What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently

This article - actually, this series of articles – at the Huffington Post – has drawn some predictable criticism from some the commenters. And why?

Because the author, a man who writes books about women and does scientific research on happiness, reports in “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness” that there are some things that women can do to improve their lives.

Marcus Buckingham, from all accounts, has just compiled a bunch of data from women and is reporting objectively on what he’s discovered. He doesn’t have an agenda, apart from making women aware of some of the unfortunate consequences of certain lifestyle choices – like being negative and not accepting the world as it is.

Hmm…sounds familiar.

Yet commenters on HuffPo question him as if he’s some tool of the establishment, sent to oppress women:

Dear Mr. Marcus Buckingham,

What authority and expertise do you posses in womens’ issues? Further, what is your degree in? Where is the research referenced in your blog? Is it peer reviewed? It seems to me you want to write an “inspirational” self help book for women (from a white male perspective), and they will probably buy it. The beauty of blogging is access to information and opinion that popular media falls short in delivering, but I also find it troublesome that some people use blogs to promote themselves and their “brand” which is not dissimilar to the corporate concept that has served to oppress pretty much the majority of this country’s population, minus 1% on the top.

So, I would like to know your education and credentials and I would appreciate references to the studies you cite. That would be honest blogging and reporting!

Best regards,

Adelina

Adelina’s skepticism is based not on Mr. Buckingham himself – after all, she has no idea who he is. Instead, her anger is based on the fact that he told her something she didn’t want to hear. And when people tell us things we don’t want to hear, we tend to attack them – instead of considering the message itself – and how it might be valid to a broad swath of others.

If Mr. Buckingham reports that women are less happy than before, and a reader herself is PERFECTLY happy and can’t possibly understand where this study is coming from…it still doesn’t negate the veracity of the study.

Once again, the messenger is getting shot. But it’s not HIS message.

It’s an objective one.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Jenny from Texas

    Dear Adelina:

    How old are you?

    Sincerely,
    Jen

  2. 2
    Mikko Kemppe - Relationship Coach

    What a great blog and article he has. I just went and read it. Thanks for posting it! I thought the study was very interesting.

    But the funny part for me is how we men often insist on trying to talk or explain women out of their feelings of unhappiness whether by justifying how we are right by doing research and using complicate data or by simply often unknowingly discounting women’s feelings and experience.

    And then we wonder why women don’t feel supported or loved by our “so smart and brilliant” explanations on how to be happier :).

  3. 3
    Dope

    Women’s issues? Sounds more like he’s addressing a human issue which just happens to have been highlighted in a study on women.

  4. 4
    Evan Marc Katz

    I agree, Mikko. Emotion is more powerful than logic. And it’s extremely hard to effectively and gently point out the logic behind one’s unhappiness.

    It’s like Dale Carnegie – and Landmark Education – and so many other say: People will do anything to preserve their worldview, even if it’s keeping them unhappy. Nobody wants to be told that they are “wrong”.

    And that’s why “wrong” is the wrong word.

    That’s I try to talk about effective vs. ineffective as opposed to right and wrong. So if getting angry at the opposite sex is effective for you as a dating strategy, keep it up.

    However, if it doesn’t serve any practical purpose, what strategies can you use to understand the opposite sex and empower yourself into healthier relationships? That’s pretty much why I write about this stuff.

    I sincerely hope it helps in some small way.

  5. 5
    Honey

    I agree that people who are happy are predisposed to be happy, and are also able to decide to be happy, sometimes even when circumstances would suggest another emotional reaction.

    My boyfriend defaults to an entitled/pessimistic view in almost every circumstance. It’s a wee bit exhausting, sometimes.

  6. 6
    Kristyn

    I thought the article made a great point when it stated that part of being happy is a choice. I have a thought by Charles Swindoll on my desk that reads:

    “Attitude – The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts.

    It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than success, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company . . a church . . . a home.

    The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past . . . we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude . . .

    I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you . . . we are in charge of our attitudes.”

  7. 7
    Kristyn

    @ Evan
    I think it helps a great deal.

