Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The French Pursuit of Unhappiness

As a country go, France has much to recommend it. The food, the wine, the cheese, the fashion and the art… what could be wrong with that?

And for those who believe in welfare-statist social democracy France is a beacon.

The Guardian reports:

The country has a generous welfare state, plus universal and free access to healthcare, hospitals, public schools and universities. It also has a 35-hour working week and many foreigners aspire to make it their home – 150,000 Britons have chosen to live there.

What could be wrong with that? Doesn’t the French way of life represent everything that the Obama administration and Paul Krugman hold in high esteem?

And yet, for all that, the French are miserably unhappy. A cynic might believe all the government programs are sacrificing human happiness, to say nothing of freedom in favor of material comfort.

Surely, it’s demoralizing to be told that you cannot take care of yourself. In a culture that systematically demoralizes everyone it makes sense that everyone would lack confidence in his ability to compete in an open market.

Now, Claudia Senik, a professor at the Paris School of Economics has studied the problem. Her report linked here. The Guardian reports her striking conclusions:

Yet the French are gloomy. A recent WIN-Gallup poll found that their expectations for the coming year ranked lower than those in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The World Health Organisation notes that the suicide rate in France is much higher than in any of the "old European countries", with the exception of Finland. Suicide is the second biggest cause of mortality among 15-to-44-year-olds after road accidents, and the primary cause among 30-to-39-year-olds.

Read through her report and you will see that Senik blames the culture. Correctly so. She explains that it begins in the public schools. The French educational system teaches students the habit of misery from an early age.  

But, we should also consider the possibility that mental health professionals are contributing to the problem. Surely, they are not helping to solve it.

We emphasize the outsized influence that psychoanalysis continues to exercise in France, not only within the walls of analysts’ offices, but on the culture at large. At a time when psychoanalysis is a relic in America it is a thriving enterprise in France.

Last year, many of us were surprised to discover that the French mental health profession continues to use psychoanalysis to treat, or to mis-treat autism. While the rest of the world now uses the cognitive therapies that have worked the best on this condition, French psychologists and psychiatrists still insist on psychoanalysis.

If the French are depressed and demoralized, if they are nay-saying complainers, we will have to accept that some of the credit goes to psychoanalysis. Where else would people have learned that human desire is based on saying No and that relentless self-criticism is the proper treatment for psychoanalytically-induced guilt?


Anonymous said...

Domestication is derived from the root meaning of "household" or "home."

A tree grows where its roots are, and the roots of pain are in the memories of self-other relationships.

This is true everywhere and there is plenty of misery to go around in civilized society ... home and abroad. The suicide rate in Ireland went up drastically during the decades when capitalist free market ideologues were praising its "miracle" economy.

n.n said...

Ironically, the people who criticize money the most, are also the most greedy bastards of all.

Something else worth noting is that money is not the root of all evil in our world.

It is dreams of material, physical, and ego instant or immediate gratification which causes corruption. It is dissociation of risk which motivates its progress.

The French with good intentions have accelerated their progression to dysfunction. The immigration of people who do not assimilate and actively compete with the local culture has exacerbated the situation. They are approaching a dysfunctional convergence, which they manufactured with rational minds and forethought.

Has any civilization every escaped the trap laid by greedy bastards hiding behind good intentions?

Bobbye said...

Happiness is now taught as a universal entitalment in the western world. But happiness is what results from achieving a goal. Ateam works hard , plays hard and wins the title. Happiness ensues as well as esteem. Cildren and adults are now taught that they have a right to feel happy without doing anything to bring it about. Same with self esteem. Does't work. Thus in polls people report being unhappy even though they live in relative comfort. In the old days (I'm 60), not necessarily the good old days, people were taught that you have to earn the good things. Accomplishment was king.I have learned to be content and thankful for every day. And sometimes I an happy.

Anonymous said...

"Surely, it’s demoralizing to be told that you cannot take care of yourself."

Yes, it is. But then, that is what you advocate for women, who should not work or have a career, or "take care of themselves." They should be "homemakers" and the men should be the "breadwinners." In fact, few things arouse your scorn more than the "feminist" belief that women should be "independent" and can, therefore, "take care of themselves." This bothers you.

