The Loss of Happiness

May 27, 2009

A recent study on happiness found that women are less happy now than they have been over the past 35 years (so are men, but the decline is less substantial). What is more, while women used to have higher levels of happiness than men, our levels are now lower.  

Meghan O’Rourke points to one possible explanation, that it is due to the paradox of choice- the more choices we have, the more anxious we become.  This would also help to explain why it is all women who are less happy, not just mothers (working or not).

The researchers point to another possibility: “the increased opportunity to succeed in many dimensions may have led to an increased likelihood in believing that one’s life is not measuring up.”  This rings incredibly true to me and I actually think the two explanations, while different, go hand-in-hand.

I think that as the world has gotten smaller we have become aware not only of the many choices and opportunities in front of us but also of what others are making of those same choices and opportunities.  We are now more likely to come across people who have “succeeded” in ways we haven’t, which, in turn, makes us more  aware of our own “failings.”  And that is terrifying and depressing.

So how do we regain those levels of happiness we have lost? I think we are going to have to change how we see ourselves in the world, we are going to have to change the way we compare ourselves to others, we are going to have to change our definitions of success.  

Over the weekend I was talking with family about how I hate being in my 30s because I feel like I should have already reached a certain level of success or power and not only am I not there, but it is going to be a LONG time until I get there.  Reading this study makes me think that I need to change the way I see things a bit.  I need to start thinking less about where I should be or where I am going and more about where I am and accepting that for what it is.

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