If you want a cautionary tale made flesh, look no further than Hollywood’s own Charlie Sheen. The former “Two and a Half Men” star told NBC’s Today Show this week that he was living with HIV. “It’s a hard three letters to absorb,” said Sheen. “It’s a turning point in one’s life.”

Sheen said he’d spent more than $10 million over the last four years in a futile effort to keep his diagnosis a secret. He also revealed that the diagnosis had little effect on his behavior. Since learning about his illness, in fact, he has gone on to have unprotected sex, though he insisted that he told every partner he was with that he was HIV positive beforehand. One can only imagine the desperate souls who would intentionally sleep with this pathetic shell of a man after hearing that.

And while he claims he has changed his outlook on life, there’s very little evidence of that. He even mentioned that his only reason for coming forward was to put to an end the ugly tabloid rumors about his health. “I have to put a stop to this onslaught, this barrage of attacks and of sub-truths and very harmful and mercurial stories,” he said.

In other words, it’s still all about Charlie Sheen.

That’s too bad, because living solely for Charlie Sheen is exactly what got him into this mess to begin with. It’s tempting to look at these stars – Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, Lamar Odom, etc. – as if they are victims of the Hollywood lifestyle. But you don’t have to be rich and famous to contract HIV, become a drug addict, or waste your life chasing one meaningless pleasure after another.

We’ve completely lost sight of what’s important in this garbage culture. You don’t have to shoot up to be an addict. You don’t need anything more than an internet connection, as a matter of fact. As long as you think that happiness comes from things that happen to you, you’re giving yourself very, very slim odds of ever being really happy. And since that describes so many Americans today, we embrace a culture of distraction. More movies, more internet, more video games, more drugs, more sex, more shopping, more, more, more, more.

This isn’t about denouncing technology or telling you that you should give all your money to a homeless shelter. You can be rich and happy. You can play video games and be happy. You can, perhaps, even do drugs and be happy, although we’re once again in “slim odds” territory.

But when you get it twisted and start thinking that these distractions ARE happiness, you’re on the same path Sheen traveled. Maybe your fate will be HIV as well. Maybe it will be an overdose. Maybe it will be a life filled with empty pleasure that leaves you bored, depressed, and even suicidal.

Conservatives get a lot of flack for being selfish, greedy, unsympathetic, and all the rest. But ours is a philosophy of freedom. The freedom that comes when you realize that happiness is something you earn each day by the sweat of your brow. It doesn’t matter if you fail. It doesn’t matter if you never get your hands on that oceanfront mansion. It doesn’t matter if you never see your face on the silver screen. All that matters is that you did your best. That you took the hard road. Not for a goal, but for the intense happiness that comes only from within.

You would think that an endless river of drugged out, depressed, reckless, dead celebrities would be enough to show us the insanity in our thinking. But as long as our culture tells us to “Work hard, because then you can…” instead of just “Work hard,” the lessons will never sink in.