  8. 8
    Paul

    Ladies, please don’t hate me for saying all of what I’m about to say, this has really been on my heart of late. If you go to any really busy street corner at, lets say, 5:30 PM and look deeply into the faces of the women driving home from work, you’ll see it…it’s there…deep unhappiness. Looking at it from a Biblical perspective, it is no wonder that women have become more and more unhappy in the last 50-60 years…that just so happens to coincide with the advent of the womens movement. It also just happens to coinside with the rising divorce rate, but that’s for another discussion. Statistics bear out both. As a consequence of the womens movement, they did received more freedom, more money at work, more respect, more leadership roles, and all of those important things that they have now, but at what cost? What are the unplanned for consequences of the womens movement? There have been whole books written about that (the book “The Lies Women Believe” has an excellent chapter on the unplanned consequences of the womens movement and it will really make you stop and think!), but it seems that slowly but surely, women are becoming more like men, and deep down I think it’s making them less fulfilled, not more. They were looking for more respect and they got it…but again, at what cost. Ironically it’s not respect women deeply crave, it’s love. That is what they were made for…to be loved unconditionally, to give love, and to be treated with love. Respect is the thing men so deeply crave – mens deepest fear is to not be respected, and worse yet, to be held in contempt by his woman. Going out and ‘slaying the dragon’, so to speak, is really not what God had in mind when he created woman…women are simply not meant for that role. In my opinion, women need to be women, and get back to what makes them truly happy at the core. Men are the original hunter gatherers, and I might add, leaders, and women took care of things back at the camp site…much to do there, that is why women are so much better at multitasking. If you want to learn what God had in mind for women, and what a really happy woman looks like, read proverbs 31…”The wife of Noble Character”. A happier woman you will not find, and yes, she worked and did her part at providing. She laughed at the future…her kids and her husband loved and respected her. She was cherished and lacked nothing. Either read that in the bible and see, or just continue on like the author of the article said, keep holding on to your world view!
    Totally open to disagreement…

  9. 9
    Honey

    Paul, I hate to break it to you, but the women’s movement began long, long before that…the modern women’s movement probably “began,” if you can use a word like that with any sort of accuracy (which you can’t), prior to the Civil War – when women began speaking publicly in favor of abolition. The Seneca Falls convention, generally regarded as the first Women’s Rights Convention, was held in 1848. After the Civil War, there was another surge of activist women endorsing women’s suffrage – the 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote, was passed in 1920. All of these activities generally fall under what is considered first-wave feminism.

    You seem to be talking about second-wave feminism, which is considered by feminist scholars (of which I am one, I wrote my dissertation on certain aspects of first-wave feminism) to have begun in the 1960s and lasted until the end of the 1970s. However, scholars generally consider us as having entered third-wave feminism by 1992 at the very latest.

    And even if you see many working women who appear, based on your own limited, external observations, to be unhappy – you are not taking into consideration the economic pressures that force many women into the workplace whether they would like to be there or not, in positions that they may not enjoy, that may not be secure, for compensation that may not be adequate. Third-wave feminism itself is generally (as generally as you can get given how disparate the various subgroups of this category are) supportive of a woman’s right to choose to stay home and seek the kind of life you speak of. Unfortunately, given that most men are unable to earn enough money to provide that choice to their wives and still avoid a life of poverty, many women do not have that choice in a practical sense.

    And, given your own political and religious leanings, you are almost certainly selectively noticing “unhappiness” and projecting your own interpretation on it.

  10. 10
    Diana

    Interesting article. I began about 15 years ago to live in the moment (the strong-moments the author refers to), to find and to create them, to use them as a reservoir for when I needed them, to keep my focus on that moment with great intent, to breathe its very essence. And to follow the message, “to thine own self be true.”

    I do not see these moments as a reflection of happiness; more as a strong sense of well being, of feeling whole, and deeply connected to who I am, and to life itself. I have found that these moments have created a wealth of gratitude for me. I am less inclined to take my day for granted. My view of life and people is more compassionate and understanding.

    If life has me going in circles or my heart starts to feel heavy, I que up a brilliant sunset where I can see my children playing in its fading light, or I recall the night I drove my family home during a quiet, soft rain with beautiful music drifting in their dreams as they slept. Or how I feel when I play the piano. The moments are endless.

