As We Age, Women Become Less Happy than Men. Why?

From NY Times article "Blue is the New Black":

Before the ’70s, there was a gender gap in America in which women felt greater well-being. Now there’s a gender gap in which men feel better about their lives.

As Arianna Huffington points out in a blog post headlined “The Sad, Shocking Truth About How Women Are Feeling”: “It doesn’t matter what their marital status is, how much money they make, whether or not they have children, their ethnic background, or the country they live in. Women around the world are in a funk.”
(The one exception is black women in America, who are a bit happier than they were in 1972, but still not as happy as black men.)

Marcus Buckingham, a former Gallup researcher who has a new book out called “Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently,” says that men and women passed each other midpoint on the graph of life.

“Though women begin their lives more fulfilled than men, as they age, they gradually become less happy,” Buckingham writes in his new blog on The Huffington Post, pointing out that this darker view covers feelings about marriage, money and material goods. “Men, in contrast, get happier as they get older.”

Buckingham and other experts dispute the idea that the variance in happiness is caused by women carrying a bigger burden of work at home, the “second shift.” They say that while women still do more cooking, cleaning and child-caring, the trend lines are moving toward more parity, which should make them less stressed.
(Full article and link can be found at the end)

The paragraphs above come from an interesting article written by Maureen Dowd of the NY Times called, "Blue is the New Black". She's a gifted writer and has shed some light on a surprising although not shocking revelation - (Women become less happy than men as they age)

This past summer, I shed a light of my own on the periphery of this happiness subject (see link below) after talking with a group of Swedish women who wanted to be GREAT in a variety of areas - mother, wife, fitness and career. That conversation inspired me to write about the difficulty of being great in all the aforementioned areas in my article called "Great Mother, Great Wife, Great Shape, Great Career - Impossible". The desire to be a modern superwoman is probably one of the reasons women tend to get unhappier as they age. When one strives for something that isn't obtainable, the strain, stress and pressure of that task will cause anyone to become unhappy over time.

http://gswede-sunday.blogspot.com/2009/07/great-mother-great-wife-great-career.html

A few days ago, I mentioned this NY Times article to a few women (teachers/parents) at my son's day-care and their immediate response was that they were happy. Both teachers had no children and one even mentioned that as a factor in being happy. One of the parents who has children said that "happiness is a mindset" - something I agree with. Take a moment to view this video of American talk show host Montel Williams - a man who stays happy despite excruciating pain daily from Multiple Sclerosis. I encourage you to read his books as you will be inspired!

http://cnettv.cnet.com/montel-williams-happiness/9742-1_53-50066981.html

I know many mothers who seem to be happy especially with the kids they chose to bring into this world. Are they really happy? If not, are the elements of life outside of children the cause? I realize that women bear a large brunt of responsibility in this world whether rich or poor and are often the rock of the family. If they are getting unhappier as they age, what does that say about the current state and future of the family unit and our communities?

What can be done about this disturbing pattern? Do men contribute to this unhappiness? If so, what can we do to help improve it?

I would like to hear from women and men on this subject. Women, are you happy? If so, how have you kept happiness alive? If not, why so blue? How about your women friends?

Men, how do you maintain or enhance your happiness as you age? Are the women in your life happy or unhappy?

Please feel free to let my readers and me know by leaving your comments below - anonymously if you prefer.

Montel's five keys to happiness (on video) offer an effective way to bring happiness into your life or maintain it throughout:

1) Let Gratitude be your Attitude

2) Practice Kindness

3) Savor the Beauty of Little Things and Moments

4) Nurture your Spiritual Self

5) Learn to Let Go and Forgive


If you embrace these five points, happiness will have no choice but to rise up and bloom inside you.

Happy Gswede Sunday!
-----
September 20, 2009

Op-Ed Columnist

Blue Is the New Black
By
MAUREEN DOWD
WASHINGTON

Women are getting unhappier, I told my friend Carl.

“How can you tell?” he deadpanned. “It’s always been whine-whine-whine.”

Why are we sadder? I persisted.

“Because you care,” he replied with a mock sneer. “You have feelings.”

Oh, that.

In the early ’70s, breaking out of the domestic cocoon, leaving their mothers’ circumscribed lives behind, young women felt exhilarated and bold.

