Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Celebrities, You Can't Truly Be THAT Happy!

Like many others, I watched Monday’s episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show which included a long interview with author, autism activist, and television personality Jenny McCarthy. In the interview, I listened as Ms. McCarthy discussed her past relationship with funnyman Jim Carrey and highlighted the multitude of ways she’s emerged happier than ever in the time following their split.

So, I’ll get straight to my issue with Ms. McCarthy: She declared, in one fell swoop, that she learned the necessary lessons and has finally fully found Her Authentic Self. Wow, what a feat! In one breath, she described how she’s learned that she doesn’t need a lover to have love in her life, going further to say that she’s realized that she, in fact, is the true love of her life. Okay, this is fine – these are all good lessons. Yet in the next breath, she beamed with excitement as she reported that she is thrilled about the new man in her life.

Before I go on, I must offer this disclaimer: My frustration with Ms. McCarthy’s comments have nothing to do with her activism, the quality of her writing, or the spectrum of film or television choices she’s made over the years. I remember, in fact, a Newsweek Magazine article not too long ago that I thought was unfairly harsh on Oprah Winfrey and her choice in guests. That article, in particular, highlighted the controversial – and now outdated? – position McCarthy took on the relationship between vaccines and autism. I, for one, commend Ms. McCarthy for researching the subject as extensively as she seemed to have done, and I think Oprah Winfrey did her part in hosting a national dialogue about the issue.

What bugged me about Ms. McCarthy’s self-declarations reminded me of the usual frustration I feel when I see most celebrities interviewed on television. The strong taste you get is frequently the same: Look-how-unbelievably-happy-I-am! “I’m the happiest woman in the world!” is the unspoken message, and famous men aren’t off the hook in this arena, either. Come on, rich and famous folks!

It’s hard enough for us normal people to feel good about ourselves. But then we have to turn on the television and watch men and women far more beautiful, wealthy, and privileged talk about how they love themselves more than ever and have finally realized all of life’s most important lessons? My goodness, most of us watching are just trying to pay the light bill, keep our boss of our back, and find the will to return to work the next Monday morning.

I understand the appeal of celebrity interviews. Some celebrities seem genuinely interesting, and sometimes their stories can provide a lens through which we can look at seriously important issues. However, I want more than the my-life-is-just-great dish most celebrities serve us in interviews – I want them to acknowledge that, at root, they’re just like us: they’re trying to figure it all out, too. Though they may feel like they’ve finally reached the point of full-on, one hundred percent authenticity, the reality is that this is just a feeling – we spend our lives learning in the attempt to become more and more authentic. In other words, the goal is to accept how mixed life is – happy and sad, exciting and frustrating. No matter how enlightened we can become, we never fully arrive – and that’s okay!

As a therapist, I tell my clients that they need to accept the ups and the downs of life, and to learn to enjoy the ride because the good is just as important as the bad. At the end of the day, the people we relate to the most are the people – celebrities or otherwise- who, like us, still seem like works in progress. Kirstie Alley is another celebrity who comes to mind, a celebrity people genuinely like because she is flawed like us. She also never seems to allow herself to believe that she’s got it all figured it out, and this is wisdom that we can relate to and admire.

For the rest of the viewers out there, I hope that they can take a step back as they’re watching and remember that, no matter what anybody says, no one has it all figured out. Accordingly, viewers like myself can give ourselves permission to continue working on finding our authentic selves, remembering that telling ourselves that we, too, should have arrived already is simply one more obligation we don’t need.

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