    I have experienced many hardships in life, yet I have been blessed, too. But most of all, I have chosen to focus on the positive, and to keep my faith and hope alive.

  11. 11
    downtowngal

    This article is common sense for everyone. If you want to be happy you have to learn how to CHOOSE to do so. Many people don’t realize that they have choices.

    The idea is universal and not limited to women. I can think of some guys I’ve dated who were so negative it was a turnoff (and I’m sure a lot of guys can say the same abt women).

    I also think the media likes to shock people, and by portraying women as ‘unhappy’, ‘negative’ or ‘desperate’ and what we can do about it, the author sells books. Mainly because women are the ones seeking advice about this stuff.

    So how can you measure the changing rate of ‘unhappiness’ among women? I dunno. And I don’t care. I’m just gonna live my life one day at a time and appreciate every moment!

  12. 12
    Mikko Kemppe - Relationship Coach

    @ Evan, you wrote: “what strategies can you use to understand the opposite sex and empower yourself into healthier relationships? That’s pretty much why I write about this stuff.”

    I am all for all us learning to understand more about the opposite sex in a more positive way to empower us for better and more loving relationships. And I think all of us here have tremendously benefited from your insights and advice.

    @Honey & Kristyn, I also think happiness is a choice.

    And in that same way I also agree with the author who wrote the article. And I think today women are probably undergoing more stress than ever before, so I am not surprised that he found women to appear to be unhappier than before.

  13. 13
    Curly Girl

    Did I read right the absolute declaration that the HP is an objective source of info? Hmm. Curious, that one.

    I don’t even get why anyone is writing in such a broad way about something as amorphous and hard-to-define as the happiness of the half of the population he doesn’t belong to, and over a time frame that he didn’t witness himself. Very odd choice. Makes me wonder what he’s got going on inside of him. Can you imagine if a white person wrote an article about why black people are so much less happy than they were 60 years ago? Or a black person writing the same about white people? Or a woman writing the same about men?

    Switching it up like that shows you how goofy the whole premise is.

    For the record: Woman, very happy.

  14. 14
    Steve

    Instead, her anger is based on the fact that he told her something she didn’t want to hear.

    That is true of almost every person, male or female, from all walks of life in just about every arena of life, not just dating. Depending on the situation some of us can temporarily override that and break out of a vicious circle.

  15. 15
    Steve

    I can’t believe I am quoting Dr. Phil, but I think he said it the best when he said
    “You can be right or you can be happy”.
    Too many of us forget that happiness is the goal, so we don’t even try to think of letting go of something we are OCD about and that isn’t making us happy.

  16. 16
    Diana

    I think that many women of today are unhappy. It’s a combination of things, like trying to meet everyone’s expectations, including those of society and life’s many pressures to try and “be it all,” “do it all,” and be perfect while at it.

    For some women, by no means all, who either personally want it all, i.e. a great career and a great motherhood experience, or who feel pushed into believing they want it all, they start to realize that the way they envision those things to be are not always as they are. They can feel overwhelmed, disillusioned. This is why you have to know yourself well, and what you and you alone truly value, then do the best you can for your life, and try to let everything else go, including the guilt, mistakes, expectations and disappointments.

    To Paul #7, when you see the working women at the end of the day, it’s impossible for you or anyone to see them as they truly are, due to your own view being projected onto them, and because you cannot see below their surface. You are catching a moment of thousands in their lives that cannot possibly be explained so simply. Perhaps they had a difficult day, or they’re worried about their sick mother, or any number of things. Women were also unhappy before the women’s movement, too.

    We all know that you cannot judge a book by its cover. I have experienced men who mistakenly thought that, as a pretty woman, I should be smiling because their projection was that pretty women should smile, so they said. By not doing so, I guess something in the universe just wasn’t aligned that day. ;) Incredulous.

    Happiness is wanting what you have; not having what you want. Men and women alike can choose to have serenity in the midst of a storm, happiness when the clouds look grey. It’s all in our attitude.

  17. 17
    Steve

    @Paul #8

    I’m not disagreeing with everything you wrote in post #8, but there are some common sense points which you might want to resolve with your ideas.