But the more women have achieved, the more they seem aggrieved. Did the feminist revolution end up benefiting men more than women?

According to the General Social Survey, which has tracked Americans’ mood since 1972, and five other major studies around the world, women are getting gloomier and men are getting happier.

Before the ’70s, there was a gender gap in America in which women felt greater well-being. Now there’s a gender gap in which men feel better about their lives.

As Arianna Huffington points out in a blog post headlined “The Sad, Shocking Truth About How Women Are Feeling”: “It doesn’t matter what their marital status is, how much money they make, whether or not they have children, their ethnic background, or the country they live in. Women around the world are in a funk.”

(The one exception is black women in America, who are a bit happier than they were in 1972, but still not as happy as black men.)

Marcus Buckingham, a former Gallup researcher who has a new book out called “Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently,” says that men and women passed each other midpoint on the graph of life.“

Though women begin their lives more fulfilled than men, as they age, they gradually become less happy,” Buckingham writes in his new blog on The Huffington Post, pointing out that this darker view covers feelings about marriage, money and material goods. “Men, in contrast, get happier as they get older.”

Buckingham and other experts dispute the idea that the variance in happiness is caused by women carrying a bigger burden of work at home, the “second shift.” They say that while women still do more cooking, cleaning and child-caring, the trend lines are moving toward more parity, which should make them less stressed.

When women stepped into male- dominated realms, they put more demands — and stress — on themselves. If they once judged themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, gardens and dinner parties, now they judge themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, gardens, dinner parties — and grad school, work, office deadlines and meshing a two-career marriage.

“Choice is inherently stressful,” Buckingham said in an interview. “And women are being driven to distraction.”

One area of extreme distraction is kids. “Across the happiness data, the one thing in life that will make you less happy is having children,” said Betsey Stevenson, an assistant professor at Wharton who co-wrote a paper called “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.” “It’s true whether you’re wealthy or poor, if you have kids late or kids early. Yet I know very few people who would tell me they wish they hadn’t had kids or who would tell me they feel their kids were the destroyer of their happiness.”

The more important things that are crowded into their lives, the less attention women are able to give to each thing.

Add this to the fact that women are hormonally more complicated and biologically more vulnerable. Women are much harder on themselves than men.

They tend to attach to other people more strongly, beat themselves up more when they lose attachments, take things more personally at work and pop far more antidepressants.

“Women have lives that become increasingly empty,” Buckingham said. “They’re doing more and feeling less.”

Another daunting thing: America is more youth and looks obsessed than ever, with an array of expensive cosmetic procedures that allow women to be their own Frankenstein Barbies.

Men can age in an attractive way while women are expected to replicate — and Restylane — their 20s into their 60s.

Buckingham says that greater prosperity has made men happier. And they are also relieved of bearing sole responsibility for their family finances, and no longer have the pressure of having women totally dependent on them.

Men also tend to fare better romantically as time wears on. There are more widows than widowers, and men have an easier time getting younger mates.

Stevenson looks on the bright side of the dark trend, suggesting that happiness is beside the point. We’re happy to have our newfound abundance of choices, she said, even if those choices end up making us unhappier.

A paradox, indeed.


http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/20/opinion/20dowd.html?emc=eta1


Gswede on a September weekend stroll in Stockholm with the children.

Improving your Patience

My first article in 2009 is called, "Life is (and should be) all about the Benefits". The link is below. One of the most important benefits in that article is patience. I find that those with patience are generally happier and tend to enjoy the precious moments of life at a deeper level. For those with little or no patience, I implore you to make the effort to improve.

http://gswede-sunday.blogspot.com/2009/01/life-is-and-should-be-all-about.html

I speak from experience as my twenties were full of impatient moments including an exchange with a dry cleaning employee that makes me cringe to this day. I was rude to her for being slow along with the fact that my newly pressed shirt collar was wrinkled. It was a moment I will never forget as my friend Sean (an extremely patient person) looked at me with disdain and provided a voice of reason to a situation that might have escalated. That employee had nothing to do with my shirt and her service wasn't that slow - it was only me trying to control the situation and being impatient. Since that day, my patience has improved significantly by reading books, listening to authors I respect, getting advice from friends and working tirelessly to focus on the moment despite the circumstances.

