Monday, September 21, 2009

Are you happy?

“Across the happiness data, the one thing in life that will make you less happy is having children,” said Betsey Stevenson, an assistant professor at Wharton who co-wrote a paper called “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.” “It’s true whether you’re wealthy or poor, if you have kids late or kids early. Yet I know very few people who would tell me they wish they hadn’t had kids or who would tell me they feel their kids were the destroyer of their happiness.”

Normally I ignore Maureen Dowd, but this caught my attention. You can read her essay HERE. I figure you will want to, so that you can comment.

Discuss.





BLUE IS THE NEW BLACK

Women are getting unhappier, I told my friend Carl.

“How can you tell?” he deadpanned. “It’s always been whine-whine-whine.”

Why are we sadder? I persisted.

“Because you care,” he replied with a mock sneer. “You have feelings.”

Oh, that.

In the early ’70s, breaking out of the domestic cocoon, leaving their mothers’ circumscribed lives behind, young women felt exhilarated and bold.

But the more women have achieved, the more they seem aggrieved. Did the feminist revolution end up benefiting men more than women?

According to the General Social Survey, which has tracked Americans’ mood since 1972, and five other major studies around the world, women are getting gloomier and men are getting happier.

Before the ’70s, there was a gender gap in America in which women felt greater well-being. Now there’s a gender gap in which men feel better about their lives.

As Arianna Huffington points out in a blog post headlined “The Sad, Shocking Truth About How Women Are Feeling”: “It doesn’t matter what their marital status is, how much money they make, whether or not they have children, their ethnic background, or the country they live in. Women around the world are in a funk.”

(The one exception is black women in America, who are a bit happier than they were in 1972, but still not as happy as black men.)

Marcus Buckingham, a former Gallup researcher who has a new book out called “Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently,” says that men and women passed each other midpoint on the graph of life.

“Though women begin their lives more fulfilled than men, as they age, they gradually become less happy,” Buckingham writes in his new blog on The Huffington Post, pointing out that this darker view covers feelings about marriage, money and material goods. “Men, in contrast, get happier as they get older.”

Buckingham and other experts dispute the idea that the variance in happiness is caused by women carrying a bigger burden of work at home, the “second shift.” They say that while women still do more cooking, cleaning and child-caring, the trend lines are moving toward more parity, which should make them less stressed.

When women stepped into male- dominated realms, they put more demands — and stress — on themselves. If they once judged themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, gardens and dinner parties, now they judge themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, gardens, dinner parties — and grad school, work, office deadlines and meshing a two-career marriage.

“Choice is inherently stressful,” Buckingham said in an interview. “And women are being driven to distraction.”

One area of extreme distraction is kids. “Across the happiness data, the one thing in life that will make you less happy is having children,” said Betsey Stevenson, an assistant professor at Wharton who co-wrote a paper called “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.” “It’s true whether you’re wealthy or poor, if you have kids late or kids early. Yet I know very few people who would tell me they wish they hadn’t had kids or who would tell me they feel their kids were the destroyer of their happiness.”
The more important things that are crowded into their lives, the less attention women are able to give to each thing.

Add this to the fact that women are hormonally more complicated and biologically more vulnerable. Women are much harder on themselves than men.

They tend to attach to other people more strongly, beat themselves up more when they lose attachments, take things more personally at work and pop far more antidepressants.

“Women have lives that become increasingly empty,” Buckingham said. “They’re doing more and feeling less.”

Another daunting thing: America is more youth and looks obsessed than ever, with an array of expensive cosmetic procedures that allow women to be their own Frankenstein Barbies.

Men can age in an attractive way while women are expected to replicate — and Restylane — their 20s into their 60s.

Buckingham says that greater prosperity has made men happier. And they are also relieved of bearing sole responsibility for their family finances, and no longer have the pressure of having women totally dependent on them.

Men also tend to fare better romantically as time wears on. There are more widows than widowers, and men have an easier time getting younger mates.
Stevenson looks on the bright side of the dark trend, suggesting that happiness is beside the point. We’re happy to have our newfound abundance of choices, she said, even if those choices end up making us unhappier.

A paradox, indeed.

63 comments:

slag said...

The kid thing makes total sense to me. And of course no one would admit to reproducer's remorse. It's not like they can return their progeny.

As for the rest, I think the more women realize they can live on their own terms, the happier they will be. Unfortunately, in spite of increased choice, people still feel the need to fit into certain categories. And the more choices, the more categories. If we can keep the variety of opportunity and lose the incessant need to categorize ourselves, we'll all be ok.

Lolo said...

Okay, I'll try and tamp down my usual irritation of all things Dowd and resist the urge to kick balls that she's quoting a book by a ..... man.

I think that if this is true, and not just yet another "here, let us internalise and pass on yet another You're Doing It Wrong" trope then it is a passing thing. You know, a result of women continuing to search for a balance that men haven't had to, pretty much ever. It's as though once the bras were burned and the Pill was delivered us pesky women just COULDN'T be happy. We still wanted more than frisky tits and spread thighs. "Bitches not only want to play ball, they want a pair of their own. Bitches."

