Are You Happy?

In yesterday’s New York Times, David Brooks writes the following and says it is true. 

“Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being. If you have a successful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy. If you have an unsuccessful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many career triumphs you record, you will remain significantly unfulfilled.”

Of course, this is an insane statement, when presented as it is as a rule. Mr. Brooks tries to back it up with silly data that proves nothing. When you talk about “personal well-being,” you are talking about lots of different “persons.” For some persons, career success is everything. They are happy with career success even if they like spinach more than their spouses. It is true. For some others, it is not true. Some people don’t care how they do at work; they just like to get paid. And some of these people, I’d venture to say, don’t put all their happiness eggs into the matrimonial basket. I bet there are persons, too, who fall into Brooks’ description, high-achieving workerpersons who are miserable because they don’t eat dinner with their mates.

Then, of course, there are people who don’t have “unsuccessful” marriages. They don’t have any marriages, like me and nine trillion other people. Is this better or worse? Will we be more or less “significantly unfulfilled?” Where do we fall out on the scale? What if we had an unsuccessful marriage and now don’t have an unsuccessful marriage? Were we incapable of deriving happiness from our careers then? Can we be blissful with work now that we have successful no-marriages? Is there a statute of limitations on the unsuccessfulness? 

Mr. Brooks has a funny smile. He doesn’t look very happy, though his bio says he is happily married and he has a career history that appears successful. Could it be that he doesn’t know how to smile? Or can’t curve up his lips on the end? What is making him not look happy? A poorly crafted op-ed piece, maybe? No, work can’t make you unhappy, if it can’t make you happy.

I don’t like people telling me what will make me happy or not happy. Next, they will tell me what bothers me. Silly op-ed pieces bother me.


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