MICHAEL PHELPS has gained worldwide admiration for his phenomenal success as an Olympic swimmer. But how many of us know that amid his immense success he once felt so lost and dissatisfied with his life?
Phelps was already a bemedaled Olympian when he experienced an identity crisis. Perplexed as who he really was “outside the pool,” he turned to heavy drinking. Twice in 10 years, he got arrested for drunk driving. In 2014, he underwent rehabilitation. “I was in a really dark place, not wanting to be alive anymore,” he told Sports Illustrated.
Usually, we think that fame, fortune and great achievements come with a high degree of life satisfaction and happiness.
The advertising tag line “Satisfaction guaranteed” can entice us to buy goods that we believe can satisfy us and make us happy. There is a superfluity of things designed to meet our basic needs, wants and whims. With money to spend, we can savor the good life: gourmet food, signature clothes, impressive houses, top-of-the-line cars, electronic wonders, tours around the world…
The world also offers us success ladders to climb, titles and trophies to win, wealth to amass, political and business power to wield.
We become materialists when our desire for fortune and power gets out of control and takes our eyes off moral and spiritual values. The Bible warns us: “The love of money causes all kinds of evil.” Avarice attracts woes. It has ruined lives, reputations and relationships. It is a bane to happiness.
The inspirational book “When Life Begins at Sunset” contains a true story about a man who made millions of dollars counseling businessmen on how to multiply their money. But one day, news of his indictment for embezzlement rocked the business world. In jail, he realized that having lots of money was not the end-all and be-all of life on earth. When he was released from prison, he lived in a farm in seclusion until his old age.
Another story is that of a wealthy manufacturer in the United States, who became obsessed with ostentation and addicted to high-stakes gambling. He became bankrupt, lived on borrowed money, and died penniless. Someone lamented that this man “found the keys to worldly success but failed to learn how to live.”
“Discontent makes rich people poor,” Benjamin Franklin wrote. “The man who has won millions at the cost of his conscience is a failure,” said B.C. Forbes of Forbes magazine.
How was Phelps able to make a successful comeback in the 2016 Rio Olympics?
Shawn Johnson, the Olympic balance beam gold medalist in 2008, was quoted as saying: “Not even an Olympic medal can mask the feeling of worthlessness that comes from not knowing God.”
Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens saw what his friend Phelps needed most to regain hope, to know his real self, and to be whole again. Having convinced Phelps to undergo rehabilitation, he encouraged him to read “The Purpose-Driven Life” by Rick Warren. The book was an eye-opener. “It made me believe that there is a Power greater than myself and there’s a purpose for me on this planet,” Phelps said.
What about those who have less in life? Where can they find true satisfaction?
Studies show that day-to-day survival, relationships, and entertainment make up the driving force of the poor. Many of them, however, become bitter about inequality and social exclusion, and of life giving them an unfair deal. This negative thought can breed covetous envy which usually leads to vice and criminality.
Thankfully, life also offers everyone the saving grace of finding a certain kind of life satisfaction in any circumstances.
The television program “Reel Time” once featured the story of volunteer medical doctor Roel Cagape, who serves two tribal villages in Sarangani, one of the poorest provinces in the Philippines.
These villages have no water supply, electricity, or health center. The people do not have enough food to eat. Still, they choose to live in the mountains for two reasons: The fertile soil enables them to plant vegetables for their own needs. And they live there harmoniously.
To extend medical services to them, Dr. Cagape and his team have to embark on long, arduous walks and cross 20 rivers. They make do with whatever medical resources they have. When the sick have to be brought to hospital, bamboo stretchers are built to carry the patients to the nearest roads accessible to transportation.
Volunteer work can be tiring and trying, but Dr. Cagape has never thought of taking a respite. “I feel so restful in spirit whenever I am with the tribal people who need my help,” he says.
So palpable in the collective prayer of the villagers is their gratitude for what they believe can truly satisfy their souls. The prayer goes: “Kahit wala kaming makain, O Diyos, mahal Mo kami (Even if we have nothing to eat, O God, You love us!)!”
It is the kind of satisfaction that many of us may find to be so difficult to know, to accept and to understand. But the good thing is, it is available to everyone who believes.
Prosy Badiola Torrechante, 69 and a grandmother, put together the inspirational book about growing old titled “When Life Begins at Sunset.”
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