We still wanted equal pay for equal work, the same access to all the career advantages of going to titty bars with the boss and our colleagues, golfing at the club, poker parties and other assorted activities that having a dick entitles you to. We even had the nerve to want mates who would willingly shoulder some of the load of rearing healthy children, making a home that's a comfort to live and work in and the probability that they would stick around even after time and gravity worked their magic on our faces and bodies.

We had the nerve to want safety and respect in the workplace, on campuses, streets, in our homes from harrassment, abuse and assault.

What we've got, right now, is that we're still doing it wrong. Women who tell themselves and each other that they're not thin enough, stylish enough, sexy enough, vigilant enough. That something has to give, that sacrifices have to be made. That we have to give something up in order to make gains.

However, don't be so ballsy as to think that the sacrifice of time, pay, opportunity should come from anyone's portion but our own. Men, after all, saw fit to sacrifice .... uh, something. They gave us the vote, Title Nine and nominations for the Vice Presidency.

And boob jobs, they gave us boob jobs.

Forgive me, I almost Dworked out there. This shit really gets my panties in a twist, my liberated panties of course.

We're still learning and striving and figuring it all out. In the meantime, if we're not as happy as when we only had the choice of spinsterhood or happy homemaker, then perhaps it's our cue to insist that men are just as good at childrearing, homemaking and putting their careers on a temporary slow track. If we can still love and want them when their hair thins and their six packs dwindle to a pair of cans then maybe they can still want us after our laugh lines are are more noticeable than our panty lines.

Fuuuuuuuhck, this grinds me harder than the whole couch dust up. 9 in the am and I want to spike my coffee with something besides Carnation Instant Bitch. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I read a similar article on the Huffington Post. Someone left an interesting comment about the fact that some of these studies surveyed only 1500 women. Not the largest population sampling , but hey, who cares when the results are so tailor-made for op-ed pieces such as these.

I think some women are happy and I think some women are unhappy. I don't think it has as much to do with the gender as much as the state of the person. But, again, this is an un-sexy perspective on the whole thing. I'm going to sit back and wait for the juicier posts...

Anonymous said...

My 28 year old sister with a four week old newborn said to me, "Shit, being a mum is hard." I am a step mum so I get a four day break, which I believe contributes greatly to my happiness. Even still I visit the maternity clothing stores once in a while. I think I will be a very cute pregnant lady... one day....

B said...

I don’t entirely buy the gender premise here, although I won’t say that gender doesn’t influence us both from biological and social perspectives.

I just read two books on happiness written by scientists who work in the field. What I got from the first, Stumbling on Happiness, is that humans are very, very poor at predicting what will make our future selves happy. There’s a host of biological reasons for this, all designed to help us function, but we nonetheless have a huge blindspot as to what makes us happy. That book also discusses how people of both genders are less happy with children than without, among other things.

I find it interesting that this article says that prosperity is making men happier. According to both the books I read, wealth has zero effect on your overall happiness (assuming you’re basic needs are met). Any sort of short-term achievement like a raise or a promotion is quickly absorbed into your everyday experience – it becomes old news. This works in our benefit on the flipside by ensuring we can get over negative events just as quickly as we normalize outstanding news.

The second book is The How of Happiness, written by a researcher doing studies on what strategies actually make people happier. And it turns out you have to work at being happy just like anything else. And different strategies work for different people, which is why most self-help fails. Because unless the strategies in the latest trend happen to match you, you’re not going to get much benefit.

Anyway, I don’t mean to pitch these books, but they were both incredibly helpful to me. In the How of Happiness, I learned that everyone has a set happiness baseline. You’re born with it. That’s what I always feared – that I could never become an optimistic person. But it turns out you can raise it a few points by selecting the strategies that work for you – and they’re not the sort of things that’ll take too much time and effort. They’re just a bit different than what you would expect would make you happy.

Anonymous said...

Happiness is a choice, it's the "wifm", the will I feel better feeling sad or happy? It's the whether I am willing to feel good about what I have or unhappy about what I don't. As someone who is married many years but without children, I do regret not having them, but I don't think it makes me unhappy.

Lolo said...

Going to the study that engendered (ha! word nerdout) this latest hoohah give us lots to wade through. You have not seen headsplitting parsing until you try to break down the statistical ass covering in a academic paper.
http://bpp.wharton.upenn.edu/betseys/papers/Paradox%20of%20declining%20female%20happiness.pdf

Aaand, as you skim go to the bottom of page 28 and onto 29 for one of many money shots.

"Finally, the changes brought about through the women’s movement may have decreased women’s happiness. The increased opportunity to succeed in many dimensions may have led to an increased likelihood of believing that one’s life is not measuring up. Similarly, women may now compare their lives to a broader group, including men, and find their lives more likely to come up short in this assessment. Or women may simply find the complexity and increased pressure in their modern lives to have come at the cost of happiness.

