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David Brooks asked a probing question in his column yesterday. It’s a question highlighted by the two reasons Sandra Bullock has been in the news lately:

First, she won an Academy Award for best actress. Then came the news reports claiming that her husband is an adulterous jerk. So the philosophic question of the day is: Would you take that as a deal? Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow?

The answer should be obvious, Brooks says. In fact, you shouldn’t need to think about it.

Absolutely not. And the reasons why, interestingly en0ugh, would lead directly to a good death. Money and worldly success have little to do with personal happiness or fulfillment. Brooks continues:

If the relationship between money and well-being is complicated, the correspondence between personal relationships and happiness is not. The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others. The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting. According to one study, joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income. According to another, being married produces a psychic gain equivalent to more than $100,000 a year.

This is all rather obvious. We know and have heard about what is important in life–the people we spend time with, our church, our family. But, usually, when the end of life doesn’t go well, it is because we haven’t tended to these relationships. We all, acting against our best interests do this. Says Brooks, “most of us pay attention to the wrong things. Most people vastly overestimate the extent to which more money would improve our lives. … modern societies have developed vast institutions oriented around the things that are easy to count, not around the things that matter most. They have an affinity for material concerns and a primordial fear of moral and social ones.”

On a personal note, I was struck as I researched The Art of Dying that people who lead good lives end with good deaths. And the people who lead good lives are not the ones who are successful in any of the ways we define success. They don’t necessarily have all the stuff we use to measure people. Instead,  put simply, people with vibrant and healthy relationships with a number of friends and family members live and die well and do it all quite happily.

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One thought on “The Sandra Bullock Trade: Happy Marriage or Academy Award?

  1. I wonder if Brooks would have written the same column if, say, George Clooney had gotten a divorce. For what it’s worth, there’s some buzz in some feminist blogs about underlying sexism.

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