When we think about productivity and efficiency, we often overlook a necessary precursor: Happiness. Not only are happy employees 12 percent more productive, depressed mood kills motivation, energy, and focus. For those of us who have firsthand experience, stats are unnecessary.
Happiness can be a struggle for everyone (especially given the social media highlight reels to which we compare our lives), but as I see all the time in my work as a therapist, men have some additional hurdles to jump through:
1. Men are less in touch with their emotions, so they don’t always know what’s causing them to feel "off"
By the time some men come into my office, they're in a bad place. Like really freaking depressed. Why? They’ve grown up being told not be pussies, so they’ve disconnected from anything that resembles a feeling, and aren’t willing to acknowledge they're dealing with something until they've virtually mapped out a suicide plan. I’m not kidding.
An uncomfortable feeling is like a little crack in a car’s windshield. While women are more likely to pay attention to this crack before it gets bigger than a quarter, men tend to ignore it and drive until the entire windshield is spidered. By the time they bring it in to get fixed, they have to get the whole windshield replaced, when they could have just had it repaired if they’d attended to it sooner.
2. Men make things worse by creating a whole other layer of sh*tty feelings for themselves
Since men are socialized to be strong, and independent, they create what we therapists refer to as "secondary" feelings if they perceive themselves to be anything other than "detached and cool." I’ll illustrate: Let’s say Sad Jim is sad because he moved across the country for a new job and feels lonely and isolated. These are called primary feelings. They’re normal and healthy reactions to life.
But instead of empathizing with these normal feelings, he judges himself for being sad. ‘Cuz men are supposed to be independent and strong! He says, “Don’t be a little Bitch” under his breath. Now Sad Jim not only feels sad and lonely, he feels shame for feeling sad and lonely. He's created another layer of feelings -- secondary feelings -- because he believes he shouldn't feel sad. Maybe he reacts to the shame by snapping at his new co-worker. Anger, after all, is a more “manly” and acceptable emotion than sadness, but now his new co-worker thinks he’s an asshole, and Sad Jim is even more isolated.
Secondary feelings aren’t reserved for sadness or loneliness. I see clients feeling anxious about feeling anxious, embarrassed for feeling excited, ashamed for feeling angry, etc.
3. Men have less support following breakups
You know this scenario: Sean and his long-term lady, Rachel, break up. No cheating, no domestics; they just stopped having sex and felt like roommates. Still, they'd lived together for three years, and moving into a studio wasn't exactly a walk in the park for Sean.
Their first night living separately, Rachel is engulfed by four close friends. They spend the next three hours (read: months) listening to her process the breakup, empathizing with what she's going through.
Sean, on the other hand, hits the bar with buddies, where he proceeds to down ALL the tequila shots and wakes up with a terrible headache and a strange woman next to him. He picks up his phone to a congratulatory text from his buddy "Ya Boy! Guess you're over it!" From here forward, if Sean feels lonely or misses Rachel, he tells himself to get over it. Even if he wanted to honor his grieving process and talk about it, research on this subject suggests that he may not feel comfortable talking to his friends. Rachel was his confidant for anything emotional, and he’s obviously not going to share his feelings with her.
4. Men feel societal pressure, too
Think women are the only ones feeling the pressure to fit a mold? Our men were raised on James Bond and compare themselves to pre-scandal(s) Tom Brady. They often feel inadequate compared with these super-humans, and even more so if they don’t do CrossFit. Not only are men expected to earn six figures and have the demeanor of a womanizing secret agent, they’re expected to have the physique of one, too.
If that seems like an outdated notion of masculinity, consider this: the frequency of eating disorders in men have increased rapidly -- 27 percent since 2000 -- potentially a sign that men more and more frequently see themselves as failing to live up to an ideal.
5. Men think seeking help equates to failure as a man
Men are less likely than women to seek help from health professionals for depression, substance abuse, physical disabilities and stressful life events. They subsequently experience a suicide rate ratio of 4:1, compared with women, as well as a shorter lifespan (there are other factors that contribute to this, such as higher-risk occupations, more risk-taking behaviors, and more homicides).
Why? Men feel ashamed to ask for help. The same process that occurs when asking for directions to the nearest Popeye’s also happens when making an appointment with a counselor. Real men do it themselves, they think.
6. Men are more likely to get messed up as a coping mechanism
Men are more likely to turn to substances for solace, and are twice as likely as women to become alcoholics. One potential explanation is that it's a lot of self-medication for the crap we talked about earlier.
While women are busy getting professional help and talking about their feelings with friends, men are turning to the bottle (or worse) to deal with their stress and sadness. Although women experience higher reported rates of depression, men’s higher alcoholism rates are likely an unsuccessful coping strategy attempting to deal with similar depression stats (the 4:1 suicide ratio supports this hypothesis).
Of course, this reinforces a vicious cycle, because the aftermath of getting boozy or high is wanting to hide in a dark place and fast-forward the day.
So how do we fix it?
It’s actually pretty simple. We need to recognize that men are humans, too, and have emotions. I know, this isn’t exactly earth-shattering news. But think about it: if we quit raising boys in the shaming, stigmatizing “Be a MAN” way we do currently, and start permitting them to actually have feelings, we’re going to see:
- Happier men
- Happier people in relationships with the men
- Happier workplaces (emotional intelligence increases productivity)
- Lower rates of substance abuse
- Lower costs on the medical system (physical and mental health)
And that, my friends, should get you excited. But not too excited… you don’t wanna emasculate yourself.