Diener (2000) notes that one of the hallmarks of subjective well-being is that it is subjective,
stating that “objective conditions such as health, comfort, virtue, or wealth” are “notably absent” and,
while influencing subjective well-being, “they are not seen as inherent”. This aspect of subjective well- being makes understanding what is behind declining female happiness a challenging task, yet decoding the paradox identified in this paper may indeed be the key to a better understanding of subjective well-being. "

Anonymous said...

Here is my thought: what is the goal of this article? Women, don't have kids and other stuff in your lives? Turn back time? Find a sugar daddy? These type of articles make me crazy.

That said, I am happily married, have 2 kids, work full time and am quite busy. Busy, but happy. My kids make me happy. Tired, but happy. And they bring me closer to my husband. So, those are my thoughts.

Anonymous said...

BRAVO, LOLO!

I'd be much happier if I could earn as much as the men doing the same work that I do. I'd be happier if, when I was sexually harassed by one of my 15 year old students, the dean didn't tell me that "boys just go through that phase." I'd be happier if I felt as thought the world cared more about what's in my head than in my pants.

*angry feminist rage*

Anonymous said...

I believe it is just the chemical and psychological balance that is uniquely woman. The freedoms we gained came with the added psychological side effects. If you were to look at the worries our grandmothers had and compared them to ours there would be distinct emotional variances. The shift into being "equal to men" will eventually cause a genetic shift in the female make-up and hopefully our great grand daughters daughters will be more genetically wired to cope. Honestly I think scientist waste too much time studying bullshit facts and could spend more time advancing in cures for cancer and HIV. Somedays I am happy and somedays I am content...somedays I just want to bitch slap somebody!

Anonymous said...

Lolo, do you have a blog?

Anonymous said...

At age 50, I now think of my life in terms of an evolution from point A to point B (birth to death). I look back on all the mistakes and embarassing moments. I have few regrets. I chose to have children and have lived a pretty traditonal stayhome mom/wife role. It's true that children take center stage in one's life and it's not a lifestyle for the selfish, for sure. However, we have enjoyed raising our children and seeing a much beloved infant morph into a wonderful, productive, caring adult. This is deep joy folks. The bond with my husband is strenthened and deepened by our devotion to these kids. We are both very vested in being there for them. So I personally feel that having children has tamed me, humbled me, given me a deeper sense of love and compassion. I feel more womanly and feminie and capable and strong because of having a family and contributing to the good in this world. I feel that I am a much deeper person for having had this experience.

Giving birth and raising children is the most womanly, feminine, strong, devoted, committed undertaking one can have. I wouldn't trade this for carrying a briefcase and being somebody's office college under the fake guise of power for anything. This is real and lasting.

Kwana said...

First off I hear you Lolo. It does prick, the whole book by a man thing. It pricked at me too and I quoted the book too.

I actually touched on this subject yesterday in my blog post before reading Dowd's piece:

http://kwanawrites.blogspot.com/2009/09/multi-multi-tasking.html

I'm sure this will bring about lots of debate and sure life is what you make if it and some handle things better than others but there are some very valid points being made about being a wife and mother here. Generalizing, women are wired differently and we take on burdens differently then men. Which I think changes the happiness factor. Like I said in my post we are the keeper of the schedules. The runners of the homes etc. We also have careers to consider and futures to plan.

Equal pay/equal work? That may not be the answer here. This goes deeper to how we are wired. To home life, to family distribution. Not sure how that will change.

ohnomyboots said...

My 6 year old spends 2 days a week with her dad. We've done this since she was 1 1/2. Sure, I gave up my doctoral studies and have been fighting poverty ever since becoming a single parent. But shared custody translates to at least 2 days a week where I can do pretty much whateverthefuckIwant. Usually that means getting laid. I'm happy.

Anonymous said...

People are always talking about "the last taboo subject," and really, there are no taboo subjects left anymore, are there?

Except not liking your kids, or that you had kids.

tritesprite said...

Lolo: I love you.

Anon 6:32: 1500 is a perfectly respectable sample size. Beyond a certain point it's not the size of the sample that makes the study valid or not, but whether the sample is random. (Apologies. My liberated mathematician panties got into a twist.)

As for Dowd, I'm tempted to go back and read the original study. She has a track record of misrepresenting scientific results to support her irrational sensationalist claims. (Yep, I'm a huge fan.)

sketch42 said...

I hate to say this, but as a single woman in the working world I was pretty unhappy. I got married, had a kid and work from home and I must say, I LOVE IT. I love not having the pressure of a full time job and I am really happy that I have the time to spend with my daughter. That said, having a kid is a two person job, and sometimes that second person is not the dad. Having a housekeeper makes life a shit load easier.

Up Mama's Wall said...

Academic papers and scientific studies aside, I sometimes suspect that the only parents who are made happier by parenthood are parents who don't have other ambitions. They may have other jobs and obligations, but they are not looking to define themselves in some other way (they don't want to be authors, or athletes, or world travelers, or breakthrough scientists; they want to be parents and citizens).
Because if you are striving to be a good parent and striving to be good at something else that takes a whole lot of effort and time and energy and training, you will feel conflicted, stretched, guilty and probably a little irritated most of the time.
I sometimes envy those mothers who have wanted to be mothers since toddlerhood, who have always held that as their number one ambition. It seems so simple and relaxing. Alas.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:03

Good one!!! I HOPE lots of people comment on that.

