Thursday, February 20, 2014

Happy Heart, Happy Home -- Part I

Happiness is a baby granddaughter -- little Rose!

A cheerful heart is good medicine.  Proverbs 17:22a
Who is happier today -- are men or are women?  Are women happier today than they were in 1970?  A 2008 research paper by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania offers surprising answers to these questions.  Here's a quote from the abstract:
By many objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved over the
past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well‐being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men.  The paradox of women’s declining relative well‐being is found across various data sets, measures of subjective well‐being, and is pervasive across demographic groups and industrialized countries.  Relative declines in female happiness have eroded a gender gap in happiness in which women in the 1970s typically reported higher subjective well‐being than did men. 
There are many theories why this is true.  Most center around the fact that women face increased expectations, so much so that they never feel as if they are succeeding in any one area.

It's a no brainer that women who try to balance career and home might feel that they can never measure up. Researchers have found, however, that this feeling begins in the teens, before women enter the work force. Not only that, it can strike women at home, as well.

A friend of mine was listening to her daughters and daughters-in-law talk about what I call Pinterest syndrome.  They believe that if they throw a children's birthday party or invite people over for dinner or decorate their house that it must be Pinterest worthy.  These young women, who are a mix of women in the workplace and at-home mothers, all feel that they can't live up to Pinterest style.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I love, love, love Pinterest.  To me, it's the ultimate magazine, one in which you get to pick the subjects you want to view and read about.  I find it relaxing to look at lovely homes and gardens, fashion picks, interesting books and art, sewing ideas, recipes, and the like.  However, I know it's time to step away from the computer when I start to compare my life negatively to the beautiful images that I see.  I no more expect to achieve total Pinterest style than I do to step out of the pages of Town and Country magazine.

I agree that one factor in women's feelings of unhappiness is today's increased expectations.  I think there's another issue, as well.  Happiness is both a gift from the Lord and a skill.  Sometimes, our parents, churches, and educational institutions foster the art of joy.  Other times, we learn happy, healthy ways of thinking along the way.  However, in our busy world and our increasingly cynical culture, not as many of us are nurtured in cheerfulness as some previous generations were.  There's no need to look back on those good old days with nostalgia; as Stephenson and Wolfers say in the abstract of their paper, there are many ways that our lives have improved in recent centuries.  Not only that, but suffering and frustration have been a part of human life since the fall of mankind, and we are naive to think that ours is the only generation that has suffered a lack of happiness.  Yet, mastering our bodies and our emotions in wholesome, joyful ways isn't a huge part of our modern outlook.   This is true despite advances in medicine and counseling that are designed to improve our moods.

So, what's a  modern woman to do?  If she finds herself less than satisfied with her life, are there things she can do to find contentment?   That's a topic that I want to explore in this blog series, "Happy Heart, Happy Home."  I hope you'll read along with me and add your thoughts in the comments box, as well.




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