Rebecca Traister at Salon has written an insightful and funny article called Screw happiness. It starts off talking about how women are bombarded with studies about which women are happy and how we can become happy like them:
So, in short: have babies young so as not to imperil your fertility; do not marry early or you’ll be at higher risk for divorce; get married to an appropriate guy as soon as possible so as to guarantee companionship; don’t forget to have kids! And also, don’t have kids! …Stop doing those spoiled things that bring you fulfillment or you’ll never find fulfillment!
Then she takes it further than the quest for happiness and wonders if constant happiness is even a natural state for humans. Unhappiness and dissatisfaction are motivators: they make us want to strive and reach new heights of potential contentment. And sometimes they’re just an inescapable part of life, and that’s okay too – being unhappy does not necessarily mean you’ve failed somewhere.
My question with all this is: where’s all the pressure on men to be happy? A Google search for “studies on men’s happiness” gets me articles like these:
- “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness” – an academic article that might eventually mention men’s happiness, but obviously only in relation to women’s
- “Elderly men, happiness is easy to find” – a fluffy article that recommends staying busy and fit
- “Are Men or Women Happier?” – again, men’s happiness is only evaluated in relation to women’s
- “What Makes Us Happy?” – on a 70 year Harvard study that followed a bunch of male students throughout their lives to answer this question. But it doesn’t treat unhappiness as a problem that needs solving immediately. It’s just seeking to answer the question we’ve all been asking since we had the capacity.
Conversely, a Google search for “studies on women’s happiness” gets me:
- “Marcus Buckingham: What’s Happening to Women’s Happiness?” Huffington Post talking about the author of Find Your Strongest Life (which Traister cited as an offender on the “pressuring women to be happy” front). A second article from Huffington follows below that, and talks about Buckingham again.
- “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness” shows up again.
- “Barbara Ehrenreich: Are Women Getting Sadder? Or Are We All Just Getting a Lot More Gullible?” – which critiques the study described in the Paradox article and is actually worth reading: “In one well-known psychological experiment, subjects were asked to answer a questionnaire on life satisfaction, but only after they had performed the apparently irrelevant task of photocopying a sheet of paper for the experimenter. For a randomly chosen half of the subjects, a dime had been left for them to find on the copy machine. As two economists summarize the results: “Reported satisfaction with life was raised substantially by the discovery of the coin on the copy machine — clearly not an income effect.”
- “Women are More Unhappy Than Ever” – Slate’s dubious headline (ever? really?) on this phenomenon
- “Women’s Unhappiness Isn’t So Mysterious After All” – Pandagon takes down the argument that since studies indicate women are less happy since feminism, we’d all be better off in the kitchen speaking when spoken to
Women’s happiness is getting politicized in a way men’s isn’t. If men are happy or not, that’s their problem. But women’s happiness, like our sexuality, is up for public debate. Are we happy, and if not, why not, and won’t someone please think of the women?
Tell me if I’m wrong, but this is how it seems to me: men are pressured to succeed, but nobody really cares if they’re happy or not, and women are pressured to be happy, but nobody really cares if we’re successful. It’s like we win at our jobs, we win with our families, we win with our sexuality, and then someone pipes up: “But are you happy?” If we say no, they’ll dismiss everything we’ve won at. None of that stuff matters if you’re not happy.
Well, actually, maybe it does.
I grew up chronically depressed. I never knew what happy felt like until I was in my early thirties, and I was surprised to find it wasn’t this exultant “YES!” pump-your-fist-in-the-air feeling I’d imagined it would be. A big part of happiness for me turned out to be tackling problems and challenges. I like taking things to the next level, so I will never find myself on a level where I say, “Perfect.” I’d be bored with perfection. Being happy includes cursing at the computer because it won’t do what I’m trying to finagle it into doing. Being happy includes taking a stand and having unpleasant confrontations (the confrontations themselves are depressing, but the alternative – no growth – would be worse).
Isn’t this just like how our bodies are politicized? How we dress and who we dress for and what we weigh and what we’re doing with our bodies is all considered not only appropriate discussion for the masses, but stuff they’re entitled to pass judgment on us for. Our emotional states are our business.