Which is stronger, happiness or terror?
It must be terror because each occurrence of it bears its unique unexpectedness, its singular set of demons and diabolical characters. Happiness, on the other hand, is more fleeting, its source more common. And therefore, more easy to miss. The contrast is similar to how Tolstoy described happy and unhappy families in Anna Karenina: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Substitute terror for unhappy families and Tolstoy's insight remains equally compelling.
I got to thinking of this after watching "Where the Wild Things Are." Maurice Sendak's 1963 classic has been turned into a movie and shows Max fleeing from his "monstrous" mother into the arms of wild things who are torn between eating him and hugging him (well-meaning relatives who pull your ears and squeeze your cheeks, selfish siblings who have no time for you, absent father, hectoring teachers, bullying neighbors - take your pick). But Max manages to convince them that he is their king and so the wild rumpus starts.
It is not all play and amusement, however, as the presence of Max brings to light hidden wounds and grievances among the wild things, leading to murderous rage and rampage. Cowering in fear with a kindly being in a cave, Max is told that "being a family is not easy."
At that moment, the thought of home fills his heart and Max sets sail across the ocean for suburban life with mother and sister.
Max fled terror, experienced terror and some happiness with wild things , and returned willingly to his family. Once back, he sees his mother in a new light of love. The daily terror of living in an adult world with its autocratic and cruel ways will certainly continue but now there is a difference. It's okay, it's bearable, because now there is love.
And like Max, we suddenly realize that terror, both internal and external, is what makes happiness possible, however elusive it may be.