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As women get older they get sadder...
May 10, 2010 8:18 AM   Subscribe

I'm just not sure that "happiness" is supposed to be the stable human condition, and I think it's punishing that we're constantly being pushed to achieve it. Screw Happiness, an essay on the folly of using happiness as a measure to define women's lives.
posted by desjardins (84 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't think giving up on happiness is a good idea but, hey. Whatever makes you happy.
posted by 256 at 8:23 AM on May 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Sally Sparrow: I love old things. They make me feel sad.
Kathy Nightingale: What's good about sad?
Sally Sparrow: It's happy for deep people. ...


Personally, I think happiness is pretty awesome. But I certainly agree that the way using it as a measure of success for women that are not applied to men is...well...sad.


(But that's cool because I'm deep.)

posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:28 AM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sorry, that came off a little snarkier than I intended. I am not a woman, nor a scholar of feminism, so I can't speak to that angle. But I'm not really able to understand what she's trying to say here.

People shouldn't worry too much about being happy because unhappiness can help them achieve success in their career and other areas of their life?

Well, what exactly is the point unless that success, in turn, makes you happy?
posted by 256 at 8:28 AM on May 10, 2010


Would getting rid of the laser focus on happiness as a measure to define women's lives mean fewer of these shallow, navel-gazing fluff pieces that make so many trite generalizations about my gender? Because that would make me really happy.
posted by applemeat at 8:30 AM on May 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


I like Happiness too; I think it's way better than Welcome to the Dollhouse.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:31 AM on May 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


256, I think it's that women are expected to be happy 24/7. Or at least act happy. Has a stranger ever accosted you on the street and told you to smile? That happens to women all the time.
posted by JoanArkham at 8:31 AM on May 10, 2010 [46 favorites]


People shouldn't worry too much about being happy because unhappiness can help them achieve success in their career and other areas of their life?

Well, what exactly is the point unless that success, in turn, makes you happy?


You've just summarized every single argument I have ever had with my father.
posted by spicynuts at 8:31 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is an interesting article – thanks for it – but the author seems to assume that "happiness" is identical with "satisfaction." The fact that that's a common assumption nowadays doesn't make it right.
posted by koeselitz at 8:34 AM on May 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Here's the gist of the article:
Here is what I have deduced so far both from my experiences and from the hissed warnings of those who propel me toward their idea of happiness and simultaneously warn me it will never really be attainable: There will be peaks -- falling in love, seeing new places, enjoying whatever form a family takes, drinking a beer on a warm night, seeing a baseball team win a long coveted pennant. And there will be valleys -- divorces and illnesses, joblessness and money trouble, watching those you love in pain, a ninth inning playoff loss. In those valleys, I'm not sure that it's happiness we first strive for, but rather the power to not get stuck, to move toward just slightly higher ground. A spot within view of a peak will often do just as nicely as a seat atop it.

There is no formula for life satisfaction, no recipe that doesn't produce lumps of discontent or frustration. This is not the same observation as the backlash-tastic chestnut about the foolishness of "wanting it all," an insidious phrase designed to make women sound like covetous and unrealistic divas. The women I know have not sought it all; we have simply pursued more than previous generations permitted.
So basically, you need to listen to yourself, rather than others in order to find a peace and contentment in this world.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:34 AM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


The prescriptive heavy handed advice giving about happiness is insidious and noxious.

Even worse is the lionization of romance. True passion is agony, the pleasure to be derived from it is in the quenching. Why the fuck do all the people dispensing relationship advice take for granted that you would want a lifetime's worth of passion? Have they never experienced actual romantic passion? Being that deeply in love for more than a couple of months at a time is simply debilitating.
posted by idiopath at 8:36 AM on May 10, 2010 [20 favorites]


I think the point is that we (women) are constantly being told "do this... no do THAT... yes, THAT will make you happy... no, do THIS... no, now do that!"

So, in short: have babies young so as not to imperil your fertility; do not marry early or you'll be at higher risk for divorce; get married to an appropriate guy as soon as possible so as to guarantee companionship; don't forget to have kids! And also, don't have kids!

