How To Be Popular: 101

Almost everyone denies it, but almost everyone wants it: Popularity. One thing is for sure, whatever it means at the moment, it’s already changing. Popularity is a moving target!

New York Times writer Adam Sternbergh recently explained how difficult it is to find a fixed set of metrics by which to define this quality. But she then went on anyway to define some of today’s most popular people and products. Included in her pantheon was Robert Downey Jr…the Iron Man series…Duck Dynasty…the Beatles…Snickers…the city of Bangkok…Jesus Calling…UCLA…Finding Nemo…the Ford F-Series…boneless rib-eye…and Taylor Swift.

Make of these samples what you will, one thing we can all agree on. Popularity is hard to define, hard to acquire, easy to lose.

Why is it so attractive to so many? If we listen to our psychological and spiritual writers, they will say it’s a compulsive need to be reassured we have value in our uncaring world. If we listen to our neurobiological writers, they will say there are evolutionary genes triggering this behavior. If we listen to our friends at the bar, they will probably laugh to keep from revealing their own desperate desire for it.

Popularity is usually an affliction that improves with age. For instance, returning for your high school reunion 25 years later, most [not all] of us will discover what and who was popular then have hardly lived up to the potential our envy saw in them.

In effect, very often the cure for your lack of it is their lack of it too. The sophisticated term for this is “schadenfreude.” Even if you don’t bother to look it up, you can be pretty sure we’re practicing it whenever possible.

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