Sometimes the outside world can be a cold, cruel place, full of mean, hurtful people and scads of author-induced pain. That's why the best solution to a world bent on making you suffer can be to just curl up into a Troubled Fetal Position, suck your thumb, and go to a Happy Place inside your head. The Happy Place is rarely uninhabited though; it may be populated by scantily clad harem girls/boys, Spirit Advisors, an inner child or three, or if one is particularly unlucky they'll be roommates (headmates?) with a Split Personality, Superpowered Evil Side or Enemy Within, the troublesome roomies usually want to pick a fight.
A character interacting with others (or himself) in their Happy Place is a good way of giving them depth and explaining their motivation without having them act out of character in the show. The Stoic or The Quiet One who will never talk about the trauma that left them so may well relive it inside their mind, confronting a spectre of their guilt in the form of a dead loved one or other inner conflicts. In its extreme the dreamer may make a Journey to the Center of the Mind, sometimes accompanied by another.
Some characters are lucky and have their trip to the Happy Place happen outside of a show's real time, making their time and exposition there happen "instantly." A Cloud Cuckoo Lander is seldom so lucky. They may enter a fugue state or literally go catatonic while visiting their Happy Place, though this may sometimes be for the best if it's induced by emotional or physical trauma. Usually this depends on the nature of the Happy Place. Then again, the reason the Cloud Cuckoo Lander is so strange might be because they live there and visit real life.
There is one significant danger to the Happy Place, that being that if the resident has been sufficiently abused in the real world they might choose not to go back despite realizing it's fake.
Kinds of Happy Place:
Sky TV ran a series of advertisements where a person is shown in a stressful situation, reciting lines from their favourite shows. Their tagline being "Sky - your Happy Place!"
Anime and Manga
In Chrono Crusade, Rosette takes a distraught Azmaria out to a beautiful lake surrounded by forest to cheer her up. Chrono notes that it looks very similar to the area where he first met Rosette, and it seems as though she comes out there often when she's upset. In the middle of their trip there, a demon comes and attacks them, kidnapping Azmaria and setting the forest ablaze. Although it's only briefly shown, it's obvious that Rosette is shocked at seeing her personal Happy Place destroyed.
In Shaman King Bokuto no Ryu is constantly on the hunt for his. He joins Yoh to help him in his fight against Hao after he finds out that his best place was on his side.
Lily's flashbacks in Magical Chronicles Lyrical Nanoha Force show that she created one for her to escape in during her time as a lab experiment. It was during this period, when she was trying to escape from her gruesome reality, that she started to lose both her voice and her memories.
On one episode of Sailor Moon, Lita is making okonomiyaki while obviously in a very bad mood. When her friends try to get her to talk about it she says "I am not angry! I am in my happy place!"
In Full Metal Panic!, Sosuke has a real-life Happy Place, revealed at the end of the third novel (or the first anime): It's a secluded corner of Mithril's island base where he can just kick back and do some fishing. It may be the only place in the world where the perpetually battle-ready Sosuke actually unwinds and has fun, and he brings Kaname there because he wanted to share it with her.
In the Hinageshi arc of the Higurashi manga, the entire plot takes place in one of these, save for a little scene at the end. Tired and disappointed in herself because she failed a college prep test, a lonely Mion returns to Hinamizawa, her home. Hurt when her friends seem to have moved on without her (they don't make time to welcome her back, a ceremonial doll that represents her is gone from the group of dolls that symbolize them- It Makes Sense in Context-) she gradually becomes more isolated and depressed, thinking that she doesn't have a place in Hinamizawa anymore. Suddenly, she wakes up in her own room, friends surrounding her. They explain that she's recovering from the effects of a bad fever, and tell her that they thought she was coming back a week later than she did, and that her doll was removed to be repainted. This makes Mion feel better, and she cries Tears of Joy, and everyone is happy. And then the manga switches to showing a comatose Mion, propped up in a hospital bed. For the first time since she fell into the coma, a doctor comments, Mion shows signs of life- she's crying, but still doesn't wake up. It's then that the reader learns this arc is actually a sequel to one in which the Hinamizawa Disaster occurred. This means that Mion was the only survivor of her village being annihilated, and, because she couldn't cope with the pain, stayed permanently in her happy place- her dreams.
