I have been thinking lately about the times I’ve ended up spending time with someone really rich or really famous or both. Each of the experiences was different, but the one thing that struck me each time was how regular the person was – and by regular I mean often funny or nice or interesting but just as often insecure, awkward, or rude. None of these uber successful people struck me as more content than my not-famous, not-rich friends – even though they often had countless accolades and awards, which we often confuse with love.
This is probably not surprising, but I feel as though I should have been warned about this in school. We grow up surrounded by stories that glorify material success and fame as the good life, but what if we also got to see these wealthy, famous people actually living and realized there was no extra happiness or wisdom there at all and that the pursuit of those things as a sort of holy grail causes a lot unnecessary pain. Sure, there are plenty of biopics of famous people crashing and getting addicted etc., but these are usually so sexed up to make the crash itself seem kind of cool and desirable – like, it’s all good if everyone is watching and paying attention to you.
What if, from a young age, we got to see these cautionary tales in the context of studying what real contentment IS – both scientifically and in a lived way – and were told stories that glorified non-profit workers who feel true contentment in service to others, folks with average jobs who manage to find unusual amounts of leisure and low stress, people who find lasting joy in their spiritual practice with relatively simple lives.
In my own life, I find thinking of my meetings with famous people highly useful . Then I think of the people I’ve met who seem to have found a more unshakeable contentment – none of whom were wealthy or famous – and I remember to come back to the things that have given me glimpses of real freedom and peace and joy, to re-emphasize them.