To thine own self be true (but you might be less happy)

sweepI recently read the following article. It said that American women are becoming less happy, while American men are becoming happier. They suggested it was due to women taking on more roles outside of the home. Stating that women are increasingly disconnected and distracted, and as they get busier they have less time for the various parts of their lives and as a group, having children makes them less happy. I wonder if the explanations of these puzzling phenomena are really this simple or more deeply embedded in our cultural beliefs and expectations about self, family, and what happiness is.

We live in a very “me-focused” society. It’s your thing, do what you wanna do. Self is pre-eminent in this day and age.  Sacrifice is the new “s” word. It is a taboo construct in our culture. Few things are seen as egregious as giving up something you want.  Children demand sacrifice, children smack in the face of  self-service. They are needy, they require our time, our bodies, and  the subjection of our own momentary pleasures or desires. There is no question they make life harder.  Any mom who goes to the grocery store can appreciate throwing children into the mix makes it more of a “hassle”.

Can more hassles=happiness though?  To me it depends on how you define happy? If you see happiness pleasure, a mere emotion, something you can’t control, then having children probably will make you less happy.  Yet if you view happiness a choice, something we assign to our lives when we are doing something we feel is important and has purpose, despite our momentary emotions- you probably won’t feel the same way.  Surely too the definitions of happiness are different if you are looking from our long-term, eternal view as opposed to an atheistic, hedonistic, “eat drink and be merry” philosophy.

We live in a very “therapeutic society”. Pop psychology is obsessed with the analysis of self. constantly. We are constantly lying down on our virtual couches, taking our own temperatures, assessing our state of happiness/unhappiness in a way that other people didn’t in the past. Ruminating on the  reasons for the fluctuations of our emotional barometers.  We thinking about how we feel, instead of choosing to feel how we think. In short we can be less happy because we spend a lot more time thinking about our emotions determined by some source rather than malleable.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is underlies much of current psychological thought. Yet it struggles to fit in our gospel paradigm. You don’t have to fill all your own needs in order to really be happy and help others, in fact we’re told in service and losing ourselves, we find ourselves.  Self-less service is not culturally en vogue, it’s viewed as rather unhealthy.

We spend far more time than past generations as “lone entities”. Those who study human life cycle development will tell you there has been a marked prolonging of adolescence and a delayed assumption of adult roles.  We can see the drastic swing in the cultural perceptions of our relational selves. A unmarried woman in her mid twenties in the 1800s would be a  pitied spinster, however in our age a of the same age woman would be pitied if she were married, for giving up her independence so young.

People are postponing settling down because, it’s hard work, it requires responsibility, and giving up freedoms. After being “free”, the shift into having children can really “cramp your style”.  Most people do not want children right away, when they get married, they want their own time, this is different from past generations which didn’t place such cultural importance  on knowing yourself/doing what you want to do. Previously, it was more about generativity, Erikson’s psychosocial construct of adulthood, about giving back, helping the community, raising the next generation, and today we place far more important on identity (psychosocial construct key to adolescence).  Our culture teaches us that  freedom and leisure= happiness. Face it, kids and domestic life are the opposite of leisure and freedom.

With the sexual revolution, feminist movement we were given choice in roles and childbearing, however it carried with it the message that the previously held roles of women were undesirable. Domestic life was bondage, that it was not fulfilling, something we had to be freed or liberated from. Many messages we receive about our domestic life are negative, advertising tells us housecleaning is endless drudgery, meal preparation is tiresome, kids are annoying, teenagers are obnoxious. It’s about getting done what you “have to do” so you can get on to doing what you “want to do”.

Similarly the modernization and rise of efficiency of the middle of the last century, while incredibly beneficial, caused a shift in how we viewed  domestic life.  In the glory days of science and everything was touted as being time saving. Consequently time saving/labor saving became more idealized as a virtue of the home. However some things done quickly are not necessarily the most meaningful. Breaking open a pack of oreos may provide an efficient snack, but spending 20 minutes talking and baking cookies with my kids might yield greater happiness. So with modernization-efficiency we can easily develop habits that cut out what has historically brought us more connection and internal satisfaction. With less time spent in domestic work we have new-found time,  hitherto unknown by previous generations, we fill it with more things: work, hobbies, stress, and get used to our very culturally constructed  ”Me”  time.

