What if your sole responsibility in life was to marry, offer your body to your husband, bear children, and take care of household chores as a slave to the man in your life till death do you part, as a silent buffoon of course? In other words, how would you feel if “to be happy” meant one acceptance: you were not free?
To be happy is to find acceptance. Happiness is not freedom or wealth, health, or status. It is what we agree it is. It is knowing and believing in something even if that something is tortuous, unfair, and outright wrong. It is only by the human design to better ourselves that we learn not to accept happiness in the form of wrong.
Women bettered themselves by not accepting the role of slaves to men. And in this story I’m about to tell, reveals a woman who did just that. But even more, she changed what “To Be Happy” meant.
Imagine being trapped as a possession, mutilated by your clothing, labeled weak and lacking intellectual strength, first owned by your father, passed to your brothers, other male relatives, and finally to a husband. If you owned property through your father’s generosity, it automatically became your husband’s when you married. You were legally labeled with hysterical tendencies. Therefore, if your spouse was to beat you, rape you, mistreat you, or not care for you, leaving was not an option under punishment of the law.
Business or adventurous ventures were forbidden you; only men partook in ventures and activities outside the home. You were not allowed to vote because you were emotionally unstable to decipher politics. The only subject you were allowed to learn if you were from a prominent family was language: reading and writing, sometimes arithmetic. Other education avenues might extend to knitting, midwifery, cooking, and classes on how to please your husband. If you were from a wealthy family, music lessons might be included. And all this was regular life well into the 1900s! The locomotive, the telephone, and electricity were invented but women were looked upon as breeding stock.
Ninety-two years, almost a century before women would be allowed to vote, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first female doctor anywhere in our modern world in 1849. Born in Bristol in 1821, she and her family immigrated to America at age 11. And six years later, at the age of 17, her father died, leaving the family in poverty. Adversity was as common as crackers in her soup, and becoming the first female doctor in our history, meant eating those crackers and being happy for every one of them.
Is it possible to be perpetually driven towards the greater good of your own life? Like a superpower that gets you through the storms. Would you want this for your life? Sustained serenity and happiness is elusive to many women? And if you want to evaluate Elizabeth Blackwell’s success. It’s pretty simple. She was the epitome of inclusive prosperity—the intentional effort to foster overall sustained resilience for the world. In other words, build a world where everyone prospers and is free to do so by the fair hand of justice. She took what was rightfully hers and so can you.
But, ah, yes. The all-important question. How do women today apply it to modern-day life? Elizabeth cared about people and became a doctor because that’s what doctors do? If you pursue what you care about, then you’ve already got her formula. The catalyst for her strength began in what she loved.
HOW THE FIRST WOMAN DOCTOR BEGAN
Her mother and two sisters set up a private school to provide income during a time when women had less than equality. Today, we rise up in protest when history recalls these ridiculous times, but what did it mean to be happy in 1827 to be an immigrant, fatherless, poverty-stricken, and a woman? What motivated Elizabeth to change what then was considered to be happy, to what today is considered equality?
After a terminally ill friend spoke of her reservations to be attended by a male doctor, Elizabeth decided to become a doctor. I can only imagine that the loss of her father might have given her a taste of freedom. Her family of women chose to teach as a means of survival. It was tolerated as educated women took positions as a governess or teacher of children. But, opening a school was a kind of clandestine move into the men’s arena.
One step into the arena meant another might be possible. But as you can imagine, when she applied to college, she was rejected by all but Geneva College of Medicine in Geneva, New York. And even then, being enrolled, she was initially barred from classroom demonstrations and later ostracized and harassed by the townspeople and her male peers. They did not want or expect her to succeed.
JANUARY 1848 Elizabeth Blackwell GRADUATED: THE FIRST FEMALE DOCTOR IN THE MODERN WORLD
Do you think there was a party or a vacation? I can only imagine the relief to finish, the joy of pioneering, the championship win, but who celebrated with her?
In January 1849, she became the first woman doctor to rank first in her class. She founded the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, opened her own dispensary in 1853, followed by private practice in London in 1870, and established the London School of Medicine for Women, and by 1875 was appointed professor of gynecology.
