I often see a recurring theme in books written by U.S. female authors in their forties and fifties : How to find purpose in life? Am I fulfilled? and, Who am I? Or some variation on this topic.
In memoir, I have seen this in books like:
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.”Is this lifetime supposed to be only about duty?”
Devotion by Dani Shapiro. “I had reached the middle of my life and knew less than I ever had before.” she writes. “From the outside, things looked pretty good. But deep inside myself, I had begun to quietly fall apart.”
Distant Shores by Kristin Hannah. “You’re forty-five years old and your kids are gone and your marriage has gone stale and you want to start over. My practice is full of women like you.”
Now I admit, the above mentioned books relate to women questioning their faith and/or their marriage, however, I’d like to know if you think there is a cultural difference between the U.S. and other parts of the world as far as women questioning their level of fulfillment with their life?
I have noticed my conversations with women are so different in the U.S., than among friends in Europe. I do not recall a single conversation with my Danish, English or French friends revolving around finding “purpose” in life or being “fulfilled.” I have a few opinions as to why? but I’d like to hear from you first.
Do you agree this is more of an American theme among women or do you find the same type of conversations among women in your part of the world?
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Good question. I think part of it may have to do with socioeconomics as well as cultural expectations.
Or, perhaps it says something about U.S. book editors/publishers who like to publish those kinds of books! ; ) Pam
Jennifer Fink says
I can't comment on this, b/c I don't know any women outside of the US (except a couple friends in Ontario). Personally, though, I think Americans are too wrapped up in feeling good about themselves. How much nicer the world would be if we focused on helping others!
Curious to hear your comments…
Thanks for your comment. I think it has to do with the US media and programs that we listen to.
I agree that taking the focus off ourselves helps but as I said to Pam above, I also think we are bombarded with the U.S. media, including authors (who must have a positive message) that if only this or that, we could finally find happiness. It's always about searching, and finding.
I think there is a lot of focus on "self-fulfillment" in the U.S. from media of all types. That focus on it causes us to question whether we have achieved it. I like the old quote from Zig Ziglar, "You can get everything you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want." I have to agree with Jennifer that there is a lot of self-fulfillment in being a little more selfless.
I agree that the media seems to play a large part with books, magazines and movies. I know I have a purpose; I don't exactly know what it is, but I trust that God will lead me in that direction.
I think if my life was "perfect" in every way, it would be scary… kind of like waiting for the other shoe to drop. Besides, I love having something about which to complain!
Thoughtful post. Thanks for asking our opinions.
I read a book about a woman in Australia who was questioning these topics and then she abandoned her family and ran off to France for about six months, so I don't think the theme is special to Americans. I do think American woman have the luxury of thinking about those things rather than just surviving. What a wonderful thing to consider, we are fortunate.
Rayna M. Iyer says
I am probably not the right person to answer this question, because in India, less than a fifth of women have the luxury to do anything more than survive and exist.
But among that lucky majority (and most of the people I know fall in that category) there seem to be predominantly two kind of people – those who submissively accept the roles that they/ society have thrust upon themselves, and those who rant and complain but seem to do little else.
One is too detached, and the other too engrossed to think of self actualisation in the "Eat, Pray, Love" way.
Frankly, while I think I am beyond seeking self realisation, I do wish some of the women I see around me look for greater meaning.
I think this type of thinking is often a self fulfilling prophecy- one can always find greener grass on the other side if they look hard enough. I've found a lot of life is about mental perspective. I also think this type of selfish thinking is causing the rise in drug abuse in USA- especially prescription drugs.
When some Americans come here I see they expect everything to be perfect and get very frustrated when it's not. I've come to love African fatalism which really gives people a break- sometimes life is crap it's just the way it is. No need to fight it.
Perhaps there is more of a culture in the US to think about oneself?
Some of my 30-something Swedish women friends seem to be going through existential crises as they near their 40th birthday though… One of my friends told me it is because she is vain…
You're not alone!
In Europe women are busy at work, at home plus they want to have hobbies.
When they get too tired of all that they ask 'what's the point of all this'…
Normally it's a health issue or losing a job, family member dies etc. what stop people.
Nothing happens until you stop.
When you stop you might notice how empty your life is.
Many women run after money/fame/beauty/men…but when they are alone in their bed at night many think 'what's the purpose of my life'.
Beautiful clothes, shoes, cars, jewellery, make-up, nails…That stuff does not bring happiness or satisfaction.
We all have to find our own path in this world.
What is right for her might not be good for me.
But we have to listen to ourselves.
And be honest. At least to ourselves.
In Finland it's common to say:
"When I'm retired I'll do this and that…"
Don't you have the same?
Planning the life when you don't (have to) work any more?
On my blog I'm asking what kind of role models parents are today. I'd love to hear your opinion!
Thanks for the trip to Inspiration Point. What a wonderful place to be. I think it is an age thing where women question themselves after livin' half their lives or more raising a family and taking care of others they just stop and question how we want to live the rest of our lives. I really think this is more world wide than regional. Just sayin…..
Thanks for the great read, it left me pondering.
God bless ya'll and have a fantastic day!!!
Miss Footloose says
What a good question. I had to think about this a bit more.
My thinking is that in the US people's focus is and has been for many decades now very much on having stuff and acquiring more, a very materialistic way of life that is of course helped along and/or created by big business and the media.
Very often people (men and women both) identify themselves by their stuff: how fancy the house, how big the car.
Eventually many people/women do realize that "stuff" does not make you happy and not only that, it can be taken away and then who are you?
(And who are you anyway, with all your stuff?)
