Two studies from Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania show that there has been a shift in happiness since the 1970s, when women claimed to be happier than men. One of the studies explains that since the 1960s, men have cut back on unpleasant activities and relax more. On the other hand, women are taking on more tasks than they did four decades ago. They have replaced housework with working outside the home, yet are still responsible for the house work. This means that a woman’s "to do" list has increased with less time to do everything. As a result, a woman feels stressed, under-accomplished and fatigued! How can anyone be happy with all that on her plate?
The obvious question: Why can’t women relax more, the way men do? The surprising answer is that they are afraid! When you have been in prison for most of your life where everything has been defined and structured, you are afraid of freedom, making choices and going with the flow to let things unfold. Relaxation, fun and quiet can be downright unnerving because there would be no one to validate your performance. Also, you are accustomed to suppressing feelings of unworthiness and so, you actually work hard to make those compliments keep flowing your way, “See what I can do!”
What men have realized is that their health has been compromised by stress especially the cardio-vascular and digestive systems and it is just not worth it! At the end of the day they have heard their own fathers express regret that they missed out on family time; they were not present to life while it was happening and if they had it to do all over again, they would have worked less and enjoyed more! As a result, their sons have listened and cut back responsibilities to ease up on themselves, most importantly, to live in the present.
Women rarely live in the present. Women stew about the past getting stuck in negative thoughts or a resentment loop. Then they worry about the future, what will happen later or what is next on the to-do list. Women can learn from men how to live in the present and not dilute it.
It’s time for women to love themselves. I don’t mean standing in front of a mirror and trying to convince yourself about how beautiful you are. True self-love means valuing yourself by your own standards, not someone else’s or when no one else understands you. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To be great is to be misunderstood.” It’s time to shape your own world or the world will shape you according to its own image and this will become your barometer for purpose as opposed to your own passion. Ask yourself: Whom do you fit with? And do you need to fit at all?
Let’s learn from men how to be happier because we have forgotten how:
- Recognize that your addiction to busyness is a survival mechanism. You are not thriving, but living in stress-mode – fight or flight hormonal rush. Start putting your feet up on the coffee table and watching TV. Ease up on your standards. Everything is perfectly imperfect, the way you are.
- Solve your problems instead of stewing about them. Approach them from different angles to see what works. Don’t get absorbed by them. They are a small part of your big picture. Like a man, stress should not keep you from making love and experiencing intimacy.
- Dilute the drama. Objectify and distance yourself from the upset or conflict to reduce its impact. Sometimes you will find it humorous from this perspective.
- Don’t agree to everything. Express your feelings honestly and briefly. Learn to say, “Later, honey.”
- Liberate yourself from old beliefs and too many duties. Do you really want to be like June Cleaver, Donna Reed or Hillary Clinton?
Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout
and Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul,
a stress-reduction specialist, motivational speaker, a personal trainer and mind/body lecturer. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WGBB AM1240 in New York City , produces a weekly wellness newsletter, and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more visit: www.turnonyourinnerlight.com