21 September 2011: Happiness isn’t always about money

Happiness isn’t always about money

To climb Mt. Olympus is breathtaking: the challenge of the trail, the vistas, and awareness of ancient Olympians having competed there.

To run a marathon in Greece would evoke a similar powerful emotive reaction.

To cheer on with “bravos!” marathoners running the gnarly trail of Olympus by those who appreciate what the runners are accomplishing simply for the joy of it—26.2 miles of painful footwork over treacherous terrain—is exhilarating.

Ancient Greeks would consult the Oracle at Delphi about courses of actions open to them. Apollo spoke through the Oracle, oftentimes in words open for interpretation, and if the petitioners didn’t find answers satisfying, they could return in the hope for a more favorable reply. It depended on the whims of both the gods and their human supplicants.

It’s important to understand the Greeks consulted the gods and not sought answers, which meant exercising free will and taking responsibility for their choices.

On Athens’ Acropolis sits the Parthenon, the temple of Athena, patroness of the city. In a classic battle of the sexes, Athena defeated Poseidon, god of the sea, for naming rights. Her feat outdid his: She brought forth the olive tree, the fruit of which a staple of Greek diets, while he merely struck water with his trident. One for the girls!

Unlike Sports Authority securing naming rights to Denver’s stadium for six million dollars annually, the Greek gods in this case were required to perform a mighty task to win the adulation of their subjects, very unlike the Judaic-Christian blustering God who in the whirlwind told Job not to dare challenge him.

It makes sense: Greek gods were projections of their psyches—a Greek word—and manifestations of archetypal images.

While essential human needs and desire for answers remain the same, much has changed. Humanity has become transformed in terms of values and practice. Great feats, such as what the original Olympians performed, are not done so much for the doing of it, but too often for financial rewards.

The laurel wreath, a crowning acknowledgment of success, has been replaced with a sponsorship. A modern athlete without a multi-million dollar contract is not worth his/her sweat.

As we’re constantly reminded, modern sports are a business. Loyalty to a team or a city no longer exists for the athlete or owner. That emotional weakness is left for the fans, much like patriotism being for average Americans, not CEO’s and their boards of directors.

Older Greeks, blamed for their financial woes, are worried, angry, and fearful. They blame a different culprit: consumerism and debt, two or more generations fooled by financial pyrite in the form of plastic credit cards facilitated by electronic wizardry.

Roads funded by the public treasury vis-à-vis citizens’ taxes, are being auctioned off to private holdings and converted to toll roads. Currently, a liter of fuel is 1.70 Euros, or about $3.00 American. With a liter roughly equivalent to a quart, we’re talking $12 a gallon. No boss pickups, SUV’s, or Hummers cruising Greek roads.

Financially, the country is as its people are—in bad shape.

The question for Americans: Are we much better off?

The concept of entitlement has differing connotations: something owed because it being earned as opposed to a “sense of entitlement.”

As bandied about in the media and by politicians, entitlement programs—Social Security and Medicare, funded by the sweat and toil of millions who built America—are inferred to be of the latter connation, which implies privilege, which, in turn, is the ultimate form of entitlement: Because one has money or belongs to a Brahman class, he/she deserves to be treated with higher accord. The nobility we threw overboard into Boston Harbor in the form of cases of tea no less considered itself entitled.

In this bankrupt, post-modern society, we’ve lost our way, worshipping money. The more one heaps, the more favored he/she is considered. Privileged elites are considered demigods.

On the other end of the monetary scale are those who milk or work the system, hedge-fund manipulators of the non-elite, scam artists who look for the easy way out, the Maynard G. Crebs of society who say, “Who, me work?”

Being wealthy is not evil, nor is being poor a mark of indolence and inferiority.

Former Bronco Shannon Sharpe, now a man of wealth, eloquently phrased it at his induction into the Hall of Fame. The recipe for success—finding happiness—for him, who lived in squalor but raised by his grandmother on an abundance of love, identified three essential ingredients: dedication, determination, and discipline.

Like ancient Olympians, Sharpe has led a purposeful and, thus, a meaningful life, a feat becoming more rare and challenging as running a marathon over the slopes of Olympus.

But, as he shows, it can be done.

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