Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Masculinity and Bliss: Men and the Science of Happiness

by Patrick McGann
Director of Strategy and Planning

I just finished reading Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss. He’s a correspondent for National Public Radio who took time off to travel to some of the world’s happiest countries (yes, there is a “science of happiness,” and research measuring a country’s level of happiness; in 2010, Norway topped the list). He worked in one or two of the unhappiest also (the standout was Moldova, a landlocked country in Eastern Europe that used to be part of the Soviet Union). In each country he met with some of its citizens to try and discern what it is exactly that makes them happy – or unhappy. In Thailand, for instance, he supposedly learns that the path to happiness lies in not thinking; in Switzerland it lies in regulation and even extends into boredom; and in the U.S. happiness is just around the corner waiting for us if we put in the effort.

One of my takeaways from the book is the role of trust in creating happiness. It would seem, perhaps not surprisingly, that one of the strong indicators of unhappiness is distrust – from the smallest to the broadest sense, from personal relationships to work to the government and other institutions. This resonates with me. I know from the experiences of people in my life, for instance, that when they have worked under someone they distrust, when their supervisor does not have their best interests at heart, they exhibit symptoms of unhappiness – sleepless nights, trouble concentrating, anger, anxiety, and insecurity. I assume the reverse is true as well, that people who are distrusted aren’t truly happy.

I’m interested in applying this equation of trust and happiness to masculinity. It seems to me that hyper or hegemonic masculinity as we experience in the U.S. has an individualistic leaning and is in part based on distrust. If one of the goals is to prove yourself as better than the men and women around you – prove you can beat them at sports, prove you can out drink them, prove you can make more money, prove you are tougher, and so on – it can be hard to eliminate the sense that most men are in the end invested in looking out for themselves to make sure they are on a higher rung of the masculine ladder. Yet I wonder if this dynamic really makes most men happy.

I, of course, don’t think it does. So I propose that masculinity be added to the geography of happiness. Assuming that masculinity has different cross-cultural constructions, it would be interesting to investigate which constructions in which cultures and countries are happier. I would bet my bottom dollar that those men in countries where masculinity is more connected to gender equity are a happier bunch. But I’d like to know for sure.

So all you science of happiness scientists, get your gender on. Take a look at masculinity.


Weiner, E. (2009). The geography of bliss: One grump's search for the happiest places in the world. New York, TWELVE.

Patrick McGann, Ph.D. has been involved with Men Can Stop Rape (MCSR) since the organization’s inception in 1997. As Director of Strategy and Planning, Patrick co-authored a sexual assault prevention strategy for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) in 2008 and oversaw the development of the HURTS ONE. AFFECTS ALL. public education campaign for DoD in 2010. He regularly gives presentations across the country on engaging men in the prevention of gender-based violence. Share

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