The recent spate of deaths of relatively young singers and actors may seem a bit perplexing to the "average" person. Many would argue that Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger - and now as of three days ago, Whitney Houston - headline the list of Stupid People with Everything who Threw their Lives Away. Don't these people have what most others covet, namely fame and money? So many would give a kidney to have the life that these people led, yet they themselves seemed ungrateful and discontent.
The causes of their deaths are sketchy and shrouded in secrecy, but they mostly entail substance abuse. Those heart attacks, blackouts and cardiac arrests don't just spontaneously happen to a person under 50 (I know Michael Jackson just passed 50 at the time of dying, but he was thereabouts nonetheless). These celebrities had access to the best healthcare, nutrition and exercise facilities, yet they abused their bodies with alcohol, prescription medication and drugs. Many other celebrities around continue to live the same way: only they just happen to be alive.
One can point a finger at them for being "idiots" for throwing their well-set opulent lives away. How can you not love yourself when so many people worship you? When you have the wherewithal to buy anything, ability to go anywhere and the allure to date almost anyone, what is there to be unhappy about? Fame and money these people prove, is not a surefire recipe for contentment. You can't deny that being recognised and ogled at won't bolster your ego (initially at least), and that having lots of money doesn't make life easier. But being the complex creatures we are, these things in themselves are not enough. If they were, all of the abovementioned people would be living well into their nineties.
With material acquisitions, it's a case of wanting, getting, then forgetting. Initially you think you want something so badly: that TV, dining room set or car. Then you get it, use it for a while and within days you're over it looking out for what to get next. The anticipation and effort that went into getting something is usually underwhelmed by the actual ownership experience once you acquire it. When you get your first Ferrari you will feel euphoria, for example. Driving it will bring a smile to your face for the first few weeks or even months. But each time you drive it the magic fades just a little bit more. This process repeats itself with any external acquisition. It's the law of diminishing marginal utility: the joy you derive from something reduces each time you use it. You soon realise that there's only so much of stuff you can buy. If you aren't rich you might feel convinced that lots of money will make you whole, but within a very short time frame your new-found riches will become the new normal for you. And if you only focus on what to buy with your money, you will find yourself little happier than before.
Fame too can have lots of baggage. Even if you're quasi-famous and get recognised by a stranger on the street for the hundredth time, surely it gets tiresome. Now imagine having to disguise yourself by looking as disheveled as possible when going out to get an ice cream, or often being unable to go anywhere at all if your fame is on the level of someone like Michael Jackson. Living life this way, where every little outing has to be planned and timed, cannot be fun.
This is not to say I feel sorry for these singers and actors, nor I do believe they were victims. In fact, celebrities who live their lives like Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston are silly: they had a platform to live incredibly fulfilling lives but chose substance and prescription drug abuse instead. Fame and riches were not to blame: it's what they did with their fame and riches that's the problem. Compounding this problem is the lack of attention given to other aspects of their lives.
You see, maybe with the exception of Heath Ledger, the other three mentioned above were known to have tumultuous and generally unfulfilling personal relationships. It's also obvious they neglected their bodies. We're multidimensional beings: our bodies, souls and relationships need attention if we are to be complete human beings. These facets require time and energy on your part; you can't just throw money at them for a quick fix. Money cannot nourish your body and soul. This is why it is indeed true that money cannot buy happiness, not directly at least.
The lesson on life and human nature is this: no title, amount of wealth or material possessions are enough to make a human being fully content with her life. Your own island, fleet of Bentley's or vault full of jewellery cannot make up for certain types of deficiencies. The consumerist culture bred into us only makes us think that this is what happiness is about. But financial wealth and fame, while nice to have, are ultimately fleeting forms of gratitude.
Ironically it is actually their by-products - the time that money buys you and the voice that fame gives you - that can be leveraged to live a life worthwhile and help others achieve the same.