said in the first place. Or maybe not.

  7. Santa Traugott

    Okay, I do have to add this: the series has given us a number of scenes where their capacity to be a team is highlighted. With the badger-burners, with the midwife, when they unite against her, when Peter Kronk is in trouble, when bridesmaid gives birth, when on their honeymoon they have to sew up crazy neighbor, etc. So we know the potential is defnitely there — if only they can manage not to screw it up.

  8. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I very much agree with your assessment that we have seen evidence that L and M are well matched, despite what some viewers think, and your examples are exactly what I would point to. So their marriage makes sense to me because throughout the show they are both drawn to each other on an emotional level AND because we see they have many of the same values and beliefs.

    I also agree that marriage cannot be “happy” every day if it lasts, and we are romanticizing it if we think that’s a goal to achieve. However, I would like to think that there are many days of each year, and especially the first year of marriage, when we have a sense of well being. When we can just feel good about life. A glimpse of this in the show is when Martin reaches for Louisa’s hand after the concert. His demeanor is one of real satisfaction. She responds by being thrilled that he’s taken her hand, but makes the wrong move when her emotions overpower her. By bringing him behind the trees and kissing him passionately she has been too strong for him. It’s hard for him to express his feelings and act on those. Taking her hand took a lot of effort for him and when he does it, he feels good about himself. Then she takes control again and he reverts to his protective behavior, telling her about her perfume. What I’m trying to say is, they have regular power struggles when they could be finding ways to give each other a sense of accomplishment, and that would make both of them “happier.” When L says she’s not happy, she means she’s feeling shunted. She doesn’t feel like she matters to him like she has felt in their best moments.

    Even without romanticizing, the important people in our lives play a role in our self-acceptance, our growth as a person, and our belief that we are valuable as people.

  9. Santa Traugott

    Yes, I do agree with all of that, Karen. I was just emphasizing a slightly different point — while a good partnership is an important component of an overall sense of well-being — and even growth in many character dimensions — marriage is not for or primarily about “being happy.” Of course, how would we stick out the bad patches if we did not have the memory or the history of the times when the relationship felt most “right” and satisfying. So I wish them all possible moments when their sense of well-being is stronger for their being together. And I think I was making the same point when I said that Louisa had to leave the marriage, at least temporarily, when she felt shut out of that sense of partnership.

    In fact, one way to look at the overall story “arc” (although I don’t think it started out that way) is as a cautionary tale of expecting “love” to conquer all, and once boy gets girl and vice-versa, all will be fine, and life’s problems, and problems between them, will be dissolved in the” happy after ever” ending. That romantic coming together does not guarantee happiness, and in fact it’s just the beginning. That’s how we are meant to understand the title of S5E8 — “ever after.” (Have we talked about the “fairy tale” elements in Doc Martin?) I think the writers have stressed over and over, and goodness knows, Martin Clune in interviews, that this is not an easy, comfortable fairy tale, with a “happy ever after” ending, and really, S6 is this acted out by our hero and heroine! Now the real work of being married begins, when the honeymoon glow has faded, and the reality of putting together a lasting partnership in the face of major temperamental differences and individual baggage, begins. They have so much going for them, and I am confident they will make it work.

    BTW, I still think that we were told explicitly in E2 that the honeymoon is over, when Louisa reminds Martin that they have been married for “two weeks” — a very traditional honeymoon period.

  10. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    I agree that this show is about all the ways a relationship can flounder and often the disruptions are funny and meant to be funny. ME could never be a “happy ever after” husband, in my opinion, and this couple has never been meant to have clear sailing. It’s the frequent clashes that show us their humanity, frustrate us, and provide many chuckles, if not outright laughs. I just don’t know about the honeymoon thing though. Even their first night of marriage was a trial. Maybe the time between their retrieval of JH and their wedding day could have been the best for their relationship. We don’t see that though. When she reminds him that it’s been two weeks since they got married, I thought she was being the sentimental female and he, once again, was being his literal self. “Anniversary” literally means returning yearly and two weeks is not a year. Some women like to celebrate the first date, the first kiss, etc. ME would never think that way. Still, they do have to deal with the difficulties of married life and their difficulties are pretty challenging. And then Margaret shows up! You know I expect them to find a way to get back on a better footing in S7, although not without lots of false starts.

    I have not posted anything about the fairy tale qualities of the show. I remember seeing some comments about that on FB and then someone saying BP denies wanting to give the show fairy tale qualities. I think they exist, nevertheless. Any village in SW England that never has a rainy day is certainly not being real! There’s much more to it than that, of course. I’ll give it some thought.

  11. K

    I am desperately hoping in Season 7 that we see happy resolution and that we are left with images of them as a happy family. I agree with an earlier commenter that Martin clearly loves and adores Louisa but is unable to be as emotionally open. If she could come to understand and accept him as-is perhaps we could see him begin to open up. It is my hope that perhaps interaction with James Henry will begin to soften him and help him make the changes that she so wants for him. I don’t believe she wants to change him fundamentally but rather help him drop his reserve and enjoy the little moments of life. I love the show and have high hopes for Season 7.

  12. kjacobson@mindspring.com Post author

    Thanks for your comments. I agree with wanting S7 to be lighter. I don’t expect, and wouldn’t want, them to make the characters very different. Martin has expressed a desire to change his general approach and to work on their marriage, and Louisa is not going anywhere now that she’s had the AVM operation. It’s good to know she has to stay put, at least in Portwenn, for a while. I’d say chances are good for a reconciliation.

  13. Amy

    Interesting comments and post, especially in light of S7. One thing that really bothered me in S6 is when Martin refuses to go away with Louisa. Since he did agree to do all those other things, why not this? Was he too worried about his health and hemophobia? It just seemed such a rejection. If I had been in Louisa’s shoes, I’d have been terribly hurt.

  14. Sundre

    I too was sad that Martin rejected Louisa. But there’s the impression that their relationship does not include sex anymore and based more on Louisa ‘s efforts to atleast be a family. Im s7 she comes back and they try to work out problems… but not sure thats working. Only a single kiss at the end of season keeping me wondering if they ate reslly going to be happy. Marrin has going to make some changes if he really wants her. And she has got to figure out if she can really be happy with him. Love has different meaning to people and i hope if there’s a s8 that martin can communicate with Louisa better. I would love to see a happy ending.

  15. Amy Cohen

    I agree—I think we all want to see a happy ending and some improvement in their relationship. I remain optimistic that that’s what the writers will give us.

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