The interesting part of this study too is that men are getting  happier (while they attribute it to decreased pressure to be the sole breadwinner), I find it interesting that men, as compared with previous generations, have become more involved in housework and the care of their children. So I have to think as paradoxical as it sounds  happiness is a lot to be found in the the messy, tough, sacrifice of love and work in our domestic lives. It’s also to be found in changing how we think. In clearing out some of the philosophies of men, mingled with pop psychology, which our culture uses to set the goalposts.  So if you want to may be happy maybe you’d better go duke it out with your spouse, winner gets to put the kids down and wash the dishes…

Do you see this decline in happiness? What do you see are the causes? Do you believe children make us less happy? Why? Do you see as cultural constructs that influence or views and possible confuse our thinking?

About Leslie

(Art Director) In her pre-diapering days, Leslie earned an MS in Marriage and Family Studies from BYU. This entitled her to mold the minds of impressionable college students in rambling six-hour lecture courses and travel the world as child life specialist. She now passes the seasons in a quaint Massachusetts town with her husband, Allen, and three young sons. She spends her days encouraging play, championing global causes, and whipping up a mean R2D2 cake. She savors her nights, stealing away to her studio to paint.

38 thoughts on “To thine own self be true (but you might be less happy)

  1. I am not sure about a general decline in happiness. One thing I do see around us is that the expectation of life is high. Society expects to be happy most of the time, to have a lovely house, at least 2 holidays a year one of which should be abroad, dining out is usual, up to date gadgets and cars, new clothes every season etc. Expectations and entitlement are going through the roof. It is true that children can get in the way of those material things, we all know that children cost money. Is keeping up with the Joneses causing us stress?

    Our roles as women are our own to define. My youngest child is 9 and I have been under pressure for many years by friends and relatives to return to work. I have no intention of doing so as I feel it is wrong for me and my family. I feel family life is not valued as it could be. Choices are individual, circumstances are individual. I can honestly say that during all phases of my life e.g. student, single and working, married with young children, married with older children, there have been times when I was happy and times when I was not. I found it hard to be single into my 30′s, then I struggled to adjust to marraige. Having children has made me ecstatically happy at times and deeply upset at others. Whatever situation we are in life will be tough at times, sacrifices will be made, tears will fall. I am happy I had children and I believe I would have been heartbroken if I hadn’t had them.

  2. I don’t see a decline in happiness among women – I see an increase in the ability to admit we’re not happy. I wish women felt like they could be emotionally honest, but unhappy women aren’t taken seriously and their complaints are trivial(the Dowd article has a great example of this in the opening paragraph when the friend characterizes women as whiners). I see this among Mormon women: just read your average mommy blog and you’ll see that everyone is happy all the time. Unhappiness is coded as ungrateful, selfish and even sinful. I think we are improving in our ability to acknowledge our emotions, but there is still resistance.

    I no longer judge my well-being on how happy I am but on how much peace I feel.

  3. I am always more unhappy when I am trying to ‘spend time on me’. When I remember that I am in the thick of being a mom and that is my highest priority I am much happier. I view my daily routine as something to take pride in. I interact more deeply with my kids. Dinner is usually better than average.
    The time is coming all too soon that my days will be filled with nothing but what I want to do with them. It will be my turn then, and as nice as those days will be, I know I will be looking back wistfully at these days of constant “drudgery”.
    I think you hit the nail right on the head.

  4. Interestingly, as women, while we worry about juggling and balancing and doing it all, the act of juggling and balancing is precariously unstable.

    When we seize on that one thing (in that moment) that provides happiness and a sense of peace, we forge an identity and carve out a bit of unbalanced serenity.

    Life can’t be about balance, as much as embracing a sense of imbalance and making sure that it is leaning in the right direction.

    The solution won’t be exactly the same for any two women, but gender roles described in the Proclamation on the family is a great place to step off.

    I love this talk by James E Faust:
    http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=6a8d605ff590c010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

    Leslie, you have such thought provoking posts!