It actually gets even sadder when one realises the metaphor: Mion starts said arc bitterly disappointed at her failure, and wants more than anything her friends to tell her that they forgive said failure. Does this means she blames herself for the Disaster occurring?
The French audiobook ("saga mp3" in French) Trimoria. The main character builts a shelter in his own mind and enters into it by getting his head trapped in a microwaves. No comments about the fact that in reality, that would kill him. This inner kingdom has the name of Trimoria and makes the despair of the character's therapist.
In The Sandman, a confused superhero couple, Hector and Lyta Hall, live inside the Happy Place of an abused boy called Jed. Hector thinks he's a hero called the Sandman who fights monsters that invade the dreams of children, but somehow he doesn't notice that Jed is the only child he ever meets. This is all based on an older comic, also called The Sandman. In the new continuity, however, it turns out that the Halls' servants deliberately arranged for Jed to be mistreated so he would create this dream-place to escape to, where the servants could hide from the real Sandman.
The Maxx was based on this trope, with half of the action taking place in the Outback, a prehistoric dream world created by Julie as an escape from a near-fatal sexual assault.
Later in the series it is revealed other people also have their Outbacks, including Sarah, and maybe Dave/the Maxx himself.
One issue of Nightmask involves a man whose wife and young daughter were murdered, and who has slipped into a catatonic Happy Place where they're still alive. The recently-orphaned protagonist is supposed to use his dream-walking abilities to bring the man out, but he's not sure he wants to, especially since it involves "killing" the dream family.
In Superman: Red Son, Hal Jordan was a former POW, eventually chosen by Lex Luthor to wear the Power Ring because of the elaborate version of this he constructed as a survival mechanism while being tortured. In his, he literally imagined himself building a prison for his captors in real time. The time it would take him to dig a hole or chop down a tree or take a break was imagined in his head until finally after years of real time imagination, he had "constructed" the prison and set about killing each of his captors in what he called the most glorious night of his life.
In Fight Club, The Narrator's happy place is a frozen cave occupied by his power animal—a talking penguin. He tries to enter it later to escape the pain of chemical burn, but Tyler Durden pulls him out. Now, howwould Tyler know about that?
Narrator: "I'm going to my cave! I'm going to my cave and I'm going to find my power animal!"
The plot of the Kids in the Hallfeature filmBrain Candy revolved around a new anti-depressant wonder drug which worked by constantly replaying the patient's happiest memory, thereby making impossible for them to be miserable.
Little Odessa: after the deaths of his mother and brother the moroseprotagonist sits alone in his car and imagines the three of them sitting quietly side by side in a bedroom in their home (from which he had been banished).
Played to the hilt in Dumb and Dumber when Lloyd encounters Sea Bass in the service station restroom.
Sucker Punch is an especially confusing example- it shifts between at least three levels of reality, and in two of them- you know the badass Nakama of Action Girls who've been following our protagonist and helping her fight her fears and grow stronger? Yeah, they're actually figments of her imagination. A blog entry tries to explain the madness, but even so, the film remains confusing- it's either a disgustingly misogynistic 'popcorn movie' that combined an incomprehensible plot with masses of fanservice, or a serious movie about a girl overcoming the trauma of sexual abuse to free herself from an insane asylum that mocks the very people who watch it for the fanservice. There are arguments to be made for both sides, and neither can really explain why the film has that dragon-slaying scene- though that likely falls under symbolism and Rule of Cool.
In the Tamora PierceCircle of Magic books, Briar creates a magical Happy Place for himself and his foster-sisters; the mental place in question is of the Sitting on the Roof category, and is the place where the four first solidified their friendship as children. It acts as an extension of their returned telepathy.
In the book version of The Princess Bride, Westley endures torture by imagining himself with Buttercup. However, this only works until Count Rugen brings in The Machine.
Hannibal Lecter built an entire Happy Palace, filled with his memories of culture and fine arts. He used it to endure his time in prison, and on long airline rides.
In the Stephen King-as-Richard-Bachman book The Regulators, autistic and telepathic Seth manages to create such a refuge for his aunt/guardian Audrey (using a vacation she took in her college days as source material) to give her a way to get away from Tak's various torments.
And in The Dark Tower, Sheemie Ruiz, a powerful but mentally-disabled psychic, can create a physical happy place with his mind, and sends the protagonists there to protect them.
