Women Are Unhappy? And You're Surprised?

My experience in working with thousands of individuals over the past 30 years leads me to believe there is very little correlation between material world success and happiness or fulfillment.
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Marcus Buckingham tells us that women are accomplishing more and more and becoming increasingly less happy in the process. As surprising as this might seem to some, my response is more along the lines of, "of course!"

A couple of months ago, as I began this series about aspiration and inspiration, I wrote an article entitled, What Do You Want Out Of Life, Really? For some, the answers would seem to lie in measures the "real world" would understand: money, cars, jobs, houses and other kinds of physical world accomplishments or acquisitions. However, many of us have gone through that cycle, acquired like crazy, and still wound up feeling unfulfilled. Sound familiar?

In a somewhat parallel universe, Marcus has been touching on this them from a slightly different direction. For his series on women's happiness, Marcus has spent a goodly amount of time interviewing women (and men) about their state of happiness and has discovered that women are distinctly less happy than they were years ago.

Part of his premise starts with an imaginary look forward from 40 years ago, postulating how women would feel were they to see women running four of eight Ivy League universities, or women outnumbering men in the management and supervisory positions, earning more university degrees than men, and other measures of success in the world. The implication seems to be that if you were to gain more in terms of physical world success you would naturally become happier.

My experience in working with thousands of individuals over the past 30+ years leads me to believe there is very little correlation between material world success and happiness or fulfillment. (Just to be clear here: I am definitely writing this piece more from the perspective of someone who has moved past basic survival levels than from that of someone who is struggling to find food, shelter or other basic survival needs.)

Having read the articles Marcus has written so far, my response is more toward "of course" than "surprise" that women might be experiencing less happiness over the past two decades. To be clear, there's no such thing as "women" in the sense that if you are a woman, then you are necessarily one of these women who, statistically speaking, are less happy. That's an individual experience, and, in my world view, an individual choice. Or more accurately stated, a consequence of individual choices made or avoided - more on this in another article downstream.

In my work on the difference between symbols vs. experience, I have found that many people seem to suffer from the illusion that happiness, satisfaction or fulfillment (experience) are a result of accomplishing some goal or, more to the point, of acquiring something in the material world (symbol).

I can certainly understand and have experienced the illusionary pull of a better future if only I could (fill in the blank). However, my experience suggests that all kinds of us, men and women alike, have made the choice to either defer happiness today for the prospects of an even happier future if only I could (fill in the blank) or have equated happiness with achieving or acquiring something in the physical world. It's kind of the old bumper sticker mentality of "He wins who acquires the most toys." (And every single one of those bumper stickers I have ever seen leads with "he," never "she.")

If we accept the data Marcus has gathered that suggests women are, in fact, less happy, then the "what's going on here" question seems pretty darn relevant. To me, it's quite understandable.

My theory as that over the past 40 years, as American society exited the "Father Knows Best" or "Leave It To Beaver" mentality of the 50's and 60's, we seem to have increasingly equated success and fulfillment with jobs, career advancement, position title, bank accounts, and other symbols of success. If you were one of those statistical women who took on job, career or economic goals as your "symbols" of success, you just might have wound up sacrificing what mattered most in hopes of greener pastures at the other end of job, career or economic goals.

What if you won the race to the top: a better job, increased paycheck, more "toys" than the boys? Did you bargain for all that comes with it? Did you anticipate the sacrifices you would have to make to get there? How are those trades looking now?

As Marcus addresses the rhetorical question of "what's going on here," he offers several tips in his article about What the Happiest Women Seem to Have in Common. His first two tips resonate strongly with what I have learned over the years and provide a foundation on which to build a more fulfilled and successful life. Marcus calls them: Focus on moments, more than goals, plans or dreams and Accept what (you) find.

There is a certain wisdom here and well worth considering. He has done a great job presenting this aspect of the process so I won't need to expand on what he has already written.

However, I think we can take these two elements even deeper. Together, they represent two very powerful principles of the universe that I would translate as: Live in the present (Be Here Now) and Learn to accept and cooperate with what is.

Much has been written about these, and I would like to add a few bars myself as it relates to living an aspirational life. Next week, we will explore the first of these: what does it mean to "live in the present?"

For now, how about something old but true: "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift, that's why they call it the present."

I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.

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