When it comes to figuring out happiness and good habits, I don’t think it matters much if you’re a man or a woman.
It’s easy to assume that certain aspects of ourselves matter more than they do. For instance, birth order. People believe that birth order has a big influence on personality — but research has disproved this. Birth order just doesn’t matter for personality.
Now, whether you’re a man or a woman matters in some situations, sure.
But in general, in my observation, for any particular person, individual differences swamp gender differences.
In my experience, women, especially, often assume that they are the way they are because of being a woman. “I’m like this, and I’m like this because I’m a woman, and most women are like this.” But to me, it seems that this points to some aspect of their personality that’s not related to gender.
My first and very strong clue about this came when I was devising the Four Tendencies framework. I’d noticed that many women said to me, “Why is it that busy moms like us can’t take time for ourselves?”
And I’d think, well, I consider myself a busy mom, but I don’t have trouble taking care of myself. So why am I different?
Now I know: this feeling of “not being able to take time for myself” isn’t a female thing, it’s an Obliger thing. Obliger men feel this way, too, but they don’t ascribe it to gender.
Because of my strong conclusion that gender matters a lot less than people assume, I was fascinated to read the two pieces: Wired’s “Netflix’s Grand, Daring, Maybe Crazy Plan to Conquer the World” and Fortune‘s “Netflix Says Geography, Age, and Gender are ‘Garbage’ for Predicting Taste.”
When Netflix tries to figure out what will appeal to viewers, it ignores geography, age, and gender: “in general, the variation within any population group is much wider than the collective difference between any two groups.” So whether a person is a man or a woman isn’t useful information for Netflix, when they’re trying to understand their customers.
The fact is, people often make sweeping generalizations about what “women” and “men” are like — but research suggests that these assumptions aren’t correct. The article “Men Are from
Mars Earth, Women Are from Venus Earth,” summed up research done at the University of Rochester:
“From empathy to sexuality to science inclination to extroversion, statistical analysis of 122 different characteristics involving 13,301 individuals shows that men and women, by and large, do not fall into different groups. In other words, no matter how strange and inscrutable your partner may seem, their gender is probably only a small part of the problem.”
This wrong belief matters to happiness and habits, I think, because it means that people often misunderstand their own experience, and for that reason, can’t tackle a challenge in the most effective way.
If I think “I can’t take time for myself because I’m a woman,” I may not try to do anything about it. If I think “I can’t take time for myself because I’m an Obliger,” I may decide, “I need accountability to get myself to go to the gym, so I’d better sign up with a trainer/join a running group/take a class.”
More and more, I see that it’s very, very hard to appreciate how other people might see the world in a different way.
People often say things like, “Well, of course, sometimes all of us just need to throw all the rules out the window and just indulge ourselves.” “All teenagers rebel.” “If people would just read the report and understand the facts, they’d follow this program.” “No one wants someone looking over their shoulder all the time.” “It’s not healthy to be too rigid.” “If something’s important to you, you should be able to do it without any reminders.”
But these generalizations just aren’t universally true. They’re true for some people.
I think it’s much more helpful to say, “What kind of person am I? What’s true about me?” than think “We women struggle with…” or “We men always…” Because when we’re trying to understand ourselves, gender doesn’t provide a very helpful guide.
Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home and Better Than Before. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.
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