Lately there is a new rash of articles and discussions about women’s happiness. Even men are getting into the center ring. Marcus Buckingham, a business consultant and author, is now hoping to become an expert on women. He is tackling why there is so much female depression in the midst of so much seeming success at becoming equal partners with their men.
I think there is a trap for men to think they can open Pandora’s Box and come up with “the answer”. Even the master of the unconscious, Sigmund Freud was never able to crack the female code. He asked the core question “What do women want?” without ever being able to really give us a good answer.
Betty Friedan went deep with the issue of women in society and helped launch the feminist movement. Are women any happier now than they were pre the 60’s revolution? We seem to have come full cycle and the question is again making headlines. No real answers. Perhaps, male or female, it is because we are asking the wrong question.
Happiness, like love, is complex and hard to pin down. Like the concept of love, we have made happiness into a “thing”. We are always asking each other, as well as ourselves if we are happy. The answer may depend on today’s weather, a promotion, a child’s good report card, an upgrade on a plane ride.
The focus on happiness itself causes us all to grade our lives and more times than not we come up lacking. The grass is always greener elsewhere. Someone always has more and better, be they material things or even ideas. So, how can we claim happiness if everywhere out there is someone who has or is so much more?
Women who stay home to care for young children wonder if they should be working. And moms who are full time business folks worry that they are short changing their youngsters. There is little time for simply hanging out, for time to talk with our primary relationships, our extended family, our friends, our neighbors, and ask each other the questions about what really matters.
I believe we need to put the concept of happiness on the back burner and start a new conversation. The question has less to do with personal moments of happiness and more to do with connecting to each other and this planet we share. The question is “How can I help?”
Once we begin this new conversation there is a shift of focus. We start to look through a longer lens, think in terms of the future rather than just today. At work we look past quarterly reports and think about consequences of our decisions for future generations. Once we begin to put our actions and reactions in a larger context we are less concerned about the fleeting sense of happiness and more connected with a deeper sense of peace that what we are doing is being done, not just for ourselves, also for future generations.
In the “Total Leadership Connections” program that I sponsor there are four sessions spread over six months. Each session is geared to answer the question “How can I help?” and gives direction to looking at the patterns that have been handed to us from past generations to include or discard in our journey to success. The first session is all about the visionary aspect of leadership. What as leaders are we leading toward? The next session goes down a winding path to look at how the patterns from family, culture and crises have formed us. In session three, the bulk of the time is spent integrating the past and the present to give a clearer direction to future direction. The last session weaves together the threads of happiness and helping. You see, we have found that those who are truly happy over the long term are those who have found a way to be of service and know they are considering the consequences of their actions for the generations to come.
I believe that women have the deep capacity to think in terms of whole systems; of long term consequences and that we have to remind each other, as well as our men, that to be truly happy we need to think in larger perspectives. That means a broader view of what it means to be happy and what it means to help. It is being willing to go through the darkness of the woods and accept being scared, disappointed, or depressed for whatever time it takes and keep going. When we come out of the woods we are stronger, more confident, more capable and more able to help. That, I believe, is core to real, sustainable happiness.