  5. I love the points you make, Leslie. Great post!
    I recently got into a *discussion* with my sister about some things that have been going on in our family affecting our relationships. She said to me in an accusatory tone, “How can you be happy? You say you’re happy, but then I’ll read something on your blog {oh those troublesome blogs…} that says you’re sad about something. Are you really happy?” At first I was shocked by her little outburst, but then I said, “I’m not happy OR sad. It’s not an either-or kind of thing. I’m both. My life is made up of lots of different moments and emotions. It’s life. I think it would be very boring and mundane if it were not that way. I am mostly happy.” But now as I think about it, I really like what sar(#2) said:
    “I no longer judge my well-being on how happy I am but on how much peace I feel.”
    I think that is a much better tool for assessing my state of being or wellness.
    And as a side note to the children factor, children are dang hard. I ended up with 5, but went through several years of secondary infertility after our first. Having spent those heartbreaking, soul-searching years without the children I always thought I’d have has made me appreciate them more when they finally did join our family. I would *never, ever* trade in the hard for not having the privilege of being a mother. My heart aches for the women who want that and have not been able.

  6. Kay- you definitely hit a critical point with our belief that life should be entertaining and we should have what we want, and things and status will make us happy. And a shift from cooperative to competition defintely brings added stress and unhappiness.

    sar- I think acknowledging negative emotions is critical, I think if we don’t acknowledge them we cannot make full use of the atonement, but i think we’ve swung too far, most people don’t believe they are active agents when it comes to their emotions, rather something they cannot change- and kind of tend to often get stuck in them, or blame those emotions on external forces.

    jm – i have noticed those same things-

    jenny- yes I see peace/purpose/worthwhileness as how we can find happiness in our lives.

  7. I think my children made me less happy for about the first four months of the first one, when I was adjusting from non-parent to parent and my unselfish muscles were getting flexed for the first time. Since then, they have been a constant source of almost pure joy.

    I really agree that selfishness is a huge cause in the increasing unhappiness of people. The best cure for the weight your own problems is to look at someone else’s and help relieve some of them if you can.

  8. I think a lot of women expect to be happy because of the choices they make, they are doing the “perfect” things, whether it’s impressing their friends, the people at church, or at work, or they are really juggling that family act, watching the clock, sacrificing all for the kids and the husband. Then life hits hard, or they aren’t quite as happy as they think they should be, or they’re not getting near as much as they are giving, and spiral slowly, or abruptly, into depression, self-doubt, dissappointment, resentment. And, heaven forbid, they compare themselves to all the other women who seem to have it all together, who are fulfilled.
    I am a mommy-blogger, sort of. My blog is about positive thinking and sometimes I wish it wasn’t… but I find when I am honest about the imperfections, even assigning a positive spin at the end of the post, those posts get the most comments, the most “I get this” vibes. We as women need to find happiness in the “trying”, in the “small” blessings that will stay with us for eternity, in the joy of improving ourselves in alignment to our Heavenly Father’s view of us… not our neighbor’s.
    1 Samuel 16:7 “for the Lord seeth not as a man seeth; for the man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”
    I think of several women I know are happy. I know they struggle, that they work hard, that they cry, that they make mistakes. But they embrace who they are to Heavenly Father, they hope they are on their way to finding that potential, and they joy in that humble journey. And then we, “man”, we see the result. This kind of happiness is a personal, inside thing. It can be really difficult to find. But when the outside stuff hits, those women who have found it are steady, are strong, no matter the heartbreak.
    “Happiness is not in things. It is in us.”

  9. It’s a sad world we live in where children are becoming less valued, sacrifice is an unknown virtue, and women are told the object of their existence is to fulfill their own desires.

    Too many people expect life to be smooth sailing, without trouble or pain or tough choices. When they find it’s impossible to have all that they expect, they feel as if they have been cheated.

  10. I like the thought about the cookies…is happiness really in the long way around things? Would we be happier in our roles as mothers if we had the simplicity of yesteryear with nothing pulling us away from home in these lives that are so scheduled? Is “happiness” a version of the 50′s with the CHOICE to stay home because we gave up career options? For me I think it just might be.

    I also think that once we get over the expectations of the world and find peace with our choices without having to defend them to others we will be that much closer to satisfaction, if not happiness. I left a career path that had me going to medical school when I got pregnant earlier than I planned. Some may think that I had not a real choice in the matter and that I had to give up what I wanted out of my education. But I made a very deliberate choice to proceed fully with my family and embrace my role as a mother. And I was very happy to do it. But for a while in the years that followed, I became sensitive to the people that assumed my choice was because I couldn’t cut it as a doctor. That I had given up, when in reality I was keeping myself very educated and on top of current research so that when I re-engaged in a formal medical education I would not be lost. I began to feel unhappy with my choice to settle down because I wanted the recognition and respect that my previous path would have afforded me. I wanted people to trust my opinion on matters other than children and cleaning and cooking.

