The Neglected Element in Women’s Happiness Studies
According to study after study, women are becoming more and more unhappy. This drop in happiness is found in women across the social and economic landscape. It doesn't matter what their marital status is, how much money they make, whether or not they have children, their ethnic background, or the country they live in. Women around the world are in a funk.
The Sad, Shocking Truth About How Women Are Feeling September 17, 2009
In my six-year-old granddaughter’s first grade class the teacher gives a special treat to the children when they are able to tie their shoes by themselves. She proudly announces that only the girls in her class have earned the certificate to the local Dairy Queen (of course “Queen”). If we are to believe in the results of the University of Pennsylvania study, The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness, her sense of subjective well-being should go downhill from here. The little boys who have not yet earned their ice cream cones should take heart: Their happiness will increase as they age while the girls’ happiness will decrease!
This perpetual competition between the genders has its ups and downs of course, as the academic world competes with the tabloids in survey after survey to prove what anyone can see by reading magazine covers in the local news stand: Women’s sense of happiness is directly tied to being attractive to men and then getting the men to perform better in bed, while men’s happiness is based on having more toys and playing more (roughly) with them.
For instance, for the female half of the population, it may bring satisfaction that “scientists have found that evolution is driving women to become ever more beautiful, while men remain as aesthetically unappealing as their caveman ancestors.” However the price for that has been that beautiful women have had more children than their plainer sisters. The price continues to rise as those beautiful women try to maintain the beauty of their youth into their senior years after giving birth and raising so many children. Hence, their advantage over men is cancelled by their increasing unhappiness.
Women suffer from what any gifted student quickly learns in school: The more gifted you are, the more you have to work than your peers. What, then, are the rewards of being gifted? Any school teacher can testify to the fact that girls are better students, smarter, more organized, do neater and more complete work than the boys. What is more, they are more likely to be dependable, appreciative and helpful in class.
Nevertheless, women have had to fight to even gain the fairness of being treated equally to their male counterparts. During their struggles of the last thirty-five years their unjust treatment has been overturned woman by victorious woman. Concurrently, as they have gained their proper recognition, their happiness has declined in relationship to the happiness of men according to the University of Pennsylvania study. To add insult to injury, when women seek the same level of satisfaction as men through sexual relationships they are again frustrated. A recent poll substantiates that women are hard pressed to find a considerate and satisfying lover if they cannot travel to the storied lands of sunshine, slow food, wine and romance. Otherwise, they are stuck with men whose lovemaking has all the characteristics of a football locker room at half time.
The main paradox cited in the University of Pennsylvania study above is that “by many objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men.” I could perhaps take this study more seriously if it were not so materialistic and superficial in its objective measures of what constitute happiness for a woman (or a man for that matter). In fact, I find the “paradox” not only insulting to women, but also psychologically, socially, culturally and historically negligent.
If this study holds up the American woman as the model of women’s progress in the world and a predictor of their happiness, I find it totally lacking in recognizing the unique essence of the female being. In addition, it does not measure the condition of women in the developing and war-torn countries where a women’s character, strength, and perseverance in oppressive conditions reveals what is really important for a woman’s survival if not her happiness. Again, I find American academia obsessed with our crystal bubble, and again assessing women in comparison to men, as if wealth, status and men were the standard!
|Since reaching economic and social parity with men in the workplace, women’s increased level of unhappiness may be assumed to be a function of their new status. Men used to be the ones with ulcers and heart attacks at a young age; are women really so keen to take on their stress too?
Women love beauty and stand for beauty, but their definition of it is much more subtle, many layered, psychological and spiritual than can be measured by the standards of material or sexual conquest. Success is intertwined with beauty and self-image, but feeling beautiful is multidimensional for women and is tied to their relationships and integrity. The University of Pennsylvania study puts the measure of women's happiness into the competitive male arena and ignores the sensitivity and standards of the female aesthetic.
Additionally, it does not show that spiritual well-being is often a by-product of overcoming adversity in one’s life. Recently I had a conversation with a woman who is struggling to survive on unemployment, is finding doors of opportunity closed because of her age, and is sad that she is unable to afford the pleasure of foreign travel. A single mother, she raised sons who are educated, successful, and active in humanitarian professions. When we reflected on her achievements as a single mother and the devotion of her sons, she realized that she was at peace with her life and indeed filled with joy.
Finally, it is important to recognize that the chemistry and psychology of a woman is so much more sensitive than that of a man. Anywhere and in any conditions the majority of women bear the burden of survival and progress of society. In modern, post-industrial societies women fill the main jobs that provide for security, health, and progress. They are the driving force of most humanitarian movements and organizations, often giving freely of their time and labor. They are the voices and faces that people in need usually encounter first when seeking help in any area of life. In pre-industrial societies, women are the main forces for change and economic security. Not only as mothers do they accomplish this, but also as entrepreneurs and risk takers who are more open to new ideas, and more willing to make sacrifices to ensure the survival of others.
The neglected element in studying women’s happiness is their capacity for empathy. Empathy may actually cause unhappiness or distress. Women feel the pains of others and they are more likely to encounter people in pain, from their children to the people in their communities. As the media exposes us increasingly to the pain and suffering of people and the environment throughout the world, women are more likely than men to experience the pain of others on an emotional level. When parents of two young children were killed in our community recently, I experienced horror and shock at the news, while my wife experienced emotional distress for the children. Although we did not know the people personally, my wife experienced grief while I didn't.
Empathy is a capacity in women that is part of their being. It has evolved through the tests of human survival to be a quality that makes a woman more often than a man internalize and feel personally responsible for the welfare of others. This capacity is not so evolved in men due to their role in history, which often required cold detachment to get the job done. If empathy is considered, although reaching job, economic and social parity with men, women’s increasing level of unhappiness may be understood as precisely a function of their sense responsibility on an increasingly urgent and grander scale, while relieving men of those concerns. Their very nature makes them vulnerable to unhappiness.
© 2009 Richard
Read Related Articles in the Media:
The Sad, Shocking Truth About How Women Are Feeling, Arianna Huffington, Huffington Post, September 17, 2009
What's Happening To Women's Happiness? Marcus Buckingham Huffington Post, September 17, 2009
Women are getting more beautiful, Jonathan Leake, Science Editor, Times of England, July 26, 2009
Blue Is the New Black, Maureen Dowd, New York Times, September 19, 2009
German men are 'world's worst lovers' with English men in second place, Telegraph of U.K., September 29, 2009