Daily, I marvel at the impatience of people and often want to reach out to help them. Recently, I witnessed a mother (with two small children) at a bus-stop who missed the bus by a few minutes. She wasn't happy and her agitated composure left no doubt about it. Will our life change that dramatically if we miss a subway, bus or train and have to wait ten or twenty minutes? One should look at this time as a chance to explore (the aforementioned children were enjoying the bus-stop) a new area or relax or if alone, pull out a book and read a few pages.

Patience is invaluable with children or you can miss the beauty of their actions or personalities. The author Richard Carlson wrote an insightful book in 1997 called "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff...and it's all small stuff". I encourage you to read it as it is filled with advice on slowing down and keeping stress low in your life. In his section on patience, he talks about when his four-year-old daughter interrupts his writing:

What I have learned to do (most of the time) is to see the innocence in her behavior rather than to focus on the potential implications of her interruption. I remind myself why she is coming to see me - because she loves me, not because she is conspiring to ruin my work. When I remember to see the innocence, I immediately bring forth a feeling of patience, and my attention is brought back to the moment. Any irritation that may have been building is eliminated and I'm reminded, once again, of how fortunate I am to have such beautiful children.
-- Richard Carlson, PHD


Many of us (including me) have to deal with impatient people and often, it is stressful. I embrace these encounters and use it as a chance to practice my patience. By being patient and not reacting negatively to their impatience, the mood sometimes lightens and calm fills the atmosphere. This is not always the case and occasionally one should just walk away from a tense situation that could spiral into a horribly stressful moment - a moment that has no benefits for any of the people involved.

If you want to improve your patience, consider Dr. Carlson's advice of "Patience Practice Periods" from his book:

Start by saying to yourself, "Okay, for the next five minutes I won't allow myself to be bothered by anything. I'll be patient." What you'll discover is truly amazing. Your intention to be patient, especially if you know it's only for a short while, immediately strengthens your capacity for patience. Once you reach little milestones - five minutes of successful patience- you'll begin to see that you do, indeed, have the capacity to be patient, even for longer periods of time.
--Richard Carlson, PHD


Lately, I've been saying "Don't sweat the small stuff...and it's all small stuff" to some friends and family members. It can be irritating to hear in some instances yet it never fails to remind that person of their impatience with rather insignificant "small stuff".

Give some thought to improving your patience if you care about your well being and lowering the stress in your life. If you take that step, your life should be enhanced significantly and your children, friends and those you come in contact with will benefit from it. Impatience throughout life could translate into high stress levels, missing the special moments and grooming children to be impatient - a life I don't think anyone aspires to have.

Even though I'm a very patient person, I get tested daily from living in a foreign country and having young children. My thoughts are sometimes impatient although my actions towards my children, wife, mother, friends or those I come in contact with are usually filled with patience, love and positivity.

Slow Down, Be Patient, Stay Positive...and (yes, I have to say it)...

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff...and it's all small stuff.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Patience prevails in this amazing setting in Vermont - a shot from the cabin of my childhood friend Don. Gswede has enjoyed this relaxed atmosphere on many occasions.

Email Inspiration with a Canadian Friend

Last week was fantastic - full of surprises, fun family time, great weather, two days with both children, inspiration from various angles, conversations with youth, memorable moments, touching emails, soothing phone calls and much more. One moment that moved me was an email correspondence with a close Canadian friend that I have known for almost 20 years. I was surprised that she almost lost her way yet happy to hear that my blog has been an inspiration. We haven't talked or seen each other for quite some time but do keep in touch via email.

Below are parts of our email correspondence from last week:

Friend:
Hello George, All is well. My daughter started kindergarten last week, which went very well. My son is having a hard time watching his big sister leave without him...As always I’m enjoying your wonderful outlook on life.

Gswede:
Happy you enjoy my outlook on life. You are a big part of my life and glad we are still in touch. I think of our times often!

Friend:
You are a true blessing...I wish you so much happiness, you deserve it! Thank you for your blog, I had lost myself for a while and now I'm finding a new me...so are my kids...I often think of the old times too, great company and conversations...moments that I will cherish forever.

