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Posts Tagged ‘Marcus Buckingham’

Frankly, all this hype about happy is making me sad. It’s not enough we have folks like Marcus Buckingham telling us how to be happy — and making us feel guilty because we are not. Or the incessant volleys about the paradox of women’s declining happiness. But, frankly, despite the wealth of books, blogs, life coaching and, yep, even college courses about how to become happy little campers, we can’t even define the term.

That’s a problem, writes Carlin Flora in this month’s Psychology Today. He not only provides some research-backed insight into what so-called happiness is truly all about (hint: it doesn’t have much to do with shopping, as this post on some new research suggests. Or smiley faces, for that matter.) He also points out that — finally — there’s some counterpoint to what he dubs the “happiness frenzy.” And hooray for that.

I mean, really, hasn’t all the recent talk about slapping on a smile made you just a little bit grumpy?

While all this happiness business began as the serious study of positive psychology, the science has lately been reduced to the equivalent of a mylar balloon emblazoned with a happy face. Not good, Florin writes:

It wasn’t enough that an array of academic strands came together, sparking a slew of insights into the sunny side of life. Self-appointed experts jumped on the happiness bandwagon. A shallow sea of yellow smiley faces, self-help gurus, and purveyors of kitchen-table wisdom have strip-mined the science, extracted a lot of fool’s gold, and stormed the marketplace with guarantees to annihilate your worry, stress, anguish, dejection, and even ennui. Once and for all! All it takes is a little gratitude. Or maybe a lot.

What we’ve lost in all this focus on the sunny side of life is the ability — no, even the permission — to embrace the melancholy, which in turn pathologizes sadness, which is often the true, honest and normal reaction to life as we know it. More from Carlin:

There are those who see in the happiness brigade a glib and even dispiriting Pollyanna gloss. So it’s not surprising that the happiness movement has unleashed a counterforce, led by a troika of academics. Jerome Wakefield of New York University and Allan Horwitz of Rutgers have penned The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow into Depressive Disorder, and Wake Forest University’s Eric Wilson has written a defense of melancholy in Against Happiness. They observe that our preoccupation with happiness has come at the cost of sadness, an important feeling that we’ve tried to banish from our emotional repertoire.

Horwitz laments that young people who are naturally weepy after breakups are often urged to medicate themselves instead of working through their sadness. Wilson fumes that our obsession with happiness amounts to a “craven disregard” for the melancholic perspective that has given rise to our greatest works of art. “The happy man,” he writes, “is a hollow man.”

Maybe yes, maybe no. But, as Flora continues, happiness isn’t about smiling or pretending or desperately seeking sunshine. It’s more along the lines of, well, facing reality. And that includes a certain amount of discomfort. Even angst:

…It’s not about eliminating bad moods, or trading your Tolstoy-inspired nuance and ambivalence toward people and situations for cheery pronouncements devoid of critical judgment. While the veritable experts lie in different camps and sometimes challenge one another, over the past decade they’ve together assembled big chunks of the happiness puzzle.

What is happiness? The most useful definition—and it’s one agreed upon by neuroscientists, psychiatrists, behavioral economists, positive psychologists, and Buddhist monks—is more like satisfied or content than “happy” in its strict bursting-with-glee sense. It has depth and deliberation to it. It encompasses living a meaningful life, utilizing your gifts and your time, living with thought and purpose.

It’s maximized when you also feel part of a community. And when you confront annoyances and crises with grace. It involves a willingness to learn and stretch and grow, which sometimes involves discomfort. It requires acting on life, not merely taking it in. It’s not joy, a temporary exhilaration, or even pleasure, that sensual rush—though a steady supply of those feelings course through those who seize each day.

Flora ends the piece with a round-up of various theories on happiness. I think my favorite is this:

Happiness is not your reward for escaping pain. It demands that you confront negative feelings head-on, without letting them overwhelm you. Russ Harris, a medical doctor-cum-counselor and author of The Happiness Trap, calls popular conceptions of happiness dangerous because they set people up for a “struggle against reality.” They don’t acknowledge that real life is full of disappointments, loss, and inconveniences. “If you’re going to live a rich and meaningful life,” Harris says, “you’re going to feel a full range of emotions.”

