Are you happy? Do you feel successful? Do you feel like a strong woman?
Those questions tend to make me feel defensive. Of course I'm happy! I'm doing what I'm called to do, aren't I? And what does it matter if I'm successful, if I'm living my calling?
And besides that, happiness isn't all it's cracked up to be, as I've written here on previous occasions. The secret to happiness is to not look for it. When we look for it, we're always going to be unhappy, because we'll see all the things we don't have. When we seek instead for purpose and joy in God, we tend to, in the end, find happiness as well. But it's a by-product of a life well-lived.
To me, the main questions that encapsulate the essence of one's life are more these: Do you know what you were called to do? Do you feel a calling on your life? Do you feel energized to live out that calling? Do you experience joy on a regular basis? See how those are quite different? I find this whole quest for happiness and self-fulfillment focused a little too much on the self and not enough on God. The truth is we are not called to be happy as much as we are called to be holy. But as we live out a purpose-driven life, we will experience joy, and our lives will be richer and fuller. The key is to look to God first, and not to our own hearts.
If I have that much trouble with the idea of happiness and feeling successful being the centre of your life, you can imagine how much difficulty I had with a book I was recently sent to review: Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently, by Marcus Buckingham. I didn't agree with the premise to begin with, and quite honestly, I had a hard time with a women's book that featured a picture of a guy prominently on the cover, even if he had become famous on Oprah.
The book was sent to me, I think, because it is a Christian publisher, and it's about women. Nevertheless, God is nowhere in the book, except in a brief 3-page anecdote that is cute, but does not present the gospel whatsoever. I guess the publisher is trying to branch out.
Then, the beginning of the book was focused on him (again, the self-focus that really turns me off), and it soon became quite clear he was writing from a particular perspective that I do not share. For instance, I was offended by this sentence. After talking about how women can feel stressed at work, he says, on page 38:
The good news is that this isn't stopping women from on-ramping back into work after having kids, in spite of the media stories of a new generation of women choosing to opt out.
Why is it GOOD news that women are leaving their babies and going back to work? (He later reports it as a success that the majority of women with babies are working). I can understand being neutral about it, but lauding it? That seems very strange. Later in the book he says that we should never feel guilty about choosing to work and sending kids to day care, because in surveys, what kids want is not more time with Mommy, but for Mommy to be happy.
So what? Since when do children know what's good for them? And given the abysmal rate of kids retaining their faith, and the horrible rate of kids being involved in sexual activity at a young age, maybe we need more parents around.
My initial reaction, then, was quite negative. Nevertheless, there were some very good tips in the book, and some excellent strategies to maximize the positive moments in your life, rather than the negative ones. I'm using some of them already, but he put a name to them and explained them in a way I hadn't heard for before, which was helpful. And he reminded me of some other things I haven't been doing. So while I may not agree with the philosophical underpinning of the book (and I definitely don't think it's a Christian book, publisher notwithstanding), there's some good stuff there.
I think, over the next week, I'll point out some of that good stuff, and share it here with you, bit by bit. Let me just leave you today with some of the observations that he has about the state that women find themselves in today, with which I have no argument.
First, over the last few decades, women have become steadily unhappier, while men have become happier. Having more choice has made women unhappy, largely because when we have choice, we always are reminded of what we are not doing well. Too many of us are trying to multitask all the time, and it's stressful. Choice doesn't make you happy, even if you think it's a good thing.
Second, women became unhappier as life goes on, and men become happier. We start off happier, more sure of ourselves, with more hope for our futures. But as we have kids, and move into the work world, we lose that happiness, while men gain it. Why? I think because again we are feeling guilty for what is not being done.
Also, ironically, women with children are more unhappy than women without kids, even married women. And this is true across cultures, in huge surveys, as he has shown, so I do believe him. It is not that we don't love our kids; it is that they give a level of stress to our lives that is really difficult to integrate.
That's where women find ourselves. We are stressed. We are unhappy. We feel like we have too much on our plate. The solution, though, that I would offer that he did not, is to find a purpose outside of yourself. He does this in a secular way, asking women to find what they were born to be, and then to live that out in their career lives and their stay at home lives (there are no real examples in the book of women who have completely stayed at home, though he says the book is for women of all walks of life). And I believe that we should find what we were born to be.
But the question of being born to be something is essentially one of calling. How can we be "born to be" something absent God? The author is himself a Christian, so I think he knows that, he just isn't saying it explicitly in the book. But we need to figure out what God is calling us to, and then rely on Him for peace in that calling. We'll talk later this week how to do that effectively to experience joy, but if you've never had it out with God about what you were called to do, you need to. Without a sense that God is calling you to something, whether it's your family, or your work, or a ministry, or even just how to live your life, then whenever frustrations come you will wonder if you are outside of His will. They will be magnified.
So seek out His calling. Pray with your spouse about it. Talk to your friends about it. And then focus on how to live it out. If we are doing something purposefully, it will always have more joy than if we are just living in the moment.
And perhaps that's another place where I differ from this author. I've read other books that are secular in nature, but which FEEL right. They may not say the word "God", but they are in agreement with Scriptural principles. The two that come to mind are The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey and The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth by Scott Peck. Both have to do with how to find peace in everyday life, and how to find meaning in life.
The difference, I think, is that both take very moral approaches to it. You will never be happy or fulfilled, they say, if you violate moral standards. So you need to think in terms of right and wrong. I didn't get this impression from the book. What he was saying is find those moments when you feel strongest, when you feel everything coming together, and search after those moments. But what if those moments are when you're sitting in front of a slot machine? What if they're when you're with your lover? That's not exactly the recipe for a joyful life, is it? We need to weigh what we want to do in terms of whether or not it's right.
And the other thing that Covey really gets at is that we are called to be meaningful, not happy. And when we are meaningful, when we find our purpose, our lives are better. So he spends so much time talking about what you want to accomplish--not just in terms of what matches your personality (which is what this author says), but in terms of what values you want to see evidenced in your life. And you follow those values even if it means your life is a little more complex and difficult. Do you see the difference? It's starting with values (or God), and then coming to us. This book seems to start with us. So I don't get it. It just doesn't FEEL like a Christian book, regardless of the publisher.
One more thing. Perhaps the reason that women are becoming more unhappy, too, is that we are expecting too much out of life. We are expecting that it will be easy to meld a career and kids. We are expecting to experience happiness all the time, and we don't. And we blame others. But perhaps the problem is not our lives, but our expectations. We can find great joy being at home, and perhaps, if we as women celebrated it more in an honest way (without pretending that being home is always perfect), we would stop having these expectations that at all times we must have a powerful career and a home life and a stock portfolio. Being a mom is a wonderful thing. It is a privilege. You don't have to do it all. And that is a good thing.
Labels: purpose, social issues, working