When Happiness Is The Goal

Growing up in the 60s, I remember the rhetoric of the so-called Feminist Movement. It was clear to me these second-wave feminists indulged bitter grievances and disdain against what they perceived to be a monolithic, obdurate patriarchy (Public Enemy #1).

When Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, released in 1963, it showed up on the New York Times bestseller list (less than six weeks). I was still in junior high at the time, so Happiness Is a Warm Puppy by Charles M. Schulz (32 weeks on the NYT bestseller list) and Morris L. West’s The Shoes of the Fisherman (44 weeks on the NYT bestseller list) held greater interest for me — and likely for most of the people in my mid-western community.

By the late 60s, Friedan’s book had gained some traction in the Bible-belt mid-west and south. That’s not to say we bought the premise. (I thought it would have been more appropriately titled The FeMENine Mystique. In fact, I’d always intended to write that book, until I realized the title said it all:  discontented women blaming their unhappiness on men, while attempting to supplant and become the men they detest.)

Much of my perspective on feminine (not feminist) ideology is the result of a strong role model, my mother (previous posts about her here, and here). From the time she married my dad in 1946, Mom relished being wife, mother and homemaker. Educated in boarding school, she’s enjoyed a lifelong pursuit of personal enrichment. The notion of being “unfulfilled” was (and remains) foolishness to her. Wallowing in self-pity or unhappiness due to the purported boredom of being a “housewife”? Nah, she was too busy for such nonsense.

Whether any of my mother’s neighborhood contemporaries were plagued by the Friedan-defined feminine mystique, Mom didn’t fall into that trap … and I’m so grateful. I recall many times walking up the lane from the school bus stop and consciously saying a prayer of thanksgiving because I knew — just inside the door at home — my mother, an active and fulfilled homemaker, would be there to greet me.

Observing the feminist follies through the years, I’ve come to understand Friedan’s book was likely more autobiographical than she may have intended.  Before she undertook the “study” upon which her book was based, biographic sketches cede Friedan felt aggrieved, isolated and restless. Is it any surprise she’d gravitate towards Smith College peers who experienced similar feelings? (Sounds like a thesis in search of supporting data.)

Given Friedan’s degree in psychology, she naturally latched onto Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to explain her restlessness. People who experience unhappiness, dissatisfaction in their daily lives, bitterness due to life’s disappointments? Well, sadly, they simply haven’t developed to the point of self-actualization.

I’m not a proponent of Maslow. Like happiness, seeking after self-actualization seems a destination fraught with pitfalls and frustration, chief among them the deification of “self.” I prefer a different path, summed up in Isaiah 26:3, which states, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

Renée