Happy-ness redefined? Permission to be anything less? To choose, as Shannon wrote last week, interesting over happy and call it a day? Wow. It’s enough to make me, well, you know….

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Marcus Buckingham has done it again. In this week’s HuffPo installment, Buckingham gets started by citing Time magazine’s special on the State of Women as saying that the gender war is over, and it was a tie. But Buckingham takes it one step further:

I’m not so sure. In a war, no matter the outcome of a certain skirmish or battle, the winner is the party whose attitudes, behaviors and preoccupations come to dominate the postwar landscape. By this measure, the outcome of the gender wars, if wars they were, is clear: women won.

He makes his case by saying that “men’s attitudes more and more resemble women’s attitudes”, citing the fact that fewer men now believe that men should be the breadwinners, women the caretakers, than did in 1977. He says that “men’s behaviors are becoming more and more like women’s”, using the fact that men now do more housework than they did in 1977 as evidence. He even cites popular culture:

Even our entertainment heroes have lost their masculine muscle. Arnold, Bruce, and Stallone are long gone from the screen, but even the flirty, flaky, funny adolescents–Tom, Brad, Jim, and Will–no longer charm us quite as much as they once did. Instead our leading men are the likes of Zac Efron who, though he can still “Michael Jordan” it on the court, now has to sing and dance charmingly to earn our affection.

Um, okayyyy. But here’s where it gets interesting:

The war is over. Women won. And, as ever, to the victor go the spoils.

And what are the spoils of this particular war?

The spoils are choice. Women have more choice than ever before in their work, home, and lifestyles. And yes, men are becoming more like women, and so men are starting to face the same multitude of choices that women tackle.

Today, with many companies offering paternal leave, men now have the choice to stay at home after the birth of their newborn… But they also have the choice to take advantage of this leave and stay at home wondering whether or not this absence will hurt their careers.

Men have the choice to stay at home even longer and assume the chief caregiver role… But they have to face the fact that, in making this choice, their skills might become obsolete and their wages, when they re-enter the workforce, will wind up reflecting their out-of-date proficiency.

Men have the choice to arrange their schedules so they can pick up the kids from school twice a week. And they have the choice not to, and then to feel guilty about this choice.

The choice-filled world that women have bestowed on men is a tough world. Tough on women; even tougher on men. At least that’s what the data reveal. In 1977, 41 percent of women reported feeling some level of work/life conflict, whereas only 35% of men did. Today, about the same percentage of women report work/life conflict, but 59 percent of men are now similarly torn.

Buckingham, Buckingham, Buckingham. Welcome to our world. While what he has to say about our choices is interesting (as is his use of self-reported statistics to back up his points), what’s more interesting is what he doesn’t say. Like this:

A study in the current issue of The Academy of Management Journal reveals that bosses generally perceive women workers to have more family-work conflict than men, even though this isn’t the case. And this belief, mistaken though it is, leads supervisors to take a negative view of women employees’ suitability for promotion.

Or this, from the Economix blog at the New York Times‘ web site:

In most jobs, the gap between men’s and women’s earnings narrows greatly when you adjust for factors like career path and experience. But at the top of the income scale–jobs paying more than $100,000–the salary gap between equally qualified men and women is still vast.

Or this, which Laura Liswood, co-founder of the Council of Women World Leaders, wrote yesterday:

In its annual measurement of global progress in the lives of women and girls, released October 27, 2009, the World Economic Forum reported some major improvements in surprising places. The 2009 Global Gender Gap Report–which, country by country, examines data indicating the resources and status of women compared to men–ranks Lesotho, for example, in the top 10, a marked improvement from its place at 16 last year and 43 in 2006. By contrast, the United States moved down three slots last year and now ranks 31st.

In terms of why you might be a little irritated by that, feel free to pick your poison: that the U.S. is ranked 31st, or that we moved down three slots last year. I myself am having a little of both. Liswood spells out the characteristics of our grouping thus:

Group III Gaps in these countries (including the United States and United Kingdom) have been almost completely closed in education and health; progress is occurring on economic and political participation. What is lagging is women’s presence at the highest levels of power be it management of a business or head of state or government or parliament. Countries that adopt quotas for business or politics often see an immediate jump in their standing once these mechanisms kick in.

