Ms. Spade’s image is by Gary Spector for Modern Bride, Mr. Bourdain via The Hollywood Reporter
No human is invincible.
Anyone can suffer from mental illness. Anyone can succumb to the weight of a personal tragedy. Anyone can turn to suicide to end the pain of struggle and devastating suffering.
Rich human, poor human, successful human – no one is invincible. Especially in today’s world, in which traditional support networks have been dismantled by distance, cultural shifts and the complexities of an lifestyle increasingly dependent on technology.
Last week, we were all knocked off our feet by the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Visionaries in their respective industries, we were all enriched by their creativity and contribution to popular culture. We watched each build empires on their determination, hard work and passion. We watched their stars rise while they both maintained their humility and accessibility. They were both individuals who connected with the average human in an authentic way despite their personal fame. This was the richness that they brought to the world, their open hearts.
And last week, we had to ask ourselves: what kind of world are we living in where two professionally accomplished people, who seemingly have kept their feet firmly planted on the ground while their stars rose to fame, are so broken with sadness and depression that they choose to end their own lives? Neither seemed to fit the stereotypical celebrity bill, they didn’t appear to live in a bubble that separated them from reality, making it difficult to deal with life’s demands. Neither had recently showed any public signs of being in psychological turmoil. They both appeared to be winning at life.
Because we so often measure the metrics of happiness by success, many of us were left to wonder: if successful people are having a difficult time finding happiness and joy, then what about the rest of us? And, what does success really mean in the grand scheme of things? Success looks and feels different for every person, and how we measure success should be subjective. One of my greatest lessons in life was that personal failure is just a stepping stone to success, if your heart is open to the possibilities each failure offers.
Since her death, we have learned much more about Kate Spade’s personal battle with depression, as communicated by her family. We wished terribly that she’d reached out to someone, anyone that could have talked her out of ending her life, to tell her how much she was wanted here. Spade’s and Bourdain’s deaths woke us up for a few minutes last week, they sucked us momentarily out of the vacuum. A dialogue opened surrounding mental illness, it is a call to action to strip away the taboos. It is addressing the very poignant reality that the state of human happiness is a different picture than what we have been painting for ourselves.
Recently, the conversation of having to work to earn our joy and happiness has popped onto my radar. While I personally have nothing to complain about, I admit freely that I am not always happy within my world – the world that you do not see on Instagram. I am blessed with a happy exterior, and that it is an image that I don’t have to work on at all. But, like many of you, I struggle at being content, at feeling satisfied with my work and by my performance at work. I’ve resolved some of my dissatisfaction with material objects through my No Spending Challenge, but there are other issues that weigh heavily on my chest day to day.
Has anyone else entered a state of existence where they feel they have to work at being happy? When did this happen? Were we unhappy before and just not talking about it the way we do today? I don’t remember working at my happiness during my 20s (I was a grad student and experienced a lot of success related pressure) or 30s, I remember enjoying my life fully. There was a ton of sadness and ups and downs, but I worked through those moments with whatever coping mechanisms I’d adopted at the time. And gratefully, in the moments when I was spiraling from anxiety, my friends and family members always caught me before I fell too far down.
In the past decade or so, many inspiring men and women have come out with their stories of not living that perfect, happy life that everyone expects of them. That society expects. Is the concept of having to work at happiness our way admitting that life is a challenge, and does that admission reflect our resilience in the face of struggle? Instead of dwelling on the struggle and complaining, we challenge it in our pursuit of happiness. The idea that life is hard and that we have to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps is an old world mentality. Working at and investing in our happiness seems more modern and in line with our current movement of spiritual awakening.
But maybe frank discussion of the challenges of life is a necessary boon for the individuals who are struggling to know that they should have nothing to feel ashamed of, and to not feel alienated or left behind when they can’t even summon the emotional energy to work at being happy. Maybe a to return to ‘life is tough, sometimes its a real struggle, therefore its best that we consistently work on finding all of the the things in our lives that make us happy’ is what is needed to create a more honest dialogue for everyone.
The outpouring of positive vibrations, love and support in the wake of Spade and Bourdain’s deaths indicates our willingness to help our sisters and brothers. This sense of community is an amazing human quality which shines eternally. Consider the toll that the toxicity of the prevailing political atmosphere has had on the human psyche, and observe how mankind continues to rally.
We are currently committed to self-help and self care. When we are happy, we contribute to a collective happiness, a collective joy. We talk about lifting our sisters and brothers up, supporting them. We do this in social media, we make sure that everyone sees us doing it, but we have to make sure that we are doing this close to home, where likes aren’t the end game, but rather life. We have to avoid getting caught up in the talk, avoid putting it on our checklist of how we are living a better life and put it into action. Ms. Spade and Mr. Bourdain wore a veil of success and the happiness that is supposed to come with it. We have to see through the veils that friends and loved ones may weave to keep up appearances. We have to share our knowledge and practices with them, or encourage them to be faithful to theirs. How do we do this given the crazy lives we lead to make ends meet on this earth? We place the value on what matters the most: a friend.
I recently finished reading Eckhart Tolle’s self-improvement book, A New Earth, exploring the ego’s role in human behavior. At the beginning of the book, Tolle proposes that humans are suffering from an ego-driven insanity, where our thoughts drive us into an existence of constant dissatisfaction and unhappiness, because these thoughts are distortions of reality. If you believe Mr. Tolle’s theory, consider then how the ego can negatively influence your life and prevent your happiness. And if the average person is consumed by the ego, think about the impact that it could have on someone suffering from mental illness, or someone who has suffered a personal tragedy.
Mr. Tolle argues that finding our inner peace is the ultimate way to rid ourselves of the ego and find happiness here on earth. When you consider that happiness is not connected to the trappings of success and that the pursuit of happiness is hard work, this theory rings especially true. Individuals like Spade and Bourdain may not have been able to connect with their inner beings because of depression and other demons. But if you and I start to look deep within ourselves to discover what really matters on a personal level, we can share our journey with our community in the hopes that others are inspired to search for this peace. If more of us are guided by our true selves, authentic principles emerge and we begin to look at the world differently. We experience clarity, a purer perception of our relationships and the people in our lives. Maybe we will slow down, find time for more meaningful interactions, and reconnect on a more profound human level. Maybe veiled faces of suffering won’t go unnoticed. Maybe friends will reach out because they are confident that their story will be received free of judgment. I don’t know about you, but something deep inside tells me that this is the path to take. Will you join me?