I don’t fully understand why our human nature is to be more captivated by trial and tribulation than by success and elation.

This seems to be true for everything from rubbernecking to reality TV. But it’s also seen in the formulas for “cliff-hangers”. A TV episode that ends with the protagonists partying, slapping high-five, and counting their loot doesn’t compel nearly as many people to tune in next week as an episode that ends with the hero crying, in labor, diagnosed with cancer, about to get shot.

This contrasts with feature films and series finales, of course, where we want to know that “everything turns out all right in the end”. I suspect that one of the biggest subconscious questions we struggle with is exactly that, “will everything be okay?” And we find hardship captivating because it offers us another data point as to whether good triumphs over email, whether dreams do come true, whether everyday people can be heros.

Notably, this phenomenon exhibits itself differently in the typical plot for a Broadway musical. In the first act, we are presented with a situation in which everything is spectacular. Usually the first act ends with things being perfect…in fact, too perfect. Since the audience knows there’s a second act to come, we do wonder how the protagonists will topple from their happy pedestal.

But unlike Broadway, in real life when things are going well, we rarely wonder “what will happen next?”