Why women are unhappy

I wasn't surprised to see that women are unhappier today than they were 30 years ago. Yes, we have more freedom to choose what we want from life... but no, making that choice isn't any easier.

Marcus Buckingham reports that women's overall happiness has dropped relative to the 70s and relative to men's happiness, no matter how many kids they have, how much money they make, whether they are married, and what race they are. It seems wrong considering the 70s' battlecry for women's lib, the 80s' motto of "look how far you've come," and the 90s' standard "you go, girl."

But the stats don't feel wrong.

I know I have a cushy life. I have a job that allows me to work pantsless from the couch making pretty good money. My husband also brings home a nice paycheck. My children are smart, happy, and healthy. We have an affordable mortgage in an area with an okay school. We have a good group of friends, and our families live close enough to help out when we need them.

So why am I so often unhappy? Why do I question my motivations and dream about giving it all up in favor of a small paid-for-outright home on a patch of land in the country far from the rigors and demands of an ambitious life?

One of my favorite bloggers, Michelle Dortch, pointed out two very obvious reasons for most women's unhappiness: the "second shift" and comparison. I am very lucky that my second shift isn't that hard. Yes, I do the fill-in-the-gaps work, but Billy is extremely hands on both with the kids and the house work. I also try not to compare what I have (or don't have) to what everyone else seems to have. I've never felt compelled to stay at home or work outside of the home simply to do what someone else thinks is right.

However, I am stretched too thin. There's working full time, being responsible for everything my handsome husband chooses not to do (no choice for me), volunteering, being a good friend and family member. It's exhausting.

And I have to wonder. Did my 1960s counterpart spread herself thin like this, or did she focus on what was most important and let the rest fall by the wayside? I don't want to focus on baking cakes or making my husband's life stress free, but I also don't feel fulfilled staying up all night to finish up an article by deadline and then turning around and having to do the grocery shopping because there's nothing to eat and I'm the only one who knows how to prepare food fit for consumption (or who chooses to try).

The World Health Organization found that women start out their lives happier than men, but are much unhappier at the end of their lives. I can see this. We're filled up with promises of all we can achieve and how nothing can stop us. And so we try -- vigorously -- only to find that maybe we want something smaller. Something quieter. Something less ambitious. And what then?

Of course, I am my mother's daughter, so I have to wonder if a lifetime of struggling to fill in those gaps, of worrying about your children, of not having a choice about what you'll do or not do when it comes to family, of trying to have it all just wears us down. So at the end of our only run on Earth, we're tired and deflated and left wondering: Why didn't I do it differently?

I think men do what feels right and to hell with what anyone thinks. Women, on the other hand, try to squeeze out every drop of something -- including life -- and yet often wind up with an empty cup.

I'm making a promise today. I'm going to live my life so that, at the end of it, I am a happier person. I don't yet know how I'll do it, but I know what's making me unhappy today. And I'm vowing to change it. Will you?


  • Issa

    Dam, I like this. I sooooo need to work on my attitude.

    I think we get so busy just trying to keep up that when something goes wrong it slides us backwards twelve steps. Mostly because we don't have time to deal with it, without everything else falling apart.

    Great post.

  • Kelly Miller

    Very true. We put so much of ourselves into things, that when something goes wrong, we're devastated.

    My mom used to joke that she didn't have time to have a mental breakdown. I know that feeling!

  • Katie Jones

    The old adage is not true - you cannot have it all.

    I've been trying to deal with this same issue lately. I want to be Super Mom, Super Wife, Super Teacher, Super Daughter, Super Friend ... too much.

  • Moore Minutes

    Very insightful and good post. Thank you for sharing. Expectations are a struggle for me. I feel I always expect too much from myself and everyone else too.

  • Kelly Miller

    L - I definitely think expectations get the best of us. I'm trying to be more open and redefine what success means, but it's very difficult.

  • Kelly Miller

    I know what you mean, Katie. Sometimes my ambitions get the best of me and I'm worn down. Then I get a burst of energy -- or the overachiever in me revs up -- and I'm back on the wheel, trying to be everything to everybody.

    What's funny is I said that to Billy and he said, but does everyone need you to be everything? When he put it that way, no, not really. I don't *have* to be the best at everything -- so why do I (or we) push myself (ourselves) so hard?

  • Jack Steiner

    I think men do what feels right and to hell with what anyone thinks.

    I don't spend much time worrying about what anyone thinks- but that doesn't mean that I sleep any better at night.

    Men worry about all sorts of things. I suppose to be fair many people wouldn't have a clue that I am concerned about anything, unless they read my blog.

    We're not supposed to cry or complain. Suck it up and be a man.

  • Kelly Miller

    Jack, you're right. Men aren't really allowed to feel overwhelmed or given the space to say out loud that they don't have it together.

    I have to fight that battle with my husband and his attitude toward my son. He can't cry, he can't be afraid, he can't need a hug. Luckily, I'm winning -- but it feels unnatural for Billy and definitely strains against the boundaries of masculinity (for him).

    Thanks for pointing that out.

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