Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Why aren't we happy?

After Laura pointed out Maureen Dowd's piece on women and happiness in the New York Times, I hopped over and read it. And read Ariana Huffington's and Marcus Buckingham's, who's going to write a series of posts based on his book, Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently.

I think about being happy a lot, mostly because I really want to be happy as often as possible. I started reading Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project blog, though I haven't yet been as prescriptive as she is about being happy. I don't think it's a bad idea. I just haven't gotten around to it yet.

Generally, I'm happier than I was a year ago, which is a good thing. My job was making me unhappy, and so I left it, creating, as Buckingham puts it, some imbalance in my life. He says that imbalance is good, that women should focus on doing the things that make them happy and not try to keep every ball in the air for an equal amount of time. That sounds right to me somehow. With the stretches of time I now have, I have the luxury of doing what I want, and I've taken advantage of that, and it's made me feel better about my life.

That said, there are certainly times when I question what I'm doing, when I don't feel so great about where I am and where I'm going---more often feeling down about the present than the future. I'm the ultimate optimist.

So here's some thoughts about things that make me unhappy:
  • When my kids are unhappy or unsuccessful. In other words, I feel their pain. When they struggle or fall, I immediately feel like I've let them down. I worry about what I can do to help them not make the same mistake again. The thing is, kids will make mistakes. I shouldn't let them affect me the way I do, but I do.
  • When Mr. Geeky and I aren't spending enough time together. This is something that kind of sneaks up on me. We used to try to do date nights, and of course, we got the opportunity to go to Paris alone, but things slip and before you know it, weeks have passed where we haven't been able to have a conversation with each other. Unlike the first item, this is easy to fix. We just have to be consistent about it. It's hard when life gets busy, but obviously, it makes me happy, so I should focus on it.
  • When my work is not appreciated. I like to be thanked when I do something, especially when I've put considerable effort into it. My kids almost always thank me for making dinner and their lunches. They like my food! But no one thanks me for doing the laundry or mopping the kitchen floor. So I'm not motivated at all to do and it actually makes me unhappy to do it. Hint to Mr. Geeky.
  • Related to above, when I feel like I'm the only one doing the work or who cares about it being done well. This applies most obviously to housework. If the kids and Mr. Geeky don't pitch in, I start to feel like the hired help instead of contributing family member. But it can happen at work, too. I used to get frustrated when I'd go to meetings and be the only one who had prepared. For you academics out there, think about the service work you do and think about when it seems like a colleague never has to do any.
That's really about it. And I feel better just for getting that down. Weird. I might actually read Buckingham's book. I've read other things he's written and have generally liked them. I don't think I need to do any dramatic rethinking of my life, though I am intrigued by the idea of imbalance vs. balance, which would be a huge change in philosophy for me. I can always use some tweaking, though.