Ooh, quotas. Scary. But why should we be so opposed? As Latoya Peterson notes in her Jezebel piece about the report:

Norway has legislation that demands all public institutions “promote gender equity, and these efforts are to be documented each year.” The top ranking country, Iceland, passed this type of legislation back in 2000 as the Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women. Finland employs an “Ombudsman for Equality, the Gender Equality Unit, and the Council for Equality” in its pursuit of gender parity. And in Sweden, there is an Ombudsman on Discrimination, as well as measures taken in schools and workplaces to ensure women do not face bias.

Why should we care what goes on in Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden? They hold the top four spots in that report. The one where the U.S. ranks 31st.

Let’s read just a little more from Liswood:

Data are a necessary component to start the process of resource allocation and policy shift. Data collection alone can’t make the sea level rise, but many political and business leaders hide behind the excuse that women must ‘make the case’ for change. The case can rarely be made without information that proves what women may intuitively already know. And looking at a gender gap that has been indexed should give leaders pause if they are not fully utilizing 50 percent of their talent.

It certainly should. The thing is, if we were to proactively address the measurable inequities, like Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, then–if Buckingham’s right–everyone would stand to benefit. But where Buckingham–where the very United States–has fallen short, is in viewing it as a personal issue, an issue of behavior, or attitude, or whether Zac Ephron is cashing in at the box office… In choosing to look at such heavy decisions merely as personal dilemmas, left to each of us to handle on our own, in our own way, we are missing the point. Yes, we have choices in our lives, and it stands on each of us to make them. But they’re made harder by the lack of institutional support. The war may be over, but the battle has just begun.

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Before we put the happiness gap to bed, here’s a fitting last word: some smoking-smart commentary from Barbara Ehrenreich I found on Mother Jones. The piece is entited “Are Women Getting Sadder? Or are we all just getting a lot more gullible?” That should tip you off.

Ehrenreich’s essay echoes a few of the points we’ve made ourselves, here, here and here, and adds a few more, arguments that should take a hammer to the debate that made the rounds a few weeks back, thanks to a series of posts by Marcus Buckingham on HuffPo.

Whatever you think about the original study — and the epidemic of head-scratching that trailed after — don’t blame feminism, she writes:

… it’s a little too soon to blame Gloria Steinem for our dependence on SSRIs. For all the high-level head-scratching induced by the Stevenson and Wolfers study, hardly anyone has pointed out (1) that there are some issues with happiness studies in general, (2) that there are some reasons to doubt this study in particular, or (3) that, even if you take this study at face value, it has nothing at all to say about the impact of feminism on anyone’s mood.

In case you don’t recognize her name, Ehrenreich is a feminist, activist, and journalist — who also has a Ph.D. in cell biology. In two of her most recent books — Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream — she lived the life: first going undercover as a low-wage worker to investigate poverty-level America, and second as a white-color job seeker. Her latest book is “BRIGHT-SIDED: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.” (Listen to an interview on NPR and read an excerpt here.)

Among the points Ehrenreich makes in her Mother Jones piece: Happiness is a notoriously slippery concept to measure; one of the objective measures of women’s happiness (or lack of same) is the suicide rate, which the authors of the study acknowledge has gone down; and finally, the current chat cycle may have been a plank in a marketing platform for Buckingham’s new book, Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently, which ends with a pitch for a bunch of related products you can buy:

It’s an old story: If you want to sell something, first find the terrible affliction that it cures. In the 1980s, as silicone implants were taking off, the doctors discovered “micromastia”—the “disease” of small-breastedness. More recently, as big pharma searches furiously for a female Viagra, an amazingly high 43% of women have been found to suffer from “Female Sexual Dysfunction,” or FSD. Now, it’s unhappiness, and the range of potential “cures” is dazzling: Seagrams, Godiva, and Harlequin, take note.

