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’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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  1. 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.

  2. 22

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

  3. 23

    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”.

  4. 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!!!

  5. 25

    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 🙂

  6. 26

    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.

  7. 27

    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!

  8. 28

    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.

  9. 29

    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.

  10. 30

    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.

  11. 31

    @Kenely #29
    IMHO I think mothers admitting remorse, however temporary and situational, about motherhood is so charged for them that it is similar for a patriotic soilder to admit that a war he is in is a farce.

  12. 32
    Curly Girl

    Steve, military people say that all the time.

  13. 33
    Curly Girl

    I still like what Isabelle says! Go, Isabelle!!!

  14. 34

    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.
    If you went to a busy street corner at 5:30 PM before women were permitted to have careers, you wouldn’t be able to “look deeply into the faces of women driving home from work” because they’d all be at home cooking and cleaning for their husbands. If I was stuck in that position I’d probably look hazy and frazzled by 5:30 PM because I would have spent the afternoon drinking away my depression at being trapped in a completely domestic role.
    Personal anecdote: I have gone through periods of hating my job and feeling stressed and miserable. But through a confluence of hard work and luck, I have addressed a lot of the reasons for this. Now I have a dynamic and interesting job that I love. I enjoy my time at the office. I’m still tired and sometimes cranky at the end of the day because I work hard.
    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.
    I have similarly had men — always strangers — complain that I wasn’t smiling. That did not make me smile! I don’t smile to provide a decorative aesthetic experience for men! The default mode on my face is a neutral one. If someone wants me to smile he should do something to make me smile 😉

  15. 35

    If someone wants me to smile he should do something to make me smile

    Awesome: this is what we should all say the next time some dude wants us to bestow a smile on him.

  16. 36

    If someone wants me to smile he should do something to make me smile
    Sounds like it could be an invitation to obnoxious behavior

  17. 37

    Diane / Sayanta / LK:
    Re: smiling. I get the same thing all the time with total strangers, always men, asking me why I am not smiling. Once they point it out to me, they appear to expect that I should start smiling. Why does this total stranger think that it is appropriate to make a personal observation? I have never felt the urge to ask any men or women I see walking by who are strangers why they aren’t smiling. It isn’t my business.
    I would really love to know exactly what is behind that phenomenon, and particularly why I never get asked to smile by other women. I’m not scowling, I’m just in neutral.
    I don’t know how it is that these men think that pointing out that someone isn’t smiling is supposed to then make them want to smile. And how can they not realize that it would make the person confronted feel very uncomfortable? If I ignore the comment and keep walking, the men mumble that I’m a b**ch or stuck up, but sometimes I can’t walk away as they’ll come right up to me and demand an answer. I’ll try to explain that I’m not unhappy at all, just in neutral, then they seem to not understand that and press even more, saying “give me a nice big smile”.

  18. 38

    I think I hit a nerve. 😉 It is presumptuous when a guy tells me to smile. I just continue on my way. My quiet aura sometimes has guys wondering what I’m thinking. Perhaps a smile would ease them, but I usually do not smile when my mind is elsewhere and not focused on them. Like the time I got on an elevator remembering my beloved cat who had to be put to sleep and then heard. “Smile!” Ugh.

  19. 39

    Re: Complete strangers (men) asking a woman why she wasn’t smiling. Yeah it’s annoying. I never before realized it’s an actual phenomena. Why do they do it? Just a stab in the dark, but I wonder if it is a prelude to flirting. That is, if they can get a woman to smile at them, then they assume she will be receptive to their flirting with her. Neutral expression leaves them on uncertain ground in how to proceed. Guys? What do you think?

    Paul, I know I’ve worn a grim expression many a time at 5:30 on my way home from work. Had nothing to do with the women’s movement, everything to do with a long, congested commute and trying to avoid asshole drivers on the highway.

    Also Paul, I’ve had the privelege of being both a work-outside AND a stay-at-home mother. Both have their perks. Both have their downsides. I liked being at home because I was my own boss. I could pick and choose what tasks I wanted to do (or not do) on any given day. I was also mind-numbingly bored many a time and missed interaction/intellectual stimulation with adults.

    I’ve known women who would have loved to stay home with their kids, but simply couldn’t afford to. And I’ve known many women who would have been climbing the walls in frustration and lashing out at their kids and partner if they were forced to stay home with them 24/7. Happiness in this arena depends on personality. Not to mention family economics. How can you presume to know what would make over 3 billion people happier? Or would it just make you happier if women stayed in their kitchens? And if so…why? Examine that.

  20. 40
    Curly Girl

    A man who feels compelled to make comments to women on the street about their attractiveness or lack thereof has a problem with women in general. I think that sums it up.

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