Anonymous said...

When we are unhappy, we think that if we do the contrary choices, we could be happy...No way!!!
We are unhappy just because we know that, one day, we will die.
We only are happy in the few moments that we can forget it.
And this, my friends, is a fact that we cannot change.
And believe me, kids are a good thing in life, they helps you to distract and forget this sad reality...

Anonymous said...

Maureen Dowd's piece was based on something much more detailed in the Huffington Post. And the sample was not 1500, here is what HP said: This survey includes a representative sample of men and women of all ages, education levels, income levels, and marital status--1,500 per year for a total of almost 50,000 individuals thus far--and so it gives us a most reliable picture of what's happened to men's and women's happiness over the last few decades.

HP also talks about the highnumber of similar studies with similar results: this finding is neither unique to this one study, nor is it unique to the United States. In the last couple of years, the results from six major studies of happiness have been released:

* the United States General Social Survey (46,000 people, between 1972-2007),
* the Virginia Slims Survey of American Women (26,000 people, between 1972-2000),
* the Monitoring the Future survey (430,000 U.S. twelfth graders, between 1976-2005),
* the British Household Panel Study (121,000 people, between 1991-2004),
* the Eurobarometer analysis (636,000 people, between 1973-2002, covering fifteen countries),
* and the International Social Survey Program (97,462 people, between 1991-2001, covering thirty-five developed countries.)

The perspective of the writer at the Huffington Post was also very clear that a trend like this is not always the case for each individual: Of course, this doesn't mean that every individual woman becomes less happy than every individual man--we've all got our own stuff going on, and man or woman, some days we're in a happy purple haze, some days we've got the blues, and some days we even succumb to the "mean reds," as Holly Golightly called them. Nor does it mean that this darkening outlook on life is necessarily going to afflict you. You are a unique human being, blessed with the freedom to make your own choices, and so it's completely within your power to choose a life, and a perspective on life, that becomes more fulfilling as you get older, not less. However, right now, the two trends we see in the data are real and telling.

I think Maureen Dowd did a poor example of discussing an illuminating, balanced article, thus making the findings seem invalid.

Silvita said...

when we are unhappy, we think that if we do the contrary choices, we could be happy...No way!!!
We are unhappy just because we know that, one day, we will die.
We only are happy in the few moments that we can forget it.
And this, my friends, is a fact that we cannot change.
And believe me, kids are a good thing in life, they helps you to distract and forget this sad reality.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, here's the thing: this is about self-reporting. Men are undoubtedly just as unhappy, just less honest about their feelings....

Cristina said...

Men - Go Getters
Women - Rabid Feminists

Men- Providers
Women - Childcare Providers

Men - Babysit their kid(s) (as per my boss)
Women - have kid(s)

Men - Distinguished
Women - Going Gray/Letting themselves go.

The best thing? after all this, I'll need labiaplasty/coochieplasty to "tighten" myself up so I can keep my husband interested. I want to see a man get his balls lifted back into position. Then I'll be happy.

*shakes fist* grrr

Anonymous said...

Did not want children; husband did. Fought over it until I was 40. Was told I was too old; tried and miraculously got pregnant at 42 (naturally, after numerous failed IVF attempts). Love my daughter beyond anything I could ever have imagined, and she's the happiest thing in my busy lawyer's life. It all depends on the person, how old/fulfilled you are when you have a child, etc. etc.

Kristin said...

Well, I'm going to go slash my wrists now. I'm married, have two kids, run a successful demanding business. I must be freaking suicidal. The irony, my last blog post was about six things that make me happy. D, you might want to check it out. I've a lovely pic of Seattle from the water.

Anonymous said...

Having kids is hard work. Sometimes it's easy though.

Guess what. Sometimes being alone or just one half of a couple is hard. Sometimes it's easy though.

At the end of the day, I love having my kid with me. It's the deepest connection I have ever felt with another human...the biggest love. And yes, I love myself, but this is a different kind of love.

my little apartment said...

ugh, I read that NYT article the other day and pretty much agree with it.

Ivy Lane said...

I am happy, I am a 45 year old woman, married 23 years, no kids ( not by choice, just did not happen)..My sisters and many of my friends have kids..I can say, I have NEVER heard any of them complain about their happiness or loss of it due to being moms....I think self esteem has alot to do with "happiness"..

good job... good husband, good extended family for the most part (we all have our drama)....I think people ponder this stuff WAY TOO MUCH... if you get out and LIVE, you won't be sitting around reading these stupid articles that tell you how to be happy or not be happy.....

Chins up Ladies!!! :)

Val said...

Well, isn't this lovely.

Like somebody else said, what's the purpose of this kind of study? What am I supposed to do with this information? Feel even more daunted and confused by the myriad of choices/obligations/roles? Feel even more frustrated and upset by the fact that every single man I work with makes more than I do for no discernible reason, plus has a wife-maid who cooks for him and lays his suits out? Thanks.