It's the constant chasing of happiness itself that makes us unhappy, and if we stopped chasing and learned to live with a little unhappiness, we'll be less miserable and more inclined to improve our lives incrementally ("...[moving] towards just slightly higher ground").
posted by desjardins at 8:38 AM on May 10, 2010 [13 favorites]


(Also, I have a feeling that'll be the source of most annoyed reactions to this article. I mean, if happiness is the pleasurable sensation of satisfaction, then the author's dead-on: there's absolutely no way to maintain that sensation throughout life, nor would it necessarily benefit us to do so. But if happiness is something more overarching – for example, a general state of well-being over the long term, a relatively high median of pleasure versus pain – then it might make sense as a goal. Solon said that he couldn't say whether someone is happy until they're dead; happiness to him was a survey of the well-being in their entire life, and if they haven't finished that life yet, then he couldn't really give an appreciation of its net goodness. But I'm pretty sure the author doesn't have Solonic happiness in mind when she eschews happiness as a goal.)
posted by koeselitz at 8:39 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Would getting rid of the laser focus on happiness as a measure to define women's lives mean fewer of these shallow, navel-gazing fluff pieces that make so many trite generalizations about my gender? Because that would make me really happy.

I think the generalizations are worth examining. Women's metaphorical goalposts in society keep being moved. The equality movement gave them the ability to break out of traditionally-defined gender-roles, but this has created social, familial and career conflicts for many -- because reaching one goal usually means sacrifice(s) in other areas.

I can't help but think that for women looking to find some sort of happy balance in their responsibilities, a little introspection might be positive.
posted by zarq at 8:41 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Brandon Blatcher: Yeah, those two paragraphs made a bit more sense to me. But they are buried within a whole bunch of confusion about the value of happiness. And I would say that the first paragraph in either a truism or a strawman. Does anyone really expect someone to be happy in the moment when they lose their job or when a loved one is sick? I don't think so.

If her thesis is "we shouldn't worry about trying to be happy every second of every day," then I agree with her, but it seems a facile point. If her thesis is "we shouldn't worry about trying to achieve general happiness in our life" then I don't agree with her at all. And it seems to me that she weaves in between these two points rather freely.
posted by 256 at 8:44 AM on May 10, 2010


So her problem is that everybody tells her what she needs to do to be happy? They do that to men too, it's not an exclusively female problem. And you know what the solution is? Stop listening to people who tell you to do stuff or that a decision you make will make you miserable. Plan your life, do your thing and enjoy it. Who cares if all the little old ladies think you'll die alone because you haven't found a man, who cares if all your single friends think you'll be miserable because you got married young and had babies? Live your life and enjoy it, regardless of the opinions of others. Or as my granny would say, "What the hell do they know? They ain't in my head."
posted by teleri025 at 8:44 AM on May 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


What intrigues me is not that this author writes that happiness is an unstable condition but that she and so many of us in the West believe that happiness is actually either the main state in which we are "supposed" to exist or, if not that, then the ideal state.
posted by blucevalo at 8:45 AM on May 10, 2010


I think the point is that we (women) are constantly being told "do this... no do THAT... yes, THAT will make you happy... no, do THIS... no, now do that!"

True--and it's as exhausting as it is demeaning. But I think the only real power's in ignoring these standards and messages (by simply doing whatever makes you happy) rather than evaluating and negotiating with them.
posted by applemeat at 8:46 AM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think the bigger issue is that women are expected to be so thoroughly under the thumb of social expectations. As mentioned above the fact that complete strangers feel like they have the right to demand that a woman smile.

Magazines for men are page after page of "here is something you care about", "here is something you want" - which is a kind of presumption, but quite a mild one in comparison to the presumptions in a magazine for women "this is what you should be in order to be wanted", "this is what you need to accomplish in order to be happy".

Even when women are praised for achievement, they are praised for meeting someone else's standard of success, while men are more likely to be respected for setting their own standard and meeting it - which leaves much more room for agency and self fulfillment.
posted by idiopath at 8:48 AM on May 10, 2010 [19 favorites]


What intrigues me is not that this author writes that happiness is an unstable condition but that she and so many of us in the West believe that happiness is actually either the main state in which we are "supposed" to exist or, if not that, then the ideal state.

Yeah, the ideal state is sorrow. START MOURNING AND GOING TO GOTH CLUBS, PEOPLE!
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:52 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ah, the satisfaction I have attained in being preemptively miserable! *glow*

Oh, damn!
posted by adipocere at 8:56 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I once heard that there were some forms of medicine that did not view health as the norm but as a temporary accident brought on by some fortunate conditions. That's kind of the way I view happiness. It's nice, but it's just a fortunate accident with no promise of lasting very long. At the very least our bodies are leaky vessels and at the very worst our minds are torture chambers.
posted by milarepa at 9:07 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's a bit weird to me that this is being directed towards women, as if it doesn't apply to men just as well.