But what struck me most in this short piece was the way Ehrenreich effectively called out those who blame women’s unhappiness on feminism — and the choices women now have, largely because of it:

But let’s assume the study is sound and that (white) women have become less happy relative to men since 1972. Does that mean that feminism ruined their lives?

Not according to Stevenson and Wolfers, who find that “the relative decline in women’s well-being… holds for both working and stay-at-home mothers, for those married and divorced, for the old and the young, and across the education distribution”—as well as for both mothers and the childless. If feminism were the problem, you might expect divorced women to be less happy than married ones and employed women to be less happy than stay-at-homes. As for having children, the presumed premier source of female fulfillment: They actually make women less happy.

And if the women’s movement was such a big downer, you’d expect the saddest women to be those who had some direct exposure to the noxious effects of second wave feminism. As the authors report, however, “there is no evidence that women who experienced the protests and enthusiasm in the 1970s have seen their happiness gap widen by more than for those women who were just being born during that period.”

All of which reminds me of an op-ed Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman wrote a few years back on the occasion of Drew Gilpin Faust being named the first woman president of Harvard University:

… Faust’s announcement also came when the story line about feminism itself has taken an odd turn. On college campuses where women take rights for granted, many shy away from the F-word as if it were a dangerous brand. A second narrative has taken hold in many parts of the culture that says one generation’s feminism made the next generation unhappy.

There is talk about too many pressures and too many choices. It’s as if the success of feminism was to blame rather than its unfinished work. Indeed, it took Mary Cheney to offer bracing words at a recent Barnard College gathering: “This notion that women today are overwhelmed with choices, my God, my grandmother would have killed to have these choices.”

“Its unfinished work”. Love the sound of that. Whether we’re happy, sad, or somewhere stuck in Limbo, who cares? That’s irrelevant at best, a distraction at worst. Sure, we’ve got the options we wanted, but why do we still have trouble navigating them? Which leads to my question: Why did our work stall, and how do we get rolling again?

Your turn.

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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.

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I say we leave it up to the kids. More below.

Writing in The Nation last week, Katha Pollitt threw some love at Julie and Julia, the feel-good foodie movie about Julia Child and Julie Powell, the 20-something blogger who tried to channel Child by cooking her way through “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” What Pollitt liked most about the movie was the fact that it was about adult women finding meaning through work:

What I loved most of all, though, was that Julie & Julia is that very rare thing, a movie centered on adult women, and that even rarer thing, a movie about women’s struggle to express their gifts through work. Not a boyfriend, a fabulous wedding, a baby, a gay best friend, a better marriage, escape from a serial killer, the perfect work-family balance, another baby. Real life is full of women for whom work is at the center, who crave creative challenge, who are miserable until they find a way to make a mark on the world. But in the movies, women with big ambitions tend to be Prada-wearing devils or uptight thirtysomethings who relax when they find a slacker boyfriend or inherit an adorable orphan. Among recent films, Seraphine, Martin Provost’s biopic about an early-twentieth-century French cleaning woman and self-taught painter, is practically unique in its curiosity about a woman’s creative drive. More usually, a woman’s cinematic function is to forward, thwart, complicate or decorate the story of a man. As Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s elusive girlfriend in (500) Days of Summer, Zooey Deschanel has all the external trappings of individuality–aloofness, a sly smile, vintage clothes and indie tastes–but she has no more inner life than Petrarch’s Laura. She’s there to break the hero’s heart and rekindle his ambitions. What will she become? Someone else’s wife.

I read this piece after a long Sunday afternoon of a breakneck email back-and-forth relating to Marcus Buckingham and the happiness gap, which Shannon wrote about so eloquently yesterday. Much of the backchat centered around sexism: Why on earth would we look to a male to define, understand and proffer solutions for our own particular brand of angst? The answer was the obvious. We’re still living in a man’s world. Or, if you prefer the loaded term, a patriarchy, where most of the social structures were set up by men — to benefit men. Men dominate for the simple reason that they can.

