The past couple of days, I’ve been in a really pissy mood. So has my daughter. I wonder if those are related somehow.
At any rate, I realize that when I’m feeling irritable, I mentally tag that as Something To Change. If I weren’t doing something wrong, I wouldn’t feel irritable, right? And then I go about dissecting every part of my life—diet, interpersonal interactions, time spent on the computer, books I’m reading, activity level, etc—to try and figure out the Something to Change so I’m no longer irritable. Despite the fact that this never works to improve my mood.
I’ve been reading Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness by Ariel Gore. I’m only about a third through it, so perhaps it veers off in some unforeseen direction, but so far it seems to be about how there’s a cultural expectation in the US for everyone to be happy (or at least to act happy), and the responsibility for this happiness largely falls on the shoulders of women. “A pretty girl is a girl with a smile on her face,” Gore’s grandfather told her. “A smile always makes everyone feel at ease.” Whether a woman is happy or not, Gore asserts, our culture encourages her to smile so that those around her feel better. Suppressing our true emotions and showing only happiness is a recipe for depression, which is part of why women have higher rates of depression than men (along with doctors’ expectation that women should be smiling more than men, which leads doctors to diagnose women with depression more often than men with the same symptoms). People from other countries, especially Europeans, aren’t as cheerful as Americans, says Gore, and Americans haven’t always been as cheerful as we are today.
I’m not sure if I agree with all of her conclusions, but Gore has got me thinking about happiness and about what it is I should be striving for. Is it realistic that my goal should be to never feel irritable? Or, more to the point since the thing that really disappoints me is when I snap at my loved ones, is it realistic to aim for never expressing my irritability? Is a “happy person” never irritable? What percentage of the time is a happy person happy? If it’s less than 100%, what are they feeling the rest of the time? Would I be fine with my current level of happiness if I were in another culture? Could I be just fine being my regular old tacitrun self if I moved to Europe? Do Europeans do Happiness Projects?
In addition, I wonder how a Happiness Project fits in with my ideas of feminism. I realize reading Gore’s book that I hold in high esteem the image of the uncomplaining wife and mother. She’s a woman who keeps a neat house, feeds her family nutritious foods, and gently but firmly molds her children into responsible adults, all while exuding elegance and ease. Where does this image come from? And why do I still want so badly to live up to it even as my conscious mind rails against it? Perhaps it’s just because I don’t have a clear and appealing alternative to Donna Reed or June Cleaver.
I seem to recall feeling out of sorts and full of questions and doubt the first week or two of practicing mindfulness. Perhaps this is just the disequilibrium that necessarily follows the implementation of changes in my routine and precedes increased understanding. If only I were better at observing my reactions with detachment. I have the feeling that would decrease the odds of my having a big old whiny freakout while I’m waiting for whatever insights are coming.