It was by no miracle or blessing from the universe, but by her daily efforts in this life, that by 1911, there were 495 registered women physicians in England and Wales. To be happy became being free for 495 women doctors.
And there is more, she wrote and published numerous books and was part of several reform movements amongst a long list of women’s suffrages, including the abolition of prostitution and white slavery, morality in government, and the liberalization of the Victorian prudery.
Now tell me, how a woman who can’t even vote for her president, yet could save his life, could make such a difference in suffrages as prostitution and white slavery!
Did happiness have anything to do with it? Did she even know what “to be happy” meant? Yes, I think she did, she just did not accept happiness by any means but her own.
DO YOU OVERTHINK BING HAPPY?
The humorous part of it all for me is that I knew what I wanted to be when I was 10-years-old, but when I grew into this mature, educated woman, I didn’t have a clue. Kids don’t overthink things, they are brave. And in that bravery is wisdom, kindness, greatness. When a kid plays a game, he doesn’t have to Google the benefit of it to decide it’s worth. He plays what he likes to play. He loves who he loves, he forgives with a generous heart and doesn’t care why. Successful people like Elizabeth were playing doctor and became one. Your passion, my friend, lies in where you want to play.
Elizabeth changed our world. Everyone felt it even if they never knew her. She made us better. She is a legend. And I imagine there were days she fell to her knees in tears for a struggle that was most difficult to bear! And at the same time, I imagine she loved her struggle with her whole being. To love the struggle, the very pain of climbing a mountain void of the same gear as fellow male climbers. It had to be her joy. And a journey void of vanity, but rather humbly strong to stand on top that mountain.
And with those who did not want her there, she lifted her hands up to the sky to BE HAPPY!
The founding father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, emphasizes the flexibility of happiness, that you can build it, work and ultimately strive towards it.
Lowri Dowthwaite wrote an incredible article here’s a quote from her piece. “To be happy is a frequent positive emotion, such as joy, excitement, and contentment, combined with deeper feelings of meaning and purpose. It implies a positive mindset in the present and an optimistic outlook for the future. Importantly, happiness experts have argued that happiness is not a stable, unchangeable trait but something flexible that we can work on and ultimately strive towards.”
We have more freedom today than ever in human history. Therefore, we have no reason to fear moving forward. When I began 52-Secrets, it was a journal calendar. (One I’ve sold out on and need a new printer to continue production.) Every day for 52 weeks, I strategized how to be happy, how to get what I wanted in life. Through self-awareness, I began building that life of kindness that had always provided for me in the past. But the biggest turning point in my success came when I challenged what made me happy. I asked myself these questions:
- Why am I happy with my relationship. What about it is so great? Why am I happy about where it’s leading?
- Why do I love my career choice? What does it really do for me? Where am I going, and why does that make me happy?
- Why am I happy not to run my own business as I’ve always done? Where is it leading me?
- Why do I live where I live, eat what eat, have friends that do? Dress the way I do, and why does the morning sunshine make me happy?
I asked these questions and many more over those 52 weeks, and I was shocked to find out, the things I thought I loved the most, I couldn’t really give a good reason why I loved them. This changed my life.
It takes bravery to ask yourself these things. I’m not saying I know everything, but I can say my life changed so that I can now answer every question with fullness as to why I’m happy.
I wish the same for you, let me know if I can hlep in any way,
With enourmous love,
- Women’s Issues, Women in the 1800s
- Wikipedia, History of Corsets
- The Conversation, Lowri Dowthwaite, True happiness isn’t about being happy all the time
- Katherine Gibson, Jenny Cameron, Stephen Healy, Pursuing happiness: it’s mostly a matter of surviving well together
- NCBI, Patricia A Thomas, PhD1, Hue Liu, PhD2, Debra Umberson, PhD3, Family Relationships and Well-Being
- Romeo Vitelli Ph.D., Is Quality Better Than Quantity in Social Relationships?
- A. Morningstar, How To Be Proud Of Yourself Without Being Arrogant