In any case, I've always found "happiness" overrated. But there's a kind of contentment one can achieve, a true understanding of what reality is, (or at least: closer too the truth than we usually have while rushing about) too which "happiness" is irrelevant. That's the state I strive to achieve.
posted by the bricabrac man at 9:11 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


256, I think it's that women are expected to be happy 24/7. Or at least act happy. Has a stranger ever accosted you on the street and told you to smile? That happens to women all the time. -JoanArkham

Oh man, thanks for reminding me, now my teeth are all grindy. I remember this topic coming up once in the Bust forums and one of the Busties mentioned she's learned to say something like "Hey, my dog just died" to make the person recoil. That's gonna be my tactic too.
posted by ifjuly at 9:24 AM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


milarepa said very eloquently something that I was trying to aim for and stumbled over very clumsily. I didn't mean to imply that sorrow is an ideal condition. But I do think that there's a lot of activity and energy spent in the West in pretending that sorrow doesn't or shouldn't exist and in insisting that if you're not happy, something's obviously inherently wrong with you.
posted by blucevalo at 9:25 AM on May 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


our meaning is defined by what we are and what we do, not what we feel
posted by pyramid termite at 9:25 AM on May 10, 2010


It's a bit weird to me that this is being directed towards women, as if it doesn't apply to men just as well.

Not very many men get walked up to in the street and accosted and told to smile, either.
posted by blucevalo at 9:26 AM on May 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


blucevalo: "Not very many men get walked up to in the street and accosted and told to smile, either."

As a man, one of the happiest things about no longer being a child was that people stopped presuming that they had the right to demand that I should be "happy".
posted by idiopath at 9:32 AM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


From the article:

Because, naturally enough, the same studies showing that liberated women are unhappier since feminism also tell us that women with kids are less happy than women without them

...

Rubin's tips for increased good cheer are often straightforward: Make the bed. (Ironically, one of the first numbing duties Betty Friedan lists as provoking in American women "a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction" in 1963.) Sing in the morning.


I think a lot of the conflicting or confusing advice about happiness comes down to the fact that, to me at least, there are two completely different types of happiness that we are really talking about: day-to-day happiness, and a more abstract overall life happiness.

When you do studies that ask someone to rate how happy they feel each day, you are really measuring day-to-day happiness. So someone who is a parent might rate their day low on the happiness scale if their toddler throws a temper tantrum at the grocery store. Whereas if you ask someone "What things about your life make you happiest?" that same parent might say that being a parent is, because on an abstract level they think about things like bringing a new life into the world and the love they have for their child rather than the day-to-day difficulties.

As far as I can tell the abstract type of happiness seems to be viewed as more important in general. It seems obvious that someone who has a great job, a loving family, and tons of money would be happy, because on an abstract level those are all viewed as being the goal to being happy. Whereas on a day-to-day level, actually living that life could mean stressful deadlines and tons of overtime, constant minor arguments and crises at home, and feuds and worries over financial issues. The mid-life crisis urge for someone to want to quit their job, get a divorce, and sell everything they own so they can live on a beach and go surfing every day or otherwise find day-to-day happiness is so common that it's a cliche. People often feel as if they've been tricked or misled if the things they thought would make them happy on an abstract level don't translate to day-to-day happiness, and on the other hand people often purposely sacrifice day-to-day happiness for more abstract satisfaction in their lives and feel as if the trade was worth it.

I think if feminism can be criticized at all for the decreases in happiness, it's that like any other serious movement, it focuses more on serious seeming abstract life than day-to-day life. Being able to vote, have a career, and many of the other things that feminism helped women gain over the years are very important, but that doesn't necessarily mean that a day in any given woman's life is going to be better today than it was half a century ago. Minor things like singing in the morning might seem silly and trivial compared to the major issues that people face in life, but those small things can really make the difference between being happy every day or being miserable every day.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:32 AM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Quite honestly, the best move any woman can make towards happiness is to stop reading women's magazines or self-help books. Or any morning TV whatsover, for any reason. All full of poisonous faux-concern and norms-policing that is both inane and destructive.

Eschew anything labeled as "for women" and colored pink, in other words. Pure poison.
posted by emjaybee at 9:38 AM on May 10, 2010 [17 favorites]


Also I think it is actually helpful here to compare racial liberation. There is a class of people who have claimed that black people in America were happier as slaves (and cite black soldiers fighting for the south etc. as evidence). I don't think many of us seriously think that those people are really motivated by the best interests of black people.

Why should we judge those who say that women are made less happy by feminist reforms any differently?
posted by idiopath at 9:39 AM on May 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


A lot of Thomas Carlyle gives me the heebie-jeebies, to say the least, but much of what he says about happiness strikes me as rather to the point. And I tend to keep John Stuart Mill's comments in mind.