I lost myself by being afraid. Afraid to make decisions that would make life too difficult. Closing myself around myself rather than being honest and facing challenges with my chin up... Dwelling on past decisions, being unhappy in my relationship, being caught up in the hustle and bustle of a fast moving world rather than enjoying the moments...Not telling myself, ``It is what it is`` often enough...I know there is a better me inside,(I know this sounds so cliché), I really want to find her!!! I've put off so many things, it's hard to get reorganized...

All the examples of your friends in your blogs, it's all me...

Gswede:
Wow. Glad you are battling back. We all have our moments of despair and all we can do is fight through it and as you say, "keep our chin up".

You are a wonderful woman and have a great spirit, remember that. It's hard to impact or impress me but you did from the moment we met. Also, you have helped many people in your life and that is the best thing we can do for this world as long as we keep our own priorities in mind.

Friend:
Well, thank you for those nice words. I've always enjoyed your wisdom...Perhaps, one of my problems is I try too hard to help people and then I get caught in their misery...I am now going to start focusing on me...I've joined a stretching class and it's great...I forgot how important exercise is to our brain...how could I forget that!!!!

The aforementioned email dialogue re-enforced some of my beliefs:

1) Outlook on Life - She praised my outlook on life and that is important to recognize as not having a positive outlook despite our circumstances is detrimental to our progress. I've frequently been inspired by her positivity over the years!

2) Telling someone how much they are appreciated - We both exchanged some kind words to each other about how much we appreciate the memories and the friendship. Remember, people should smell the roses before they are six feet under!

3) Helping Others - It is vital to help others throughout life BUT not at the expense of your happiness and dreams. One cannot wallow in another's misery - it's more productive to give firm and gentle encouragement or support. One of my best friend's has been suffering for a long time due to his lack of focus and irresponsibility. I am always there for him and call him often yet only he can improve his circumstances. His unhappiness doesn't impact my focus, goals and outlook.

4) Exercise
- She mentioned a stretching class and how it has benefited her. Why don't more of us see the beauty and benefit of exercising? There are very few things more important than moving our bodies! I just completed a half marathon after training all summer - I feel great!

5) Fighting Spirit - I am happy that my words have been encouraging but it was her "fighting spirit" and not wanting to give up on the gift of life that was the true motivator in regaining her focus. We all need those external motivating factors (i.e. friends, books, exercise,etc) when life is not going our way although the most important factor is what we have deep down in our soul and the willingness to let the positivity rise from the doom and gloom that is temporarily surrounding us.

Make sure to reach out and stay in touch with those people who have been or are important to you. I realize that in our busy worlds it is sometimes difficult to be in contact with current friends or find past friends. If you make the effort now and then, the fruits of your labor may bring tremendous benefits and/or much needed inspiration.

One of my favorite quotes sums it up:

Wherever you are, it is your friends who make your world....
--William James

Happy Gswede Sunday!

My wife (far left) and close Swedish friends on a glorious day a few years ago

A Father's Parental Leave, Swedish Syle

Gswede and daughter Nova-Li

While visiting New York City in late 2007, I was telling someone that I recently started 5 months of parental leave (Föräldraledighet in Swedish) with my then 9 month old son.

He immediately replied, "that is great, 5 weeks off".

Smiling I said, "No, I have 5 MONTHS off"!

The look of disbelief on his face was priceless. His surprise was quite natural given that most women in America (and many in Europe) have less time off when they have a baby. One of the many childcare benefits in Sweden is the excellent parental leave which fathers are also encouraged to make use of. Another plus is that the government pays you during this time - I received 80% of my salary!

Some interesting facts about why Sweden is one of the best places in the world for raising children:

-- I received 2 weeks off (government paid) directly after the birth of both children.

-- I received 5 months off from work with the government paying the majority of my salary, to take care of my son Lennart, and am now doing the same with my daughter Nova-Li.

-- My wife was on maternity leave 10 months with our son and 9 months with our daughter.

-- By law an employer must allow you to take parental leave time off.

-- Each family is paid a monthly subsidy by the government per child.

-- Daycare (starting earliest at age 1) cost a maximum of what equals 100 dollars per month which is approximately the same sum as the aforementioned subsidy.