Which made me wonder: some 50 years after Betty Friedan ignited the second wave of the women’s movement by writing about the “problem that has no name”, why are we still pleasantly pleased to find a movie about grown-up women who have lives apart from their significant others? Why do we let men (and the editors who publish them) take our conversations away from us? Why were we shocked and amazed that Hillary made it so far into last year’s primary season — all the while secretly acknowledging to ourselves that she could never win the presidency? Why do we still earn 71 cents on the dollar — and then come home and do the laundry? Why, in fact, do I still use terms like “Why women” (just hit search) in my posts?

No wonder we are undecided.

I came of age during the bra-burning era — which, by the way, never happened — at a time when I was known as a “women’s libber.” That dates me, yeah? At my first job out of college, my co-workers (mostly women several years older than I) were almost all involved in consciousness-raising groups, and brought those conversations into the lunch room and break rooms. There was momentum: we were prepped for change, and by god, we were going to make it happen.

But see above. We didn’t. And having been along for most of the ride, I’m frustrated that the movement seems to have stalled.

Why are words like “patriarchy” still part of the lexicon? Why, after Pat Shroeder broke ground in 1973 by becoming the first woman from Colorado to be elected to the U.S. house of representatives – and the first woman to make a legitimate run for president — why are women so woefully underrepresented in the House and, primarily, the Senate? Why are we tempted to use the same loaded  rhetoric of 50 years back without realizing that, just maybe, we need to change strats?

Back in the day, feminism was fueled, to a certain extent, by anger. And it was appropriate: Wake up, women! Embrace your oppression! Fight the patriarchy! That, we got. But moving from anger to constructive action? Seems to me the movement might have gotten so stuck in the rhetoric that it not only closed the tent, but couldn’t pull the trigger.

(As an aside, these are questions for the next generation: What was the last thing you read about NOW? What do you know about EMILY’s list — and do you even know what EMILY stands for?)

One of my friends who was part of Sunday’s bang-a-thon is from Sweden, where this type of conversation is probably close to obsolete. In her country, where there is both gender parity and equality, she suggests, it may be due to their social-democratic-ness: “It’s normal to look at society as a structure and ask yourself who will benefit — and how it can be changed to benefit other groups.”

Why didn’t we think of that? Is it possible that the anger that was so successful as a wake-up call ended up immobilizing us as much as complacency might have? Rather than building a coalition, as President Obama, who achieved the impossible last November, was able to do, did we end up alienating those we needed as allies?

I have no answers. Which is why I’m hoping the twenty and thirty-somethings might pick up the mantle and go forward with some fresh ideas.  Third-wave feminism has been dubbed by some “do-me feminism” or “Sex and the City feminism.” I have to wonder: do we need a fourth wave?

I vote yes.

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Wharton School’s Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers published a study in May that’s been dubbed “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.” The title kinda says it all, but the gist is that, while, 35 years ago or so, women reported being happier than men, today women–regardless of marital or employment status or whether or not they have kids–report being unhappier than men. And, as one might imagine, dozens of articles came out in the wake of that study, riffing on the whys.

From the Sunday London Times:

There’s plenty more opportunities for women than there used to be–but then again, that means you are always questioning whether the moves you have made are correct, or whether you should have done something else.

From BusinessWeek:

Over the last 50 years, women have secured greater opportunity, greater achievement, greater influence, and more money. But over the same time period, they have become less happy, more anxious, more stressed, and, in ever-increasing numbers, they are medicating themselves for it,’ says management thinker and author Marcus Buckingham… ‘Better education and job opportunities and freedoms have decreased life happiness for women.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a bit of a problem with that assessment. (Not least because it’s coming from a guy.) The Washington Examiner’s Marta Mossburg had this to say:

Too many choices or opportunities can paralyze rather than inspire. Men are used to this. For women, opportunity is still a relatively new phenomenon, and often a confusing one.

and

Women’s declining happiness in the face of greatly expanded freedoms should come as no surprise. But neither should a reversal of the trend once they have the time to get used to it.

That I can get behind. What about you? What do you think? Does this idea get your hackles up, or do you think there might be a kernel of not-so-convenient truth in there? Would you be happier if your only career options were teacher, secretary, nurse; what if our society was down with arranged marriages, for that matter? And, okay, we’ll be happier once we get used to it. Swell. But in the meantime, we’re living our lives now, wishing we were just a tad happier than we are… So how do we get there?

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