There's always Graham Greene's succinct response to the question "Are you happy?": "Not really. Who is?"
posted by thomas j wise at 9:40 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm an adult male and I'd be happy the whole time if my hormones would just let me.
posted by Elmore at 9:41 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's a bit weird to me that this is being directed towards women, as if it doesn't apply to men just as well.

Also, I don't think men (in the USA anyway) have been subjected to the head-spinning, rapidly changing messages about what might be the most fulfilling thing to be doing at any point in one's life. It's the "moving the goalposts" thing that zarq mentioned.

I can think of a few reverses, starting in the 60s:

What will make women happy is:

- a husband and children

- modern appliances to make homemaking less arduous

- a job just like men

- wages as high as men's

- having sex without fearing pregnancy, with anyone you want

- meeting the right man to marry

- meeting the right man but not getting married and just live together

- waiting to have kids while you advance your career

- dumping your career to have kids

- having a career and kids and a loving partner

- dumping your high-pressure career and starting a new "family and earth-friendly" one

- settling for a man who's good enough to have a family with

... ad nauseum
posted by mneekadon at 9:41 AM on May 10, 2010 [10 favorites]


St Augustine on Happiness: Where and when did I ever experience my happy life that I can call it to mind and love it and long for it? It is not I alone or even a few others who wish to be happy, but absolutely everybody. Unless we knew happiness by a knowledge that is certain, we should not wish for it with a will which is so certain.
posted by yoyoceramic at 9:50 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


In the absence of objectively agreed upon values, or a god whose commandments must be obeyed, happiness has arisen as the goal that it would be a logical contradiction to question.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:23 AM on May 10, 2010


Has a stranger ever accosted you on the street and told you to smile? That happens to women all the time.

There was a thread or threads about this on the blue or green that, IIRC, spilled over into metatalk that was absolutely, gob-smackingly eye-opening to my male-privileged ass. My reaction has been to mentally prepare to respond to the panhandler/street character at 1st and Marion who constantly exhorts passers-by to smile with, "My mother just died." Never had the nerve though, I just scowl at him and buy a Real Change from the guy on the other side of the corner.

Then I put the paper in my knapsack and go about my day.
posted by stet at 10:23 AM on May 10, 2010


See, for men it is a lot simpler:

Make as much money as you possibly can and then die.

That's it. That's all we get. Oh, okay, and maybe "try to reproduce...but if you do, you will have to make even more money, so get cracking!"

While the lack of ambiguity is good, the lack of options can be a bit chafing.
posted by briank at 10:26 AM on May 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


I don't think the problem is being told to be happy; it's that women too often allow other people to define what their happiness ought to be. We let external expectations define our own sense of self satisfaction. It takes a lot of courage to decide you like yourself and your life just the way it is and to hell with what everyone else thinks. The older I get, the more I realize that happiness isn't some magical state you achieve through your accomplishments. As Goethe said, it's something you choose to find inside yourself.
posted by Go Banana at 10:30 AM on May 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Has a stranger ever accosted you on the street and told you to smile?

Much like take your daughter to work day, there should be Tell Men to Smile day.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:31 AM on May 10, 2010


Has a stranger ever accosted you on the street and told you to smile? That happens to women all the time.

As a man I have never heard of this, and I don't think I've ever knowingly done it. But today I'm going to start asking people on the street wtf they are smiling about, just to help even things out.
posted by Big_B at 10:36 AM on May 10, 2010 [12 favorites]


Much like take your daughter to work day, there should be Tell Men to Smile day.

That will be interpreted by many men as flirting, so no, thanks, I'll pass.
posted by desjardins at 10:49 AM on May 10, 2010


Not very many men get walked up to in the street and accosted and told to smile, either.

For all the attention that this annoying intrusion gets, it might be useful to consider the male alternative: If you're a depressed guy, nobody cares. Man up and handle your problems! Indeed, people will actively avoid and socially ostricize you, which generally makes things worse.

Being completely left alone might seem like heaven when people are all up in your business, but I gotta think there's a middle ground we should be striving for.
posted by LordSludge at 10:49 AM on May 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


For all the attention that this annoying intrusion gets, it might be useful to consider the male alternative: If you're a depressed guy, nobody cares. Man up and handle your problems! Indeed, people will actively avoid and socially ostricize you, which generally makes things worse.

Being completely left alone might seem like heaven when people are all up in your business, but I gotta think there's a middle ground we should be striving for.