In February 2008, I was talking to my boss and he said, "you are probably more tired but less stressed compared to working". He nailed it right on the head! It's a good thing I can function well with 5-6 hours of sleep as our son at that time woke up quite early just as our 9 month old daughter does now. Though frequently tired, there is nothing like having the privilege of hanging out with and taking care of your own child. All day, every day. The things you learn, the different stages you experience (i.e. walking) are very rewarding.

Many friends in America were happy for me but I could tell that some couldn't comprehend the length of my time off as most men in America only have a few days at home after their child is born. When I told them that I also received two weeks off paid (Swedish law) after the birth of each child, some were even more surprised. I was happy to see that a male childhood friend in Boston had 4-5 months off with his children which is a rarity in America. It's sad that more fathers in America don't get or want this opportunity as it is a joy to experience.

In Stockholm, there are many places to go with children while on leave (i.e. free open pre-schools or cultural centers) where they have great activities for kids. In addition, I have friends who are on parental leave simultaneously so I invite them to my house, they reciprocate or we meet at a cafe or restaurant. There are numerous parks in every part of the city which we also enjoy. Like their mother, our children love the outdoors. Their smiles and demeanor's once outside is intoxicating!

I have always loved kids and especially seeing the joy in their faces for the simplest of things. Having a chance to witness that with my own son and now daughter sometimes brings me to tears. Never one to cry much, the tears flow much easier now (which is a good thing). The picture isn't always rosy. When I was home with Lennart, there were days when it was hard, with crappy (rain and clouds it seemed daily) Swedish winter weather and the sometimes endless changing of clothes and diapers! That feeling never lasts long as having the time to not work and focus solely on a child and his/her development is a wonderful thing.

A few weeks ago I began my second parental leave with my 9 month old daughter - once again for 5 months. In the first few weeks, my wife has already noticed a deeper bond between father and daughter. I thought this time might be easier but I wasn't thinking of the extra work I didn't incur the first time around as I was only responsible for our son. This time I have two kids although only my daughter all day. My son is in day-care from 8:30am to 3:00pm.

Gswede's son Lennart

This was my schedule this past Monday:

05:30am -- Wake up with daughter.
06:30am -- My wife and I feed the kids and get them dressed.
8:00am -- My wife goes to work.
8:15am -- Gswede is out the door with both kids.
8:30am -- Gswede drops son at daycare and hangs out at home with daughter until she falls asleep around 9:30am.
10:30am -- Daughter wakes up and gets snack. Gswede takes her outside and back for lunch around 12:00pm.
12:30pm -- She falls asleep.
12:30pm -- Gswede relaxes for 90 minutes doing emails, writing, making plans etc. (Daily "Me Time" is important even for stay at home moms/and dads).
2:30pm -- Gives daughter snack and gets her ready to go pick up her brother.
4:00pm -- Gswede and daughter pick up son.
4:15pm -- Takes both to park until 5:15pm.
6:00pm -- My wife and I prepare the dinner and everyone eats together.
7:00pm -- Lights out for both kids.
9:00pm -- I crash on the couch during a movie.

A busy day yet invaluable to experience as it gives a man an idea of what mothers go through - something most men never get the opportunity to do. One interesting fact about parental leave in Sweden is:

Fathers take on average only 20 percent of the 16 months of paid parental leave offered in Sweden to either mums or dads, according to Statistics Swede—a skimpy average that has sparked a broad debate over how to encourage more fathers to take the paid time off and reduce inequalities in the home. ( http://www.thelocal.se/10420/20080312/)

I understand that in some cases the financial aspect of taking time off is prohibitive. There are however some men who simply choose not to take advantage of the opportunity offered and I find that to be a real shame. I know dads who could afford to take the time off but would rather work. You can read more at the links below regarding fathers, parental leave in general and our Swedish childcare system.


I am thankful for the opportunity to spend 5 months with my precious daughter. We have a beautiful bond already and this luxury will allow that bond to grow deeper and deeper. Fathers, If you have the chance, take it. A little sacrifice could make a world of difference in the bond with and growth of your child. The early years go quickly so seize the moment.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Gswede's wife Matilda and daughter Nova-Li

Son Lennart