    When I look on the faces of both women AND men during rush hour I see tired or stressed faces ( not necessarily unhappy people overall ). Work life in addition to benefits brings some pain to all of us, regardless of sex.

    Remember that song by the Rolling Stones “Mother’s Little Helper”? Well, I take from that being a stay at home wife wasn’t the magic bullet for happiness evangelical Christians make it out to be. Big Pharma started making the first “anti-depressants” back in the 1950s and many, many housewives became hooked. If being a stay at home wife/mother is the natural state for a person just because she is a woman then why did so many women need drugs to hack that situation out?

  18. 18
    Sayanta

    Well- the first thing that came to my mind when I read Adeline’s letter was, “I hope I never become that bitter and passion-less.” She completely missed the point- and the fact that she wants proof of education and credentials to back up information that should be common sense is deeply sad.

    I agree- some people prefer to stay in a miserable emotional situation because that’s what they know and all they think they can get. Nothing you can do about it- if all the world suddenly became light and rainbows with people all over singin Kumbaya in harmony, Adiline would still sit in her corner scowling and asking what credentials people have that they dare to be so happy.

  19. 19
    Sayanta

    Diana- great post!

    Perhaps they had a difficult day, or they’re worried about their sick mother, or any number of things. Women were also unhappy before the women’s movement, too.

    Paul- I was thinking the same thing. And, unless you own a time travel machine- what exactly makes you so sure of women’s feelings before “liberation”? Women rebelled against the status quo for a reason- they weren’t happy. And for the record, most daguerrotypes I’ve seen of late 19th century/early 20th women don’t exactly have them sporting ecstatic smiles. On that note, I agree with the OPs that you seem to be projecting your own views onto those women’s faces. Case in point, after a bad date, I’m more likely to think most of the young, good-looking guys I see have asshole written all over their faces. Not so after a good day.

    We all know that you cannot judge a book by its cover. I have experienced men who mistakenly thought that, as a pretty woman, I should be smiling because their projection was that pretty women should smile, so they said. By not doing so, I guess something in the universe just wasn’t aligned that day. Incredulous.

    Argh! Don’t you hate that? I’ve actually had men come up to me and ask me why I wasn’t smiling- I don’t know who they thought they were.

  20. 20
    isabelle_archer

    Ugggh. This “study” supposedly showing a “happiness gap” between men and women has been thoroughly debunked, and yet won’t go away:
    “the empirical basis for all this fuss is so thin as to be practically non-existent.” http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1753
    But people just can’t resist a story about What’s Wrong With Women.
    Also, Evan, doesn’t Buckingham’s encouragement to chase after emotional highs, what he calls “strong-moments” (a kind of dull coingage as far as coinages go…) conflict with your advice to look for the steady, calm, and long-lasting in a relationship instead of chasing after “chemistry?”

  21. 21
    Evan Marc Katz

    A) It’s not What’s Wrong With Women. That’s the term that you’re assigning to it. If, in fact, his study revealed that men were less happy than women, then THAT would be the story – with related advice on what men might do differently to bridge that gap. Studies aren’t meant to demonize; they’re meant to reveal unspoken truths. You can feel free to debate whether women, as a whole, are as happy as men…but it’s certainly something to think about. And Buckingham’s advice would seem to be virtually unassailable.

    B) As I’ve said, oh, about 2000 times – passion vs. chemistry is not an either/or thing. It very much twists my words and conflates disparate ideas to keep on suggesting that. What has been illustrated to me, anecdotally, is that couples who find friendship and compatibility fare better than ones driven by passion and all the fire and blindness that often accompanies it. That does not mean there’s NO passion. Other studies show that couples who manage to reinvent their relationship are the ones who fare best. That’s what Buckingham means by “strong-moments”. Taking a spontaneous trip to Napa Valley to renew your vows. Experimenting in the bedroom. Getting out of the day to day routine to keep a relationship fresh.

    We have to stop talking about this as if we’re adversaries – “I’m right, you’re wrong!” serves no one well. It’s all a delicate balance. I would just put the balance at 60% compatibility and 40% chemistry and 75% stability and 25% excitement as a formula for a winning relationship. Flip those over and the results may be considerably different.