Not enough attention has been given, I think, to the development of the true inner,spiritual side of one's being. Some way to be and do that has nothing to do with what you own on the outside.
Now, having said that, I don't think (western) Europeans are far behind. They are doing pretty well acquiring stuff, but the ones I know do give great value to aspects of life that are not materialistic or "productive" — spending more time with friends, enjoying long, leisurely meals on a regular basis, longer vacations — without the guilt of "not working and making money." Just think of the cafe culture in some countries.
Still, are they developing a rich inner, spiritual life? I am not so sure. It is true that I have never discussed with non-Americans the issue of self-fulfilment. Perhaps they're generally more content with their place in life whatever it is.
The books you mentioned are published because the publishers think there is a market for them. I guess they are right!
I can just say what I know about woman here in my town. And that is that we hardly ever talk about "finding" ourselves. I think it is media influence that gives US woman this feeling, that they are missing out on something in life. But if you have a husband, family and maybe a job you love, be thankful and be happy!
I don't know any women outside of the US. (Other than some Canadian bloggers.) I do agree with what everyone else has said in that Americans are very materialistic and self-centered.
Could it also be that so many of us are wrapped up in the identity of Super Mom? Then when the kids are grown we are left feeling very empty and confused about our roles in the world?
I am curious why the media is bombarding us with that in the U.S. The more I think about it, the more angry I get at how I feel brainwashed by not only this, but other things too, like all the ridiculous pharmaceutical ads during the news. Have you noticed that's all there is?
You also agree that the media is influencing us. This "subtle," yet constant pressure is making some people in the U.S. more narcissistic perhaps? Just finished reading a book on "narcissism" in the U.S.
I agree that we are fortunate to have the luxury to think this way, but sometimes it goes overboard.
Thanks for your input from a different perspective. I saw an interesting news program on how many successful CEO's, are women in India. great news.
I liked your description of everything having to be perfect for some people. It took me a few months to accept a slower pace in Belize, but once I did, it was soothing to have less expectations and go with the flow.
Interesting to hear the word "vain" used by a Swede. I heard it used in the same way in Denmark too.
I get what you say, but in Europe, is the media sending women messages of being happy and fulfilled. Shall come over to read your parenting post.
Unfortunately, I think it's an american thing. I know some french woman and their attitude about life and living fully seems to be completely different from american woman. They seem more content with who they are and the live they live. BUT, this is just what I've seen of a few french women I know. I cannot say for the whole.
Patricia Stoltey says
It's not a bad thing to search for a better way or a deeper meaning to one's existence, especially when the search concerns the self and others, not just the self. In my experience, American women are kind and generous, and they do help others as volunteers and through donations. I've known women who were still doing volunteer work in their 90s.
It's sometimes fashionable to call all introspection "indulgent" but I don't feel that way at all. I suspect (but don't know) every woman in every culture thinks about how she can improve her lot in life (and for her family and her community), even if she can only take a few tiny steps toward change.
Robert the Skeptic says
Being from the other gender, I can say anecdotally that men suffer the same introspection. My hypothesis is that Americans are so profoundly enculturated to focus on "ME". Truly, I don't think people in this country think in terms of community, they think in terms of how the world is directed toward them personally.
Why are we having such a struggle with universal health care? Why do we not want to pay taxes? It's because most Americans think in terms of their own selfish needs. Suddenly it hits them… there may be others out there just as deserving.
My general prejudice, and perhaps stereotypical view, is that Europeans think less in terms of "self" and more in a context of where they fit in a community or culture. And I do not think it is gender specific at all.
Midlife Jobhunter says
Maybe I need to move to those countries and then I won't think about having a purpose anymore.
Perhaps the headlines we see on the magazines at the grocery store suggest we are not all that we need to be. Just turn my head away from then, I will.
We tend to be very materialistic in the US. Good question and very thought provoking blog!
Kit Courteney says
I think, although I don't know for sure, that it SEEMS to be more of an American thing.
Coming from the UK I believe we are kind of half way between the rest of Europe and the US in such matters.
We often have the image here of Americans as ONLY being focussed on looks – slim figures, whitened teeth etc – although it's a 'joke' that ALL Americans are the size of a British red, double-decker bus and ONLY eat hamburgers.
In the UK I feel we have a strange, not quite formed, view of things. The media really does not help.
It could be said that that is good OR bad!
Not being female, Bear hesitates to get into this. However, . . .
In relation to fulfilment, I guess I tend to think of "we" more than "me." Maybe it's just a Canadian thing. Maybe it's because my brown Bear fur has turned to polar Bear fur. Or maybe it's just because I see so many people thinking "me."
And maybe it's because, when I look around, there's just "too much" of everything. And people still want more.
I remember speaking to a major union organization, and raising the question, "When does 'more' become 'enough' when you're negotiating a new contract?" I later learned that I had set the cat among the pigeons with that very simple question. When does "more" become "enough"?
Yeah, you're right; Bear can be "not very bright" some days. I think I'll quit while I've still got a head.
Lisa Petrarca says
I'm a fellow Orange Countian (is that a word?LOL) who unfortunately has never had the privilege of traveling.
I can say that most 40+ women I know feel this way. I think it's usually after the kids are growing up & moving away. You actually have time to think about yourself.
I know I feel like that, "Who do I want to be win I grow up?"
It can be a little scary having so much time on your hands after so many years of running from one sport to another, working, cooking, cleaning…etc.
Now that I have a little more time (my youngest is a freshman in H.S.)…I get to see what interests I've put on the back burner all those years ago.
Phivos Nicolaides says