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The Sandra Bullock Trade?

trade Both Husband and a good friend of mine sent me a recent article from the New York Times called The Sandra Bullock Trade. I guess they both figured - and both were right - that I would be interested in David Brooks' core question, his "philosophic question of the day": "Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow?"

By now, most of us know about Sandra Bullock's bittersweet month. Sweet because she won an Academy Award for best actress. Bitter because she learned soon thereafter that her husband was up to no good.

In this piece, Brooks takes this bittersweet month, and the above philosophic inquiry as the launching point for several important questions about what ultimately makes us happy. And he concludes,

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.

Now Brooks' piece is far more nuanced than this little bit of it. He refers to contemporary statistics that underscore his posited link between the integrity of personal relationships and happiness. He also claims that we often pay attention to the wrong things in life and vastly overestimate how money and quintessential "success" will ultimately improve our lives. On an intellectual level, I agree with these things.

But. Here I am. One person. A person who considers her marriage to be very happy. A person who is in the throes of professional ambition. A person who feels tension - and daily - between professional and personal well-being. And this tension is complicated. I can't quite diagnose it. I am not sure it is the kind of thing that can be articulated.

Would I choose a happy marriage and a happy family over wild professional success? Any day. But can a marriage - or family - be happy when its members are not pursuing their dreams, when they are backing off from the intensity of their professional fires? I don't know.

And must we always choose one or the other? Isn't it conceivable that we maintain happy marriages and happy families alongside thriving professional and personal endeavors? Or is this a pipe-dream?

I certainly hope not.


  • Do you think that there is a tension between personal and professional well-being?
  • Do you think that for a marriage to be happy its members must feel individually free to pursue dreams and fulfill them?
  • Is there a tipping point at which professional success becomes too much and so consuming that it inevitably affects marital and familial harmony?
  • Do you think Brooks is glossing over an important, if enigmatic, issue, namely what is a happy marriage?
  • Do you think Brooks is suggesting that Bullock cast too intense a focus on her career at the expense of her marriage?
  • Do you think this Bullock saga is an instance of a man not being able to handle being with an arguably more successful partner? Just another sad snippet of Hollywood cheating?

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