  22. 22
    Diana

    To Sayanta #19, YES! It drives me buggers. My smiling isn’t tied to my looks!

  23. 23
    starthrower68

    Evan, to address your chemistry vs. passion comment, I’m not sure why its so difficult for every one to understand that the relationships who have the right balance are the ones that survive. I had the stable marriage but I had no passion. I didn’t even have the stability at the end. There are some couples I can point to Evan, that I believe are the epitome of what you speak: the best example that comes to mind for me is Amy Grant and Vince Gill. I think they are described by a phrase you might be familiar with: “beshert” or “meant to meet”. I’ll bet Honey would agree that she and her bf are “beshert”. I’ll bet Evan, you would agree that you and your wife are “beshert”.

  24. 24
    Curly Girl

    I’m with Isabelle!!! Goofy goofy goofy story! Thanks for the debunking info, Isabelle!

    If you think we’re all so unhappy then just leave us alone, that’s what I say. Let us worry about our lives and you can worry about your own.

    I just think it’s so weird that anyone would even be “studying” this, as if there is something that can be studied “empirically” here. Ridiculous!!!

  25. 25
    Honey

    Starthrower, if atheists can be beshert, too, then yes! Charlotte says that she and Harry are beshert on Sex and the City, so I’m a fan of the word :-)

  26. 26
    isabelle_archer

    Evan, sorry I struck a nerve with the chemistry-comfort thing. I think you’re right about it, generally.
    I actually think that male unhappiness is significantly undertheorized by the media and should be addressed more often. You have to listen to country music to find it broadly discussed…
    That said, the media *loves* stories about female unhappiness – in part because women are prime consumers those stories. But more importantly, this discourse is part of the LONG line of analysis which uses notions of women’s “happiness” and “essential nature” to argue against women’s economic and political rights. That job won’t make you happy, but babies will!! It really wasn’t all that long ago when the US Supreme Court ruled that women could be barred from being lawyers because “The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life.” So, you’ve got to forgive (or at least understand) the more historically minded among us who get annoyed at men writing about women’s essential natures and what we all should do to fulfill those natures, as if we were all some sort of monolithic entity.
    Anyway, my main peeve here that I wanted to comment on is that there is no gender “gap” in happiness – those studies have been way way way overblown by the media.

  27. 27
    Ruby

    I’m in agreement with Isabelle A and Curly Girl. Can you imagine an article entitled “What the Happiest and Most Successful MEN Do Differently”? Or “What the Happiest and Most Successful Latinos Do Differently”? It’s just a tad condescending. And please don’t start the same old, tired nonsense about the women’s movement making women more miserable, as if losing the economic and social freedom we’ve gained would actually make women (or men for that matter) happier!

  28. 28
    Sayanta

    I honestly can’t understand why people are so upset about this article. A guy writes a simple piece about what women can do to possibly improve their lives. He didn’t pull this stuff out of his ass, for Chrissake- he uses personal interviews and common sense, and people are in uproar.

    I’ve always heard men complain about how they have to walk on eggshells around women. i always thought they were full of shit to say that, but now I think I see where they’re coming from.

  29. 29
    Kenley

    Isabelle,
    The interesting thing about the article is that it doesn’t in fact indicate that women should return to old gender roles. One of the big findings in the study is that women WITHOUT CHILDREN tend to be happier than women with children. I think that finding is what really angered some women. There was a woman in the article who admitted that she gets tired of playing with her kids — that it drains her. For many women, motherhood is sacred and women who admit that it’s hard and they don’t like it are severely criticized.
    I do think that for some reason, the title seems to suggest that despite all the economic advances women have made, they aren’t happier so they should go back to being housewives. However, that’s not what the article is saying nor is that what Buckingham is suggesting.

  30. 30
    Sayanta

    Can you imagine an article entitled What the Happiest and Most Successful MEN Do Differently?

    Actually I can. Not for ethnic groups though, because that would be too politically charged- and I do think from personal experience and just observations I’ve made that race is way more of a emotionally charged topic.

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