Open Thinkering


TB871: Happiness is a warm gun

Note: this is a post reflecting on one of the modules of my MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice. You can see all of the related posts in this category

It was my dad who introduced me to the music of The Beatles. There was one song that I never really understood as a child, though, entitled Happiness Is a Warm Gun. Why was the gun warm, I wondered? Surely John Lennon isn’t suggesting that shooting things makes you happy?

Lennon derived the title of “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” from an article in the May 1968 issue of American Rifleman. The magazine belonged to George Martin, the Beatles’ producer, who had brought it with him to the recording studio. Lennon recalled his reaction to the phrase: “I just thought it was a fantastic, insane thing to say. A warm gun means you just shot something.” Written by Warren W. Herlihy, the article told the story of how Herlihy had introduced his teenage son to shooting and how much the young man had come to enjoy the sport. The magazine had adapted the headline from the title of the bestselling book by Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz, Happiness is a Warm Puppy.


As the module materials (The Open University, 2020) point out, there are some concepts that have a plurality of metaphors attached to them, such as happiness:

The words 'HAPPINESS is' in the centre with examples of metaphors radiating out from lines (e.g. 'being off the ground', 'a pleasurable physical sensation')
A list of 13 conceptual metaphors discovered by an analysis by Kövecses (2002), and cited in The Open University (2020)

Like the module author, and I assume lots of people before hitting puberty, reading stories where people fall in love and use all kinds of metaphors seems completely unrelatable. That is, of course, until you have the experience yourself and then all of the song lyrics and descriptions in books start to make sense.

This is an important point when it comes to explaining things to other people. You can only use resonant metaphors if people have shared experiences. Otherwise, those metaphors are likely to be lost on them.


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