MUDDLING THROUGH LIFE

Throughout the history of mankind, there has been a fairly constant portion of the populace that has lived either extremely well, sort of average, or rather poorly. The percentage of people in these categories rarely varies. For example, in today’s population about one to perhaps five percent of people at the top live lavish existences. In most cases, genetic inheritances have conspired to endow these people with either great mental or physical attributes and talents. Exploiting these talents has usually opened the gateway to fabulous riches and great fame. The time period that one lives in is also a prominent factor. For example, if Michael Jordan, who made hundreds of millions of dollars because of his great athletic abilities, had been born a century ago, when there was no basketball, he might have wound up working in a steel factory, or some other menial job that required strong physical endurance. Same with all the new computer geniuses who have become recent billionaires. If they lived a hundred years ago when the greatest technological advance was the electric light, it’s doubtful they would have been rolling in the riches they now enjoy. Sometimes one is fortunate enough to inherit great wealth, which also puts them in the top 5 percent. I’ve always maintained that no amount of hard work or careful planning can ever replace sheer, dumb luck. In any event, these top 5 percent usually live conspicuously materialistic lives by owning great mansions, often overlooking breathtakingly beautiful oceans or other bodies of water, as well as expensive cars, yachts, jets, etc., and often go globetrotting around the world. But does it necessarily make them happier people? Not all the time as we shall see.

Then there is about another 10-15% of the populace whose lives have turned out quite badly. Either because, again, of genetic or environmental circumstances, their lives have gone downhill almost from the start of their earliest years. Many wind up as petty, or serious criminals, trying to make a living by stealing, peddling drugs, gunrunning, or through other illicit means. Some are killed even as teenagers or people in their twenties. Many wind up in jail, often for long periods of incarceration. Or if they’re petty criminals, they often spend much of their lives in and out of prisons. Life in jail is about as bad as it can get while still being alive. Cooped up in a tiny, semi-private cell, eating bad food, often with little or nothing to do for years on end; it doesn’t get much worse than that. Sometimes people’s lives turn out badly through no fault of their own. The loss of a loved one; for example, a parent losing a child, will quite often lead to some very bad results. Like drowning one’s sorrows in drugs or alcohol. Others suffer because they’ve inherited or experienced great physical traumas or mental debilitations. Like long-term depression that send people into a deep abyss that they can’t climb out of. Or PTSD often experienced by active or ex-military because of battlefield events; but also because of being victims of violent crime such as rape. I recently read a rather jolting statistic. About 25 active or retired military A DAY, commit suicide, often because of post-trama-stress-disorder. Do the math and see what that equates to in a year.

So there you have about 20% of the populace either living sumptuously or badly. The rest of us 80% are somewhere in the middle. And often our lives consist mainly of muddling through on a day-to-day basis. There are the upper affluent classes, usually populated by those with high-paying careers; i.e. doctors, lawyers, corporate executives, engineers, stock brokers, successful business owners, computer hardware or software designers, etc. And then there are those toward the lower end of the totem pole such as the people behind the cash register at your local 7-11 or other like retail establishments; or those driving trucks hundreds of miles and then having to schlep heavy boxes off these trucks. But there are equalizers. Those with highly paid and successful professions often have to be able to cope with tight deadlines or other  stressful business pressures that lower paid individuals seldom face. A bad decision or  the inability to smoothly work with the boss can cost one his or her job. Should that happen the loss of income or prestige can also drive one to suicide. When the 1929 stock market crashed, affluent stock brokers found that the total loss of their material wealth to be unbearable; and some threw themselves to their deaths out of the windows of Manhattan skyscrapers.

Thus, a unique aspect of the human condition is that fame and fortune are not necessarily a guarantor of ones mental well-being. It all comes down to what’s going on in one’s brain. Yes, living in a lavish mansion and being able to view a picturesque waterfall from the bedroom window will do a lot more for one’s sense of well being than having to spend one’s days in some inner city, rat-infested slum. But that’s only part of the story.  Consider that several pop culture figures that achieved unbelievable wealth and adoration from screaming fans, nevertheless, wound up doing themselves in. Such as Elvis, or Marilyn Monroe. To say nothing of Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston. All of whom, for one reason or another, sought out death decades before their time was up. All of whom had achieved what billions of people on this planet wouldn’t even dare to dream of. Maybe the grass isn’t always greener in the other guy’s backyard.

So maybe, the option that most of us live by on a day-to-day-basis, that of muddling through with the problems of life, of living from paycheck-to-paycheck, of putting off from one day to the next whatever we can get away with, etc. isn’t such a bad deal. Kind of reminds me of a poem written by the 1920s poet, Edward Arlington Robinson. The poem was called “Richard Corey” who was a fabulously wealthy individual living in a town populated by poor blue collar workers. He lived in a great mansion on the hill but was always the epitome of politeness and courtesy to all the town’s folk. He would never fail to tip his hat to the ladies and inquire about their well-being. All the town’s people were so envious of Richard Corey, especially when comparing him to their meager, hard-scrabble lives. The ending lines of the poem go as follows:

So while we toiled and sweated, and cursed our daily bread; Richard Corey went home; one calm summer night; and put a bullet in his head.

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