Walt Disney created and invited us to the “happiest place on earth.” Do you think he believed that the place itself – the castle and the rides and the well-manicured grounds – was the source of that happiness? Or do you think that he delighted in providing a backdrop, a scene onto which we could project our own visions of happiness with and around the people we love, the relationships that are the real source of our happiness?
Whatever Disney has become, I like the romantic idea that Walt attempted to live into the latter question, that he was simply creating a new environment, one never before imagined, within which we could stimulate and reenforce the best of ourselves and the best of those we love. That he could build an empire on that premise might have, but probably didn’t surprise him.
Walking down Main Street this morning, I carried a sense of opportunity that Walt and Mickey’s playground could and would provide that very stimulus for me and my family. That walk remains magical to me, a few moments of suspended reality and appreciation for an extraordinary vision superbly brought to life.
As the day advanced and the spring break crowd grew larger, I appreciated something else that Walt in all his genius could not possibly have imagined: that it wouldn’t be enough for us; that no matter how creative and fanciful, how daring and surprising, this island of fantasy and adventure could never stand up to the onslaught of the mobile device.
The happiest place on earth is real. The catch is that it only exists when and where we allow it to. And it seems, more and more, that we are not willing to do that. With every glance at the phone we are reminded of what and where and with whom we are not, rather than what and where and with whom we are. That kind of dissociation from the present moment, even at a place as remarkable as Disneyland, makes Disneyland less than remarkable.
Because it’s not about the place. It is always and only about the people. And when the people are present, curious and engaged with one another and their surroundings, that place – any place – feels magical. And when they are not, there is no amount of window dressing that can do a thing about it.
No one has taken the magic from us, we’ve done that to ourselves. And we alone will have to decide if we’re willing to take it back.
DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.