05 May 2008

The Fragility of Female Happiness

Maddie was giggling about something when I sat down.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“What’s up? It’s just a concept,” replied Bernard. “If we were in Australia, it would be a completely different direction.”
I stared at him, but he was not volunteering. “Maddie,” I asked. “Why are you laughing?”
“My brother here,” she said, touching Bernard on the shoulder, “thinks that he understands happiness.” She giggled again. “Tell him what you told me,” she said.
Bernard almost looked like he was pouting. “No.”
“Oh come on,” Maddie laughed. “Tell him.”
I could tell that Bernard was both pleased with what he was about to say and also felt more than a little inhibited because of Maddie’s reaction. His pride won out. “I was saying that happiness comes from alignment, a sense of integrity.” He began to motion, gesturing to his head and torso, “when your thoughts and feelings – your head, heart and gut – all line up, you feel happy. When you have conflict between those, you are not happy. It seems pretty simple,” he finished with a small thrust of his jaw and lower lip.
“Oh but it is,” says Maddie. “It is!”
“So why are you laughing, Maddie,” I asked.
“It makes sense to you, too, doesn’t it?” Maddie giggled again.
“Yeah,” I said hesitantly. “It does.”
“That is such a guy view of things. You consult yourself and determine if you are happy.”
“Well, yeah,” I said.
“That is so self contained, so self absorbed a view of the world. Your happiness comes from whatever is going on inside your skin.”
At this point I could begin to predict where she was going and I sat glumly, waiting for the indictment from her.
“Before a woman can be happy, she has to assess lots of people. Are the kids happy? Is my husband happy? My best friend? My sister or brother? My mom? A woman doesn’t know if she’s happy until she knows how the people she loves are doing."
“Men love too,” Bernard said, petulantly.
“Love? Really? Until your happiness is mixed up with the happiness of other people, Bernard, you don’t really love them.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s possible for you to feel happy even when your wife is feeling punk?”
“Yes,” Bernard said hesitantly. “Well, my ex-wives, I mean.”
“Ex-,” Maddie said. “Of course they are.”
Bernard stared at the wall. “So this is why women hate men?
“Because we love you?” Maddie said. “Yes.”
“If that is true,” I asked, about three points behind, “then how are women ever happy? I mean, if everyone in their network has to be happy first?”
“Female happiness is a fragile thing,” Maddie said. This time she was not laughing. She looked wistful. "Happiness for a woman comes from a web. A broken strand can ruin it.”
“Well, why don’t you adopt my philosophy,” inquired Bernard, obviously pleased that he could offer a solution. “It would make things simpler, no?”
“Why don’t I think like a man?” Maddie inquired. “Sure, Bernard. I’ll do that. And why don’t you grow wings?” And with that she began to giggle again, making me wonder if female happiness was so fragile then why was she the only one of us who did not look glum.


Gypsy at Heart said...

Actually... and maybe this is a sign that I'm not as female minded as I believe myself to be... I agree 100% with Bernard's take on what guarantees happiness. It IS an alignment of the head, heart and gut (sometimes I confuse the last two) and when something in that chakra of feeling is out of whack, you can bet that so is my happiness.

On a second read though, I don't see how Bernard and Maddie are not on the same page - they are saying basically the same thing. How MY people are doing affects my everything. I suppose that'd be the head, definitely the heart and most assuredly the gut.

cce said...

There is a popular notion that, "once you are a mother you are only as happy as your least happy child," which is to say that worrying after other people, particularly your children, colors your world view. And,once a mother always a mother, so the worry is persistent. Soooo, I guess I agree with both Maddie AND Bernard. If head, gut and heart are all in sync AND one's children, siblings, parents and friends are all in a good place, then a person can be entirely and truly happy. Now I'm starting to understand why nearly half the country is on psycho- pharmaceuticals. This happiness stuff is entirely too complex.

nunya said...

Sorry dude, I'm going with Bernard on this one.

Jennifer H said...

Happiness is an elusive concept. And the pursuit of it, overrated (I think). It's an accident. You feel it when you feel it, but I'm not sure there's much sense in striving for it.

I can feel happy sitting with my child, having a funny or sweet moment, even though there are other people in my life who might not be so at ease right then. So maybe, like Milena, I'm not as female in my thinking as some.

Big Al said...

Hmmm . . . I think I fit somewhere in the middle: My "being" has to be happy coupled with family happiness. I can be having a terrific day zipping down the highway of life but, upon seeing a loved one on the side of the road with emergency flashers on, I'll immediately delay my journey by pulling over to help out so they can rejoin the happiness highway. And as I always tell our 3 teenage sons: "Boys, when mom's happy, we're ALL happy."

Anonymous said...

I agree that it is not either/or. Women have both the inner alignment and the web model of happiness. Happiness just may be a more complex concept for women than men.
A web may look fragile, but it is actually terrifically strong. The interconnectivity is what makes it that way. Webs of happiness need to be maintained, nurtured, and mended; that is a given... which in its self, is not an unhappy situation for most women.