Thursday, January 30, 2014

Living the Dream!

It seems to me to be a stark reality about human nature that very few (if any) people's lives are actually 'living the dream' when viewed from the inside. The funniest* encapsulation of this sentiment that I remember was on a college t-shirt advertising a boys night out dubbed 'Escape From Reality'. On the back, was the heading in large letters 'Reality', with a picture of Carmen Electra. Underneath it was written 'No matter how good she looks right now, somewhere some guy is sick of putting up with her $#**.'

Salience being what it is, everyone reflects on the problems they have and not the problems that they don't. Are you in poor health? Missing a limb? Do you dislike your family? Are you short of money? Do you have lots of money but hate the job you're in? And if everything else seems pretty much okay, do you still feel a vague sense of purposelessness and ennui?

That's life, my friends. That's everyone's life. Because we live in an age of rampant hedonism and shallowness, the modern ideal of a life well lived is that of movie stars. People ask themselves the question 'would it be fun to change places with Brad Pitt for a while?' The answer is most likely 'Sure!'. But that's a very different proposition from the one that if you had to live like Brad Pitt forever, you wouldn't get sick of it pretty quickly. If you ask Dan Gilbert, it probably would only take you three months to get back to the same level of happiness you were at before. Do you really think that celebrities have no problems in their life that make them miserable? Really? None at all?

There is a certain type of person that goes on dating websites to broadcast how much they LOVE LOVE LOVE their life, their friends, their family, their career! I am always suspicious of these people. I mean, if I thought they were actually this happy, I would be most pleased - there's no resentment going on here. But the first giveaway that something is awry is the forum for this paean - let's just say that the platonic conception of someone whose life is already perfectly arranged probably doesn't include being on a dating website (even if you're just single cruising to meet new people to date - the ideal of that is having lots of friends of friends and meeting them at trendy parties and events).

Rather, it seems like the cult of self-esteem is colliding with the dreary reality of things being not quite right. The message, quite obviously, has nothing to do with the importance of convincing the rest of the dating world that one's life is already perfect (as if that were possible, or even desirable), but much more to do with trying to convince oneself. Cognitive dissonance being what it is, the awful prospect that maybe you made some bad choices has to be blasted away with denial, combined perhaps (in the case of the more introspective) with the sense of putting on a good face.

Personally, I'd be much more convinced by a dating profile with realistic descriptions of one's existence. I sure am REASONABLY HAPPY with the choices I've made so far! My life is quite okay most of the time, other than perhaps one or two respects.

Of course, if people actually started acting this way, facebook would be out of business overnight, as the number of people ritually blasting all and sundry with pictures bigging up their latest trip, party out, or academic year at Oxford would dry up immediately. If you're engaged in 'the dream' and you have a lingering uncertainty that it might not be all you'd hoped, better try to convince everyone else around you that at least you're much happier than they are.

*I say 'funniest' and not 'best' - that title of course belongs to the Great Sage.

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