Last week, we opened another Pandora's happiness box, this time addressing the research gathered by Marcus Buckingham that shows the declining state of happiness amongst women.
Many of you responded, some with complaints about men, some with complaints about societal values, some with people to blame, and some suggesting that men may not be doing all that well either.
Indeed, I don't find men or women to be overwhelmed with satisfaction, fulfillment or general happiness. No surprise there, really. To me, the root cause of dissatisfaction and unhappiness often lies in the areas of focus we choose for ourselves.
And, just to be clear, I'm writing primarily about those who have the means and education to actually read this on line, using a computer. After all, this article is only available to those with computer access.
Last week, I ended by saying that this week I would address the first of several major keys to increased happiness and sense of well being, that of "living in the present." However, I beg your indulgence as I put this one off for a week, in order to take on some of the questions which arose via the comment and email stream.
Victimhood and blame: who chose to lead life as you have?
I suggested that many of us may be experiencing unhappiness due to a set of choices we made, and possibly continue to make, in our areas of focus. It can often be summed up as "if only I could" thinking: If only I could characterizes the mindset of those who think they would be happier if only (have enough money, have the right job, have the right house, have the right relationship, etc) something or someone else were different.
That kind of thinking is understandable given any number of societal norms, pressures to pursue, and even family or political values.
The if only mindset perpetuates the notion that in some ways, we are victims of our circumstances. However, while many are wont to blame a husband/wife, boss, co-worker, banker, bank account or political party for their perceived lack of success or fulfillment in life, few are equally likely to blame a husband/wife, boss, co-worker, banker, bank account or political party if things happen to be going well. Apparently, there are very few "success victims."
Here are two examples of two very different approaches to the question of who's responsible for your state of well being. One woman wrote:
I read your article with interest. I'm quite a high achiever but not as high as I'd like to be. I'm in science management.
Am I happy? Quite, but not blithe by any means. But then again most of the men I know aren't very happy either. These are not happy times compared to 40 years ago. So many world problems..... so little time. Is anyone really happy? Not - I suspect - if they have any true idea of the state of the world.
I actually regret spending so many years at home with my kids (now 19 and 21) because in my early 50s I'm having to jump start a stalled career - try it. It's tough. The reason I want my own career? My own pension, my own life, my own money, my independence. My marriage will bore me to death. I need my own life and so I suspect does my spouse. I should have spent far less time at home and more at work. The kids would have been fine. I know so many who spent time in day care and they are doing just fine.
I'm also fed up with being the bill payer, main source of all family coherence, laundry maid, shopper, gardener etc etc because men just don't do all that stuff. At least men of my husband's generation. Maybe it's getting better but still mostly women who work full time also do most of the chores. I call it acquired ineptitude. Don't tell me a man who can program a computer really can't use a washing machine.
Then there's sex. I was brought up to believe it was so much more important to men than women. This is of course, total rubbish. I now find myself climbing the walls with middle aged frustration while my husband has cheerfully given up. Who knows why? He won't discuss it. Prefers playing with his computer. Maybe if I can get a better career going and earn more, I can get a Trophy Boyfriend, like the rich guys get Trophy Girlfriends? I'd love to see a whole slew of really rich successful women getting hot young guys!
But like I said, I don't really know anyone truly happy. I'm probably doing better than most.
On the other end of the spectrum, Sara wrote:
I read (the) article you wrote titled, "Women Are Unhappy? And You're Surprised?" Great job! I was one of the unhappy 10 years ago. I had a great job, good marriage, nice house, kids, maids, etc, etc, but I was terribly unhappy. I began a journey that has brought me to where I am today (very happy and fulfilled).
Funny thing is, I do not have any of the material crap that I had 10 years ago. I mean, I still have the kids, of course, but not the fancy corporate job with the stable paycheck and not the husband that looked good, but was not good for me. I now live in the country as a single Mom of 3 kids with no child support, scratching out her survival and I am the happiest I have ever been in my life.
I wrote a book to try and encourage more people to do as I have, but I think it will appeal to women more than men. I am curious, as a man, do you think only women are unfulfilled with the empty material possessions we were told would make us happy? See, I think men are just as unhappy. Maybe not all of them, but I think a lot of the younger ones are. Perhaps you could do a follow-up article on the impact to men? Just a thought.
Now isn't that great! Both women are writing about choices they made: who chose to marry? Who chose to stay married? Who chose the job or career? Who chose to take the job/career and accept the role of nanny to the husband? (And, by the way, who said men don't do chores? Follow me around for a few days and you'll see everything from dishes to laundry. I know that I'm not alone, but perhaps in a minority role.)
Please do consider that each of us makes our own choices which, in turn, lead to outcomes, experiences and consequences. Most people fail to recognize what they truly seek and wind up making choices to pursue goals which lack meaning. Some simply accept other's choices by default and wind up entrapping themselves in a set of unfortunate and difficult-to-escape circumstances.
As we carry these ideas forward about creating a life of greater meaning, satisfaction, happiness or well-being, it will be critical to keep in mind that each of us makes choices every day about how we respond to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. As many have discovered, the quality of your life experience may have less to do with what happens to you and more to do with how you choose to respond. And, sometimes, those choices actually wind up creating our circumstances, not just our experience of them.
Just play with that one for a bit and consider what the consequences might be if this little approach just happens to be true. What if the main difference between a life of distress and one of well being is primarily driven by your willingness and ability to choose your responses on a daily basis? Of course, as I have written before, it"s hard to choose if you don't know where you are headed, or why you are headed there.
As always, please do leave a comment or drop me an email with your thoughts, ideas, questions or suggestions. Next week, we will pick on the theme of living (and choosing) in the present as a key to well being.
I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.
If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.
Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.