The Happiness Connection  

Willing to shear your hair?

You are so brave!

What would you need to do to deserve such an accolade?

Go to a foreign land by yourself?

Quit your secure job to become an entrepreneur?

Or maybe this comment would come because you decided to cut your hair.

My friend Shannon has beautiful, thick, fast-growing hair. She never shies away from trying a new style and has worn her hair at a multitude of different lengths.

Recently, she decided to change from shoulder-length hair to a pixie cut. As the stylist worked her magic, my friend was conscious of the reactions she was getting from other women in the salon.

They were supportive, but also surprised that she would do such a thing.

One woman told her that she was “so brave.”

In Shannon’s words: “‘I feel like "brave’ is a really strong word for getting a new haircut. Soldiers are brave. Rape victims who speak out are brave. Kids who survive foster care are brave.”

This anecdote got me thinking about two different things.

Why are so many women afraid to cut their hair?
What do you have to do to be considered brave? Is there a standard?

To get a clearer answer to the first question, I asked my own stylist for her thoughts. She started by sharing her personal experience.

Long hair makes her feel more confident, sexier, and thinner. She is already confident, beautiful and slender, so I was surprised by her answer.

Her insight on why women in general are afraid to cut their hair revolves around the desire to look young. Younger women tend to wear their hair long, so it stands to reason that as women age, they feel they look more youthful with long hair.

Women also believe that men like long hair better.

Is there any truth in these beliefs?

Let me turn to evolutionary psychology. Your No. 1 drive is to survive, both as an individual and as a species.

There isn’t a lot of research available about hair length, nor are the findings conclusive. Here is what I uncovered.

Subconsciously, men are attracted to women who are healthy enough to bear children. There is some evidence to show that long hair is a sign of good health.

There has also been research that suggests it is less important how long your hair is, if you have a face that men find appealing. For the most part, men are drawn to faces that look young and healthy as they are signs of an ability to reproduce.

As I’ve said before, health is the subliminal key to being attractive. Rather than worrying so much about weight, styles, and hair length, concentrate on eating well, exercising, and inner wellbeing.

Let’s move on to how our society views hair length.

Longer hair is more common among women, while shorter is the norm for men. I suspect we have been conditioned to believe this is normal. To break out of that mould can be scary. You are likely to carry a hidden fear of being judged.

In my opinion, it takes some men more courage to grow their hair than it does to cut it. The opposite is true for women.

I don’t know how the length of your hair makes you feel. You can feel any way you want about your hair, but it is probably worth taking a moment to consider why you have those beliefs.

If you are female, do you like your hair long, or do you feel good about it because someone else likes it long? Do you hold on to your locks because you think it makes you more youthful or feminine?

These distinctions are subtle, yet important, to consider.

The second question intrigues me more.

What do you have to do to be considered brave? Is there a standard?

This is where your personal experiences and values show up. You are likely to see yourself as “normal” and therefore judge others against what you believe and the life you have lived.

Does cutting your hair require courage? Not for Shannon, but for many people the answer is a resounding yes.

For one woman, a pixie cut may be uncharted territory. It may be their first experience going against the subliminal norms of our society.

I have spoken with women who said the hardest part of chemotherapy was losing their hair. They hated many of the other side effects, but that was the most traumatic one.

In the case of fighting cancer, the decision whether to have long hair, or even to have short hair, was beyond their control.

I think the important lesson from all of this is to remind yourself that what takes courage for you, isn’t going to be the same for everyone else.

Instead of judging whether something requires courage or not, inspire others to take a step out of their comfort zone and try something new. Assure them that they will survive the experience.

I have no idea how Shannon felt the first time she had her hair cut. It may have taken more courage than it does today. Perhaps she has never defined herself by the length of her hair.

Regardless of the answer, she has changed her style often enough that it is common. It requires little or no bravery.

My favourite part of Shannon’s experience, was her appreciation for the opportunity it gave her to pause and examine her beliefs.

There is something to learn about yourself and the world around you every time something catches your attention.

If you want to do something that requires courage, begin by taking little steps. Each time you venture into the unknown and live to tell the tale, you are giving your brain evidence that you are a survivor.

This will make it easier next time you are pushed into circumstances that take a lot of bravery.

You will look that challenge in the eye and tell yourself, “I will survive.”


Survivor isn't just a TV show

I am in a whirlwind of change. I’m also dealing with new challenges.

My week started with a clogged sewer pipe. Who do I call? Thank you, Living Water Plumbing. Mr. Maple Tree, I’ll be dealing with you and your roots soon.