And I think Anon. 11:32 AM makes a really good point. Self-reporting = potential skewed results.

Cristina: Thank You! You rock.

Anonymous said...

If you really want to make yourself insane, read the comments section what went with Dowd's article. It was shocking how many anti-woman rants it included. I especially liked the guy who said all unhappiness started when women started wearing PANTS.

Anonymous said...

Favorite comment:

Anon 11:32 A.M.

Makes the most credible case in the fewest words.

muranogirl said...

Just curious if Betsy Stevenson has kids?
I have one child and a career.
I am definitely happier having had the opportunity to be a mother.

Anonymous said...

It's not just about happiness. If women are less happy as they age, they are also less sad. I think it's more of an ability to moderate emotion, rather than kids or choices or anything else.

Anonymous said...

Happiness is a state of mind which is constantly in flux. Your happiness quotient can change from one minute to the next. The premise of "women becoming more unhappy over the last 30 years, with or without children" is simplistic and flawed. The range of variables affecting anyone's life are enormous. Who were the subjects of the study? Upper white middle class women? Who designed the study questions? From my perspective, essentially the key to being a happy person {with or without children :)} is to 1) have fairly low expectations and 2) be present in the moment. Focus on what you're doing at that moment, pay attention to the person/people you're with, make ethical and moral choices throughout your life and take responsibility for those choices. It's not that complicated. PS: Please do try to support ourself. You will have more autonomy and options if you contribute financially.

JLG

ER said...

I do find the timing of the question on happiness quite interesting. I'm in my late 20's, married about 2 years, no plans on having children soon but not ruling it out forever. Have lived in NY for 9 years and my husband is in finance while I'm in the fashion industry... we're quite the stereotypical NYC couple by accident. Just to clarify that he never received insane bonuses but maybe just a bit of that excess would have been nice for a bit so i can purchase the $7k sofa! Ehhh, see how I tied that all together? We've recently discussed our professional misery trickling down to our personal lives, resulting in an overall depressed mood in our household. And we've begun steps to try to figure it out.

Are we looking for an excuse for our unhappiness and is this what these studies are about? Perhaps that will help us FEEL more happy if we think we have an answer, but let's face it.... it's quite difficult to be happy 100% of the time. Maybe focusing on smaller nuggets of happieness will help get to the bigger goal. Finding those moments: seconds before I fall into a deep sleep, a coffee in the morning, made by said-busy husband, and being able to see something at the Angelika with my best friend on a rainy day. new posts on Decorno, dreaming of finding that house to renovate... these are things that make me happy and gasp! I think i can still do these things with a child attached to my boobs!

Do I think having kids will make it all worse? I have NO IDEA. It certainly is life-changing, but I hold out hope that our corner of the world will find that having responsibility means having to grow up, and who wants to grow up? Unhappiness comes when you don't get what you want or you just want EVERYTHING.

My mother was a single-parent, and while she was very unhappy for a long time while she was raising me, she finally let go of the daunting responsibility and was able to trust.

It is what you make of it.

Anonymous said...

A paradox, indeed.

Now THAT's writing.

Anonymous said...

I can only speak for myself and my own feelings, but I am pretty happy.

I have raised 4 kids to adulthood, and those years filled with all that kid stuff, they were happy years. The four adults my kids have become bring a lot of joy into my life.

I have been married to the same man for 33 years, and I am happy about it. The more we worked at our marriage, and the more troubles we faced together, the happier our marriage became.

My work makes me happy too. I like what I do, and who I do it with, and for.

Is my life perfect? No. But what does that have to do with happiness? I am happy with myself, and that seems to be the underlying source of being able to see the happiness in my life.

Anonymous said...

having a job is easy, you do it for yourself

having children, not so easy, you do it for them

Anonymous said...

A lot of people have kids for selfish reasons... to play out some unfinished script in their own life. And a lot of people have kids with less selfish or fucked up motivations, too.

But to say that work is easy because you do it for yourself. That's crap. Most people work to pay their bills. They wouldn't show up if not for a paycheck. And a lot of people work to pay for the kids.

Think it through next time.

Penelope Bianchi said...

Here's what I think!
I think most of us are just about as happy as we decide to be!

I am sure that makes people cross........(It sure has in person.) I am blessed with an upbeat personality......called "hyperthymia".

I have had losses.....big ones. My daddy died when I was four....my stepdad I adored....(became my stepdad when I was 9..died when I was 13) ; had a preemie who lived in the neonatal ICU for 5 months.....then suffered a massive stroke. He died. My daughter...who was then 2 is now 40 and lives near me with 2 divine grandchildren!

3rd marriage at 29...two stepdaughters 23 and 14 when they arrived. Amazingly wonderful husband.....who has totally supported and expanded my career as a decorator.
I feel like the luckiest person in the world.

It makes me really sad to read women complaining about things that their attitudes could change.

It also makes me really sad to see many women stuck in bad relationships and jobs because of circumstances they cannot control. That is worth complaining about!

Complaining for the sake of complaining I felt like a lot of this is.

Try smiling......keep smiling....and ; honestly you will feel your mood lifting.

