Epicurus, the premier philosopher of pleasure, thought that the key to human happiness lies in not only living a simple life but a low key one. He named this concept Lathe Bioasas — literally meaning “live in obscurity”, and spent his life preaching against the seeking of fame, political positions and power.
This thought flies against the common sensibilities of the 21st century. In the glitzy age of Instagram influencers, millionaire YouTubers and reality-TV megastars, the idea that a happy life is one that is led far from fame and influence may be a hard pill to swallow. But it is a truthful one nonetheless.
This may be an odd thing for me to say, having starred in a reality TV show myself, but in this article, we’ll take a look at some reasons why true contentment comes not from external factors such as acclaim from the public or the bestowment of lofty titles, but from the internal enjoyment of little things such as a lovely afternoon spent with a lonely book or a close friend’s company.
The reasons below will, ultimately, help you see the illusion of fame and power for what it is, and therefore help you live a calmer, more contented life — one far from prying eyes. Let us begin!
Fame Brings Anxiety Instead Of Happiness
The above picture was taken when I was starring in “The Apprentice: ONE Championship Edition”, a blockbuster reality TV series.
The show was a great experience — indeed, it was one of the most insane and eye-opening experiences of my life, but it also brought me tremendous anxiety. There’s a reason why reality TV show stars are infamous for having catastrophic meltdowns, and that’s because being filmed nearly 24/7 is not an experience the human mind is equipped to handle without consequence.
Yet this is an experience many people actively chase. A study by The Sun shows that a whopping 75% of kids nowadays aspire to be some kind of social media influencer when they grow up. Common answers include YouTuber, vlogger, or Instagrammer. Interestingly, a desire to seek fame, not money, seems to be the primary driving purpose behind this phenomena.
Now, I’m not some old geezer ranting against the rise of the internet. I think that social media is primarily a force of good — I myself use it to market my business. However, if these kids think that fame will bring them a modicum of happiness, that having their names in bright lights and getting their faces recognised in the streets will somehow fill a void in their hearts, then they’re wrong. Painfully wrong.
Don’t take it from a minor star like me. Take it from the likes of Jim Carrey, who suffered from depression due to his stardom and has since found enjoyment in a more secluded life, spending his downtime reading, painting and working on sculptures. Carrey has a famous quote that goes:
“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
Mike Tyson, the youngest heavyweight champion of the world, agrees. He said, “Boxing brought me money and fame, but it never brought me no happiness.” Tyson also suffered from serious bouts of mental illness following his meteoric rise, notoriously blowing his $400 million fortune in just a few short years. Other celebrities who have been open about struggling with their lives post-fame include Ariana Granda, Shia LeBeouf and Carrie Fisher, to name a few among the sea of thousands.
However, in a more positive light, many of these stars have gone on to find refuge in obscurity. The secret, as Jim Carrey found out, seems to be keeping the glitz and cameras so necessary for their jobs separate from their personal lives, and enjoying the simple bliss of the former as best as they can.
In an era where we spend 2–4 hours on average on our screens, an era where new celebrities are being forged and glorified seemingly overnight, it’s easy to fall for the fallacy that being famous equates to a better, brighter, fuller life despite staggering evidence showing that this simply isn’t the case. We must be aware that what we see on our screens are airbrushed highlights, not real life. We must be careful not to compare the carefully curated peaks of others to the mundane valleys of our everyday lives.
And above all, we must keep in mind that yes, you can easily find recognition in the highest points of the world— but you can just as easily find utter destruction. Just ask the hundreds who have perished in a bid to summit Everest. We as a race tend to exalt rarefied air when paradoxically, it is in the deep valleys where the sweetest fruits are to be found.
Seek contentment not in front of the cameras, nor in the form of acclaim and applause from strangers, but in the low-key, everyday enjoyments of life. A healthy family, the love of a few good friends, the sweet smell in the morning after a night of rain. That’s the secret to living a life of genuine calm and contentment.
Seek Peace Of Mind Instead Of Power
“Damocles was pandering to his king, Dionysius, exclaiming that Dionysius was truly fortunate as a great man of power and authority, surrounded by magnificence. In response, Dionysius offered to switch places with Damocles for one day so that Damocles could taste that very fortune firsthand. Damocles quickly and eagerly accepted the king’s proposal. Damocles sat on the king’s throne, surrounded by every luxury, but Dionysius, who had made many enemies during his reign, arranged that a sword should hang above the throne, held at the pommel only by a single hair of a horse’s tail to evoke the sense of what it is like to be king: Though having much fortune, always having to watch in fear and anxiety against dangers that might try to overtake him. Damocles finally begged the king that he be allowed to depart because he no longer wanted to be so fortunate, realizing that with great fortune and power comes also great danger.”
