Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Recommended: Botox For The Mind

Sometimes I read the Freakonomics blog. I've never read the Freakonomics book. I'd been sort of waiting for it to come out in paperback.

I just checked Amazon and they offer hardcover and "roughcut." WTF? As far as I can tell it's a hardcover with uneven pages. Why this is interesting or preferable I have no idea. Probably the authors would have something cute and pithy to say about it.

Anyway, over at the blog, Steven Levitt (the economist author) wrote about a study showing increased female unhappiness. He offered some thoughts for its causes, none of which really jumped out at me.

I posted my own brief reflection about female unhappiness from my own point of view, including this:

"It seems to me that the things that make me most happy are areas where my life overlaps with a kind of “guy’s life” — I have financial autonomy, great satisfaction in work achievements, enough money to go out to eat when I don’t feel like cooking, interesting colleagues to talk to, and total leisure time when I’m not working.

The things that make me most unhappy all have to do with being female. At 40 I already feel like I am “old” with respect to attractiveness. I have to seriously struggle to maintain an attractive weight, while my guy colleagues are snacking on doughnuts and relaxing with beer. For whatever reason, as a woman, I don’t feel at ease in the workplace. Things my guy colleagues take in stride– like interpersonal disagreements — weigh heavily on me. I feel if I am critical or demanding, I’ll be thought less of."

Thinking about it later, I noticed the strange relationship this bears to Levitt's (3), which says: women's lives have become more like men's lives; men have historically been less happy than women; so now women are less happy than they were.

It's not quite a contradiction, but it's some kind of odd fit.

Around the same time Levitt posted, I noted with interest a report on another study, claiming to show that women worry more because they are more likely than men to believe that "past experiences accurately forecast the future." (Actually the details suggest that women were simply more likely to attribute that belief to others, so I don't know what's up with that).

This is kind of funny. It's long been noted in philosophical studies of scientific reasoning that all of it is based on some kind of assumption that the future is going to be like the past. Otherwise you couldn't base any kind of general conclusion on information from a range of particular cases.

If the second study is right, it suggests you might worry less if you stopped assuming this. You might be dumber and less informed about the world -- even less able to draw inferences about what is going to happen. You might sign up for a variable-rate mortgage. You might tumble around, assuming everything will work out for the best. But you might be happier.

It's kind of a Botox for the mind. And just think: if you worried less, you wouldn't frown as often, and you wouldn't need Botox for real. Another problem solved!

In any case, I'm inclined to agree also with Levitt's (4), which says that self-reports of happiness are basically meaningless anyway. If I'm right in this post it doesn't matter, since we want what we want regardless of whether it will make us happy.


Captain Colossal said...

It's an oddly appealing idea: an unhappiness intrinsic in the life of the autonomous self-supporting adult. Appealing only to the extent that we think that most of life's pleasures come from exactly that mode of human life; it's a sort of mid-century world-weariness and urbanity.

Then there's this commenter:

"fewer people today are getting married

So if a woman isn’t married by 25, she’s got even less of a chance of finding anyone and having a family. So she can look forward to working for the next 40 years and retiring –alone. And we wonder why she’s unhappy?

— Posted by Mike Anderson"

Who strikes me as reason enough for unhappiness and self-consciousness among women.

Noko Marie said...

Many of the comments on the Freakonomics blogpost were weird. This topic brings out a lot of weird feelings. Sometimes reading things like this I get the impression that feminism is right in the middle of its development, rather than toward the end... there's a lot of stuff we're just still figuring out about how we're supposed to relate to one another in this new system. Not that that's a sad thought - it's nice to think things are in flux and could get better.

This reminds me (as almost everything does) of my favorite novel, Amazons: The Intimate Memoir of the First Woman in the NHL.

A man says to Cleo, the heroine, that women's increased intelligence and power is making men fearful and unhappy. And Cleo says, "I don't know what to say except we're not about to start getting any dumber."