Dennis Prager today is asking today why women are so depressed. It's a question that's occurred to me, too. At one point, about 80% of the women I knew with young kids were on antidepressants. What on earth is going on?
In part 1 of his thesis he blames feminism. He's not saying that it's all bad; just that there's something unique in it that has hurt women's mental health. Here's whathe says:
[M]uch unhappiness comes from having expectations. When our expectations are not fulfilled -- and most are not -- we can become unhappy and even bitter. And when our expectations are fulfilled, we are no happier because fulfilled expectations undermine gratitude (we are not grateful when we get what assume we will get) and gratitude is indispensable to happiness.
Feminism raised women's expectations beyond what life can deliver to the vast majority of them. It was hard enough for women in the past to realize their far fewer expectations of marrying a good man and making a happy family. But feminism told a generation of women that they can not only expect to have that but, perhaps even more important to feminism, they could also expect to have a fulfilling, financially rewarding, society-honoring career.
I think he's right, but only partly.
We raised our expectations so much that fulfillment and happiness became a measure of our self-worth far more than it had been in past generations.
The church then put its own twist on things. Partly as a reaction to feminism the church talked up how great mothering is (and I'm not saying it's not). But the church often talks as if all our needs will be met when we accept our proper roles. And then, like Prager says, if we do find ourselves fulfilled we miss the gratitude part, because we've only achieved what we were supposed to achieve. We still feel like we haven't come far enough.
What if this emphasis on happiness is backwards? What if mothering is not meant to make us happy as much as it is to make us holy, useful, purposeful, content, and even peaceful with our lives? These are quite different things by saying that we are "happy".
We are in the happy wars. Stay at home moms argue that we are "happier" than those who work. Those who work argue that they are "happier" than those who stay home. What if happiness is not the ultimate standard for our lives?
Don't get me wrong; I am happy. But I'm happy not because of the circumstances of my life as much as I am because I have thrown myself purposefully into motherhood and the other ministries God has given me. We need to get over the idea that happiness is the end all and be all.
Happiness, I don't think, is something that can be aimed for. If you try to find happiness it will always elude you. Happiness, instead, is something you stumble upon when you are already on the right path in life.
Was Mother Theresa happy? That's a dumb question. We all know that wasn't the point of her life. And yet I think she found deep joy and deep peace. And because of that, she probably was happy. But she didn't seek her own happiness. She sought God, and the rest followed. We need to do the same thing, instead of trying to set motherhood up almost as an idol that is supposed to meet all our needs.
Tomorrow: Part 2: Why we mistake leisure for happiness.
Labels: happiness, parenting