Famous Little You



In his intriguing article, “Love People, Not Pleasure,” Arthur C. Brooks considers the three classic aspirations that fuel our quest for happiness: fame, wealth and pleasure.

Not surprisingly, Brooks concludes that none of the big three brings happiness. The whole article is worth reading (http://nyti.ms/1rnCr3I), but I was taken by this reflection on fame.

Most of us might imagine that we’re immune from this one. It seems odd, somehow, even to say it. “I want to be famous.” Like Bono or LeBron or J.K. Rowling. But of course we all want to be known, noticed, followed. Brooks writes:

Today, each of us can build a personal little fan base, thanks to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and the like. We can broadcast the details of our lives to friends and strangers in an astonishingly efficient way. That’s good for staying in touch with friends, but it also puts a minor form of fame-seeking within each person’s reach. And several studies show that it can make us unhappy.

It makes sense. What do you post to Facebook? Pictures of yourself yelling at your kids, or having a hard time at work? No, you post smiling photos of a hiking trip with friends. You build a fake life — or at least an incomplete one — and share it. Furthermore, you consume almost exclusively the fake lives of your social media “friends.” Unless you are extraordinarily self-aware, how could it not make you feel worse to spend part of your time pretending to be happier than you are, and the other part of your time seeing how much happier others seem to be than you?

So there. “A minor form of fame-seeking” is what consumes over 500 million people (the count as of October 2013). That’s ok, of course, so long as we remember to be—as Brooks puts it—“extraordinarily self-aware.”

“This is only half my life,” we say as we post the family group hug at our daughter’s graduation from MIT.

“This is only half her life,” we say as we view the beach shot which was taken self-consciously to serve also as her Christmas card photo.

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