More Choices = Unhappiness?

This past weekend one of the Op-Ed pieces in The NY Times caught my eye. […]

Sean Norris / 9.22.09

This past weekend one of the Op-Ed pieces in The NY Times caught my eye. Maureen Dowd’s column, entitled “Blue Is the New Black”, focused on the trend that women have grown unhappier since the 1970s. She cites “the General Social Survey, which has tracked Americans’ mood since 1972, and five other major studies around the world, [which show] women are getting gloomier and men are getting happier.”

What I found most interesting was the general conclusion about why this is happening. Women have more choice than ever before and, as a result, are now subject to more potential “law”. Dowd writes:

Marcus Buckingham, a former Gallup researcher who has a new book out called “Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently,” writes in his new blog on The Huffington Post, “Though women begin their lives more fulfilled than men, as they age, they gradually become less happy,” pointing out that this darker view covers feelings about marriage, money and material goods.

Buckingham and other experts dispute the idea that the variance in happiness is caused by women carrying a bigger burden of work at home, the “second shift.” They say that while women still do more cooking, cleaning and child-caring, the trend lines are moving toward more parity, which should make them less stressed.

Dowd sums up her column by citing Betsey Stevenson, an assistant professor at Wharton who co-wrote a paper called “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.”

Stevenson looks on the bright side of the dark trend, suggesting that happiness is beside the point. We’re happy to have our newfound abundance of choices, she said, even if those choices end up making us unhappier.

When women stepped into male- dominated realms, they put more demands — and stress — on themselves. If they once judged themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, gardens and dinner parties, now they judge themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, gardens, dinner parties — and grad school, work, office deadlines and meshing a two-career marriage.

“Choice is inherently stressful,” Buckingham said in an interview. “And women are being driven to distraction.”

via Orin Zebest @ flickr

The irony of this is that we humans will claw tooth and nail to defend our ability to choose, believing that having a choice is the key to our freedom. But the evidence presented in this column argues the opposite. Choice does not make one free (or at least happy), especially choice that exists under a world of standards. For our choices to be free they have to be made outside of the realm of judgment, outside of the Law, but as women are apparently discovering more than ever, they are not. Our choices, because we live under the Law, only increase the potential for comparison, judgment, and condemnation. More choice creates more burden.

A paradox, indeed.

Is there hope? Thankfully, Christianity is not about setting us free from not having choices, but rather about setting us free from the sin that binds all of our choices under the judgment of the Law. For sin, seizing the opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. – Romans 7:11

But because of the cross of Christ we have this promise: For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. – Romans 6:14

Oh, and in case you think I am saying that only women are suffering under the burden of choice: