I read an article on Huffington Post the other day that has been bothering me ever since: What’s Happening to Women’s Happiness by Marcus Buckingham. In the article Buckingham argues that women in the Western world are getting increasingly unhappier (he’s using research data from the past 40 years) while men are getting happier.
Now, I don’t know if Buckingham is using this as a clever marketing strategy to sell his book and seminars on personal development, but according to the data of research and surveys conducted across time and countries, the evidence seems to be there.
I also know that if you take a man and a woman and ask them how happy they are, the man will say he is happier than he really is and the woman will do the opposite. That’s part of how differently we approach the world: Women look for causes within themselves when confronted with an issue, while men will look for causes outside of themselves.
So, if you tell a woman that women all over the world are getting unhappier, she will immediately look inside to find evidence for this, while a man will most likely say “Show me” or, “If that’s true, I know it’s not happening to me.”
After mulling the whole thing over in my own head for a few days I have come to this: It’s not up to someone or anyone to just stroll along with a few smart graphs and statistics to tell us how happy or unhappy we are, it’s up to us. It’s time that we take responsibility for our own happiness.
Do I believe that women lose their happiness when they get older? I think that each of us has to answer that for herself. However, there are a few interesting trends that I have observed in working with women that I want to share with you. These are my initial thoughts on the topic and I’d love to hear what your experiences are.
While most men define themselves by their accomplishment, many women have learned to define themselves by their beauty: Can you see the dilemma right here? While a man’s accomplishments increase when he gets older, a woman’s beauty fades, or let’s say, changes with age.
I think women have a natural affinity for beauty. We like to make things beautiful, look beautiful, help others to look beautiful, etc. Unfortunately, the media, advertising agencies and the fashion industry are ruthlessly taking advantage of this love for beauty by putting it in a competitive context: I received a mailing the other day selling rejuvenation treatments with slogans like ‘Stay Young & Competitive’, ‘Conquer the Competition’ and ‘Move up to Management’.
This obsession with looking young has lead many women to neglect their inner beauty. While looking good on the outside can be a lot of fun, it is devastating if it’s all there is. It will keep us from looking within to find out what it is we deeply love about ourselves: Our gifts, our values and our unique female strengths. Because deep down we all know, there is nothing more attractive than a woman who knows her values and is kind, passionate, and, happy in her own skin.
Another trend I have observed is the lack of community among women: Women relax by communicating with other women (as shown in a landmark UCLA study on friendship among women). Have you ever listened to a group of women happily talking among themselves, laughing, giggling and having a good time? It’s delightful! It’s like listening to the joyful cheers of happy kids playing on the playground.
Women listen in a way that is nurturing and receptive. We comfort each other by telling stories, by laughing, crying and having a community of likeminded friends. A lot of times this is missing in our day-to-day lives and while we are getting more accomplished in our careers, and more competitive with each other, we also lose our connections.
This brings up another point, competition, and how it is hurting women: Competition among women is not in our nature, yet it is something we are doing in all areas of life. For men, competing is part of the game and they do it often and for fun. I overheard two little boys at the beach the other day talking to each other while munching on some sandwiches: “Did you know that Michael Jackson died?” asked one the other. “Yes, I found out the minute he died,” was the response. “And I found out the second he died!”
For women, competing does not come as natural. We like to tell stories and share experiences. When we compete we separate ourselves from other women which leads to isolation, not only in business but also in our private lives. If we start collaborating more, we will be able to build strong connections and help each other in getting what we want.
Maybe it’s time we get more courageous about adapting the existing rules to what we need to be happy. Maybe working hard and being competitive is fun for men, while for women taking breaks, having time to relax and talking to other women is what helps us to recharge our batteries.
How about you? Would your life change if you put happiness first? Dare to try out what works for you and put it into action.
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Photo Source: Flowereye via Flickr under a Creative Commons License