Nearly all human struggle is induced by the self or by others. We have survived all exterior threats like predatory animals, violent weather and even the unstable earth all for as long as homo sapiens sapiens have been on this planet, but we are our own greatest threat, both on the inside and the out. Our eyes always stare out toward our circumstances, but ultimately, we are our own greatest danger.
When some of us seemingly rise above ordinary people by gaining widespread fame and abundant fortune, we can fail to see how shallow success of fame and fortune can be a recipe of self destruction.
Chris Cornell, Kurt Cobain, Robin Williams, Amy Winehouse and many others have found the heights success a dark and lowly place. Despite years of acclaim and praise, the darkness within them grew enough to snuff their flames. Their tragedy is not that such talented artists were taken from the masses, but that any individual human man or woman would so despair of hope that taking their own lives seemed the only way to deal with demons of which success could never cure.
Those who believe success in business, music, acting, writing, politics or any other rise-to-the-top venture will similarly rid them of their demons is a sure lie from the darkness, itself.
Contrary to popular desire, the daily limitations in normal life are great benefits to the average person. The lack of infinite money, power, sex or adulation serves to keep our demons in check. The inability to waste all our money drinking, partying or wandering the world aimlessly without purpose unleashes the pressures holding our flaws as cracks, emboldening them as chasms from which escape seems impossible.
Couple that with the mistaken belief that success is the human ideal, the level of despair which famous people face is unconscionable. Imagine that you find success only to realize that your demons are stronger than ever. There is no longer any higher to climb that your demons cannot follow. The average celebrity must come to terms that human success does not bring inner peace.
Why do you think so many of them fall into drugs, alcohol and other addictions? Suddenly attainment is not fulfillment.
Very wealthy people also face a similar struggle. (Read: Rich and unhappy? You’re not alone or The Reason Many Ultrarich People Aren’t Satisfied With Their Wealth) Those who gain much start to focus only upon "gaining more." Soon they are caught up in a culture of competitive faces, where he who has the newest car or she who has the newest dress is all they can do to challenge themselves.
We've been raised to believe that more is more. Some would blame consumerism, but consumerism is merely a product of human desire. While some cultures disdain consumerism, individuals often enjoy the cheaper fruits of capitalist labor to make their lives a bit easier, and they're not wrong to do so. Easier work and chores can free us to spend more time with each other, which is where real abundance lies.
Despite being a consummate traveller, what I relish more than the places I've been is the people I've met and made family. I can travel nearly anywhere in the country and have someone to see and share life. Interesting things are more interesting when shared (one reason I write this blog), as well as gaining insight on how people around the world live their lives now and throughout history.
Of note is that we always look to the famous and wish we were them, falsely assuming they're happy because they are successful. Truth be told, story after story appears in newspapers, news sites and magazines around the world by men and women who have found misery in attainment.
If it doesn't take money and success to find happiness, what, then, should we seek?
Contentment won't come because you get what you want. Instead, contentment is found when you learn to be grateful for your life right where you are, in the state you're in with the people who are around you. The balance is not that you accept unhealthy habits, negative people and poor job opportunities, but that in pursuing better conditions for your life, you remain grounded that this present moment is all you can be sure of. You might lose your life in the next moment. Will you look back and wonder why you wasted your life always aching for a future that was never your present? Ignoring how your present may have fulfilled yesterday's future aspirations? Seeing the worthiness of today because tomorrow's fantasy always seemed better?
Ambition, drive and improvement are fine things, but like all pursuits are best tempered with the clarity of present life. Did you appreciate that you woke up this morning in a bed instead of on a dirt floor? You had food to eat and air conditioning to comfort you? Warm, dry clothes and electricity? That you have more opportunity to change jobs, improve your skillset and redefine your life like no other point in human history?
Practice gratitude as a day habit of mindfulness. While the present may not be optimal, it is the surest foundation to being content with what you have, even as you seek better. Consume life now so that when that end comes for you -- whether tonight or many decades from now -- that you can say you lived life as you had it, not as you always wished it might be.