    But, to be brief, I have and am still discovering that these feelings are misplaced and that my worth for this time in my life lies elsewhere. I am still at peace with my major decisions, but I am learning to be happy about them as well. I do wish for more simplicity as a mother though. If this is my time to do this and it will one day seem too short as I look back, I want to fully immerse myself in mothering and making the home that I want. I love being home for now and I don’t want to look away from what I am doing. There will be time for all the rest if it is meant to be, and I’m satisfied with a future that holds possibilities.

  11. Leslie, this is a fantastic and juicy post, rich with ideas to ponder and reflect on! I wish I had time to delve more into a meaty response. I like what sar said about women being more able to admit they’re unhappy, though I don’t know what the “truth” of that subject is, as far as any actual decrease in happiness.

    The one question I can answer without having to think about it is too much is that for me, having a child definitely did not make me less happy. I think the answer must be different for everybody, though. I wanted children for a very long time before we adopted our son, so it was wonderful to finally have a child. I had been self-focused plenty long by the time he came.

    I should say, though, that having a child did not automatically make me happy, either . . . happIER, yes. It filled a huge hole in my heart. But my happiness is more about my relationship with Deity and gratitude, than with motherhood in and of itself. When my relationship with Deity is lacking, the other areas of my life are more stressful, less fulfilling, etc. The same was true before being a mother.

    I believe children have the potential to bring us incredible joys and intense sorrows. I believe working with God through those times brings us great happiness and peace.

    Oh how I’m looking forward to thinking about this more–wonderful wonderful post!!

  12. Are we less happy as women? I agree with Sar’s statement that we are just more able to express unhappiness. And then to take that statement and add it to the post, perhaps because we are more able to express unhappiness we become increasingly unhappy.

    Perhaps, also, women now don’t have as much realization that children are what will bring us the most joy, especially because they bring so much non-joy, like frustration and bitten tongues. ;) With so much me-value, there ought to be more out there proclaiming everybody-else-value, promoting getting outside of ourselves.

  13. I really liked this post. I think, for me, one of the things that helps me to be happy with my domestic roles is knowing that they are a choice. That I’m choosing to sacrifice other things that I want to do in order to raise my children and take care of my house. There was a time when I really didn’t feel like I had a choice; I felt like I had to stay home because it was the right thing to do. I wasn’t happy then.

  14. I struggle between being content and restless. I miss my “day job” but love many of the parts and pieces of being a homemaker. The feelings of happiness and sadness, contentedness and restlessness, go round and round for / within me.

    The thing that has set me free was learning that I don’t need to “be” as or what I “feel”. That my emotions, though an integral part of me, can enslave me if I give them too much heed when they are less than positive. I can feel the sadness and frustration inherent in my many roles, but that doesn’t mean I need to “be” sad.

    This has freed me up so that I can embrace the happiness and joyful moments that come from time to time without reservation. My life and contributions are so much more than how and what I feel.

  15. “You don’t have to fill all your own needs in order to really be happy and help others, in fact we’re told in service and losing ourselves, we find ourselves.”

    I lived by that philosophy for many years and was exhausted and miserable. I selflessly served my family, in my Church calling, my neighbors, but I did not fill my own needs. Then, I discovered that to adequately love and care for others, I must adequately love and care for myself. I realize that we are commanded to love others AS we love ourselves, not INSTEAD OF loving ourselves.

    I don’t see most women as serving too little but as serving too much. Many have a difficult time saying “no,” setting boundaries, and finding time for themselves. Although we experience great joy in serving others, we cannot run faster than we can walk.

  16. Great post Leslie! There is such a huge difference between “happiness” and “peace and joy.”

    Carol makes a good point, but I think so much depends on how we define “needs.” Perhaps if we replaced the word “needs” with “desires” in that statement, we could all agree.

    We don’t need to fulfill all our desires to be happy and help others.