Apparently, when it comes to women, you want to defy the "feminists" and create a little mini-welfare state of "homemakers" all over the land.

Apply the same logic to France, however, and it's a different story. You should be "independent" and not rely on anyone else and "take care of yourself."

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Now I feel misunderstood. What makes you think that a homemaker is living on government assistance. It's insulting to say that she is not independent if she does not have a high powered career. Married couples share... but they also divide tasks and roles.

Married men and married women cannot sustain marriages if they make a fetish out of independence and autonomy. Believing that what's his is his and what's hers is hers is formula for singlehood.

The evidence I have been reporting-- and please distinguish between evidence and opinion-- suggests that couples who function independently do not do very well at marriage. Women who refuse to make homes do not do well at marriage. Men and women who share housework equally are more likely to divorce. When the woman is the breadwinner studies show that the woman is more likely to be taking medication for anxiety and insomnia while the man is more likely to be taking Viagra.

Those are the facts as we know them now. Anyone who wants to buck the trend or to create a new trend, be my guest.

Dennis said...

For now. The word is interdependence and the concept called the "Circle of Life." Question: Where do most people spend most of their lives" Is it in dependence, independence or interdependence? What is generally accepted as the best form of life that provides the most benefits for its members? Why would any philosophy advocate something that seldom aids anyone else other than itself?

Anonymous said...

There are facts and there are interpretation of facts. It is a fact that SOME feminists have said women can should be "independent" and can and should "take care of themselves."

It is only your interpretation--and any other overachieving anal type--that chooses this to mean "YOU MUST HAVE A HIGH-POWERED CAREER LIKE CEO OR PRESIDENT!!!!"

That is a subjective interpretation that reflects nothing but your own mind, not anything inherent in the facts.

Certainly, any woman, or any person wahtsoever, who does not make their own money but depends entirely on someone else to support them is not financially independent. That is a fact.

There is also mental, emotional, and psychological dependency.

No one is saying that anyone who is NOT financially independent can't also be mentally, emotionally, or psychologically independent, although I think the historical record will show it is less likely without ANY form of economic independence, either in the past or as a potential in the future.

For the most part, housewives are financially dependent. That doesn't meant they can't be independent in other ways.

I think we can agree that independence can be usefully contrasted to dependence, as in, the War for American Independence.

It is only you, in your mind, that equates "independence" with "absolute autonomy with no connection to other people whatsoever!!!" If that's the extent of your imagination, that is your problem. It's certainly a cherished tenet of "feminism."

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you for shedding more heat than light on the topic.

One does recognize that there are many different types of feminism, but, unless I miss my guess, most advise women to defer marriage and childbearing in favor of career advancement. In principle, this would mean that they counsel developing a higher powered career.

As for the meaning of dependence, as I see it there are two ways of interpreting this situation: when a man earns a salary and his wife does not the money is his and his alone. In that case she would be dependent. One might also say that his salary is theirs, that he does not have a right to all of it just because he earned it.

If it's theirs, and if the marriage ends, she has a much better claim to her share than if it's only his.

I've seen feminist judges decide against women in divorce cases because they believe that what's his is his and that she has no right to it, because after all, it was her choice not to go out and have a career that was highly remunerated.

Anonymous said...

In Buddhism the Four Noble Truths are translated: (1) the truth of suffering; (2) the truth of the origin of suffering; (3) the truth of the cessation of suffering; and (4) the truth of the path leading to the cessation of suffering.

In the Myth of Mental Illness, Thomas Szasz identifies three causes of pain: (1) medical illness or disease; (2) social conditions; or (3) painful personal memories.

These ideas are pointing to the path.

In the movie "The Matrix" Morpheus tells Neo, "One day you must learn, as I have learned, that there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path."

Dennis said...

Anon 2:45 PM,

"The wise does at once what the fool does at last."

Balthasar Gracian

Sam L. said...

I applaud the French for being unhappy...if it makes them happy. Seems weird to me, but hey!, they're French!