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I worry about the happiness of the American Idol contestants.

I worry about the happiness of the American Idol contestants.

Last night, they announced the winner of American Idol. Now, I know practically nothing about American Idol. I’d never watched for even one minute until a few months ago, when the Big Girl asked to start recording it so she could watch during her TV time.

Since then, I’ve watched bits and pieces with her. It’s not a show I like, because I feel too sorry for the people who lose – I don’t watch the Olympics or the Super Bowl, either. (I have a lot of these weird quirks -- like my distaste for the theme of unjust accusation. It annoys the Big Man from time to time; I pass on a lot of Netflix suggestions.)

Also, because I think about happiness all the time, I started worrying about the contestants’ happiness. It’s painful to lose, of course. And along the way, sometimes the judges, being nice, would say things like, “You really have star quality,” “I know you’ll make it in the music industry, even though you’re being eliminated now,” etc.

On the one hand, it’s important to have a big dream and a big vision for ourselves – and that means being open to the possibility of failure. I remind myself constantly of my resolution to “Embrace the fun of failure.”

But usually, when you’re pursuing a big dream, you work at it step by step. You gradually move up through a series of challenges which you surmount, or not. The thing about American Idol is that everyday people are catapulted into the glare of tremendous fame, and a dizzying world of possibility opens. Then, for most of them, it ends very abruptly. (I’m assuming – am I wrong? Do many contestants manage to turn American Idol into a good career opportunity?)

This strikes me as a likely route to dissatisfaction. I’m reminded of the conclusion of the Christopher Guest movie, Waiting for Guffman, when the dentist, captivated by show business, leaves his dental practice to try to make it as a performer; in his final appearance, we see him telling jokes in front of a bored crowd at a seniors center. The possibility of being taken up by a famous Broadway producer had completely altered his sense of himself.

Fame has a crazy effect on people. It’s like money. Wanting it, winning it, having it thrust upon you without any effort on your part, losing it…fame and money can create strange, powerful disturbances in the normal fields of life.

As Plutarch observed, “For dealing with the blessings which come to us from outside we need a firm foundation based on reason and education; without this foundation, people keep on seeking these blessings and heaping them up but can never satisfy the insatiable appetites of their souls.”

Hmmmm...I don't think I agree with everything in this very provocative post about some reasons that people have affairs on the Psychology Today blogs, but there's a lot of interesting material here. I've been thinking about equity theory lately, and wanting to learn more about it. It was also interesting to me as someone who wrote a biography of JFK. In college, a friend told me, "In the best relationships, both people think they're getting the better deal." This post undercuts that argument!

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