It is human nature to be jealous: we envy others' various successes. But most of us rarely would want to actually be that other person. By and large, there are few people we would actually want to trade places with. After all, who knows what goes on in their minds, whether they are really happy, what they actually feel. And anyway, we always have hopes for a better life than the one we're currently leading, hope for future success, and so on.
Those whom we admire don't necessarily lead pleasant lives -- which may have something to do with why we admire them. You may admire Nelson Mandela, but would you really want to spend two decades of your life in a South African prison cell? Father Damien was heroic, but would you really want to spend your life ministering to lepers, only to catch the disease yourself? As glorious as Muhammad Ali's life was during his prime, would you really want to take that many punches to the face? (Look at the price he has paid over the past two and a half decades.) John F. Kennedy epitomized glamor and power, but would you really want your life cut short at 46? JFK Jr. sparked a fair amount of jealousy, but he never even reached 40.
But every now and then, we hear about someone who makes us think, gee, I wouldn't have minded leading that guy's life. (And as we get older and we become resigned to the fact that our lives have turned out more ordinary than we had originally anticipated, the list of people we'd trade with tends to expand.)
My short list:
Warren Beatty. I don't particularly admire him or his movies (other than Heaven Can Wait). And I certainly don't admire his politics, which are Hollywood limousine liberal all the way. But boy, what a life. Getting to star in movies, be rich, and most of all, that long, long list of incredible beauties he had affairs with.
Mick Jagger. He's been Jumpin' Jack Flash for the better part of five decades now. He's as rich as anyone could want, never became a rock drug casualty, and still seems to have his faculties and health. Forty-five years after he complained of not being able to get any satisfaction, he still has to guard against paternity suits. (A small price to pay for his lifestyle.)
Pablo Picasso. Considered by many to be the greatest artist of the 20th century, he lived until his nineties, and radiated animal vitality right till the end. Read a quick sketch of his life and it becomes quickly apparent that he wasn't particularly nice. Then again, he didn't have to be. Women came flocking because of his genius, and stayed for the same reason, no matter how he treated (or portrayed) them. He gave off the aura of a living god, if not a saint.
What inspired this post was thinking last week about the life that Usain Bolt must be leading now. We all have stressful events in our lives -- often a public performance of some sort. Usain's most stressful moments must come when he is performing onstage in front of the world, running at the world championships. But he seems loose and happy right up until the moment the gun goes off, then he is happy again right afterward -- ecstatic, in fact. (How traumatic for him that he actually has to concentrate for those ten or twenty seconds that the race lasts.) Some people are born with the dial on their personalities set at happy; Bolt seems to be one of them. I don't know what the future holds for him. But in the meantime he's healthy, handsome, rich, and probably has women lined up outside his door. I'd certainly trade my next four years for his.
In case you were wondering, the answer is yes, I am every bit as shallow and superficial as this post makes me sound.
Addendum, 8/26: I just asked my son whose life he would have wanted to lead, and he said either Genghis Khan or Richard Burton (the 19th century English explorer, not the 20th century Welsh actor). Far better choices than mine (I would probably have picked the 20th century actor).