Thursday, 10 July 2008

Happiness and self-control

Dennis Prager is a Jewish columnist who writes on several topics. Some of his recurring interests include:
  • The superiority of the Judeo-Christian ethic
  • The immorality of the (politically) left
  • Happiness
He has written a book on this last one.

In a recent commentary Prager talks about why he thinks so many (Western) women are depressed.
Societies and parents also always knew that it was imperative to teach girls to control their natures – in particular their predilection to be ruled by their emotions. Women who allowed their emotions to rule them not only became destructive (to members of their families first and foremost), they became unhappy women.

However, with the advent of contemporary feminism and other social trends that coincided with the rise of feminism – among them the elevation of compassion over standards, the great emphasis placed on feelings, the rejection of patriarchy and the devaluation of traditional masculine virtues (like subdued emotional expression) – female nature came to be seen as far less in need of discipline than male nature.

So, while society continued to teach boys to control themselves, it stopped teaching girls to do so. Girls' emotions and feelings were inherently valuable. And denying this was attacked as sexist, if not misogynistic.

Consequently, the women many of these girls grew into lacked the ability to control their natures, to control their emotions or their moods, and therefore lacked the facility to engage in the self-control necessary for happiness and the avoidance of depression.
I don't know if this is true but it seems somewhat reasonable on the face of it. I know that males (in general) deal more with aggression and that control of this aggression is important, though focusing it to do good is legitimate. It seems that focusing is now frowned upon and it should be suppressed rather than controlled. I do not think society sees an uncontrolled emotional disposition as a vice (which it is). Rather that emotions are and the expectation that other people submit emotion to the will is now the vice.

In an earlier article on the same topic Prager said,
As I wrote in my book on happiness ("Happiness Is a Serious Problem," HarperCollins), much unhappiness comes from having expectations. When our expectations are not fulfilled – and most are not – we can become unhappy and even bitter. And when our expectations are fulfilled, we are no happier because fulfilled expectations undermine gratitude (we are not grateful when we get what assume we will get), and gratitude is indispensable to happiness.

Feminism raised women's expectations beyond what life can deliver to the vast majority of them. It was hard enough for women in the past to realize their far fewer expectations of marrying a good man and making a happy family. But feminism told a generation of women that they can not only expect to have that but, perhaps even more important to feminism, they could also expect to have a fulfilling, financially rewarding, society-honoring career.
On a more fundamental level, the issue is what philosophy we subscribe to and does that philosophy reflect reality. I think the self-expectations one has of reality is important. False expectations can lead to disappointment. We live in a fallen world so even having true expectations can lead to disappointment. But better to think rightly about the world and deal with the issues as they come. Thinking wrongly may lead to more unhappiness for you because the world fails to be how you want it to be or it may lead to wrong behaviour which may create unhappiness for you or for others.

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