How would you answer the question “How satisfied are you with your life?”
My own response would vary daily or even hourly. Sometimes I feel very content. Days like today, a cloudy Sunday here in Amsterdam. For lunch I made an especially delicious soup, which I ate while researching a topic that interests me and for now I would rate my life satisfaction as fairly high.
I savor this feeling because as a whole I am restless and unsettled, looking for some nameless, shapeless thing out of life, some sense of belonging or meaning that I am becoming increasingly sure cannot be provided to mere mortals, at least not with the intensity I desire it.
As a result of this, tomorrow I might feel frustrated and moody and uncertain that the choices I’ve made have led me to the best place, or that the direction I am going is the one that will make me the most satisfied with my life.
A study by UPenn in 2009 concluded that American women as a whole are less happy than they were 40 years ago. This doesn’t give conservative women an excuse to go all Phyllis Schlafly and dismiss the feminist movement as ultimately bad for women.
There is, after all, a difference between something being good for you and making you happy. (Access to a variety of healthy foods may be good for your overall wellbeing, but do they fill you with joy the way a slice of birthday cake could?)
Part of the issue could be that as women, even though we had fewer options back in the 50s and 60s, also had less to balance, and less pressure to be good at everything we attempted to do.
No job means no pressure to succeed at work, no bitchy co-workers, no leaving your kid at daycare, and less guilt and stress. However, I think most women would agree that these are negatives we'll happily accept in order to have equlaity in the workplace.
According to the same study, men have gotten happier in the last few decades. Perhaps because they no longer have the pressure to be the sole breadwinner or maybe it's all the increased sexual experimentation, but an unintended consequence of feminism is that men, according to this survey anyway, seem to have benefitted from the Steinem-era more than women in the long run.
Then again, perhaps all surveys on happiness are fatally flawed. It’s possible that women in the 60s weren’t as likely to own up to their unhappiness as women are today. I do sometimes have a nagging suspicion that having too many choices has resulted in our unhappiness. I was born with a silver compass in my mouth, the knowledge that I could always go in whatever direction I chose, and yet I still seem programmed to want something more.
So what does a person need to be happy? We need our basic needs met -- food, water, shelter and sex. But what else? Maybe happiness is only relative to seeing a positive change in our lives. Whatever the reasons, at least modern women’s miseries are the result of our own choices.
What are your theories on the decline in women's happiness? How satisfied are you with your life today?