Penny

ps I don't know anyone who "categorizes herself" and makes her unhappy. Perhaps it is my age. I am 62! My friends.......(and I make a point to surround myself with positive people!) are just having a ball! In all income levels! Loving life! Going for walks! Saving animals! Visiting nursing homes with their dogs!

Reading to kids in libraries! Jeez! There is so much to do out there to help others....that , to me is what makes happiness!

MAYBE STOP LOOKING IN THE MIRROR.......and turn your energy into helping others in any way you can!

I am sure I sound annoying.

Penny

ps men have too had to search for a balance. what bs. My husband would come home from some hellish day at work......and I would INSIST he leave his irritations and problems in the garage.......go get in a hot bath.....and then have a nice dinner with our children.......and he would do the dishes with the children. (I would cook it)
I am sure there are men out there who weren't fair......and didn't help.....but don't tar them all with the same brush. Male-bashing will get you nowhere. fast. There are wonderful men out there.

Bitterness is an ugly thing to see in anyone. It makes me really sad to see bitter women who drive their women friends........as well as men......away from them.

Life is wonderful! Happy people savor it! They dig for the positives....and enjoy it! So many things to enjoy! flowers;gardens,community gardens. sidewalk gardens!

Negative people can find something wrong with an ice-cream cone!

pve design said...

Happiness comes from devotion. Irregardless of having a child or not, one can find joy in devoting a life to a thing, a person or a a vocation, but the spirit of youth and the innocence of a child make me so happy. Perhaps we all need to devote time to "youth" rather than looking for the next miracle potion or thing to make us happy. Watch a child at the playground or in a pool and trust me, you will smile and feel happy.
Why is there so much negativity everywhere?
Let's focus on something happy! Right!

Anonymous said...

Happiness just seems like such a state of mind to me. I'm happily married, with two of my own kids and 4 stepkids, and a career, and life is crazy busy, sure. But I get annoyed with the people who make themselves unhappy by needlessly adding crap to their lives/schedules and bitching about it - "am SO tired of being in the car for HOURS driving Regan/Kylie/Wyatt to lacrosse/tae kwan do/toddler culinary lessons!" Simpify, people. Also, living just for your kids seems to me the surest route to pure hell. (Good quick and funny read: The Three Martini Playdate, for any moms out there who might need some pointers on how to chill.) If you don't have good girlfriends to drink wine with and an absorbing hobby or two, then you're making your own unhappiness bed as I see it.

Anonymous said...

I read this yesterday and passed it along to all of my friends, because many of us who work and have kids have been having similar conversations about happiness lately.

I've thought about it a lot. I have one son, am married, and work full time (from home, so that makes it a bit easier). I should be thrilled to have such balance in my life, right? But much of the time I just feel stretched...like I'm doing a lot of stuff, and not necessarily doing any of it very well.

I don't know the solution. I suspect that it has something to do with simplifying, choosing just a few things and focusing on them, rather than letting my ambition propel me through the buffet with little scoops of each item on my plate by the end.

The predicament with having children is that suddenly I have a growing list of responsibilities in life that cannot be ignored. I must supply nutritious meals. I must teach good hygeine and manners. I must read A LOT of books that I'm not really interested in (over and over and over again). These things squeeze out the time that I would have had for myself.

But I have no regrets about having a child, and am fact am due to have another in about 8 months. They're amazing.

Pardon the 4-H analogy, but they give you this chance to learn about how humans develop, which gives insight on how we ended up the way that we are as adults.

And (here's the trippy part), it's a little like watching yourself be reincarnated, but while you're still alive. You can see these physical features and personality traits that are distinctly your own, or that of your partner, and it's pretty trippy at times. He's so funny, and creative, and curious, which all makes for great entertainment.

But he's also A LOT of work. He's inherited some of my less-desireable personality traits. He can be bossy and have a scorching temper. Sometimes I worry that he'll struggle with the same things that I struggle with.

In the end, raising children (biological or adopted) means much more work, but contributes so much satisfaction. The process of helping a young person grow up and appreciate the world, of trying to teach them how to be happy and understand stuff, it teaches us so much. It forces us to slow down and really think about what matters.

Anyone who doesn't WANT to think about what matters in life, who wants instead to just barrel through it, probably would be pretty unhappy after having children. Unless they have the means to outsource.

So, back to my original point, I suspect that happiness is linked to satisfaction, which is linked to doing things that we want and doing them well. And there are only 24 hours in a day, some of which must be spent sleeeping. So, maybe we should just make a list of like 5 things that we do (trying to do them well), and make sure that at least one of these things is pretty lazy? Any time something new lands on the list, something old must drop off of it.

Thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Mid-thirties, married, no kids. I would be "happy" about that if everyone would let me. Instead, I am constantly harrassed because of my choice not to breed. My own mom was depressed throughout my childhood, and even she is now begging for me to put myself in the same position. The second I give in and get pregnant, all the womenfolk are going to wink at each other and snicker that I have joined the damned. I will no longer be able to live life like a man. Because isn't that really what these studies are about? Men are happier and misery loves company.

