Monday, November 08, 2021

It’s Quitting Season

I want to pass on two articles with the similar themes of people taking stock of their lives and deciding to stop making themselves unhappy. The piece by Crouse and Ferguson is a video, by and directed towards, Millenials, with the following introductory text:
It’s been a brutal few years. But we’ve gritted through. We’ve spent time languishing. We’ve had one giant national burnout. And now, finally, we’re quitting...We are quitting our jobs. Our cities. Our marriages. Even our Twitter feeds...And as we argue in the video, we’re not quitting because we’re weak. We’re quitting because we’re smart...younger Americans like 18-year-old singer Olivia Rodrigo and the extraordinary Simone Biles are barely old enough to rent a car but they are already teaching us about boundaries. They’ve seen enough hollowed-out millennials to know what the rest of us are learning: Don’t be a martyr to grit.
I feel some personal resonance with points made about a whole career path in the piece by Arthur Brooks, To Be Happy, Hide From the Spotlight, because this clip nails a part of the reason I keep driving myself to performances (writing, lecturing, music) by rote habit:
Assuming that you aren’t a pop star or the president, fame might seem like an abstract problem. The thing is, fame is relative, and its cousin, prestige — fame among a particular group of people — is just as fervently chased in smaller communities and fields of expertise. In my own community of academia, honors and prestige can be highly esoteric but deeply desired.
I suggest you read the whole article, but here are a few further clips:
Even if a person’s motive for fame is to set a positive example, it mirrors the other, less flattering motives insofar as it depends on other people’s opinions. And therein lies the happiness problem. Thomas Aquinas wrote in the 13th century, “Happiness is in the happy. But honor is not in the honored.” ...research shows that fame ...based on what scholars call extrinsic rewards... brings less happiness than intrinsic rewards...fame has become a form of addiction. This is especially true in the era of social media, which allows almost anyone with enough motivation to achieve recognition by some number of strangers...this is not a new phenomenon. The 19th-century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said fame is like seawater: “The more we have, the thirstier we become.”
No social scientists I am aware of have created a quantitative misery index of fame. But the weight of the indirect evidence above, along with the testimonies of those who have tasted true fame in their time, should be enough to show us that it is poisonous. It is “like a river, that beareth up things light and swollen,” said Francis Bacon, “and drowns things weighty and solid.” Or take it from Lady Gaga: “Fame is prison.”
...Pay attention to when you are seeking fame, prestige, envy, or admiration—especially from strangers. Before you post on social media, for example, ask yourself what you hope to achieve with it...Say you want to share a bit of professional puffery or photos of your excellent beach body. The benefit you experience is probably the little hit of dopamine you will get as you fire it off while imagining the admiration or envy others experience as they see it. The cost is in the reality of how people will actually see your post (and you): Research shows that people will largely find your boasting to be annoying—even if you disguise it with a humblebrag—and thus admire you less, not more. As Shakespeare helpfully put it, “Who knows himself a braggart, / Let him fear this, for it will come to pass / that every braggart shall be found an ass.”
The poet Emily Dickinson called fame a “fickle food / Upon a shifting plate.” But far from a harmless meal, “Men eat of it and die.” It’s a good metaphor, because we have the urge to consume all kinds of things that appeal to some anachronistic neurochemical impulse but that nevertheless will harm us. In many cases—tobacco, drugs of abuse, and, to some extent, unhealthy foods—we as a society have recognized these tendencies and taken steps to combat them by educating others about their ill effects.
Why have we failed to do so with fame? None of us, nor our children, will ever find fulfillment through the judgment of strangers. The right rule of thumb is to treat fame like a dangerous drug: Never seek it for its own sake, teach your kids to avoid it, and shun those who offer it.

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