  17. I was completely shocked my first day in Relief Society and those following when I heard a lot of women complaining about being unhappy, carrying burdens and how HARD this life is. Almost as if they are giving up and waiting for the next life. I couldn’t believe my ears. Fortunately I received a calling to work in the primary where I have been ever since. I don’t think I can go back to the weekly tears and “woe is me” of Relief Society.
    In the book The Happiness Hypothesis, the author Jonathon Haidt states that we all have a basic level of happiness that we come back to regardless of the events in our life that temporarily increase or decrease our happiness. Even people that won the lottery and people that became paralyzed had the same level of happiness after one years time. The problem is if we can’t be at peace at our basic level of happiness.
    I feel unhappiness can have a lot to do with gratitude or lack thereof.

  18. Heading back into the workforce has really rocked my world! Trying to balance work/home/life, etc. while fulfilling my obligations to my job (no matter how much I enjoy it) is a difficult thing to do.

    “American women are becoming less happy, while American men are becoming happier.” The first thing that came to mind when I read this was David Letterman’s recent gaff! What kind of happiness is that?!!

    Do we find our happiness at the expense of others? For example, enjoying writing on Segullah at the expense of time spent with children? Chagrined smile.

    Gotta go!

  19. Carol- I agee people can go to far in the other direction, neglecting health and other important needs.

    I think we have moved too far though sometimes in what we see are “me time” demands.

    I think alot of our minor annoyances can disappear and our perspective improves, if we shift our focus outside ourselves and want to find joy in our lives. I have also seem people so stagnant becasue they are so tied up in a world of their own problems that it has become all they know. This article does point out the danger of doing too much, added stress is driving unhappiness.

    FNF- There is a very real pile-up and resource needs that work can have. Finding the right mix with our domestic lives can be tough.

  20. Great post, great food for thought. I’m not convinced women are less happy than we used to be. I wholeheartedly agree that we live in an age of entitlement, and spend much more time than we used to acknowledging (whining about?) our perceived unhappiness… and, yes, lack of “me” time. I do think women have (generally speaking) more choices these days, and we place much more pressure on ourselves to do it ALL, but I don’t think that necessarily translates into being less happy. And I think women continue to sacrifice and work hard in their lives. So I don’t really see the modern-day conveniences and striving for “me” time as the source of unhappiness. I’m a single woman in her 40′s. I’m happy sometimes, sometimes I’m not. I know my “married with children” counterparts feel the same way. Absolutely it is more about feeling at peace with our life paths/choices (and making the best of those paths/choices, and seeking out the positive in life). Again, great post.

  21. Leslie, I loved this post. I also want to know if the painting is a self-portrait and if those are your red pumps. :)

    On the note of happiness, I do think as a society we’ve become much more self-absorbed than we used to be, and this has made us less happy. I find that when I’m purposefully using my talents, being creative, and serving my family and my neighbor, that is when I am the most content. Conversely, when I am too self-absorbed and brood over my perceived lack of whatever I think I need to be happy, I am not very content at all.

  22. Melissa- I like your word purposeful- I think purposeful is strongly tied to true happiness…

    yes those are my red shoes and my legs… (and my midcentury breakfast nook table and my great grandmothers handmade apron) It’s actually part of a new series of painting I am working on that juxtaposes modern images with vintage pieces to makes a social statement on the devaluation of domestic work and the sort of generational shifts in our attitudes towards women, work, home, and chores. I hope to finish the next one in the series this week and I have two others in prelim drawing stage.

  23. Leslie, I would actually see your swung too far as the other side of the same coin – that is women still have no emotional agency. Happiness was/is expected with no other choice. Unhappiness is lifestyle or caused by outside forces, like you say. I think you are completely right that acknowledging negative emotions is only the first step, that then we have to know how to deal with them, whether it be unhappiness, anger, disappointment, etc. But if we keep delegitimizing women’s unhappiness (or right to any emotion) we’ll never make it to that second step.

    I also see the entitlement issue (which I also think is relevant) in that “I deserve to be happy” as related to the burden of happiness, in that “I’m a middle class American, therefore I ought to be happy.” But I don’t think either one of those on their own will actually move you closer to happiness. I also completely agree that our society sends very mixed messages about what happiness is and how we can achieve.

  24. I used to pretty unhappy all the time. Eventually, I got some professional help. I realized the chief cause of my unhappiness was that I demanded too much of myself. It is only after I have learned to be kinder and gentler with myself, and realized that God loves me even though I am not perfect, that I truly feel I have gained a general state of happiness.

