Ariel Gore , an author of Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness, here fills us in on the connection between happiness and feminism, and what truly makes women happy.
Q: How did you become interested in positive psychology?
A: I heard on the radio that positive psychology was the most popular class at Harvard and that intrigued me. I thought, Harvard? Happiness can be an intellectual pursuit – for smart people? That seemed to cool to me. Especially because I’d always thought of happiness as, well, pretty uncool.
Q: Can you explain your book’s connection between happiness and feminism?
A: When I started doing the research, I noticed that most of the positive psychology literature focused on men, and was written by men. In stark contrast to the literature on depression – in which women are often the subjects – the happiness business seemed like such an old-boys-club. That rubbed me the wrong way. Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression even when we complain about the exact same symptoms. If 20th century psychology focused too much on illness, women suffered more because of that. So I think women can benefit even more from a new psychology that focuses on resilience. I found, as I got deeper into my research, that positive psychology often ends up being a psychology of privilege – so it wasn’t just women who were left out, but working class people and people through wars. Of course, we all need food and water and to be free from abuse, but no matter what out lives are like, we ALL want to find the things that make life worth living. Happiness is one of the free things, after all, like love and creativity.
Q: What did you learn about what generally makes women happy?
A: Well, different things make different women happy. And there are different kinds of happiness. But some things that came up for a lot of women were:
1. Getting lost in a creative project or work
2. Less housework and more sex
3. Relaxed time spent with children or friends
4. The quiet time before anyone else was awake
5. Accomplishment – completing something and being recognized
Q: Do you think women have a different relationship with happiness than men do?
A: Well, women have been socialized very differently than men when it comes to cheerfulness, and fake cheerfulness – that kind of “a pretty girl is a girl with a smile on her face” forced positivity – can actually become a real block to authentic happiness. I think in our hearts of hearts, we are the same, but women have more and different resistances to happiness. Women, I found in my research, were very likely to believe that seeking personal happiness was selfish. And I haven’t read about that in research on men.
Q: What impact did researching and writing this book have on your own sense of happiness? Did you make any changes to your life as a result?
A: I learned, as a lot of the women who took part in this project learned, that the simple act of focusing on our own happiness actually increased it. Keeping a happiness journal and jotting down a few lines about the happiest moment in each day – something that simple could have a powerful effect. That line from The Little Prince really resonated with me when I thought back on this project: “It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” It’s embarrassingly simple, but it can be the same with happiness. I simply have to water that plant. To care for it.
1. Every study of women’s happiness, since 1970, has shown a decline in women’s happiness that has gotten worse with each passing decade. These studies all showed that the more a woman considers herself a feminist the less happy she was. The more balanced your attitude, the happier you will be. The more extreme your attitude, the less happy you’ll be.
2. Is unhappiness in women associated with the rise of feminism. In my opinion, feminism causes women’s unhappiness first by forcing women to struggle to engage in kinds of work and activity for which women are not naturally adapted. We have to face the fact that women’s bodies and minds are primarily adapted by God for child birth and child rearing, not for industrial labor or business management. I have taught academic courses to many women and I have no doubt that women have intellect and can be creative, but there are relatively few women who can naturally feel at peace in male dominated occupations. — Secondly, it was observed that women think of themselves as selfish if they put personal happiness first. I as a man am the same. I feel unhappy if I put my personal happiness above my obligations. I found when I was quite young that most of my worries, depressions, despairs, vanished when I resolved to put duty before happiness. So I think that the problem with feminism is often that it attempts to force women to disregard rules regarding their obligations to their families, regarding promiscuity, regarding respect for other people especially men. I think that a reexamination of the issues of natural adaptation and the effect of keeping to the rules on women’s psyche and happiness is due.