Silvita said...

In my opinion are not the children the obstacle for the happiness of adult womens, but the husbands. I meet many womens of 40/50 years old that are happy with kids and without husband but a less quantity of them being happy with husband and without kids...!!!

Kristin said...

I think my understanding of my happiness is relevant to my experiences and self-awareness, and I'm young. I can't compare my happiness to the happiness of a 20-something thirty years ago, but the scientists who did this study apparently can. It seems that they had enough controls and ways to measure "happiness" to make their finding pretty sound. I'm interested in what the peer reviews say.

je dois said...

I decided not to have kids because I have seen women become less happy after children. Because my husband and I do not have kids, we're continually being told what a wise decision we've made and that our friends with children envy us. Experts say that humans do a poor job of forecasting what will make them happy. I think children are an example of that.

Anonymous said...

Penny,

You don't sound annoying. You have some good ideas, and interesting stories to tell.

But you also, clearly, have money. I'm not saying money buys happiness, but it does protect you from a lot of forms of unhappiness.

Something else to consider.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:22, I think you're on to something when you say that happiness is linked to satisfaction. And I think you could also say (similarly) happiness is linked to expectation.

Part of our problem is that so many of us expect to be happy all the time. Like we deserve it, or like it's a normal state of being. I don't think it is.

I think people need to expect hardship and boredom when they take on big life tasks like a job or having kids. Both could drive you nuts with either the tedious elements or the difficulty, but neither is really supposed to make you happy consistently. You get to be happy only occasionally. In between there is a lot of boredom or stifled creativity or whatever and that is a normal state. This isn't to say people can't do things to make it better - people who are particularly motivated and ingenious will make their own way around this - but life is often going to be unsatisfactory. That is the normal state. Having kids reveals that on a daily basis... this is the least satisfying thing you could do in your life. You get no breaks, no time off, it's tedious. The highs are very high and profound, but there are also lows and lots of boredom in between.

L.R. Stevens said...

Reading that made me "unhappier"...this is why I don't watch the news or read the paper anymore: too depressing. The media tends to remind us of all the things we should be worried about but we're not...yet. Having kids is REALLY tough, but in my own life I find the endless possibilities to be paralizing. With the freedom women have now, we are told that we have no reason to not find happiness; it makes me constantly feel as though I should be able to create my own happiness, but I'm failing miserably.

Anonymous said...

It seems as though happiness is strongly correlated with expectations. I recently read that Denmark is the "happiest country" because it's citizens don't expect to become rich, famous, wildly beautiful or fascinating. Some Americans might find their dreams mundane, but in keeping aspirations fairly modest, Danes are less likely to feel as though they are somehow failing to accomplish and acquire spectacular things.

Who knows if this hypothesis is true. But, it's a theory that certainly gave me pause for thought.

Silvita said...

Vinicius de Moraes, brazilian poet and musician said: " Is better not to have kids. But, if you do not have these, how do you know that?.
Pure philosophy.
Happiness is just an utopia.
We can waste our life, looking for happiness...
All the things that you do makes you unhappy or frustrating sometimes.
But if you do not make the things because that,if you look only for a confortable life, you becomes a vegetable.
Be brave, people. Live! Have kids! Have pets! worry about them and cry and smile because them. Give them the possibility to live and be happy or unhappy too. Take responsibilities! This is the life.

Anonymous said...

Don't know who said this, but I jotted down when my daughter was about 5: The uncomplicated nature of children's joy was humbling. Adults, with their infinite capacity to for fretting need to be reminded of such fundamentals." I'm single, a mother, work full time, loads of to-do's and responsibilities; but as long as I get out to surf about once a month with my girlfriends, it's like hitting the reset button. Instead of being sucked into a funk by TV, blogs and magazines that tell us, if we follow this simple plan, we can be more "organized, beautiful, mindful, flatter abs, less wrinkles, better fitting swimsuit, have better sex, better relationships, etc, etc" just go do something fun every so often and teach your children to have fun too.

heartbreakingly beautiful said...

a. LOLO you rock my feminist face off.

b. Just to add my own two cents to the mix:

Of course Miss Dowd, who has the privilege of her position THANKS to the work and successes of feminism, would suggest that it’s feminism’s fault that women are unhappy!! "Blast feminism--it gave women TOO MANY choices, and now they're all unhappy because they want to do too much!" OF COURSE SHE WOULD SAY THAT!!

It couldn’t be that we are constantly bombarded by messages that tell us to suck it in, tuck it in, run it out, cover it up, suck it up.
It couldn’t be that our youth-obsessed, misogynistic culture likes to throw women away once women they stop being sex objects.
It probably has nothing to do with the fact that despite everything, we are still treated as second class citizens, still subject to sexual harassment in the workplace, still fighting fighting fighting for what is rightfully ours, as members of this human race.

As for me, I am not about to blame women, or feminism, for this bullshit. We cannot be blamed for the internalized sexism that tells us we’re not enough, never will be, and we better work our asses off to try and inch our way into the good graces of those men who screwed us in the first place (no pun intended).