    I think saying that an orientation on others, or a lack thereof, is what makes us happy or unhappy is inaccurate. The only true source of happiness in my life has been a deep testimony of God’s love for me, and along with that an understanding of the Atonement. Sometimes as I pray and read the scriptures I feel that the Spirit and the scriptures are telling me I need to do more for others. Sometimes as I pray and read the scriptures I feel a quiet prompting that what I need to do is to stop trying to do so much (including things for others) and to take care of myself before I tear myself apart. It is not an either/or, but rather a balance with the gospel of Jesus Christ at the center.

    As I see women around me, I see a clear difference between those who have the gospel in their lives and those who do not. The women I see who live the gospel seem to have a light in their eyes and exude joyfulness. For the most part, those women who do not do seem (in general) much more downtrodden, dark, and depressed. This especially applies to mothers who don’t have the gospel. I don’t think it’s just about service, but rather about the light the gospel brings as we strive to live it.

  25. I so wish there was a one-sized answer for this. I think it’s many things. I think there is a season for us all to grieve, to learn, to feel sorrow and sadness. We also should learn how to be grateful and at peace with our lives. We should learn how to serve, how to love unconditionally, and how to give – not expecting anything in return.
    For some it takes therapy, and there is NOTHING wrong with that. Others get to grow and mature and learn over the course of many years. For some it takes a life full of love and joy only to be rocked with sorrow and grief in the golden years of life. We all have different experiences and personalities that mold our learning pattern.
    One of the great blessings is that God allows us to be able to relate to others – to experience the same feelings of sorrow, disappointment, anxiety, and things of that nature – even if it’s on different levels – so we can learn to mourn with those who mourn, and lift each others spirits.
    I’m seeing that as I get older, the more I am able to feel for someone else – to reach out – and that is likely the point. At one point perhaps I would’ve judged someone – felt like their choices left them in the state of misery they are in and thats just their fault. Hopefully I’m kinder, wiser, happier and better than I once was.

    Progressing.

    Thanks for this food for thought Leslie!

  26. Very, very interesting post.

    I like the last comment about progressing. I think in the end, we have to at some level learn from experience what really brings happiness — and even to figure out what true happiness really is. I am deeply grateful for prophets who help ground me in that process, and yet I still find I have a lot to figure out in the implementation and the specific ways that counsel unfolds in my life.

    I think our culture’s complexity can make for a lot of noise in that process. But like Elder Scott said, that also provides much opportunity to learn to lean on God.

    To me, THAT process is about the most happiness-producing process for me. I think unhappiness mostly comes in violating, even in small ways, who we really are, or missing who God really is. The more I respond according to what is true — in a capital-T way and also within the specific sphere of my own life (finding what is true and right at any moment), the more I feel Happiness that is deep and sweet.

  27. I love this post and all the comments! I would have to agree with the idea that happiness is a choice. I’ve experienced this time and time again with my husband. During stressful times in our marriage (most recently unemployment), I’ve been able to say that I’m happy at the same time my husband says he’s not. He feels like happiness is tied to circumstances. Obviously its not or poor people wpuld always be miserable and rich, successful people would never be sad. That’s definitely not the case! Unfortunately I think most of the world agrees with my husband–if life and circumstances are not measuring up to our ideal, than we cannot possibly be happy.

    Your ideas are great, Leslie. And I adore your painting!!!

  28. Plane Jame- I think grief, mourning and the experinece of difficult emotions are essential. I think where I struggle with is the genreal malaise, pessimism, that’s just the way it is mode of our society.

    Katie- Counseling is often as much about changing our beliefs as it is about changing our actual situation and that supports one of my main theorems- that happiness is alot about where we set goalposts.

    I disagree though about the gospel. The gospel provides us with a fulness of truth- the great plan of happiness. But how we implement that knowledge is critical in our happiness. While I do know many radiant happy LDS women- their beliefs and actions are supported their pursuit of truth and things of worth. I know many LDS women who are unhappy who do not radiate this way. (Hearing truth is not same as living it or trusting it) Similarly I know many Non-LDS women (seeing as there is only 1 other LDS family in my town of 7000- most of my daily contact is w/ nm) who are very happy and radiant. I believe this comes from living truth (i.e focus on families, service, living by moral values). We don’t have a monopoly on truth, the gospel just contains a truth. Many other people have many parts and principles and I readily see this evidenced in their lives.