I’ve also been working through computer hacking and scamming issues.

These challenges are not something I would choose to have happen, but they aren’t all bad. Challenges provide the opportunity to learn, grow, and change.

I experienced a situation in my 20s that left me forever changed. I wasn’t physically different, but I was mentally and emotionally stronger.

When I was on my teaching exchange year in England, I decided that one place I had to visit was Egypt. I couldn’t find anyone to come with me, so I decided to take a 10-day tour.

I thought I’d be on a bus with dozens of other people. That alone would be a challenging new experience. I hadn’t travelled much on my own and I hadn’t visited many foreign countries.

I flew from London to Cairo and was greeted at the airport and transported to the hotel. I had a few hours before the orientation meeting, so I wandered the luxurious lobby with its glittering shops.

That is when I first realized I was going to be in for some unwanted attention. I looked younger than I was, and my blond hair stood out.

I assured myself that everything would be fine as soon as I met up with the other people I’d be travelling with.

You can imagine my horror when I went to the orientation and discovered I was the only one on my tour. There was another tour with two couples on it. We spent the first two days together before they started their Nile River cruise, and I took a train to Luxor.

This was a time before the internet and cellphones, so I couldn’t even share my problem with anyone. I wanted to go home but couldn’t afford to buy another ticket.

In truth, I also didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to see the pyramids, the valley of the kings and all the other places I was so fascinated by.

My only option was to make the best of a bad situation.

I was scared to leave my room, but I got hungry and food was included in my package. I wanted to sit in a corner by myself, but instead was surrounded by the all-male wait staff.

Any time I stepped out of my room, I was the centre of attention. I dreaded it, but not enough to stay there and hide.

The tours I had signed up for while I was in England were solo affairs. I’d be picked up by taxi, dropped at the appropriate venue, and then retrieved and transported back to the hotel.

I would have been nervous taking a taxi by myself in Canada or England, much less in Egypt. I’m not sure I had ever been in a taxi before.

One horse drawn buggy driver in Luxor was determined we would go to an undisclosed place to smoke hashish. I wanted to go to the market. I had to threaten to jump from the moving vehicle for him to take my choice of destination seriously.

Every night, when I arrived safely back in my room, I congratulated myself and counted how many more sleeps until I went home.

I was in a relationship back in Canada, and I desperately wanted him to be there with me. For the first six or seven nights, I mourned that he wasn’t. I still remember the realization I had on about the seventh night.

I didn’t need him to be there to save me. I was doing just fine on my own. Having company would have been a bonus, but I didn’t need it. I also realized that if I could survive this experience, I could survive anything.

This challenge gave me evidence that I am a resilient survivor. I went from knowing that in my head, to believing it in my soul.

I’ve spoken and written about this experience many times because it forever changed me. It presented me with evidence of my resilience. It taught me that I can do anything – if I need to.

I don’t need to be in a relationship or to have help from another person to survive. Those things are good, but not vital. I can survive all on my own.

Survival is your No. 1 drive. You might be amazed to see just what challenges you can meet head on and come out the other side stronger and more confident.

It takes a special person to enter the scary world of challenge, especially if it is a place you haven’t spent much time. Often, the challenges that lead you to big changes, are the ones you wouldn’t choose for yourself. Instead you are forced into them.

I would never have chosen my Egypt experience, but I’m glad it chose me.

The next time a big challenge enters your word, smile to yourself, roll up your sleeves, and show yourself just what a survivor you are.

Change is good for you

You can never step into the same river twice. — Heraclitus

Change is something humans are programmed to dislike and yet try as you might, you can’t avoid it.

You might think your life is the same, but there are always subtle shifts occurring.

I recently spoke at a TEDx event in Chilliwack. If you want to know why humans are programmed to resist new situations and how you can overcome that programming, please watch the recording: Reen’s TEDx 

Just like when a parent tells their child to eat their vegetables because they are good for them, change is good for you.

Change forces you to learn

Your brain is designed to learn. Humans feel happy when they master a new skill or gain a fresh understanding. Despite this, not everyone chooses to keep learning.

Change forces you to leave your comfort zone and discover new lessons, abilities, and perspectives.

Change gives you belief in your ability to adapt and be resilient

Humans are amazingly adaptable and resilient. This means you can recover relatively quickly from the challenges that come along with change.

Change can be gradual, but it can also be abrupt.

The unexpected death of a close friend or family member, sudden loss of a job, or a natural disaster are examples of huge change that will force you to adapt and show you how resilient you are.

