The Oprah interview shouldn’t be cause for disdain, but it does offer food for thought
Call me a sell-out, but with the whole world making waves over Meghan Markle, I can’t resist jumping into the water. Full disclosure: I did not watch any of her interview with Oprah. I just read the bullet points.
That was more than enough.
On the one hand, it’s easy to poke fun at a Hollywood actress choking up over her longing for a normal life from the courtyard of her nine-room, $14 million mansion. It’s also hard to believe that Ms. Markle wasn’t thoroughly prepped on what to expect marrying into the British royal family.
But on the other hand, being told that she would sacrifice every shred of privacy may not have sounded as threatening to a former TV star as the brutal reality turned out to be. And, in all likelihood, no description of restricted personal freedoms could have fully communicated the life of royal dysfunction that awaited her (and which contributed to the tragic death of her husband’s late mother, Princess Diana).
IS THE GRASS REALLY GREENER?
I can sympathize with Ms. Markle’s desire to tell her side of the story. But if I might offer the Duchess of Santa Barbara a friendly word of advice: she could have served her own cause better by simply moving on with her life. After all, it was the limelight that gave rise to her litany of grievances to begin with.
Indeed, Harry and Meghan’s Oprah-etic soul-baring was all but guaranteed to elicit mockery and derision from one side, ala Ben Shapiro’s sneering commentary, and exploitative smearing of the royal family from the other—most notably, the vile Charlie Hebdo cover channeling George Floyd through Queen Elizabeth. The ex-royals’ interview opened Pandora’s Box, which would have served everyone better had it been kept locked safely away.
The whole unfortunate episode brings into focus our society’s distorted benchmarks for success: money and fame. Statistics show that there is zero correlation between wealth and happiness, and anecdotal evidence suggests that fame contributes to unhappiness more often than not.
Which might explain why our society is so conflicted and so petulant. Most of us think we need fame and money to be happy, while many of the rich and famous are unhappier than the rest of us.
WHO IS BLESSED?
The 18th Century Jewish luminary Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov once expressed his envy of another pious Jew who was blessed with anonymity, while he, Rabbi Israel, was condemned to fame.
To live a modest and humble life, doing your work diligently, committed to your wife or husband, bestowing love upon your children, and serving as an upstanding member of your community—these are the hallmarks of a life well-lived, a life that yields joy and satisfaction without the trappings of wealth or the distractions of notoriety.
Indeed, the sages famously ask: Who is rich? Their answer: Those who are happy with what they have.
WHO IS HAPPY?
But the simplicity of the sages’ wisdom is lost on us today. Why? Because we no longer know what makes us happy. By conflating happiness with pleasure, we pursue neural stimulation in place of genuine fulfillment. Then we wonder why we’re left feeling empty the moment our pleasure-receptors stop tingling.
What the sages did not say is just as instructive as what they said. They did not say that we are rich when we are satisfied with what we have. The moment we attain satiety, we lose our sense of purpose, of mission, and of forward motion. Paradoxically, only when we are hungry can we be truly content.
It’s the aspiration to achieve and fill our lives with meaning that produces true joy naturally and organically. That most often happens quietly, without either fanfare or adulation. It’s the soft, still voice that speaks ceaselessly and reassuringly to our souls, not the roar of the crowd that quickly vanishes on the wind.
Of course, it is possible to be happy in spite of having wealth and fame. But only if you feel that your life has intrinsic value, that you have devoted yourself to a purpose higher than yourself, and that you are using your gifts and blessings in the service of others.