Happiness for Beginners: Is the Movie Based on a Story of an Actual Teacher?

Helmed by Vicky Wright, ‘Happiness for Beginners’ is a romantic comedy movie on Netflix that centers around Helen, a recently divorced teacher. Still reeling from her separation, she decides to reset her life and attend a challenging hiking camp away from home. To Helen’s surprise, she finds bumps into Jake, her brother’s best friend, and despite her annoyance toward him, is forced to work with him as a team. Initially, she faces several hurdles while trying to keep up with her fellow hikers, but gradually she wins over everyone with her resilience and presence of mind.

As Helen learns how to survive the wild and be one with nature, it also teaches her the importance of gratitude, and slowly, she starts falling in love — with life and an unexpected someone. Featuring endearing performances from actors like Ellie Kemper, Luke Grimes, Nico Santos, and Ben Cook, the drama movie gives a realistic portrayal of a wilderness camp and the challenges faced by hikers on a trail. Besides, the relatable characters and themes, like turning to nature to deal with one’s traumas, make one wonder if ‘Happiness for Beginners’ has any connection with reality. Let’s find out the answer to that question together, shall we?

Katherine Center’s Real Experience in Happiness for Beginners

‘Happiness for Beginners’ is partially based on a true story. Director Vicky Wright and Katherine Center penned the movie’s screenplay by adapting the latter’s 2015 novel, ‘Happiness for Beginners.’ According to the author, she was inspired by her time at a wilderness survival course she took in her 20s. In a 2015 interview with The Book Reporter, she elaborated on how the experience changed her life and prompted her to write.

Center stated, “I took a similar wilderness survival course, myself, in my 20s. I had never been a very sporty person until I took up running in college and had this whole new sense of myself as someone who was strong and capable of doing hard physical things. I signed up for the trip in part because I wanted to do something truly impressive. I wanted to push myself to my limits. On some deep level, I knew even then that I was hoping to change my personality and become someone different. So that part of Helen comes from me — and yes, looking back, it was completely nutty to think that I could change my entire personality on a hiking trip.”

“But it did change me, even if not in the ways I hoped for or imagined. And it turned out to be one of the grand adventures of my life,” the author continued. Furthermore, she shared how she got the idea for Helen’s character in the novel from a woman on the wilderness survival trip who was older than the rest of the group. Center added, “There was a woman on the trip I took who was 10 years older than the rest of us. Like Helen, she’d just gotten divorced. She arrived to find all these college kids, and she never fit in with the group — though she never seemed like she wanted to, either. It isolated her — but I think it freed her, too.”

“…I didn’t fit in perfectly with the group, myself, and so I felt a connection to her. I thought about her a lot then, and I knew she understood much more about life than the rest of us — though I couldn’t fathom at the time what it might be…I turned 40 not long before starting to write this book, and I’ve been thinking a lot about wisdom and what you have to give up to get it,” Center elaborated. Not just that, she divulged how she got the inspiration for the younger characters by revisiting her journal from the wilderness survival course and reminiscing how she was as a person in those times.

In the Netflix movie, Helen feels disconnected from herself and needs to start keeping the promises she makes to herself again. Surprisingly, most have felt this in their lives at some point, making the character relatable to the audience as she embarks on her journey of self-discovery through the woods. Although Katherine Center has based Helen and the people around her on individuals she came across during the experiences of her youth and her daily observations, they are primarily works of fiction and represent everyday people and their struggles.

Read More: Where Was Happiness for Beginners Filmed?