Saturday, November 14, 2009

If you're happy and you know it

Recently, a study has been making a stir in the news - a study on women's happiness. Apparently, not only are women less happy now then before (no one seemed surprised by that), but there was no larger predictor of female unhappiness then.... wait for it... kids. Obviously, every American news outlet proclaimed that children are the biggest obstacle to female satisfaction (with the feminist movement providing a background chant about how this 'male' idea that women find intrinsic pleasure in raising children has been PROVEN WRONG!)

I think that this interpretation of the study is stupid. But only because 'happiness' in America is a stupid word. It has no bittersweetness. It has no melancholy. It has no in-between, no gradient, no looking back, no hesitation, no quiet joy. American happiness is filled with sticky-sweet pure goodness, it's a 10 on a 1-10 scale, it's cotton candy, it's apple pie, it's the stupid-happy wag of your golden retriever puppy.

Yeah, kids will knock that out of you. You know what else will? Any life worth living. Because there is only one way you can stay blissfully, dopey happy: by not doing much. Anything else will seriously reduce your American Happiness Quotient.

The thing is, nothing comes without its opposite. To know joy you have to know sorrow, to have excitement you have to see boredom, adventure is the opposite of routine and there is no satisfaction without obstacles. When reminiscing, people often say "We only remember the good times". But remembering the bad times would be like remembering the cost of a movie ticket instead of the movie itself. Everything has a cost, and the higher the pleasure you seek, the higher your payment could be. There is nothing better than being in love - but to get there, you have to drop your guard and become defenseless. Many people get devastated in the process, and yet still agree that it was a fair price to pay for such joy, however brief.

Without ever having children, or being in love, or taking a risk, or going on an adventure, you are happier, I guess - the way zoo animals are happier than the wild ones and the way people who've never been in love are happier than the brokenhearted. But I think we have confused what matters for 'Happiness' instead of 'Fulfillment'. If you don't know what you are missing, and happier because of not knowing, is it worth it? (Wasn't this the question what drove Adam and Eve out of the garden they were in at the time?)

At the end of our lives, we will hardly be asking ourselves "Was I blissfully dopey happy for most of the time?" Instead, most of us seem to want to find a purpose, an accomplishment, a story that leads to its conclusion, a 'to be continued' sign. American 'Happiness' seems to mean 'Feeling Nothing Negative'. But there is only one way to experience that: spending your life carefully avoiding entanglement with anything and anyone. It's not clear how such a life would be different from not having one at all.

So please, ignore this stupid study. Have kids - even if you are an American woman. They will bring you great joy, return your sense of wonder, fill you with worry and make you paranoid. You will be proud, filled with self-doubt and unknown confidence. You will get a limited-time ticket back to childhood, and for that you will pay dearly in new anxieties. But you will not trade it for the world.

I will leave you with a little song from the Russian classic film "The Irony of Fate". It's actually a lighthearted jingle. Yep, Russians consider these topics appropriate for lighthearted jingles. We are a cheerful people.

"To Have or Not to Have"
If you do not own a house,
A fire won't threaten it's life.
And your wife will never leave for another
If you do not
If you do not,
If you do not have a wife.

If you do not have a pet dog,
You won't have to see his end,
And you and your friends won't quarrel
If you do not,
If you do not,
If you do not have a friend.

The orchestra rocks percussion,
The trumpeter pounds the valves.
Pick for yourself,
Decide for yourself,
To have or not to have.

If you do not have an auntie,
You won't have to lose her and cry.
And if you are not living,
Then you will not,
Then you will not,
Then you will not have to die.

The orchestra rocks percussion,
The trumpeter pounds the valves.
Pick for yourself,
Decide for yourself,
To have or not to have.

2 comments:

Tanya said...

Olya,

Couldn't agree with you more. I've been reimmersed in Russian society since meeting my more recent emigrant husband and reintroduced to Russian films. The "happy ending" in a Russian film is not the sickly-sweet Disney-fied versions, but a little truer to life. The sickly-sweet happiness is a nice fantasy at times, but a nearly impossible goal and standard.

I read the same study and noticed that the age of the children of the women participants was not mentioned. Other studies have pointed out that parents of younger children are happier than parents of teenagers. And then in the US there's the whole MILF and Cougar standard. This isn't something I see discussed among our group of emigrant friends, all of whom are parents. The mothers aren't seen as untouchable or undesirable. Their choice of clothes suggests they still see themselves as fully functioning sexual beings. Maybe this view in the US of mothers as asexual is part of the issue behind the reported lack of happiness?

Olya said...

Tanya,

Thanks for stopping by! You are definitely right about the boldly happy American movie endings; I think Disney's Little Mermaid is my favorite. If only children here knew what really happened to the mermaid.... then again, if they did, the entire country would probably plunge in apathetic depression and nothing would ever get done anymore. Oh wait, that's Russia. Oh, wait.... :P

Your point about women seeing themselves differently after motherhood is fascinating; I had not considered that before but you are right. In Russia, women had kids a bit earlier and it was not considered "the end of hotness", at least not in modern times. A young mother was expected to remain attractive, sexy, desirable and show-off-able (when she wasn't laundering sheets by hand or scrubbing the floors or making 3-course dinners. But I digress). It added a lot of pressure to already-pressure-cooked mothers, but it may have also made them happier by letting them keep their identity. Huh. The study was done in UK; I wonder if their expectations of motherhood are similar to all-american asexual martyrdom expectation. Judging by their magazines, it's not too far off.... :)

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