    Jennie- I think thats a great way to conceptualize it – the if…then happiness of of our culture. Ascribing to that I find so ironic because is no many parts of the world, people have very, very little possesions, security (health, employment) etc and yet they live happy lives.

  29. Yes, I guess my comment was a little misdirected, though not completely off topic. I was more responding to some of the earlier comments, and not as much on the actual post.
    I totally agree with you Leslie – that is where I struggle, too. The most common offender in my brain? I lack the ability to be happy with the way things are. The brain is such a goal oriented organ. I think of something and it says “as you wish”. The neuro-pathways have become literal trenches, or deep ruts, because I think and feel the same repetitious thoughts over and over again. “Must get new carpet. Must touch up paint. Must lose weight. Must get happy.” I look for little (and huge) ways to bring a level of satisfaction in my life. Sometimes it’s through a satisfying food. Sometimes it’s by learning something new, or going someplace I love.

    I’ve realized lately that I search for THINGS to fill a void when maybe, just maybe, it’s the Lord showing me where I need him a little more. I’ve found things in my life that give me almost a temporary feeling or a glimpse of the feeling that only the Lord can truly give.
    Remember the scripture story where all the people had to do was look at the serpent on the stick and they would be healed? But because of the ease, the simplicity of it, they didn’t and they perished.
    I think of that all the time now. I am reminding myself that all he asks is for me to turn to him to feel more fulfilled, but because the ease of the turning to him part gets in the way, I suffer.
    At one point, I realized that I feel as though I have to worry, I have to suffer, because once I stop -BAM- something very challenging and heartbreaking is going to happen and I wont be able to deal.
    Very messed up – I know. That is just me not trusting the Lord enough to have the faith that he can help me get through anything.

    So, I guess my question is really do some of us expect that life is just hard and challenging and it’s become habit to feel unhappiness over the little things?

  30. Leslie- That is why I was very careful to say women who are “living the gospel” not women who are LDS. It is living the gospel in some form that brings us happiness. Many of the best and most happy people I know are not LDS, but they are happy because they live what principles of the gospel they do have to the fullest. I didn’t want to complicate my already too-long comment with a discussion on the difference between being a member of the church and actually living the gospel, but apparently I wasn’t clear enough. Nothing makes me more angry than LDS people who assume that ALL Mormons are better and more righteous than ALL non-Mormons, so that is not at all what I was trying to suggest. I do think that the only true source of happiness, though, is obedience to the principles of the gospel, and that no other answer is sufficient to explain it.

  31. “And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.” Moses 5:11

    I believe that we as women made covenants before we came to earth, to stand ready bear spirit children to mortality. Whether or not we are called to that service in this life, that covenant is tied to who we are. That ultimate unselfish service testifies of my nature as a daughter of Eve. Even if I had never had the opportunity to see the fruit of that particular covenant in mortality, whatever it be biology or circumstance, I am a woman, and that testifies possession of that elemental nature.

    I think living in an age where we as women can exercise elements of our beings in ways not dared dreamed sometimes can be a stumbling block but most of the time it is an enormous blessing. Especially in the full light of the Gospel. To be able to choose again to follow the impressions of that nature be it though actual biological childbearing, or the myriad of ways in women’s true nature manifests itself, sometimes counter intuitively (by the mortal eye), brings the most pure joy to me.

    That said I think that this scripture, we as women should embroider, tattoo or brand where we will never forget it.

    Mosiah 4: 27
    “And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man (woman) should run faster than he (she) has strength. And again, it is expedient that he (she) should be diligent, that thereby he (she) might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.

    There are times when the cause we are enlisted will be more than our strength, at the those times the Lord stands ready to “…strengthen thee, help thee and cause thee to stand…” but most of the time we are to use wisdom and order to direct us, and we will find happiness.

    Mortality can be difficult, sad and painful, especially with the myopia of mortality that most often besets me, but if we are not regularly experiencing some appreciable measure of happiness and joy in our lives their might be some blessings of chemistry or counseling waiting for us to claim from our healthcare provider.

  32. I had a conversation with a brother, wherein he was expressing a deep sense of worthlessness and “low self-esteem.” I asked him (as only a big sister can get away with asking) what he had done, in the last six months, that someone could look at an declare “of worth?” What service had he rendered? What good thing had he done?

