September 20, 2009

The Notion of Female Happiness

In the past few days I have read more reports and editorials on the sinking happiness of American women. A real "upper," I know. Ariana Huffington wrote a blog post about topic, which in turn, sparked the Sunday column of Maureen Dowd, "Blue Is The New Black." Dowd uses the General Social Survey findings (which has trended the American social record since the 1970s) to enumerate the list of grievances that detract from female happiness now and over the course of the past thirty or so years. In reading Dowd's article, I resonated with many of her points about how women have to reconcile traditional and modern roles attributed to them by our society. Essentially, balancing professional and personal demands has overloaded and subsequently depressed the American woman.

My career has always been important to me, central to my daily thinking. I do also want to get married and have a family. The simultaneous consideration of furthering my career with the development of my person life can be taxing and I imagine that it will only increase in intensity and stress level as I get older.Oh, how I wish that I could turn my mind off sometimes! I am sure that most women feel this way. Overthinking has always been a cross to bear as a woman, and when we have a surplus of things to "overthink" about, it can be too much. To be honest, I don't think I've been "happy" for a while, spending so much time worrying and planning to have the best life possible. I feel like I am trying to play all these roles to satisfy this idea of what I think my life should be like. This idea is conceived by what we are trained to want by ideas given through our exposure to various elements in society.

One example of these "elements" is that many of my closest friends are strong women, some with very high-powered career goals. One friend just entered medical school, one is getting her master's in public health, and another is in her second year of law school. Higher education was never a choice but a next step in my life track. My mother has a master's of education, plus thirty credits (which essentially puts her at doctorate level), which has always inspired me to reach similar heights. I want to further my education, but sometimes I can't tell if this is what I really want or if it's just pressure to be like my peers and to make the most of the advantages available to women. Is it worth sacrificing my general peace of mind to keep up with the pace and standard of the modern woman? Sometimes I think so, but other times, I'm doubtful.

Women have been given so many opportunities in this modern age (although some might say not enough) and I feel like I should take advantage of career advancements that were nonexistent for women a century ago. However, I think I must also bear in mind my personal limits and essentials goals for what I (not as a woman, but as a human being) want to get out of this life. That choice is also part of our liberation as females. Traditional or modern, career woman or stay-at-home mom, it is our right to choose.

In a final side note, this idea of happiness bothers me. Happiness connotes this ultimate and constant state of mind, something that I think is unattainable in the real world. Nirvana, like happiness, is a journey that one seeks to complete over the course of a lifetime. My Buddhism professor in college told us that instead of happiness, we should seek joy, brief periods of elation and connection with Nirvana. In a world where women are trying to attain it all, maybe "happiness" is taking joy when we can, and thinking less about what is possible and more about what we have.
Image found here.

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