Another talented performer, actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman, died last month. Sometimes, you feel like the very best of them go hurtling down in a domino-style effect, leaving the rest of us somewhat stunned over their sudden departure. Why celebrities’ deaths seem to shock us more than normal civilians’ I’ve ceased trying to understand but, on many occasions, it just does. Perhaps one reason is that we believe the silver screen, or the studded stage, equals a coat of armour, a glittering shield that protects them against realities that affect our own lives. That would be ludicrous, though, to situate ourselves on the same level as these mortals who have been painfully sculpted into semi-Gods. We are left to look up to them, speculating as to what their secret to life may be.
Confusion begins to set in. “They had it all”, we murmur. The kids, partner, wealth, adulation, looks, talent, holidays, and whatever else you want to throw in for good measure from your own bank of harbored desires. Often, our daily actions are motivated by the prospect of a promising future that will one day obtain what these stars already have in plentiful amounts; here’s hoping.
What exactly went wrong? Why is it that some of us wonder, completely naively, how all of the aforementioned trinkets could not serve as enough to sustain a person’s happiness for a lifetime? Why does it not act as a sedative against all the ills that life routinely dishes out?
The human has and always will be a very complex being. What we think we want we don’t in the long run, and what we didn’t want can turn out to be the very thing we needed. What made us happy yesterday may not tomorrow and what we once aimed for may fall short in reality. They are often so pretty, too, our dreams made up of nothing more than powdery smoke, which we nonetheless cling to so arduously. So it goes. We are walking contradictions but, hopefully, sometimes, we get it right. Every now and then, maybe we do know what is best for us.
Personally, I have not yet seen any of Hoffman’s work. All I know is that he was a rich, successful Hollywood actor; the top of his field. Heralded as a ‘genius’ by his peers and applauded by the critics circle. He worked with some of the greats and was considered one alongside them. Is it wrong then for us to be left scratching our heads, again asking, What exactly went wrong? How can the trajectory along the golden path of riches and prosperity not be all it’s cracked up to be at the end; how dare it be muddy and broken?
Happiness is an elusive thing; so elusive that it may not always be worth thinking about, with our brows furrowed with indefatigable determination to find, grab, and hoard it. Truth is, it often comes in the simplest of ways, and often when we least expect it. Unfortunately, it can often find us unaware of its very presence, until time provides us with the benefit of hindsight and wisdom.
Happiness, like sadness, and many other emotions, is always in flux, and it is not feasible to think, firstly, that we always know where it lies and, secondly, that it can encompass our every waking day. Such a pursuit is absurd, yet some of us feel a strong sense of failure when we admit this. When we take these golden threads of happiness and try to interlace them into every facet of our lives, or use them to replicate the lives of others documented to us, then the real problems begin.
We never know what a person is enjoying or, in this case, enduring, because they are not us. We hope to glean and pry, but only arrive at a slight sense of truth at the best of times. The very best we can do in life is to, of course, pursue the things we think will bring us some sustainable happiness. But what we could also do, after having carefully laid out the stones, is to take a tentative step back, with our hands making a truce-like gesture, in silent acknowledgment that we simply may not know what will bring this feeling of effervescence in the grand scheme of things. It may be at the end of our imaginary rainbow. Then again, it could lie miles from where we expected the pot of gold.
Consider the words of Beatle’s man John Lennon:
“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
I’ll spare you the efforts of explaining the relevance of this. Let’s just say: it is unrealistic to assume that the preordained mantra of school-job-family-kids creates a safe-haven for our sanity. It does not. But if we solidify this way of thinking, when things eventually fall short of our expectations, we simply fall, with no contingency plan on how to get back up.