A few days ago, New York Times columnist Maurine Dowd noted that the General Social Survey, "which has tracked America's mood since 1972," found that men are getting happier and women are "getting gloomier." Ms. Dowd quotes Marcus Buckingham, a former Gallup researcher and current Huffington Post blogger, as noting that "women begin their lives more fulfilled than men, as they age, they gradually become less happy."
From the women of The View to moms on the playground, opinions about why this state of mid-life malaise abound.
- Our lives are more crowded with our increased options of family, work, friends
- Our biology makes us more sensitive, and therefore vulnerable
- Our culture is youth obsessed, especially as it relates to women
Stretched too thin, feeling responsible for far too many things for time to allow, becoming less and less culturally attractive, who would NOT feel unhappy? In every discussion I've heard, reasons are many, but, as Ms. Dowd concludes, the answer is a paradox.
Perhaps. But, maybe our answer is the fact that we simply do not take time, individually and as a group, to address our unhappiness. Perhaps we have invested our time, energy and resources in others and have left ourselves feeling impoverished. As a person who has earned her living in advising others how to invest their wealth, I now wonder whether the same structure that one uses to develop a portfolio can address this problem. Here is a general example of how this process works.
- What is your goal? In investment terms, the answer is a number. In life terms, the answer is your response to "What makes you happy?" Answering that question requires enough time to consider what it is that brings you true joy. It's much easier to say, "I don't have time to think about that," than "I don't know what makes me happy." The latter statement is a symptom of not having nurtured oneself. And, over time, that lack of nurturing will likely result in deep unhappiness.
- What must you do to achieve your goal? In investment terms, this answer requires both sacrifice and risk. Sacrifice involves putting money aside for the future, and risk involves investing in assets which can, as we have all seen lately, fluctuate wildly in short term price, but, over the long term, earn more than inflation. In life terms, we must also be willing to make sacrifices and take risk to get what we want. We must develop a strategy to acquire those things that bring us great joy, whether they be experiences or self expression. We must surround ourselves with those who will help us, and rid ourselves of those who will not. We must cease to think of providing for ourselves as "selfish," and begin to treat ourselves as the valuable beings that we are.
- What must you do to stay on course? In investment terms, this requires a minimum of an annual check-up to measure progress. In life terms, we must also constantly monitor our progress, and ensure that we do not allow ourselves to feel guilty, unappreciated, dismissed, or any other negative emotion about achieving what it is that we want.
By following this investment structure, we will find that our lives cannot become too crowded for ourselves, because we will filter out that which is not fulfilling our life goal. We will expand our sensitivity to ourselves by putting ourselves first, without a moment's thought that we are being selfish. We are merely nurturing ourselves in order that we can be more nurturing to others. Finally, we will dismiss any assertion that we are not attractive people. We will value ourselves much too highly to think we must look any certain way in order to be attractive. We will define ourselves by our own standards.
Then, we may give our daughters, nieces and young women friends the priceless gift of valuing themselves on their own terms. And, perhaps, like us, they will use their options to achieve happiness as they define it.