While I agree that the world unfortunately isn't the most friendly place for depressed men, it's not like the guys who tell women to smile are offering emotional support. It's more aggressive, sexual, and patronizing. Hey, I'd love it if people on the street would be like, "You look sad, let me buy you a cookie."
posted by oinopaponton at 10:55 AM on May 10, 2010 [12 favorites]


For all the attention that this annoying intrusion gets, it might be useful to consider the male alternative: If you're a depressed guy, nobody cares.

Except there's a difference between being depressed and not having a smile on your face in public. I don't smile in public unless I'm having a funny conversation with someone, enjoying a communal moment of glee (at a movie, for example), or having a moment of private pleasure at seeing a rainbow or a happy beagle or something like that. That doesn't make me depressed. It may mean I'm depressed. It may just mean that that's the way I present myself in public.

I agree with you, though, that if you look glum in public, you're generally given a wide berth if you're male. I realize that when I do look glum, it may occasionally lead me to be ostracized. I still prefer that to the alternative. I like my privacy. I'm not in public (by that I mean in public outside of work) to be liked. That's the job of people like John Cusack.
posted by blucevalo at 11:00 AM on May 10, 2010


As mentioned above the fact that complete strangers feel like they have the right to demand that a woman smile.

I'd also not been aware of this phenomenon until today--I don't think it's something I would react well to either. That truly sucks. I could imagine a "Tell Men to Smile Day" as Brandon Blatcher jokingly suggested would result in a lot of bloody noses and broken teeth.

See, for men it is a lot simpler: Make as much money as you possibly can and then die.

Actually, for men, just look at those Dos Equis ads with "the most interesting man in the world". That character is pretty much a cartoon version of what society says men "should strive for." And those things don't change, like, ever.
posted by Kirk Grim at 11:04 AM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Even if we were to accept as true the assertion that post-second wave women were less happy, that doesn't seem like much of an argument against feminism. "Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom" and all that.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:14 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


not very many men get walked up to in the street and accosted and told to smile, either.

Huh, oddly most men in the thread seem to agree with this. But I have had this happen many times. Maybe I look particularly sad (wardrobe/habits from my goth days probably not helping), or maybe it's regional (in the South this happened the most, probably because everyone expects everyone to be friendly and say hi when you pass on the street and all that, so mopey/introspective me stood out. But I've had this experience in CA as well).
posted by wildcrdj at 11:15 AM on May 10, 2010


Of course, it occurs to me that 100% of the time the people who told me to smile were women, so there was still a gender thing going on.
posted by wildcrdj at 11:16 AM on May 10, 2010


Has a stranger ever accosted you on the street and told you to smile? That happens to women all the time.

As a man I have never heard of this, and I don't think I've ever knowingly done it. But today I'm going to start asking people on the street wtf they are smiling about, just to help even things out.


Watch as they respond with "somebody's dog died today" and float away backwards, still smiling, never unlocking their eyes with yours.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:16 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sally Sparrow: I love old things. They make me feel sad.
Kathy Nightingale: What's good about sad?
Sally Sparrow: It's happy for deep people. ...

Personally, I think happiness is pretty awesome. But I certainly agree that the way using it as a measure of success for women that are not applied to men is...well...sad.


Derail:
Hey I was just whining about how kickass that episode was compared to the more recent Weeping Angels episode.
/derail

Also:
Didn’t Dan Gilbert already disprove happiness as a permanent state? Why are we still talking about this?
posted by edbles at 11:35 AM on May 10, 2010


Then there is Herodotus who said: "Call no man happy until he is dead."

Which (I think) means that he felt that true happiness was not a feeling but a judgment that a person's life has been lived well.

And I think it's entirely possible that someone could judge that they have lived their life well, according to their own moral and ethical values, even if the majority of their life they have not felt emotional happiness.

Was Ghandi happy? Was Martin Luther King, Jr.? Harriett Tubman? Dorothy Day? Susan B. Anthony? Rosa Parks? Should these people have lived their lives differently to maximize their feelings of happiness?
posted by straight at 11:36 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think it was Peter Ustinov who asked Madame de Gaulle what she thought the most important thing in life was.

"A penis," she replied.

"I beg your pardon?" spluttered Ustinov, not quite believing what he'd heard.

"A penis, " repeated Mme de Gaulle.

Ustinov stared in incomprehension. Seeing his confusion, Mme de Gaulle said:

"The most important thing is to be 'appy! 'Appiness!"

