never married, over forty, a little bitter

sick days

This kind of thing makes me weep:

In 2000, the Dutch parliament passed the Working Hours Adjustment Act, perhaps the most important piece of time-balance legislation ever. According to the law, employers can refuse those workers who wish to switch to part-time work only if they demonstrate that such a reduction would cause serious financial hardship for the firm.

Such employees keep their jobs, opportunities for promotion and hourly pay. (European law requires that part-time workers be paid the same hourly rate as full-timers doing the same work.) Also maintained are health insurance and prorated benefits such as sick leave, pensions and vacation time. The law means a lot to working parents who wish to reduce the stresses of working and caring for children.
A 2007 Unicef study ranked children’s welfare in the Netherlands as the highest in the world. The U.S. was 20th of 21 wealthy countries studied. The Netherlands provides a clear example that you can have a thriving economy while working reasonable hours.

Europeans have a multiplicity of ways to reduce work time, including mandated paid sick days and family leave and offerings of sabbaticals to workers outside academia. But what most improves their time balance is the legal requirement that every European worker get at least four weeks of annual paid vacation time.
For Americans, the median annual paid vacation time has now dropped to little more than one week, according to recent polls. In 2007, only 14 percent of Americans were able to take an actual two-week vacation, and 29 percent got no paid vacation time at all.

comparison shopping

I’m well aware I need to heed this as much as anyone:

The human habit of overestimating other people’s happiness is nothing new, of course. Jordan points to a quote by Montesquieu: “If we only wanted to be happy it would be easy; but we want to be happier than other people, which is almost always difficult, since we think them happier than they are.” But social networking may be making this tendency worse. Jordan’s research doesn’t look at Facebook explicitly, but if his conclusions are correct, it follows that the site would have a special power to make us sadder and lonelier. By showcasing the most witty, joyful, bullet-pointed versions of people’s lives, and inviting constant comparisons in which we tend to see ourselves as the losers, Facebook appears to exploit an Achilles’ heel of human nature. And women—an especially unhappy bunch of late—may be especially vulnerable to keeping up with what they imagine is the happiness of the Joneses.

…it could be that those subjects who started out feeling worse imagined that everyone else was getting along just fine, not the other way around. But the notion that feeling alone in your day-to-day suffering might increase that suffering certainly makes intuitive sense…

Any parent who has posted photos and videos of her child on Facebook is keenly aware of the resulting disconnect from reality, the way chronicling parenthood this way creates a story line of delightfully misspoken words, adorably worn hats, dancing, blown kisses. Tearful falls and tantrums are rarely recorded, nor are the stretches of pure, mind-blowing tedium. We protect ourselves, and our kids, this way; happiness is impersonal in a way that pain is not. But in the process, we wind up contributing to the illusion that kids are all joy, no effort…

Facebook oneupsmanship may have particular implications for women. As Meghan O’Rourke has noted here in Slate, women’s happiness has been at an all-time low in recent years. O’Rourke and two University of Pennsylvania economists who have studied the male-female happiness gap argue that women’s collective discontent may be due to too much choice and second-guessing–unforeseen fallout, they speculate, of the way our roles have evolved over the last half-century. As the economists put it, “The increased opportunity to succeed in many dimensions may have led to an increased likelihood in believing that one’s life is not measuring up.”

If you’re already inclined to compare your own decisions to those of other women and to find yours wanting, believing that others are happier with their choices than they actually are is likely to increase your own sense of inadequacy. And women may be particularly susceptible to the Facebook illusion. For one thing, the site is inhabited by more women than men, and women users tend to be more active on the site, as Forbes has reported. According to a recent study out of the University of Texas at Austin, while men are more likely to use the site to share items related to the news or current events, women tend to use it to engage in personal communication (posting photos, sharing content “related to friends and family”). This may make it especially hard for women to avoid comparisons that make them miserable. (Last fall, for example, the Washington Post ran a piece about the difficulties of infertile women in shielding themselves from the Facebook crowings of pregnant friends.)

Jordan, who is now a postdoctoral fellow studying social psychology at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, suggests we might do well to consider Facebook profiles as something akin to the airbrushed photos on the covers of women’s magazine. No, you will never have those thighs, because nobody has those thighs. You will never be as consistently happy as your Facebook friends, because nobody is that happy. So remember Montesquieu, and, if you’re feeling particularly down, use Facebook for its most exalted purpose: finding fat exes.


It never would’ve occurred to me when I was young that I could state what I wanted in a romance in detail, and that the guy could say yes and then be specific about what he wanted… Age had its advantages. I was too old not to be demanding. I could hardly be someone in my work life who negotiated, who was frank, who insisted on clarity from the other party, and then be someone evasive with Locke. Or pretend I didn’t know what I needed with him. The other side of that coin was that I no longer trusted everything to unfold dreamlike and perfect without my urging. That was lost. But so much else was gained.

— Maud Lavin, The Oldest We’ve Ever Been: Seven True Stories of Midlife Transitions, p. 202


As much as I valued Kim’s words, though, I wasn’t necessarily braced to hear them, and I didn’t feel compelled to follow her warning, no matter how sound. Kim’s life was Kim’s life, and mine was mine. I could listen but I could also pull back. This was not a sense I’d had with friends when I was younger, when I thought my girlfriends and I were joined at the hip and were set to go through life together step by step. That hadn’t happened for baby boomers. We got married and divorced at different times, had kids at different times or not at all, stepped into and out of career fervor at different times, and moved around a lot. These differences in life rhythms were confusing and sometimes made me anxious. One advantage was that I didn’t expect even my closest friends, like Kim, to have the last word on my– inevitably different– life. The last word was mine.

— Maud Lavin, The Oldest We’ve Ever Been: Seven True Stories of Midlife Transitions, pp. 196-197