Rethinking Healthcare

Health and the happiness gap

Health and the happiness gap

Posting in Healthcare

If current happiness trends keep up the "life expectancy gap" between the sexes (currently 5-7 years) may completely disappear. The happiness gap is all about appearances. If you don't mind, it don't matter.

Taking off from a piece her colleague David Leonhardt did two years ago, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd this week re-launched an ongoing debate over the relative happiness of men and women.

This actually has a big impact on health. (Picture from the Celebrations Banquet Facility, Ithaca, New York.)

As I wrote here last month, people tend to get happier as they age, and keeping anger bottled up inside you can be deadly.

If current happiness trends keep up the "life expectancy gap" between the sexes (currently 5-7 years) may completely disappear.

The "happiness gap" emerged in 2007 from a Princeton survey and a literature review at the University of Pennsylvania. Leonhardt interviewed the researchers, and what he learned was that women tend to be harder on themselves.

This can be seen in our attitudes toward common situations.

Men enjoy being with their parents. We get to watch the game. Women find it a chore. They think they have to parent the parents. Men love being star athletes, they accept the adulation. Women agonize over it, thinking they must be perfect in every other way, too.

A humorous list by Dave's Daily of why men are happier than women says more than it pretends to. Men don't fret about their looks or relationships the way women do, he writes. "The garage is all ours," is one entry. "The world is our urinal," is another.

The happiness gap, in other words, is all about appearances. If you don't mind, it don't matter.

At The Huffington Post Marcus Buckingham writes women have become increasingly unhappy over the last 40 years. Joan Williams says it's because the world still discriminates against women. Responds Buckingham, "What we do know for certain is that women are harder on themselves than men."

One very happy woman I know has taken this advice to heart.

There are things she cares about, and things she doesn't. She cares about results, and as for appearances, she limits her field of who matters. Her family matters. Her boss matters. Everyone else -- pffft.

She once explained her feelings this way. "I want to be the one who when people visit ask 'when was the last time she cleaned,' rather than asking 'does she ever clean.'"

The key isn't whether you care, but limiting who can impact your view of yourself to only those people who really matter. Once you take care of yourself in this way you can accept yourself and then think about the problems of the world with a clearer conscience.

Letting go of what people who don't matter think works. Even if it doesn't get you a longer lifespan, this advice should get you a happier one.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure