In 1993 veteran Australian self-help guru Michael Rowland published a book titled Absolute Happiness, a hopelessly bloated tome of platitudes that meandered in circles without giving any real practical advice. Nevertheless, it sold very well; people want to get as much of this happiness stuff as they can. The idea was that our natural state was to be happy all of the time. Apart from the nonsensical fact that such a state would render happiness itself moot, only drug addicts and lunatics could accept such a premise at face value.
Rowland was quite literally besieged by eager acolytes desperate to attend his courses that accompanied the book, proving that there were far more lunatics around than even he gave credit for. The vast majority of them were women. I know because I worked for him. The men who attended were either there by order from their wives or mothers or they were young hippy boys who fancied a life of blissful happiness without the yuckiness of shooting heroin into their veins.
But it really was a female thing, and a female thing of a certain age and station in life.
Nowadays the cult of happiness is known as self esteem. It’s the same thing but in a different package. Self esteem implies that a woman is not just happy but she is happy due to her ingrained awesomeness, which is thus a virtue. You go girl! That’s a lot of pressure for women to shoulder, being happy all the time and being awesome as well as virtuous. Something’s gotta give.
I have written about this happiness plague before, almost 2 years ago to be precise. What did I have to say then about it?
What we see in Western marriages is the common predicament of one half of the marriage cutting and running as soon as they encounter any real problem. If you are taught to believe that you need to be happy all the time, and if you find yourself in a period in your marriage where you are unhappy, and if there exists fault free divorce, why the answer is clear – change your partner and get your happiness back with your new “love of your life.”
Aww geez …
My manosphere comrade in arms Dalrock wrote a post yesterday dedicated to my current predicament – Whose job is it to keep mama happy?
Like Heidi’s chaplain friend, Dr. David Clarke at Focus on the Family (FotF) explains that women being discontented in marriage and men being happy is a sign that God made women better at marriage than men. According to Clarke a wife’s discontentment isn’t something she needs to overcome, it is a virtue, and proof that she is better at marriage than her clueless husband.
If happiness is our supposed natural state, and if we believe the claim that women are inherently virtuous as a result of their happiness, then that doesn’t give the man of the house much of a chance when she feels her happiness points beginning to slip away.
In my initial post the day after the wife walked out I shouldered some of the responsibility with the claim that I failed to keep her. What does Dalrock think of that?
But in this case he is mistaken. If it were true that husbands are responsible not only for upholding their own vows, but also for making sure their wives always wanted to uphold their vows, then marriage vows would be a profoundly foolish thing. They are not foolish, but there is no denying that they would be foolish if you accept conventional wisdom, including the teaching of modern Christian leaders like Heidi’s chaplain friend, FotF, FamilyLife, and Pastors Dave and Doug Wilson. If a man doesn’t believe in biblical marriage, then not only does marriage have no moral meaning, but the very idea of marriage is downright absurd.
Ironically Adam uses a phrase that echoes how we used to understand the issue in the past. He says “the truth is that I failed to keep her”. In the past we (especially women) would say she can’t keep a man of a woman who wasn’t able to marry and stay married. This was a brilliant term, because while on the surface it was technically misstating the issue, it accurately captured the fundamental problem as well as pointed to the solution. Discontentment tends to come from a lack of thankfulness, and this is true in men and women. But this is true in a specific way for women when it comes to feelings of sexual attraction and romantic love. Women who fear they are going to lose the best man they can get tend to automatically become attracted to him. As Heartiste puts it, female tingles are born in a defensive crouch. Even if the woman the phrase was used to describe wasn’t able to straighten out her own course, other women on the road to discontentment would hear the term and see the larger truth that such women aren’t typically trading up, and especially in the long run tend to fare very badly compared to what they foolishly discarded. This fear of losing what she had both helped her be generally thankful for the good man she was tempted to discard, as well as tended to cause her to feel greater sexual attraction to him.
As good as that is, the next passage really struck a nerve with me.
Telling a woman she can’t keep a man simultaneously acknowledges that something is broken in her and helps her work on fixing that problem!
My wife accused me of breaking something in her. This really hurt me at the time. What had I broken, how had I done so, and even more importantly, why would I do such a thing? There were no answers available; the accusation was inherently nebulous. I was just bad.
The fact is that happiness is not our default state and self esteem is just another term for narcissism. If you can catch moments of happiness in your life then that’s wonderful. Acknowledge them and then let them go. But searching for happiness as a default state of being is simple lunacy. In affect you’re no better than a drug addict.
Fixing the problem is the other big point here. If you’re unhappy then only you can address that problem. No other person can make you happy. Declaring to your spouse that you’re unhappy and then somehow expecting that they come up with a solution is bizarre. Almost as bad is declaring to someone that you’re happy when they’re happy. The enormous problem here is the amount of pressure this puts on the other person. Apart from their own fleeting happiness they have to operate under the knowledge that your happiness will also take a dive if they stumble. It’s an incredibly selfish and immature thing to say.
(I want to add a caveat here – these posts are not about public therapy for my own circumstances. As this blog is for men, a direct and dramatic issue such as this is a real opportunity to help other men avoid the same mistakes.)
Michael Rowland’s time as a self-help guru came and went. The techniques that he tried to teach to embed this constant state of happiness were too challenging and required too much effort on the part of the layman. The women who attended his courses were simply there to achieve a temporary emotional high through the inspiration from being around other people who were on the same journey.
Nowadays we have social media, power careers, and the Church for that.