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what gets in the way of your happiness?

When I was in college, my roommate Marla stressed about finding a major exclaimed in frustration; “I wish we were back in the old days of women just having to choose if they wanted to be a nurse or a teacher! There are just too many options!”  At the time, I chided her for not embracing the myriad of options women have available now more than any other point in history.  Yet, as I read the chapter in Find Your Strongest Life entitled “Of Choice and Men” Marla’s comment came to mind.  In his research to learn what helps women to feel strong and successful, Buckingham learned the following- I’m quoting from a few of the highlights on page 45 if you have a copy of the book:

1. Over the last forty years women have gained more opportunities and more responsibilities. Very few if any, have been relinquished. Consequently, your greatest challenge in life is to make wise choices.
2. More choice doesn’t correlate to more happiness. More choice can in fact, add to your levels of stress and make your life harder.

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3. In developed countries, women and men work the same number of hours. (Women’s increasing levels of stress seem to be caused less by the actual number of hours worked, than by the sheer variety of what needs to happen within those hours)

To these observations I say, “preach it Marcus!” When I was at Wheaton taking a class this past December, I had lunch with some classmates and the department chair of the Intercultural studies, a woman named Evvy Campbell. I asked her what it was like as a woman leading in a high capacity role like department head. I immediately felt embarrassed I had called attention to her gender (do you ever feel like it’s taboo to point out gender? Especially for women?) She talked about how God had called her to the role & that Wheaton had been a great place to develop as a leader. Then with a wink and a nod she said, “I do my work here as department head & then go home to vacuum the floors & do the dishes too! That’s what it’s like being a female department head.”

oh Angelina, you make it look so easy and glamorous!

This is exactly the kind of thing Marcus is writing about- though we may have more responsibilities and opportunities, all of the same ones (like vacuuming the floors, and helping to assemble the school project, and exercising, and cooking healthy meals) remain. His premise is that women feel stressed because during the course of one day we feel pressure to be “Martha Stewart, Michelle Obama, Katie Couric and Meg Whitman and Angelina Jolie and Danica Patrick, all rolled into one unattainable package.” It isn’t that there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything, it’s that there are too many things going on to focus well on any one of them.

He’s got some great suggestions later in the book about how to deal with this, but it made me stop and reflect how I try to do this as well. It does feel great when you can fully give yourself to the attention of making dinner, reading your child a bedtime story, composing that difficult email, or cracking out a few hours of studying….without thinking about them all simultaneously. I am totally guilty of this!

Dave and I have tried to make some rules to help us stay focused on being present to what we’re currently doing- we don’t check our computers/email/facebook before breakfast. I know that might seem silly, but when you’re focused on everything at once, it’s tempting to crack some eggs, check an email while the toast is toasting and reply to the email while you’re waiting for coffee to brew.  In the mean time, you’re missing out with time to connect with others, settle into the day and be present to nourishing your body and relationships.  Even making this one rule for our family has helped me to realize- whatever is in my inbox can wait! My family is more important than my iPhone! Eggs are delicious! And I have felt less stressed because we’re not letting technology invade that time as a family. It helps me remember that the people I’m with at that moment are more important for the 30 minutes of breakfast than the people who are waiting for my replies to emails.

What are some thing that you feel like is getting in the way of your happiness? Any ways that you’ve simplified your life to stop unhealthy multi-tasking? How has it affected you? What do you agree/disagree with about Marcus’ findings?


  • grace

    The choice thing has really helped me a lot in the past year. …. somewhere along the way in my Sabby I learned about the power of having fewer choices and committing to the ones youv’e made. I remember hearing an interesting story about how those in 3rd world countries are completely happy with having JUST Coke products and never even consider what it would be like to have Diet Coke, let alone Pepsi, Sprite, Faygo, etc. etc. It’s also helped as I consider my choice to do 20 hrs. of staff work as opposed to 40 and also in marriage, i.e. “I chose Dave, he is my choice, this is my one choice, I have no other choice, I am happy with my choice, this is the best choice I’ve ever made, I love this choice!”

    sounds like a great book, I should make the CHOICE to read it…. eventually. 🙂

  • Lisa

    I completely agree with point #1 and have thought about it often.

    I struggle with stress and anxiety when I feel the boundaries I have set up being pushed in by people and expectations (some in my control and some not). I have to remind myself all the time to speak up and not freak out. The ironic part is that if a male colleague wanted to say that they could not commit to something they might be more likely to just say it, whereas I start to have an inward and sometimes outward panic attack (all revolving around the pressures of point #1 that I feel). Even today something came up about my new staff assignment and I had to force my self to calm down, speak up about my needs, and wait out the situation, but it’s really a pressure point for me.

  • bseversen

    With two years to go before all my kids are out the door I’ve been considering my options and I find Marcus has a bead on my outlook. I find myself counting the years between now and say retiring or now and grandchildren and they’re no longer endless. Their brevity frightens me. I feel the pressure to make an exact and perfect choice because time is running out. Being a “Jack of all trades” and never specializing in anything also contributes to my anxiety. How will I ever narrow the field? I was caught off guard for I assumed when I was free to pursue a vocation that the message back in the day, “you can be anything you want to be,” still rang true. And I never considered age would be a factor. I guess I believed I was the exception, that I could land any job just by being fresh, sassy and cute. But the cute wondered away while I was busy, busy running carpools and checking homework and I find middle age doesn’t go over well on either applications or interviews. Now I’m trying to overlay God’s sovereignty and truth on my experience and feelings and trust He will lead with clarity and make a way where there seems none. “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” –Ps. 94:19

    • Jessica

      beth- who are you kidding? you’re still totally cute! In fact that was the adjective that came to mind the first time I met you! And yes- God does have a plan for your future that doesn’t rest on your dainty shoulders alone.

  • bseversen

    Jess–Can you help me zip up my self esteem every morning? Thanks for the support. Two items on today’s agenda related to your post. I have my SIMA interview this afternoon to determine my future role with InterVarsity. And I’m working on my first campus evangelistic talk in 15 years to give next Wednesday at JCCC. Wished I could have been a member of the G Comm corhort last summer. I’d love to hear if anyone else is using the + – notebook Marcus suggested. I started the exercise this week. I’d love your prayers and input for the SIMA and talk!

  • April

    Question: why don’t men feel overwhelmed by all the choices? They have just as many as us, I would think.
    Like Beth, I too struggle with being a Jane-of-all-Trades. Useful for running a household, but not special when applying for a job. Though you’d think it would be.
    This year I’ve actually decided to NOT try to do it all, and to only focus on a few things, to see if I can do them even better when I don’t have so many pots on the stove. It feels quite liberating.

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