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What "When" makes are you happy?

Howdy, folks. New day, new topic.

Thanks for weighing in on yesterday's post about workplace favoritism though. We had record traffic in the hallways of Burnettiquette.

Anyway, moving right along, I've been reading parts of a study on happiness from the University of Chicago.

The study looks at 47,000 people, presumably an equal split of men and women, since the focus of the study was whether and when men are happier than women, or women than men.

In a nut shell, the results of the study are that in their 20s, women are typically happier than men. The study's authors say that revelation seems to be tied to the facts that younger men in their 20s tend to have "weak" love lives and pretty crummy first jobs. I agree those two things are enough to make any guy miserable.

However, the study said that into the late 40s the happiness gap closes steadily between men and women. By the late 40s the gap has essentially closed. And older than that men are significantly happier than women.

I can't speak to the older elements of this study, but I like to think I was pretty happy in my early 20s. I had a pretty good job - completely earned if any of my detractors from yesterday are reading, I was in college, I was healthy and had a pretty good physique back then, even if I do say so myself, and I had a few nice girlfriends.

If we're being totally honest though, I admit I was bummed out sometimes that I wasn't better with the ladies back then. In fact, I was terrible! In retrospect, I'm surprised I ever got a date before I turned 25. So that part of the study I believe. But while I was sometimes disappointed with my job back then, it wasn't 'cause I had a bad job. It was because I had a tough, sometimes physically grueling job that often left me tired nearly to the point of tears when I got off work at 7 a.m. and headed to my first college classes of the day. So I think I'm gonna disagree with the job happiness element of the study.

Having studied my folks (married nearly 40 years) and other "successful" couples over the years, I'm gonna take a "wild" leap and speculate on how and why the happiness gap closes between the sexes beyond the 20s: I'll bet there's a direct correlation between men and women in increasing and lowering rates of happiness, respectively, and men and women who are in long-term relationships like marriage, as they age.

I'll bet that there is more happiness parity between men and women who remain single as they inch toward their later years.

My logic is that single people, regardless of age, can spend more of their energy on satisfying themselves. And when people get married or settle down together it seems they sacrifice some of their own happiness for the sake of their partner's happiness and for the sake of compromise - for the happiness of the relationship. I'm not saying they sacrifice grudgingly. I'm sure it's often willing. But everything I've ever read about traditional relationships between men and women suggests that women tend to sacrifice more for their men's happiness than the other way around - giving up things like career dreams to make sure their guy reaches his career goals, taking the lead on raising and nurturing the kids, etc.

I know my mom's happy. But I know she's devoted a lot of her time to making sure my dad, and my sister and I were happy. So inevitably she's focused less of her attention on her own happiness. Then again, maybe doing for us is what's made her happy over the years. And I'm confident Mrs. B is happy, but I know she's sacrificed in order to help me advance my career.

CBS News reporter Cynthia Bowers has an interesting take on this, in which she touches on the family-raising element, and the all-around stress of aging itself.

So what say you? Am I all wet here, or does my theory make sense?

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properlyreal

fan of your work always - - keep up the good work and doing what you do

insomniac

your theory does make sense, but we guys have to be conscious of the declining happiness of our partners and do something to make them happier or show we care and not take them for granted. for instance ms insomniac was very appreciative of me getting up last weekend and starting the washing machine without being asked. of course wanting everything running smoothly and happily in time for me to watch the all blacks smash the wallabies at 5.30 had nothing to do with it.

Sharon

Y'know, James, sometimes I wonder about the definition of 'happiness'. Cos these days it seems to be 'doing what I want to do all the time', which seems, to me, to be a very selfish & toddler-like definition. Kinda "I will do what I want to do or I'll holler & scream, or sulk, & make myself thoroughly miserable, & you too, possibly."

Sometimes the greatest happiness comes from thinking of & doing things for other people & making them happy. Particularly if you don't then expect them to either notice a lot or thank you very much.

og

I think "are you happy" is less important than "do you have any idea what happiness is?"