You may know you are resilient, but it isn’t until you prove it to yourself through experience that you really believe it.

Change presents you with new opportunities

Without change, your life would become stagnant.

As your environment changes, you will find yourself presented with new opportunities to do something, go somewhere, or be something different. You can see this as a good thing or a bad one.

Choose to live with the changes in your life as possibilities, not limitations.

Change causes you to re-examine your values and beliefs

What values are most important to you? What do you believe about the world you live in?

Knowing the answers to these questions provides invaluable insight to daily life.

One of my top values is autonomy, or the freedom to decide how I perform my work and live my life. When became aware of the importance of this value, I suddenly understood why working for a micromanaging boss drove me to distraction.

Don’t assume that these values and beliefs will never change.

Experiencing major shifts put you in the perfect position to re-evaluate. You will either reaffirm they are still the same, or you may discover both you and your beliefs have changed.

Change makes you more compassionate

It only takes a few months of waiting on tables to give you a whole new perspective on tipping. Experiencing mental illness yourself or watching a loved one struggle, leaves you with an entirely different level of compassion for others who live in its grip.

Being jolted into a change you didn’t ask for and don’t welcome gives you a closer relationship with your emotions. This will provide you with a greater level of compassion for your fellow humans.

You may feel uncomfortable when your world changes, especially if the shifts are major ones. The next time it happens, remind yourself that change is good for you.


A new spin on spinster

With the wedding season just around the corner, I would like to devote this week’s column to the word spinster.

When I got married at the age of 29, this is the word used to describe me on the legal documents. My husband was, of course, a bachelor.

Why is it that one term is considered derogatory and the other a compliment?

In 2005, England and Wales stopped using the terms spinster and bachelor on marriage registrations. They have abolished it in favour of the term single.

I like that a lot. It is the same word for both men and women, has no age connotation, and is emotionally neutral.

To my knowledge, British Columbia still uses the term spinster.

Where does the word come from? You only need to look at its root to discover that.

Spinster comes from the word spin. The word first entered the English language in the mid-1300s. At that time, men who spun were spinners and women were spinsters.

At some point over the next hundred or so years, the suffixes stopped being gender specific.

A brewster is a beer maker, webster a weaver, teamster was originally a wagon driver. He controlled a team of horses.

I’ve even had a few friends over the years give me the nickname Reenster. It makes no sense, but that doesn’t seem to matter.

How did spinster go from meaning someone who spins to describing an old maid?

By 1719, the term was used generically for women who were unmarried and likely never to marry because of their age.

What happened?

Perhaps because most spinsters were women, the word began to be applied exclusively to females.

When a spinster was married, she had better economic opportunities through her husband’s contacts. She commonly stopped spinning. She might instead get a loom and begin to weave.

As a result, most spinsters were single women.

That makes sense, but how did the term become derogatory? I mean, have you ever heard someone use the term “eligible spinster?”

Think back to the historical path for women. They were meant to get married and have babies. Sex or motherhood before marriage was strictly frowned upon.

If women didn’t get married and reproduce, they were a disappointment. They were brought up believing that was their only acceptable destiny.

Being unmarried carried with it a lot of shame for women.

There were many reasons for women not to get married. After wars, the number of men available plummeted. Dowries, or money and goods that would be given to the husband, were hard for many to accumulate.

I’m sure there were women who were self-sufficient and simply didn’t want to marry.

Society didn’t care about the reasons. If you were an unmarried woman, you were substandard.

I think much of the derogatory feeling that accompanies the word spinster has been created by women through the ages. They were brought up to believe they had to get married.

If they didn’t, they had failed.

Even last century, when women were able to attend university, they were thought to be going for their M.R.S. degree. There were a lot of eligible bachelors at these institutes of learning.

This conversation came up a few days ago when I was talking with my friend, Shannon. She had read something by an author who was trying to “take back” the term spinster and empower it.

She wanted to give it a positive spin, so to speak.

It is a little like the word queer. We were all told that the term was derogatory and to stop using it.

Now, it is being uttered loudly and proudly.

I think the terms bachelor and spinster should be updated on marriage documents. Single is just as descriptive and applies to all unmarried people.

I would also like to see spinster take a leaf out of queer’s book. If you are getting married and the term spinster is still being used, spin it some love.

You are the creator of your reality. You have been spinning the threads of your life into the world you are currently in. You have spun yourself a loving and committed partner.

There is nothing shabby or shameful about that.

More The Happiness Connection articles

About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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