F*** that S***, I say.

I don’t need the New York Times to tell me that women are in a funk. Blah blah blah.

The biggest paradox of all of this is that at the end of the day, happiness is an inside job. As good ol' Abe Lincoln said, "most people are as happy as they make up their minds to be." It is up to each and every one of us to incite an internal revolution within our own hearts and minds, to know that we have intrinsic value as women (no matter what the outside world might say), to know that we can be happy no matter what those outside circumstances may be, and to keep on keepin’ on working to make said outside circumstances as woman and human friendly as possible.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:32 here.

And one other thing: suicide rates say men are more desperately unhappy than women. Which doesn't mean women are necessarily happier, but they're less likely to kill themselves.

Reasons for that can be debated of course...

Anonymous said...

Women make more suicide attempts.

Anonymous said...

When I was 32 or so, a crazy biological clock alarm went off for me & I suddenly felt compelled to have children, which I did, 2 boys. A friend of mine once told me that the alarm phase passes after a while, but my biggest fear was that I would end up childless and alone, approaching menopause, with no hope of spawning my own blood kin & basically no reason to live except to go to work & go out with my friends-most of whom have remained childless. Is a woman's happiniess related to her status as a breeder/non-breeder? I say absolutely..It's ingrained in our fucking DNA.

Decorno said...

It's not ingrained in our DNA. That's just ridiculous, and really irresponsible to claim. For some of us, the clock has never ticked and likely won't start anytime soon.

I don't understand your comment about "status". Most people don't care what the hell I do. Have kids, don't have kids, most people aren't worrying about me.

What I love is that if you make good money, and can take care of yourself, have a passport and a cell phone, at any moment you can do anything - get on a plane, go to Paris, book a month's trip in Italy, hire a housekeeper, quit your job for a year, and there are no kids to complicate this issue. Having kids is wonderful for some people, but many people are delighted by their lives without them and the freedom that allows you. A childless life can be a very, very good one.

I think what you describe is what happens when people don't know what comes next, so they decide that must mean children. I don't think that's a particularly sophisticated way to make a big life choice (for you and this person you are bringing into the world), but I understand it's fairly normal.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm a statistical outlier as I think this article, though having some points of interest, is just B*S* looking for an audience! I know it is because of a choice I made - I left a $250,000 job to be a stay at home mom to my twins. Yes, I worked full time from 18 until 41 when I had my children. I love the 180 I did when leaving my career and I don't miss a minute of it and don't care one bit what people who knew me while working say when they see me now - one even said that if his wife earned what I earned he wouldn't have let her stay home - maybe that is something to research as part of women being unhappy - that they truly aren't free to choose but are compelled for one reason or another to do both - home & career - single women make up more of society now too and they mostly don't have a choice. I feel for those juggling both as I think, since women are harder on themselves, they can never be happy with either. I don't advocate one or the other, just making a choice as to what best suits you personally - thus finding your happiness. There is nothing wrong with not staying home with your kids but there is also nothing wrong with saying that the money was nice but the job wasn't that fulfilling either.

Lolo said...

Decorno,

You've hit the nail with that word "normal". People use the term to justify choices that aren't necessarily healthy, for THEM because it's expected. Normal.

Well guess what, folks? That is part of the challenge and the freedom of where a lot of us are in our society. We've got choices, more than at any other time in recorded history, I believe.

Redefine normal. Use statistics and studies as a yardstick, sure but understand that it's perhaps a useful snapshot for where society is. Don't just stop there.

Anonymous said...

The feminist movement has caused the breakdown of the American Family.

I don't need some high paying masculine job to make me feel power and fulfillment. Men are not attracted to briefcase carrying, shark women, who demand to be treated like a man.

Women have so much power in their femininity. So much power in the relationship when they are the primary caregivers of the children and the home. The tenderness that comes to a woman from having a child is very much an attractive feature to a man. My husband comes home to a clean house, a nice dinner, children who are stimulated and cared for by their mother. This is real "woman strength". My husband provides very well, but he thinks I hung the moon because of how devoted I am to our family unit.

I'm glad to not have to be some money hungry working power whore who thinks that any man could love her a fraction of the way he loves and respects the mother of his children. This is the best kept secret.....Have a child and be devoted to your family and you will have your man eating out of your hand. Trust me on this.

jax said...

Anon 9:18am: why does one have to be "some money hungry working power whore" just because one has a job? I need to eat and pay my bills how do you suggest I do that if I am not in a relationship. What you fail to realize is having children is not the end all, be all for some people and being successful in their career is far and away more important.

The only way you could have made your very rude statement more judgmental is if you added something about getting instructions from the bible and Jesus stating your way is the only way.

I don't need a high paying or masculine job (whatever does that anyway?) to make me feel powerful and fulfilled. I do however, need to be treated well and fairly. I do need to have the same opportunities for advancement as my male coworkers and I do need to make similar pay for similar work. And maybe I like working more than I would like to have my own children. Regardless, it is my decision, just like it is your decision to stay with your children, and you won't hear any complaints from me.

You don't have to blow my light out to let yours shine.