In one of the Animorphs books, Taylor tortures Tobias by deliberately putting him in his happy place, then switching to unbearable pain, then back, and forth, and so on. This kept him from using his anti-emotion (including pain) mechanism.
Sleepy of The Black Company has a secret place to retreat into mentally when very frightened, or when confronted with sexual tension. It's strongly implied, though never really confirmed, that it stems from sexual abuse in childhood.
Taken rather literally in The Tripods. Human servants who can no longer serve The Masters go to The Place Of Happy Release (aka instant death from some kind of vapor ray).
In Anne Fine's Taking the Devils Advice the protagonist had a pretty miserable childhood and would escape into flights of fancy, training his mind for great philosophical feats, allowing him a rewarding career, if not a happy home life.
In A Song of Ice and Fire, Jaime and Brienne are captured by a gang of bandits. Jaime advises Brienne to go into her happy place when they try to rape her, instead of fighting back; attacking them will only make them angrier and likely to mutilate or kill her. Brienne, being a very staunch Action Girl, refuses the idea, and later Jaime is able to think up an idea that will keep the bandits from raping her at all...though it's a near miss.
We later find out why Jaime advised this in particular. In his youth, Jaime was a knight sworn to protect a very insane, sadistic king. In particular, he was Forced to Watch while said king killed innocent people in horrific ways, and could not reconcile his honour (which demanded he serve the king faithfully) with his conscience. Thus, he used this trope frequently (the thing he visualized, in particular, was being safe and happy with Cersei, his lover.) However, when the king announced his intention to burn everyone in the capital city to death, just to spite those coming to conquer it, Jaime was so completely horrified that he could not stand by. That's why he's known as the Kingslayer when the books begin, and reviled as a traitor without honour. He comments later to Brienne on the irony of being despised by so many for his finest act.
Patricia Anne of the Southern Sisters Mysteries reacts to finding dead bodies by mentally wandering the linen aisle of whatever store is having a sale that week, envisioning what kind of towels and throw pillows she's going to buy.
Gaius Baltar on Battlestar Galactica often went back to his lake house on Caprica when under stressful or dangerous situations. Usually Six, his sometimes-abusive Spirit Advisor would lounge about with him or rub his back and other parts.
The Cylons on the same show were a Subversion, because they didn't go into the Happy Place so much as project it over their real environment.
Don't forget 'Out of Their Minds', where Rygel is stuck in John's body.
Rygel: I'm dreaming, yes that's it! I'm asleep...and I'm dreaming all this. I'll wake up in my royal chamber surrounded by concubines and everything will be fine!
Although we don't see it, Stark retreats to such a place when he's being tortured in the Aurora Chair by Scorpius. It's the one memory he won't let Scorpius have, and he ends up sharing it with Crichton when he too is put in the Chair.
In an episode of the fourth season of Coupling, one of the characters accompanies her friend to antenatal classes and disappears to her Happy Place (complete with wine and a string quartet) when the actual mechanics of childbirth get discussed. It is later subverted when the Happy Place itself is invaded by related imagery, such as a knife blade emerging between her legs from the red cushion of her chair.
Just Shoot Me!: upon learning the Nina and his father are dating, Dennis retreats into his Happy Place, where he beats an Asian kid and a college professor at a Rubik's Cube competition.
In Black Books Bernard, and then Fran, both escape their dinner guests by hiding under the table. There's a bar under there.
In an episode, Dr. Cox goes to his happy place (a calm beach where he can hear the waves crashing and flocks of seagulls flying overhead) to escape Elliot's chatter, but while he's there, Elliot and Jordan cheerfully arrange a "couple date". And while this is going on a storm breaks out in his happy place.
In another episode, JD's happy place is an Imagine Spot with him as the bandleader for Jay Leno.
In the Firefly episode "Objects in Space", River unintentionally experiences a Happy Place, where she retreats to shut out the thoughts of the rest of the crew.
The Supernatural Djinn in What Is And What Should Never Be sends it's victims here while he feeds on their blood. Highly disturbingly, Dean's happy place is where he can "rest", his father's still dead (yet still having the amazing ability of being able to bully him from beyond the grave) because a Happy!John would probably make his brain short-out, his perfect girlfriend looks the reaper from the premiere, everyone thinks he's a worthless waste of space (because he's the one who thinks that) and his family all have wonderful lives except him. And the worst thing? He's told that "It's still better than anything he's had."
