Charlotta Kratz, a lecturer in the communication department at Santa Clara University, takes on Marcus Buckingham and the happiness gap and scores big. Maybe the study shows there’s nothing wrong with women whatsoever. Maybe it’s the culture.
THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH WOMEN
by Charlotta Kratz
According to the studies, women in America are becoming less and less happy over the years, whereas men’s happiness is more or less stable.
In his second post, says that,
“…it’s hard not to look at this [data] and conclude that contemporary life is disproportionately stressful for young women, that this stress puts them at an immediate disadvantage, and that this state of affairs is damaging, wasteful, and needless.”
I’ll be honest, whenever someone says that someone else’s attitude is “damaging, wasteful, and needless” my guard goes up. I thinkis projecting his own emotions onto women, and silencing them at the same time. The underlying message is that if men report being happy, and women don’t, then there must be something wrong with women. Really?
There are a couple of points I think need to be made. I have a background in social science research, and I feel comfortable making them.
First, a questionnaire can never measure emotions. A questionnaire can only measure responses to questions. So, what we have here are changes in responses over time, not necessarily changes in emotions. Maybe women have been unhappy for decades, but only now feel comfortable saying so. It wouldn’t, then, so much be a change in happiness, as a change in how women talk about their lives.
Second, it’s possible that a study measures something else than it’s supposed to measure, or what it looks like it is measuring. The important word is “happiness”. The definition of happiness may be changing, which would lead to different responses over time.
In a recent Newsweek article makes the connection between the discussion about women’s happiness and Barbara Ehrensreich’s new book, Bright-Sided: How Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. In her book, Ehrenreich calls positive thinking a “mass delusion.”
Maybe one reason women today see themselves as less happy, is that our ideals have changed. Maybe what women today feel they can’t live up to ispositive-thinking-level happiness. If so, who can blame them?
Third, communication theory teaches to always look at the context. Most commentary of the study have focused on the private, and talked about how women’s lives have become increasingly stressful since we added professional aspirations to the private ones.
Marcus Buckingham’s final installment on Huffington Post, appearing Tuesday, attempts to give women advice on how to become happier. He has interviewed self identified happy women, and asked them what they are doing.
His first piece of advice is for women to “focus on moments, more than goals, plans or dreams.”
There is a theme here, I think. The message for women seems to be to focus on details, their own attitudes, or their own bodies, rather than the big picture.
So, let’s do the opposite, let’s look at the big picture, a measure of culture: According to the World Values Survey, an international research program, the English speaking world (including the US) and Protestant Europe score the highest on “self expression values”, when compared to “survival” values. That means that in the Western world self expression is important. Most people have their survival needs met.
Another measure in the study is that of “traditional”* vs. “secular-rational” values. Still comparing the English speaking world and Protestant Europe, only Ireland scores higher than the United States on “traditional values”.
My interpretation is that Americans are highly motivated to seek self expression, and that they live in a culture that promotes self expression. But, the cultural climate in the US is also traditional. This means that both women and men learn that self expression is important, but women may lack support from the world around them in fulfilling their wants and needs, if they go against “traditional family values”.
As an outsider, and a Scandinavian, it seems to me that American women are caught in a cross-fire between change and tradition, while northern European women, who according to the World Values Survey live in cultures that don’t value tradition as heavily, have it easier. I think this has bearing on Barbara’s and Shannon’s ongoing discussion about women, choice, and feelings of being on unchartered waters.
Maybe there are two things going on here. First, women are increasingly willing to say that yeah, they could be happier, especially if they compare themselves to the happiness levels of popular positive thinking gurus. Second, American culture is still traditional compared to Western Europe. That makes it harder for American women to achieve full lives, because, frankly, the world around them is not always helping.
* “The Traditional/Secular-rational values dimension reflects the contrast between societies in which religion is very important and those in which it is not. A wide range of other orientations are closely linked with this dimension. Societies near the traditional pole emphasize the importance of parent-child ties and deference to authority, along with absolute standards and traditional family values, and reject divorce, abortion, euthanasia, and suicide. These societies have high levels of national pride, and a nationalistic outlook. Societies with secular-rational values have the opposite preferences on all of these topics.” (http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org)