— The story of the Sword of Damocles, Wikipedia
Entrepreneurship is the cool thing to do in the 21st century. Rags to riches stories from the likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Gary Vee has inspired a generation of hustlers, people who want to start their own businesses and live their own lives, and that is very commendable.
However, one small thing few people tell you about entrepreneurship is how hard and lonely it can be. Omar Itani quit his job at Google to start his dream company, and has called it both the best and worst decision he has ever made. I can relate. I started my own little events business with just $1000, and can attest that, as Nicolas Cole says,
“It always costs twice as much as you think it’s going to cost, and will take twice as long as you think it’s going to take.”
And this cost is often very high. Research has shown that, compared to the general population, entrepreneurs are far more likely to suffer from mental illnesses such as:
- Bipolar Disorder
- Imposter Syndrome
- And more
A lack of work-life balance — the very work-life balance that is so imperative for happiness, is another factor. Entrepreneurs are notorious for working extremely long hours. Even the great Elon Musk reports having to cut down from a mind-boggling 120-hour workweek to a “more sustainable” 90 hours. And how does Elon make up for lost time? He juggles work while having dinner with his family.
The sad part is most entrepreneurs have good intentions. Recent research uncovered that most entrepreneurs get into the game not for purely monetary reasons, but out of an overwhelming desire to forge a better world. The same goes for many politicians and those who otherwise seek influence. No ten-year-old aspires to grow up and become a crooked statesman or a money-hungry businessman, but life has a way of chipping away at our initial idealism. As the saying goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Epicurus wasn’t the only ancient to warn us about the perils of power. Aesop, he of the famous fables, told the tale of the country mouse and the town mouse to extoll the virtues of simple living. The moral of the story? Better beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear. The story of the Sword of Damocles, as quoted above, teaches us the same thing: that with great power comes constant stress and danger.
I’m not writing this to discourage you from seeking positions of influence. I’m writing this so you know just how much desiring to reach the top will cost. Research has uncovered that power not only does not lead to a big difference in our feelings of happiness, but might be linked to increased stress and literal brain damage.
Before you embark on a quest for political or business power, first ask yourself if the ends you seek cannot be fulfiled in some other, more understated way. Being an investor or a silent partner for a company whose work you believe in, for example, or playing the role of a humble paying customer to support the cause with your dollar bills and stellar reviews.
Like Shakespeare wrote, “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.” Before you embark on the long and painful journey to the top, first ask yourself if this is what you truly want. Don’t be like sycophantic Damocles, covetous of the throne only to get his heart’s desire and realise that power, instead of bringing happiness, only brings a chronic inability to enjoy life.
Concrete Ways To Apply Lathe Biosas To Your Life
I’m writing this article from Kyrgyzstan as we speak, a place where nobody knows me and where I know nobody, a little-known, landlocked country more than 5000 kilometres from my home-ground of Singapore.
I moved here to get away from the cameras, to quell my anxiety and settle my mind, to apply the ancient concept of Lathe Bioasas to my life. So far it has worked wonders. I have never been calmer, and my writing has never been more prolific.
You don’t have to go to the extent of moving countries in the middle of a pandemic to make this ancient concept work for you, though. Here are some simple ways you can apply Lathe Bioasas without turning into a complete ascetic:
- Setting your social media on private
- Be very selective of what you upload. I don’t post pictures of my significant other or family members online, for example
- Being less contactable in general. Personally, I don’t look at my phone upon waking and before I sleep. It has done wonders to alleviate my anxiety
- Having a clear distinction between your work life and your personal life, particularly if you’re a celebrity or public figure of some sort
- Pick your friends and confidants wisely. Don’t associate with gossips or people who kiss and tell
- Keep any and all drama to yourself or your circle. As the saying goes, there’s no point airing dirty laundry in public
- Don’t get sucked into other people’s drama. Establish clear boundaries, even if the people involved happen to be close friends or family. If you try to be a lifebuoy for everyone, you’ll eventually drown
- Don’t say yes to any and all interview requests. This is especially true if you have a small modicum of fame. Not all publicity is good publicity
- Completely unplug once in awhile. Switch off your phone, travel alone to a different country or attend a 10-day Vipassana silent retreat. You’ll be surprised by how little time we spend alone, and how gratifying your own company can be
And above all, remember that there is nothing wrong with wanting recognition or influence. It’s thinking that these things in and of themselves will bring you life-changing joy that is problematic.
If you, deep-down, loath your life and are unhappy with who you are as a person, no amount of glory or praise can fill that hole in your heart. Paradoxically, if you genuinely like who you see in the mirror and are able to enjoy your lot in life, however humble, then fame and power become to you what they were always meant to be.
The icing on the cake of life.
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