Fiona: "Tricia, I want you to try something. It's a relaxation exercise I do in situations like this. I want you to close your eyes, and breathe deep...picture a peaceful mountain stream...picture yourself drowning the kidnapper in the stream. You're taking a rock from the stream, and raising it above your head, and with tremendous force you're bringing-"
In Corner Gas, Brent Leroy's happy place has two scantily clad women, pudding baths, chili cheese dogs and once, The Man from Glad.
Also, from the Theme Song: "It's a great big place/ Full of nothing but space/ And it's my happy place!"
Mocked in Stargate SG-1, when Daniel starts to complain that a number of artifacts have been moved (they were in the way), O'Neill cuts him off by telling him to go to his happy place.
In Community, there is a secret trampoline that can put people into a zen state.
A straighter example is in the fourth season premiere, in which Britta instructs Abed to make a happy place to help him cope with the change going on his life. The result is "Abed's Happy Community College Show," a cliche and stagnantSitcom reality, complete with Laugh Track. When change begins to seep into Abed's imagined world, he retreats even further into "Greendale Babies."
In As the World Turns, Luke helps the claustrophobic neurosurgeon Reid calm down while they are stuck in an elevator by telling to go to his happy place. Reid's happy place is the brain, as he is very fascinated by brains,
In season 2 of Hannibal, Will Graham spends a lot of time imagining himself fishing in an idyllic river. He has to do something to keep calm while he's stuck in a mental institution awaiting trial for murder. Nasty bits of the outside world do occasionally break in, though: bloated dead bodies floating past him, the Ravenstag walking on the riverbank, and the Wendigo rising from the water to stare hungrily at him, to name a few.
Evanescence's song "Imaginary" describes one of these places. The lyrics talk about a "field of paper flowers and candy clouds of lullaby" that the singer escapes to because her life is "the nightmare I built my own world to escape".
Fei's MPD was a coping mechanism that young Fei's developed to deal with the painful experiments that his own mother (who was Not Herself, long story) put him through. Young Fei created a second personality (named Id, who calls the original "the coward") to bear the brunt of the trauma while the original personality retreated to a literal Happy place; a vault that contained all the happy memories that he had ever experienced. The inversion of this Trope also applies to Id, who's stuck in land containing nothing but the "unhappy" memories, due to the presence of a 3rd personality (the current Fei) that was created to contain the psychotic Id.
The entire plot of Kagetsu Tohya is based on how Shiki comes to realize that he's trapped in Len's version of a Lotus-Eater Machine, which is really more of what he would consider this trope. All she really wants is a normal, happy every day life. While inside, he's always fairly happy while staying in the bounds of Len's script. He doesn't have to fight vampires, he can be with all his friends and love interests, it's always exciting and hey, maybe there's a festival going on! But that's Len's happy place, and she's a dream familiar that dragged him with her while thinking she was helping him after Arcueid knocked him out on accident.
Actually, turns out Shiki got hit by a car. No, wait, he DODGED a car and hit his head on the curb...Either way, Aruceid/Len panicked, and sent his mind there to make sure he was okay...but then things get bad.
In Project Origin, one of the recurring visions Becket keeps experiencing from Alma is of a hilltop amidst tall, waving grass with a single swingset hanging from the tree. The signifigance of this scene doesn't become apparent until the end of the game, when you reach Still Island. The tree and the swingset were real, but sandwiched into a muddy corner of the nuclear power plant's sewer system, and the place you ended up visiting is what she kept trying to imagine it as: the only Happy Place she had amidst all the experimentation and misery she experienced as a child.
In Rayman 2: The Great Escape, there is an odd alternate ending in the middle of the game. After beating a level called The Cave of Bad Dreams (actually the Black Bug Room of the god of that world), Rayman can choose whether or not to accept a huge pile of gold he does not need. If he does take it, the game ends on a shot of Rayman, very fat and happy, relaxing on a tiny tropical island, with the entire world around him in ruins. However, The Cave of Bad Dreams is a large Schr÷dinger's Butterfly, so it can't be known if the island is real or not.
A MegaTokyo guest comic done by the guys at Mac Hall showed Piro at a convention attempting to commit seppuku. As they're trying to wrestle the blade out of his hands, someone yells out, "Go to your happy place, Piro! Sad girl in snow!"
