Monday, October 01, 2007

Men and Women and Happiness

Men and Women and Happiness

N.Y.Times 9/26/07 “A Reversal in the index of Happy”

I’m always surprised when a researcher, reporting their latest study comparing men and women, miss the idea or importance of relationship. Certainly many have marginalized marriage as a viable concept. And, clearly we’re moving in the direction of individuality over connectedness (could divorce statistics simply reflect a mass indifference to the power of relationship?) It may be that we are increasingly skeptical about relationships and their power to transform lives.

The article in the N.Y. Times that got me started thinking about all this appeared in the Wednesday, September 26 edition – “A Reversal in the Index of Happy.”

The study focused on tasks – cooking, cleaning, gardening – and compares the sexes along a continuum of emotional intensity - sadness or anxiety (stress). While they do get a measure they can use to compare women forty years ago with women today (they are unhappier) and men then to men now (they are happier) – the study misses entirely what happiness is about.

The Greeks debated the idea a long time ago. It was eudaemonia, happiness, that needed definition. What is it? What does it consist of? How do you know you’re there when you are there?

Happiness is only partly the absence of sorrow or stress. In fact, we could offer many examples of stress filled situations in which a person would describe herself or himself as very happy indeed. Consider a championship tennis match. Are the contestants happy to be playing in the final? Are they stressed?

Happiness is often debated because it’s elusive, ephemeral, highly idiosyncratic and very personal. But there’s one thing we know. Couples the world over can tell when their marriage is going well and they describe themselves as ‘happy’ and when it’s not. Happiness may mean a sense of well being, the presence of joy, or the absence of pain. Happiness in relationship probably means that there’s a deep sense of connectedness.

Here are a few observations about happiness. Happiness doesn’t happen to you, you make it happen. I coach couples and notice that a large number who describe their marriage as an unhappy one, tell me – before long – that it is their partner’s fault the marriage doesn’t work. So, observation number one: Taking full responsibility for your own happiness is fundamental to relationship happiness.
Observation number two: We all have a deep need to be ‘seen.’ If you doubt that this is true, find a child nearby and watch his face when you notice a. how hard they’ve worked on a painting or other project, or b. how much they love you. Notice what they offer, attend to their gifts and you’ll see faces that radiate happiness. When I say to my grandchildren for instance “wow! you really love me don’t you! Their faces light up with enthusiasm that is volcanic.

Observation number three: We all focus way too much on ‘being loved.’ The essence of adult happiness is to love. Whether or not my wife loves me on any particular day is her challenge, not mine. My responsibility to myself is to love the person I say I love. Read that again.
It is only by fully embracing my own need to love that I can even begin to realize the depth of love – and therefore happiness – within me.
And number three doesn’t stop with partners. We have a rock solid need to love our children (regardless of how they show up in the world), our neighbors, friends, extended family and, in fact, the citizens of the world. It is not optional.
So the next time you read an article about happiness, pull this one out and remind yourself. Life really can be ‘a bowl of cherries’ if you get your loving priorities in order.

Stephen W. Frueh M.Div, PhD is a leadership consultant, couples’ coach, mentor, writer and speaker. He is a professional member of the National Speaker’s Association. He lives with his wife and family in Ventura County, California.

He can be contacted at:
805 527 2600

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