Hold the hankies, girls. Here comes the heresy. To wit, maybe we’re actually a lot happier than Marcus Buckingham et al think we are.
It’s not that anyone disputes the data. Clearly, the numbers are all there, and they show that quantitatively, women rate themselves lower on the happiness scale than they did back in the seventies.
But amidst all this media blowback, I can’t help wondering: are we once again being sold a bill of goods? Are we maybe defining happiness a little narrowly? Confusing unhappiness with stress? And is all this talk about the happiness gap some sort of subtle ploy to convince us that, really, we were better off when we stuck to the kitchen? That there’s no path like the safe path?
Before the “woe is me” goes viral, maybe we’d be better off wondering why.
Because here’s the thing. The more our opportunities, our choices, our expectations grow — the more our lives expand, the more we juggle. And of course we’re angsty. We have more demands on our time and our abilities, both personally and professionally. More responsibilities. More relationships. We reach outside ourselves, we stretch, we put ourselves out there in a way that means others are going to judge us. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist — or a social scientist — to note that of course we would feel pulled, stretched and stressed. But see, here comes the heresy. I don’t think that is necessarily how you measure happy. Sure, you work all day. Then you come home and wrangle all the stuff of real life — dinner, laundry, kids, bills, you name it — and maybe work some more before bed. Tired, yeah. Stressed, maybe. Pissed off, quite possibly. But truly unhappy? Depends on how you define it.
Or how you parse it out. Check out this smart counterpoint on HuffPo by Morra Aarons-Mele and Ellen Galinski, who offer some good data to suggest that men, too, might have some of this unhappiness action as well.
As Shannon wrote on Sunday:
... by focusing on self-reported, empirical measurements of happiness, are we conveniently missing the harder point, making what is, at its core, a societal issue personal instead? Is this issue of happiness just a smokescreen, to keep the discussion light and distract us from what lies beneath: that, despite all the strides we’ve made towards equality, we are simply not there yet?
Feministe blogger Jillian Hewitt seems to get it:
… Perhaps there’s something to be said for the fact that with greater opportunities, higher standards of living, etc. come more opportunities for problems… Maybe we just need to face up to the fact that there are simply more things to be unhappy about. But even if we are more unhappy, I would argue that we still have reason to feel more fulfilled. Even if we fail—fail to get into the school we want, fail to get the job we want, fail to find the man or woman of our dreams—we can still be grateful that we had the opportunity to do so.
….The final point I want to make is actually drawn off of a quote used by Gracie earlier in the week. She quotes Betsey Stevenson, who explains that “Across the happiness data, the one thing in life that will make you less happy is having children…Yet I know very few people who would tell me they wish they hadn’t had kids or who would tell me they feel their kids were the destroyer of their happiness.” And I think the same logic applies in light of this situation, too: maybe it’s true that our “greater educational, political, and employment opportunities” have made us less happy. But those opportunities aren’t ones that I’m willing to give back.
Nor should any of us. If we’re truly in a funk because life has dealt us more opportunity, maybe it’s not the choices themselves that have made us unhappy. But rather, the fact that we haven’t quite mastered the art of dealing with them.
And then there’s this. Despite all those new sources of stress out there — job, grad school, the kids and the dog, the blog (oops, did I type that out loud?) — on balance, isn’t the satisfaction and fullfillment we get out of any or all worth a dose of angst now and then?
I don’t call that unhappy. I call it growing pains.