The Roller Coaster Ride of Life


Is life a balance of bitter and sweet? A series of highs and lows?

David Brooks wrote an Op-Ed piece in last week’s New York Times called “The Sandra Bullock Trade.” In his article he asks the philosophical question, “Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow?”

First of all, the professional success is quite an accomplishment and as Brooks points out, it may even cause her to live longer. “Research by Donald A. Redelmeier and Sheldon M. Singh has found that, on average, Oscar winners live nearly four years longer than nominees that don’t win.” But how is your health negatively affected by betrayal, public humiliation and depression? The health gain may actually turn out to be a wash.

Would Sandra give up her Oscar for a healthy and successful marriage? That may sound like a completely unfair choice but it is one that many people have to make. Careers can get in the way of relationships and the stress of a relationship can get in the way of personal success. Critics have even questioned whether it was Sandra’s success that pushed Jesse into the arms of other women. If that is the case, she should consider his exit from her life as a personal success. However, our lives are so intertwined that there is often difficulty in determining where one part of your life ends and the other begins. Instead it is just one continuous stream of thoughts, emotions, events and moments.

David writes, “Nonetheless, if you had to take more than three seconds to think about this question, you are absolutely crazy. Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being. If you have a successful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy. If you have an unsuccessful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many career triumphs you record, you will remain significantly unfulfilled.”

Is life really a series of ups and downs? When we are on top of the world are we heading for a fall? Should we anticipate that?  Isn’t this a pessimistic and fruitless way to live?

Life is a roller coaster. The grandmother on Parenthood was on to something when she said there were two choices in life, the merry-go-round and the roller coaster. Gil, Steve Martin’s character, is complaining about his complicated life when the grandmother wanders in and says that when she was younger her husband took her on the roller coaster. “Up and down, up and down. Oh what a ride!” she exclaims. “I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.”

Yes, life is unpredictable. It is filled with choices. No one knows which path is the “right” one to take or which direction will prove more successful. Worldly success has shallow roots while interpersonal bonds permeate through and through. Ultimately, we have to follow our gut, put one foot in front of the other and strap ourselves into the seat of the roller coaster. We will experience more highs and lows than we can count but hopefully, in the end, we will enjoy the ride and get as much out of it as possible. Maybe even learn a thing or two along the way.

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