(Personally I tend to agree with the Buddhistic train of thought that ultimately happiness is to be found in freedom from desire rather than its gratification, but then I'm not a woman, so that's not really relevant to the conversation either.)
posted by Grangousier at 12:27 PM on May 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


Much like take your daughter to work day, there should be Tell Men to Smile day.

That will be interpreted by many men as flirting, so no, thanks, I'll pass.


I SAID SMILE, GODDAMMIT!!
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:34 PM on May 10, 2010


it might be useful to consider the male alternative: If you're a depressed guy, nobody cares.

The guys demanding, "Smile!" to women (complete strangers!) on the street don't care about their targets' state of mind, either. As far as I can figure out, they just want the target to be more decorative for the few seconds that they're facing each other.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:49 PM on May 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


Drunk guys would do the tell you to smile thing a lot when I worked concessions at a movie theater in high school. I always saw it as a knee-jerk response to the thousand yard retail stare. Thousand yard stare = buzzkill. Drunk = impulsive. Drunk attempts to fix buzzkill. Drunk makes buzzkill worse. Drunk is even more sad. Actually this smile thing may be where most women learn to perfect their “get the fuck away from me” brush off face.
posted by edbles at 2:01 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Being happy is awesome and a totally worthy thing to strive for. Figuring out ways to be happier is awesome as well and a fun way to spend my time. Being told what should be making me happy and having people tell me I'm doing it wrong sucks.
posted by Kimberly at 2:55 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


True story:

Once upon a time, I had a particularly bad morning in the fine city of New Orleans. I'd awoken in the hospital with no idea how I'd gotten there. When I asked a nurse what the hell was going on, she told me that while I was watching my friend's gig at a nearby bar, I'd fallen asleep and the bartender couldn't wake me. He figured I was trashed, chased a creep away from me, and called an ambulance. It turned out, however, that my blood alcohol level was at about .05, and I'd tested positive for freaking Rohypnol. I'm lucky I didn't get raped, she said. Next time I should be more careful! (Not "next time NO ONE SHOULD TRY TO RAPE YOU" which I've always found a little bit absurd.) Anyway, as long as I was awake I was free to go. I asked where my purse was. It hadn't been brought in. I had been nearly raped, lost my phone, lost my credit card, lost my ID, lost my keys, was covered in bruises from failed puncture wounds, and I was going to have to walk home.

I walked about two miles to get back to my apartment, still having some trouble with my sense of balance. I lived near the French Quarter and had to walk through it to get home. On Dauphine St, a man stopped me by standing directly in my path. "A pretty girl like you ought to smile," he told me, a big smile on his face.

So I spit right in his eye.

Then I went home, woke up my roommate, and didn't leave the apartment for four days.


Don't issue commands, especially commands pertaining to emotions, to strangers. It's impolite, and if you run into a real bitch, she might be impolite right back. Admittedly, last time someone told me to smile, I did, just so he'd leave me alone, but some day I might get angry again.
posted by honeydew at 2:55 PM on May 10, 2010 [30 favorites]


"Quite honestly, the best move any woman can make towards happiness is to stop reading women's magazines or self-help books. Or any morning TV whatsover, for any reason. All full of poisonous faux-concern and norms-policing that is both inane and destructive.

Eschew anything labeled as "for women" and colored pink, in other words. Pure poison.
"

So true. Women's anything--usually junk that makes you feel gross.

Even YAH RAH SELF-ESTEEM stuff like Oprah. Here's what you have to do to have better self-esteem and be a better friend and FUCK YOU OPRAH, I am already happy as hell without your little cut out aspirations and "self-nurturing" diets
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 2:57 PM on May 10, 2010


"While I agree that the world unfortunately isn't the most friendly place for depressed men, it's not like the guys who tell women to smile are offering emotional support. It's more aggressive, sexual, and patronizing. Hey, I'd love it if people on the street would be like, "You look sad, let me buy you a cookie.""

Or a drink

That's a little creepy though

Maybe just they could throw a fiver at me then run away
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:00 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


So true. Women's anything--usually junk that makes you feel gross.
Yesterday I was in a chain bookstore and I saw a rack of magazines that said "Women's" or something like that. Then in a smaller stand-alone rack a few minutes later I saw the label "Especially for Women". This made me think of further refined magazines like "Even More Especially for Women", "No, seriously. This is for Women. Especially.", and so on.

