Before we set our hearts too much on anything, let us examine how happy are those who already possess it.
- Francois, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, French moralist (1613-1680)
Let's look at some examples. Start with winning a lottery.
Despite the stories published about unhappiness and even financial hardship (later) suffered by winners of large sums in lotteries, I have heard many people say "I'd like to suffer that way," or "Just let me try it." Those people had learned nothing from the examples of unhappiness experienced by others who won lotteries.
Most people who win large sums in lotteries have little experience with managing large amounts of money over which they have complete control. Some give it away to family members or charities, or spend lavishly on a lifestyle they have never experienced, while most try to keep it (invested) for their "nest egg" when they retire.
With no experience managing large amounts of money, very few keep a significant portion of their winnings until retirement. Because their names become public information, they get plagued by charitable organizations for donations (for years afterwards), by strangers who simply want a handout (a surprising number of them come out of the woodwork) and investment "counselors" who make frequent transactions on behalf of their clients to extract fees from them.
Many (especially, but not exclusively, young people) wish they could be rock stars. So many rock stars are either drug users or addicts or heavy users of alcohol, or both, that it's a wonder anyone would want to emulate them. True, they get adulation from the crowds, but the pressure on them to make continually more money to support growing numbers of helper employees often nets them less than their less heralded counterparts.
Music stardom brings with it fame, a double edged sword. Being recognized every time you step out your door is great for the ego for a while, but it becomes stifling when you can't appear in public anywhere without being mobbed. Stardom usually reduces a person's ability to move around in public places, including travelling, which many "unknown" people enjoy.
Movie stars have gained adoring followers since the days of silent movies. They suffer the same downside of fame as the music stars. And the same pressure to make more money and inability to move about in public without attracting greedy and grabby fans.
The "stars" who inhabit the pages of supermarket tabloids have no private lives at all. The paparazzi follow them everywhere and photograph them in the most embarrassing and compromising situations possible. Even an innocent photo can become a scandal in a tabloid when it is taken out of context. Some tabloids simply use pictures and invent absurd stories to with them. A few "doctor" the photos to service their scandal stories.
Having a "public" life may seem attractive to someone who lives their whole life in relative obscurity. Having no private life because photographers or fans follow you everywhere (including to the bathroom) means sacrificing what most people consider to be their life. Fame can be a prison without bars.
A few people want to be writers or poets. They adore the work of their favourites and wish they could produce the same kinds of material. They may even love the idea of working at home, as most such artists do. What most of these wannabes don't understand and would not be willing to commit to if they did is the years of toiling alone, in obscurity and with little income, unappreciated by most of the world, in the hope of being discovered as an overnight success one day.
The fault and folly of wishing to be someone we aren't is that we don't take into consideration the downside of the lives of our idols. We only see the good side, the parts of their life that we would most like to have.
In my role as a sociologist I have informally studied many people who wanted to be someone else. When I pursued the wishes of these people to the point of making them aware of the whole span of experiences of those they idolized, not one has wanted to exchange lives with them.
As the old saying goes: The pasture always looks greener on the other side of the fence, but it looks just as brown as your own when you get up close.
A newer saying goes: Be careful what you wish for, you may get it.
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to grow children who like the skin they were born in and want to make the best of their lives instead of wishing to be someone else.
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