    When he couldn’t come up with anything, I bluntly shared with him something that helped me at the same age: sometimes poor self-esteem is just good old common sense. Do something good in the world, and you have something to look on positively, no matter your surrounding circumstances.

    I think it’s great that we have greater societal freedom to express dissatisfaction and sadness, but I do think people get used to complaining as a mode of expression, and then have a hard time seeing through more pleasant-colored filters.

    I also think some personalities have an easier time of it. I know I have a much easier time seeing my blessings and being happy even in hardships than does my dear husband. (He also tends to be a perfectionist, so that may be a tie-in.)

    I’d say part of the unhappiness is the culmination of 30-odd years of being told that not only *can* we “have it all (all at once)”, but that we *must*, and if we’re not perfect, then we must needs be miserable failures. That push to do-all, be-all, at-all-times, can lead to a lot of living in the thick of thin things, as Pres. Monson talked about this past weekend.

    We recently spent nearly a whole day helping an artist friend with a photo shoot. Nothing complex; it was really just watching our kids play in a mountain creek for about four hours, while the artist snapped pictures. No phones, no clocks, no demands, no electricity… nothing but kids, some mud, and a tin pail. Driving home, we felt entirely restored and, yes, HAPPY. My husband expressed great satisfaction with watching his four children interact so happily in such a simple way… he was happy.

    I think we need to redefine what constitutes “happy.” It is not the “constant giddy with delight” that society would have us believe.

  33. This is such a great post—and I’ve been pondering these things for a long time. Actually, my whole blog is kind of about being happy as a mother, but these is some of the things I’ve been thinking about lately, and, in fact, I was planning to blog about today—especially what Liz (#33) said: “I think we need to redefine what constitutes ‘happy.’ It is not the ‘constantly giddy with delight’ that society would have us believe.” What a great way to put it.

  34. One of my favorite sayings growing up was “Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.”

    As I grew up and became a mother and now grandmother, I have added a caveat to that old saying. You need to give yourself permission to be proactive enough in your life and choices to make what you have worth wanting.

    Cjane wrote an essay in 2007 called “The Art of Self-Centeredness in Mothering.” In reading about her mother’s style, I found much that felt familiar. Without realizing what I was doing, this is exactly how I went about parenting. I let go of societal expectations and just did what made me (and my kids) happy as a mother. I got enough of what I needed to be a fun, happy mom, and my kids benefited. As a mother, I “wanted what I had” because I engineered it. In other words, while I couldn’t always control the wind (couldn’t always have what I want), I could certainly “always control the sails” (make sure that what I did have was worth wanting).

    We have a lot more power to engineer our lives to our liking and still be nurturing mothers and wives than we give ourselves credit for. And I’m not talking about selfishness. I’m talking about being our real selves doing the role of mothering in a manner congruent with our own needs and personalities rather than adopting some perfectionistic facade trumped up by other people. Let’s face it. What works great for one doesn’t work at all for another. We need to get creative, here!

    Happiness still isn’t having what you want, because some things you want just ain’t gonna happen. However, “wanting what you have” is a lot easier if you feel free to suit what you already have to your own best good. I truly believe that everyone in the family wins when mothers are empowered to do this.

    =)

  35. Interestingly, Betty Friedan thought that women needed to get involved outside of the home or they would continue to suffer from the problem that had no name. We have to find the happy medium that’s right for us and I guess the most important thing would be that we have the freedom to choose what we feel is best.

  36. Historically, women *have* been quite involved outside the home. During the early years of America, women were integral in family commerce, and did not shy away from business endeavors, working independently or alongside their husbands. Move into the mid-19th century, when domesticity was a very romantic popular notion, and women were amazingly active outside their homes in charity work, and other social work, as well as in business. This continues well into the 20th century (Relief Society is just one example of the charitable “outside the home” things women have been involved in–there are also community projects, schools, hospitals, gardening clubs, war efforts… hundreds of projects in which efforts women have historically been integral contributors.)

    I’m not sure why Betty Friedan thought women did nothing beyond the walls of their homes. I know that looking at the lives of women I’ve studied, she was incorrect in that assumption.

    Ultimately, it’s our choice whether we stay cloistered, or live a larger life–but I do think some of the pressure on women today to be “happy” comes precisely from such women as Ms Friedan, who assume that a domestic life *wasn’t* happy or of worth, and that we must be-all, do-all, right NOW, to be happy. I reject that notion.

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