I didn't look too closely but it did make me feel a little gross.
posted by Green With You at 4:18 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


idiopath: As a man, one of the happiest things about no longer being a child was that people stopped presuming that they had the right to demand that I should be "happy". [emphasis mine]

This is about the most succinct explanation of what's going on here.
posted by Len at 5:08 PM on May 10, 2010 [13 favorites]


Two of my happiest moments have occurred to me in just the last year, and they were almost identical. They came when I was:
1. Moving the last of my stuff up 3 flights of stairs by myself at 12 am
2. Walking 1/2 mile at night in a blizzard from the vet because the dog needed medication that night and I have no car
It was a sudden radiant warmth. One of them silent-upon-a-peak-in-Darien moments. Without explaining it too personally on my own part, I suppose it's why others climb mountains.

I mentioned this because there is a deep unlooked-for happiness in doing what you need to do. The trouble is that one could spend a lifetime trying to define what it is you need to do.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:23 PM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Len: "This is about the most succinct explanation of what's going on here."

Thank you. Inexplicably I am jealous that your your quoting me and offering praise is getting favorites that the comment you are quoting did not.
posted by idiopath at 6:52 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


cybercoitus interruptus: "The guys demanding, "Smile!" to women (complete strangers!) on the street don't care about their targets' state of mind, either. As far as I can figure out, they just want the target to be more decorative for the few seconds that they're facing each other."

I don't think it's that simple. I've thought about it, and I think a lot of the harassment of women in public places is because guys wish they could be acknowledged in the same way by women.
posted by anonymuk at 10:41 PM on May 10, 2010


OK, "harassment" covers a lot of ground, and since you participated in the Schrodinger's Rapist thread, I assume you read the exchanges there about catcalling.

As far as the "Smile!" demand --

They wish that strange women passing them on the street would demand that they rearrange their faces to reflect "Happy emotion" for the few seconds it takes the women to pass?

Or do you mean, men who demand "Smile!" think -- hat tip to desjardins -- that they're flirting (this idea kicked off the catcalling subthread in the Schrodinger's Rapist discussion)? Or merely, they think they are acknowledging the woman's attractiveness? ("She'd be prettier if she smiled -- who wouldn't want to be prettier? -- I'll help her along by prompting her")
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:46 PM on May 10, 2010


idiopath: well if it's any consolation, I highlighted it for the exact reason that it seemed to be getting it ignored. Consider 'em proxy favourites or summat ...
posted by Len at 3:29 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


cybercoitus interruptus: I have read the Schroedinger's Rapist thread and I'm not defending catcalls or any of that. Sorry, I should have been more specific. I'll post something later when I have more time.
posted by anonymuk at 3:34 AM on May 11, 2010


Sometimes the "Smile!" is flirtatious, but I mostly get it from older, fatherly types. Idiopath hit it on the head...it's how you would treat a child.

This is probably a derail, but the thing it really reminds me of are the guys I knew in college (yes, plural) who would tell me that I was "really pretty" underneath all the black hair dye and eyeliner and I should change and I'd really be much happier. They weren't trying to score with me, they thought they were bestowing me with secret knowledge that would make me happy. (And maybe they'd seen "The Breakfast Club" too many times?)
posted by JoanArkham at 6:09 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


No way, Ally Sheedy was cuter before the makeover.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:15 AM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


So, in short: have babies young so as not to imperil your fertility; do not marry early or you'll be at higher risk for divorce; get married to an appropriate guy as soon as possible so as to guarantee companionship; don't forget to have kids! And also, don't have kids!

Well summarized. I liked the article, if a little lite.

What intrigues me is not that this author writes that happiness is an unstable condition but that she and so many of us in the West believe that happiness is actually either the main state in which we are "supposed" to exist or, if not that, then the ideal state.

I think that's one of the notions she challenges here: "Dissatisfaction" can be an ordinary state of mind that isn't necessarily negative.

Inexplicably I am jealous that your your quoting me and offering praise is getting favorites that the comment you are quoting did not.

Relax. You should smile more.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:21 PM on May 11, 2010


mrgrimm: "Relax. You should smile more."

Die in a fire. It was an attempt at a joke.
posted by idiopath at 12:32 PM on May 11, 2010


Die in a fire. It was an attempt at a joke.

Ditto (without, you know, any wishes for your painful death.) Thanks for reminding me of when my roommate burned down our apartment building and I did almost die. Good times! :D
posted by mrgrimm at 1:57 PM on May 11, 2010


Sorry, that was needlessly prickly.
posted by idiopath at 2:22 PM on May 11, 2010


No offense taken. I have been known to induce prickliness.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:34 PM on May 11, 2010


Then there is Herodotus who said: "Call no man happy until he is dead."

