It's Friday. This fact is supposed to make me smile. This fact is supposed to add a spring to my step. This fact is supposed to whet my appetite for impending weekend goodies: lazy mornings and picnics in the park and autumn sunshine.
And this particular weekend is a big one. This weekend I am meeting that virtual vixen from Vancouver, Danielle LaPorte of White Hot Truth fame, a wise woman who has mentored me with near-maternal affection. I am not only meeting her, but she will be sitting in my very favorite arm chair, the one the cats and kids have destroyed with claws and crayons. Yes, she will be in my living room, spouting her fountain of wisdom for myself and twenty other lucky souls. So. I am supposed to be happy. Elated. Pumped.
But I'm not exactly. No. Today is one of those slow, soggy, Sunday-esque creatures. I'm not sad. Just mentally sluggish and emotionally ragged. For no good reason. Over the years, I have taught myself how to wade through these odd moments of metaphysical mush by doing things. So here I am doing something. Hurling words at the hazy horizon of the blogosphere, hoping they land on laps of people who care or at least pretend to.
And the good thing is that I have a predetermined subject on Fridays, the Happy Headache (a.k.a. the untimely-given-this-recession-gut-reno of our new place) and just typing those explanatory words makes me feel guilty and spoiled because, well, I am knee-deep in the renovations of a beautiful new home where my family will spend many good days. And that is hardly a tragedy. And it is 10:10 in the morning on a fungible Friday and I am perched on a comfy chair at Starbucks typing away and telling you about it. (Translation: I should be happy. I should not be whining about enigmatic malaise. I should not be experiencing enigmatic malaise.)
But now. Something strikes me. Something becomes clear. Takes shape. Over the past week, I have devoured several articles about happiness. Because I am taking a Positive Psych course and because some of you have generously sent me recent articles on the topic. Maureen Dowd weighed in on the question du jour in her latest Op-Ed Blue Is the New Black. And that question is: Why are we women less happy than we used to be? Why this widespread feminine funk? In many respects, this trend is baffling. Today, thanks to feminism and the struggle of sisters, we women have unparalleled opportunities. We are not circumscribed to certain roles. We have choices.
Choice. That's it! And here is my theory, no doubt utterly, pathetically unoriginal: We are unhappy because of choice. Choice glitters from afar. It is theoretically majestic. But in practice, choice can be tricky. We often don't know what to do with it. I'm feeling this (and deeply) vis-a-vis the Happy Headache. I'm feeling this (and deeply) vis-a-vis my life. Marble or corian? Glass or stainless? Light or dark? Write or frolic or make a phone call? Rejoin the corporate world or continue to flail here in the quasi-literary realm? Should I take a cooking class?
Too much choice is like too much wine; delicious and dizzying and disorienting. And with choice comes the possibility of making the wrong choice. Because some choices are wrong. Sometimes, often, choice is paralyzing. Sometimes, often, we just want to be told what to do.
And yet. Choice is an amazing thing. Perhaps the most amazing thing. Choice is a gorgeous gift I would never return. A ruefully raw blank slate on which we can slap our idiosyncratic paint. Choice is what makes things interesting. Choice is what makes each of us different. Choice is what makes us us. I think Camus had it right when he said, "Life is the sum of all of your choices."
So, alas, a paradox. The very thing that makes life worth living, that makes life life, can also make life less happy. As Dowd notes, citing a HuffPost blogger, "Were happy to have our newfound abundance of choices... even if those choices end up making us unhappier." I told you my thoughts weren't original.
So. Why? Why am I a bit off today? Why am I spending my time allotted for the Happy Headache talking about happiness and headaches? I don't know. Maybe it's because I am building so many things at once (a family, a home, a blog, a book) and building entails choices and decisions and I'm worried about the choices and decisions I've made. And the ones I haven't made. Maybe it's because ambition is tethered so tightly to anxiety and these things are swallowing me whole.
Or maybe it's simpler than all this. Maybe it's because life is like peanut butter. Scrumptious and nutritious. But some days are smooth and some days are chunky. Maybe it's because today I'm feeling it. The heirloom hegemony of choice, hovering like a saccharine storm cloud above me, aching to burst.
I don't know. Is this a choice too? Do I choose not to know?
Now I will sign off and take Baby to her gymnastics class. I will hold her tiny hands as she steps across a rainbow trampoline. I will smile at the other mothers. I will search their eyes for that telltale gloomy gloss. I will comb their voices for the vicissitudes that shake me now; the uncertainty, the insecurity, those jagged jewels of choice on which we all choke sometimes.
Why do you think women are getting unhappier with time? Do you agree it has something to do with choice?