It has been reported that some victims of violence, during the act, would retreat into a fantasy world from which they could not WAKE UP. In this catatonic state, the victim lived in a world just like their normal one, except they weren't being raped. The only way that they realized they needed to WAKE UP was a note they found in their fantasy world. It would tell them about their condition, and tell them to WAKE UP. Even then, it would often take months until they were ready to discard their fantasy world and PLEASE WAKE UP.
The World of Warcraft fan song "Happy Place" is about an undead rogue whose happy place is picking flowers. Just don't pick his flowers or he'll gank you 'til the cows come home.
For Brows Held High, it's ads of Shakespearean actors reading classic poetry while classical music plays. "Pretension Nirvana!"
The Nostalgia Critic's happy place is being with Catherine Zeta Jones and she wearing only a hat, tie, glasses and a long sweater.
In an episode of The Amazing World of Gumball Gumball suffers a traumatic event (being kissed on the lips by his grandmother) and Darwin tries to help him recover by finding his happy place.
In the famous The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy episode "Attack of the Clowns", Billy goes to his "happy place" to get away from Grim and Mandy, who are trying to force him to face his fear of clowns. There, he has a conversation with his "inner frat boy", who convinces him to face his fears... by beating the crap out of any clown he sees.
Freakazoid: NOOO! GET OUTTA HERE WITH THAT WATCH!!! LAY OFF THE POOR BEAVERS, WILLYA?!!! SHEEEEEZ!!! YOU'RE A CREEP!!!! GO AWAY!!!! WE WERE HAVING A GOOD TIME UNTIL YOU SHOWED UP, JEEPERS!!! UNGGGGH! GO HAVE SOME COFFEE WITH CREAM OR SOMETHING, BECAUSE I'LL TELL YOU SOMETHING,THIS IS A HAPPY PLACE!
One of the pilots featured in Cartoon Network's "Big Pick" was Commander Cork: Space Ranger, a thickheaded space explorer who could retreat into his idyllic Happy Place at a moment's notice. At the episode's climax, with the villain torturing him with a manifestation of his inner rage, he desperately retreated into his Happy Place, only to somehow bring his nemesis along with him; he himself was promptly kicked out, leaving the villain in control of his Happy Place. "Whoa. That can't be good." As the pilot was never picked up, nothing ever really came of this.
In the second Robot ChickenStar Wars special, going into this was how Anakin was able to bring himself to kill the Jedi children — retreating into his memory of Naboo, where he and Padme fell in love. Instead of children, he now sees sunflowers... The punchline is that he leaves a pile of the resultant "fresh-cut sunflowers" on a table for her afterward.
In the MTV adaptation of The Maxx the antagonist Mr. Gone narrates thus in the intro: Most of us inhabit at least two worlds: the real world where we're at the mercy of circumstance and the world within, a safe place where we can escape.
In Finding Nemo, Darla is tapping on the fishtank glass where Peach the starfish is, singing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star". Peach cries "Find a happy place" three times as she falls off.
In the Legend of the Boneknapper Dragon short film on the 'How to Train Your Dragon'' DVD (2nd disc), Snotlout says this twice in a row.
"Calm Blue Ocean. Calm Blue Ocean," chants Miss Hoover, after Lisa Simpson steals every teacher's guide in the school.
Arguably, this is the reason why Homer envisions the disgusting fantasies while chanting "Think Unsexy Thoughts" during the episode "The Last Temptation of Homer Simpson".
Going to your "happy place," or taking a mental vacation, is a recommended coping strategy for people with a variety of mental conditions (anxiety, depression, bipolar, borderline personality disorder, etc.) to deal with stressful situations, so long as these trips remain short term. If a person begins spending a significant portion of his or her time away from reality, it may be time to use other coping methods more often.
Autistic fantasy is a form of withdrawal into the mental world to avoid dealing with real people and situations. Despite the name, it is not restricted to those on the autism spectrum; individuals with personality disorders may also use this as an (unhealthy/lower level) coping strategy. Rather than a mental vacation, those who live these fantasies substitute the mental world for the real one and avoid taking actions that might resolve their problems.
Some people with autism/Asperger's Syndrome have healthier variants. Some have a task, like writing or drawing, that acts as their 'happy place,' where they can be undisturbed and work out their emotions. Others don't retreat into imagination at all, but just need to cool down in a quiet, private place.