I think he was quoting the wise man Solon of Athens, in reply to King Croesus of Lydia, who was bragging about his wealth. A few years later, the Persians invaded Lydia, took away Croesus' wealth, and strung him up to be burned alive. While on the pyre, Croesus yelled out: "Solon! Solon! Solon!" The curious Persian King stopped the fire, and asked Croesus to explain his outburst. When he heard this, the King released Croesus, and said: "That is a hilarious story."
posted by ovvl at 4:40 PM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


A key to human happiness is having achievable coherent long-term goals to work towards.

A key to a happy marriage is for both partners to want the same important things, and to work together towards achievable coherent long-term goals.

A key to job satisfaction is having a reasonable degree of input into how your work program is structured.
posted by ovvl at 4:52 PM on May 11, 2010


"Oh man, thanks for reminding me, now my teeth are all grindy. I remember this topic coming up once in the Bust forums and one of the Busties mentioned she's learned to say something like "Hey, my dog just died" to make the person recoil."

There's also the other side - being told things about parts of your body about which you're already fully aware. Hey, thanks for pointing out I have big tits, I was wondering why it costs £30 per bra.
posted by mippy at 7:32 AM on May 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


"I think if feminism can be criticized at all for the decreases in happiness, it's that like any other serious movement, it focuses more on serious seeming abstract life than day-to-day life."

I wouldn't say this was the point across the board. One of the defining slogans of the feminist movement is 'the personal is the political', and The Feminine Mystique focused acutely on housework, which was then day-to-day life for women, and how it lead to a lack of fulfillment.
posted by mippy at 7:43 AM on May 12, 2010


A similar thing to the spiking incident (though far less horrifying - though after I once told my then-boyfriend about being chased by a guy on a bike on the way to a party, he told me that I should have been more careful and was an idiot for walking down a main road in a dress, nng) happened to me once. I was out shopping, and a chugger stopped me./ As usual, I politely said sorry, no time to stop. He shouted after me 'WELL YOU'VE GOT TIME TO GO SHOPPING THOUGH!!!'

1. I was shopping for Christmas presents, for my family's first Christmas without my dad
2. My dad had died of cancer two months earlier
3. He was collecting for a cancer charity and that was the last possible moment I wanted to think about it

I wish I'd taken the name of the organisation he represented, but I was so upset that I just went back to work in shock.
posted by mippy at 7:50 AM on May 12, 2010


This is one of those articles that makes me roll my eyes, but I can't figure out exactly why or know where to start with it. I do know it's an example of why I don't go to Salon.com anymore. The comments in here seem more coherent and insightful. Perhaps that's because we're not getting paid by the word to produce content? Or maybe I just didn't get it, being an odd male from NZ; I've never been aware of the expectation of women to smile all the time.
posted by Soupisgoodfood at 8:40 AM on May 12, 2010


To throw a whole nother bag of weasels into the mix: I've found this expectation of happiness to be one of the major flaws in most modern American religions. They seem to preach that if you follow their teaching, obey the laws and pray hard enough, you will be happy. But invariably we all will experience times of sadness and adversity. I think the refusal of much of mainstream culture to acknowledge that bad things do in fact happen to good people because that's the way life goes is the source of a lot of our mental pain.

We always want to know why. As if knowing the causes of something makes it acceptable, controllable, avoidable. When I tell people about my chronic back condition they always ask me what caused it, why I have it. That always throws me because the answer is that I just do and no one knows why. I don't spend my time wondering if it was something I did that made me deserve this pain, I just get on with dealing with it. I think too often we expect life to be fair, to be just, and, as others have said, for our natural state to be happiness. And I'm just not sure that's a useful way of thinking.
posted by threeturtles at 10:27 AM on May 12, 2010


To throw a whole nother bag of weasels into the mix: I've found this expectation of happiness to be one of the major flaws in most modern American religions. They seem to preach that if you follow their teaching, obey the laws and pray hard enough, you will be happy.

Not in this life though. You will be happy in "another life." There's the rub, or the fear that keeps some people hooked, i.e. salvation v. damnation.

We always want to know why.

Not if "God works in mysterious ways." If the existence of the entire universe is dependent on God's whim, why ask why?
posted by mrgrimm at 11:12 AM on May 12, 2010


Does Zen Buddhism count as an American religion yet? With it's attention to the moment and lack of speculation about the afterlife...
posted by Soupisgoodfood at 10:50 PM on May 15, 2010


Does Zen Buddhism count as an American religion yet?

I haven't been following the thread lately, so this seems like a non-sequitur to me, but Buddhists only make up 0.5% of the population. Less than 0.3% are Zen.
posted by desjardins at 8:11 AM on May 17, 2010


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