Most people have no idea. Hint: It doesn't have anything to do with your bank account, or the size of your house/boat/car. You can spend all your energy (and cash) pursuing happiness, but it will probably elude you. When the conditions are right, happiness comes to you. I think love is much the same. Money will get you diversion, and lust, but not happiness, or love.

The CEO

A lot of folks have already hit the research issue of defining 'happiness' so I'll go after a different issue. Most of the older folks that I know get a lot of happiness from their families. Older couples really have a relationship that has evolved based on companionship more than any other single thing. It's difficult to make sweeping statements from these studies, although you are really getting good at narrowing things down in your conclusions. You could have a second carreer in research with some more statistics after you're through as a TV star in Miami!

Julie B

James, I love your column, but I think you're way off base this time. My happiest years were those when I was making the most extreme sacrifices for my children, when they were small and depended on me completely. Now that they are teenagers, and rely on me less and less, I feel some loss of purpose. While I am very proud of them, it's sort of a bittersweet feeling. My theory is that true happiness comes from feeling that you are important in someone's life.

James B.

ProperlyReal, thanks for the confidence. I need that sometimes.

Insomniac, you're good. I need to talk to you more to take notes. Three years married, and I still haven't come close to mastering the art of give and take!

Sharon, you sound like my mother. Well said.

Og, very eloquently written.

Monty, why do I get the feeling you're teasing me? Kidding. But seriously, I appreciate the compliment on the focus of my opinions. I try daily to make them sharper. Second, your logic makes sense to me on this. But third, I'm not TV star, not even close. I'm a schmuck who gets to rant on local TV once a week. I'm a writer first and always.

Julie B., thanks for weighing in. I didn't expect total agreement. Like I said, my theory was just that, 'cause I don't have any real life experience as an "older" man. I only have observations of other people as they've aged. But I get completely what you're saying. It's the same answer my mother gives to describe the reason for her constant happiness. She lives to serve and see other folks happy. I hope I can be more like her...and my dad as time passes. She'd like your comment. And I'm not saying that to butter you up. I mean it.

Sharon

James, now don't you just know your Mom is Right!

Some Cranky Guy

Nice article. I wonder how researchers define happiness in the first place?

I am happier now in my 50's than any other time in my life. But it took me 50 years to realize that happiness is my personal responsibility. Not my spouse. Not my employer. Not society and not God. Happiness is my responsibility, and most times, a personal decision.

SCG

The CEO

I would never really mock you, James, seriously. I could see you doing features on TV in Miami, just like the piece on high performance cars that you did. TV features. Or opinion pieces, extensions of what you're doing now, in a different medium. Your features work for the Herald, why not on TV?

We all complain that the news tries to outdo itself with blood and gore all the time. Why not some positive human interest? A little positive reinforcement as opposed to aversive in-your-face brutality?

If you want to know what sticks in my head, it's the story you did here about how your wife researched rescue shelters in search of a new dog, and what you both learned, and how you ended up with your new dog, and why. Isn't that a feature for the Herald? Or a local TV station?

Yeah, I wasn't kidding.

James B.

Sharon, I know she's right. I just didn't start admitting that till I "grew up."

SCG, I like that: happiness is a personal "decision." I'm gonna remember that.

Monty, I know you weren't mocking me. I was just giving you grief. Hope your back is better, by the way. And thank you for the compliments. I'm really working on polishing my TV "style," for lack of a better way to put it. Who knows? Maybe it'll blossom to something big. Maybe it'll fizzle. We'll have to wait and see...hopefully not too much longer.

Pamela

I think the reason young women aren't so concerned about their jobs (etc) is that there still is inside of us that idea that a handsome prince will save us from ourselves if we fail.
I'm sure that will cause a lot of flack -- being an older woman and all... I may be thinking back to when I was young.

Getting older does make one unhappy (women) about the unfortunate changes in your body.
Men experience it, but to a much lesser degree.

Deloris Burnett

James,
Yes, I am very happy. There is only one thing more that you could do that would make me happier and I'm sure you know what that is. Keep up the good work, I love you.

Mom

James,
Yes, I am very happy. There is only one thing more that you could do that would make me happier and I'm sure you know what that is. Keep up the good work, I love you.

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