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. 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.

  2. 32
    Curly Girl

    Steve, military people say that all the time.

  3. 33
    Curly Girl

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

  4. 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 😉

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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”.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 41

    I can see how women would be less happy today then 50 years ago. But this is also true of men. Men and women have so many stressors today fueled by a fast past lifestyle nad modern technology. Alot of us engage in daily behaviors that is meant to 1.) Try to keep up and 2.) numb/dull ourselves, at the same time. Perhaps the fact that women more closely identifty with their feelings then men do, leads to a study why women are more easily identified as being unhappy, even if men are more unhappy as well too. But I do understand how women could be more unhappy today then yesterday.
    I however don’t think this is only a matter of the woman’s movement being the evils of the world and we should all just go back to being barefoot and happily pregnant. As I said before, alot of our everday stressors has to do with our own fast paced lives and the technology that over fills it. Alot of it has to do with that not only do women work now, but alot of women still carry much of the household handlings and children responsiblities. Men have greatly changed as well and do, do more in these regards but there is still a heavy burden on women to be all and produce all. And do it while you still keep your college figure and still manage to hit Victoria Secrets to by that thong he liked. There are high high expectations placed on women on what they should be able to do, who they should be and how they should look while doing it.
    We are always evolving and our roles are always changing. Today’s women would never be gratified to have the kind of role we had in the 1950s. And while we might be more unhappy currently, I suspect we will find a way to meet the new challenges we face that as we did when we went through the woman’s movement. I personally think women will come to a point where women won’t want to do it all. Maybe that means that men will evolve even more themselves to have more shared responsiblities. Maybe it means that men will evolve to have an even greater understanding of women. Today’s man of 2009 I think does infact try harder to understand women then the men of previous decades had. That is going to keep changing and growing (hopefully) too.
    Someone here befores said that women need to turn back to the core of what truly makes them happy. I don’t think that is tied in how many bras we burned, how many jobs we have to work but rather the quality of our relationships. I personally think, because I know for myself, when I am happy with my personal relationships, whether that is with a guy or my family and friends, a long day at the office isn’t so bad, because at the end of the day, I have what counts. When my relationships are more rocky, things are more off skeltor. SoI don’t think this is about the fact that women have to work now-a-days but that the quality of relationships that women have is the core of what makes us happy because that’s what most of us feel matters at the end of the day.

  12. 42

    HA! Didn’t think of that…;-)


    How irritating- my god- I’d want to sock ’em. I’ve also noticed that the kind of men who say this are usually a certain type, you know, the socially clueless kind who probably catcalls at women on the street. So, even though it’s irritating, the best thing to do is to ignore them. Paying any kind of attention to them is more than they deserve- what you’ve done is best, just ignore them and keep walking. As for the bitch, stuck-up thing, if they honestly think their ‘method’ is going to get them a date, they’ve got bigger problems than unsmiling women.

  13. 44

    My response to “smile,”(’cause I get that too), “my co-worker recently enrolled me in charm school.”

  14. 45

    Sayanta, thanks for posting that article. Good read and a good perspective to remember. The women’s movement and feminism didn’t occur because women were so happy or being treated with respect. It wasn’t perfect either but I suspect women today are alot more happy with thier ability to work and make life choices that our grandmother’s couldn’t.

  15. 46

    I don’t think Marcus Buckingham is saying that feminism has hurt woman at all, and as someone else noted, he does say that women without children tend to be happier than those who have them. Could it be that women are less happy now – if that is in fact the case – because they are more sensitive to social and pokitical inequities now than in the past? Of course, therre are probaably other studies out there showing that women are actually happier. And let’s not forget that this person has a book out that he’s trying to promote. I’m not saying that his opinions aren’t valid, just that they should be taken with a grain of salt.

  16. 47

    Sayanta: let me add my thanks to JerseyGirl’s for your posting that wonderful article by Leslie Morgan Steiner. Yes, our mothers suffered much more than we did, but were not as vocal about it; so really, it was impossible to capture their “happiness” (or lack thereof) in a 1970s survey.

    Let me post here Leslie’s last paragraph, which is worth a read by everyone:

    “And anyway, I don’t really care about ‘unhappiness.’ It’s not such a bad fate. Lack of any real choices and no ability to bitch about it — is much worse.”

    No question about it: we’re living in changing times for women, and that can make us unhappy (no transition is easy). But we’d never want to go back. Let’s be grateful for what we have while we continue to press forward.

  17. 48

    No problem. Glad you guys liked it. I think we all have to remember two main things about any major social/political transition.

    1) They’re never smooth
    2) The people in power don’t want to give up their power, or share it.

    I count women’s advancement and such, and although we can all complain and write tons of articles, the fact is that the above two things are not going to change. The best thing is to work to make a smoother transition, but not get too disappointed when the curve balls come.

  18. 49

    Evan, you wrote: “Once again, the messenger is getting shot. But it’s not HIS message. It’s an objective one.”

    With all due respect, Evan, this is NOT an objective message. Not necessarily because of bias on Marcus’s part, but because there is no objective way to compare the results of psychometric surveys conducted in 1972 vs. 2009. We’re living in two different cultures, the former of which was populated with women who repressed their viewpoints and feelings on a regular basis.

    Your choice of Adelina’s trite letter is not representative of why women like me feel angry about this study. So again, with all due respect, it was a poor choice. And “angry” is not so much the word as “irritated.” I feel irritated by this study because, frankly, it’s not objective; but people will assume it is and draw the wrong conclusions. I and other social science researchers know it’s flawed, but laypersons aplenty will simply swallow the results whole and jump to the conclusion that feminism has hurt us women. Just take a look at the comments to Maureen Dowd’s NYTimes op-ed.

    That said, I agree with all the commenters who state that happiness is largely an individual choice: that we go much further by proactively seeking to improve our lives rather than by complaining with no action.

    Finally, a comment to Paul #8: If you must quote Proverbs 31, please get it right. The woman of noble character did not “stay back at the camp site.” She was working all over town. She was a working woman: good for her! Indeed, “Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.” – Proverbs 31:31

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