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Taking the Emotional Pulse

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Sure, Women Aren't All Happy, But They Aren't All Frenzied, Either

A few decades ago, popular stereotype depicted women as busy-but-happy homebodies. Now, the everywoman is cast as a hopelessly frazzled soul, worn out by the incompatible demands of home and workplace. Having learned, in retrospect, that the old stereotype wasn't wholly accurate, we should be able to figure out that the new one also tells less than the full truth. To help us along, a survey by Self magazine looks at women's own assessments of their lives.

For starters, the survey presented women with a dozen adjectives and asked them to pick the one that best describes how they feel most of the time. Respondents split fairly evenly between positive and negative terms. Eighteen percent chose "content," 16 percent "happy," 6 percent "confident," 2 percent "empowered" and 2 percent "relaxed." On the other side of the spectrum, 15 percent picked "frenzied," 14 percent "restless," 6 percent "depressed," 6 percent "flustered," 4 percent "indifferent" and 4 percent "bored." (Which brand will be the first to prosper by catering to women who feel "flustered" but not "frenzied"?) Six percent opted for the more neutral "reflective." Women who said they're "happy" or "content" were most numerous in the 35-49 age cohort, though that group also had the largest numbers of "frenzied" and "restless" respondents. Women under age 25 were twice as likely to feel "restless" as "frenzied."

And how do women wish they felt? Given the same list of adjectives and asked to pick just one, 27 percent chose "happy," 20 percent "relaxed," 19 percent "confident," 18 percent "content" and 15 percent "empowered." Among those who'd termed themselves "happy," a plurality said they wish they felt "confident." Among women who'd called themselves "frenzied," the most wished-for feeling was "relaxed." A plurality of the "restless" yearned to be "content." When asked to identify the activities that bring them "personal joy," women gravitated toward those that entail "connectedness." Thus, the highest tallies went to "doing something special for someone you love" (83 percent); "spending time with a significant other" (81 percent); "getting a pleasant, unexpected surprise for no reason" (79 percent); "sharing a laugh with a good friend" (79 percent) and "playing with your child" (64 percent).

Elsewhere in the poll, women were given a list of descriptive words and asked to select the ones they find very appealing. "Healthy" drew the biggest response (80 percent), followed by "happy" (69 percent), "quality" (66 percent), "pleasure" (65 percent) and "confident" (65 percent). "Trusted" (56 percent) scored better than "guaranteed" (44 percent), while "rejuvenate" (61 percent) scored much more strongly than "age defying" (32 percent).