Are You Happy? A Personal Exploration of Women’s Declining Happiness

This is the first post by She Takes On The World’s newest contributor, Molly Castelazo of Castelazo Marketing Ltd. Read more about Molly here.

Women's Declining Happiness

A couple of weeks ago Marcus Buckingham wrote in the Huffington Post about a study showing that women today are less happy than in 1972.  Men, on the other hand, are more happy.

In a study by authors Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School write, “By many objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men.”

Could the reason be that women still do 31% more housework than men?  Perhaps.  But women are doing less housework – and men more – than 35 years ago, yet women are still becoming more unhappy.  This isn’t a man-bash – my hubby, Alex, does all of the cooking and grocery shopping and takes care of the kids at least as much as I do.  Yet I still feel at-the-end-of-my-rope, about-to-cry, overwhelmed.

In my infinite wisdom, I decided that the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression and one of the worst real estate crises on record would be a perfect time to launch a new division of my business, marketing services for real estate agents.  My business has always been my “third baby” and I’ve always worked long days and weekends.  But now, it seems, no matter how hard I work I fall farther behind.

“When I’m working, I feel guilty about not being with the kids,” one client – a woman with a high-powered career and two kids in school – told me the other day.  “And when I’m with the kids, I feel guilty that I’m not working.”  Her sentiments, I would bet, echo the feelings of our generation.

It was probably meant to be an era of women’s liberation – as women felt free to be a homemaker, a nurse, a teacher, or a lawyer, doctor, scientist, CEO, entrepreneur.  Yet it has become an era of anxiety as women have felt compelled to devote themselves fully to homemaking and their careers.

What to do?

Like most entrepreneurial women, I have an extremely high tolerance for stress, anxiety, and not-enough-time-with-the-kids/not-enough-time-for-work/never-any-time-for-me guilt.  So when I come to the point where I feel like shouting, “Something’s got to give!” I know that, really, something’s got to give.

“Just take out everything that’s not essential,” hubby suggested the other day.

“But there’s nothing left to take out,” I said.

“Well, tell me how you spend your day,” he replied, clearly looking to help me find the bounty of time I spend doing non-essential things.

“Okay, I get up with the kids at 6 am, hang out with them until the nanny comes at 9 am, then work until 7 pm.  I have dinner, help you put the kids to bed, then work until 12 or 1 am.”

Alex looked at me, realizing that I wasn’t exaggerating when I claimed that, indeed, there’s no “fluff” time in my day.  “Well, then I guess you’ll have to cut down on work,” he said.

I say that if we weren’t still in the Great Recession, and if I hadn’t just launched a new business, then I would spend less time working – but I’m not sure that’s really true.  In any case, we are still in the Great Recession, I did just launch a new business, and if I want to make payroll I’ve got to keep at it.

For the past 6 months I’ve been telling myself, “Keep your head down, things will turn the corner soon.  The new business will take off and you can go to Mexico and lay on the beach for a week.”  But that pot of gold is beginning to lose its luster.

Life’s tough. . . get over it?

I imagine many of you, right about now, are saying, “Hey, life’s tough.  Entrepreneurship is tough.  Being a wife, a mom, a modern woman is tough.  Get over it.”  Okay, that’s true.  Life is tough.  And there are no rules requiring that life do me any favors.  And, I’ll be the first to admit, I could make things a lot easier on myself – and my family – if I closed my business and became a full-time stay-at-home mom.

But, then, what would be the point of the last 35 years of advances in women’s liberties, of hard-fought battles for the CEOs chair, for pay equal to men’s?  Beckingham says:

“Only the most wasted of cynics would deny that something’s got to give. Not only is this ‘tough life’ significantly tougher on women than it is on men, but the advances of the last 40 years were supposed to have changed things for the better. And not just for womankind, but for each individual woman. The hard-won rights, opportunities, and advantages were supposed to have netted women more than just another burdensome role to play – ‘you at work.’ They were supposed to have fostered in each woman feelings of fulfillment and happiness, and even, for the special few, the sustained thrill of living of an authentic life.”

Yet that hasn’t happened.

I wish I could say, “And here’s how to fix this problem.”  As a writer, I know that this is where I’m supposed to tie everything into a nice little bow so you can click away feeling satisfied, that you’ve gained some valuable insight.

Unfortunately, today, I don’t have a nice-little-bow solution, because I don’t know what it is.  I hope to hear from you – fellow women entrepreneurs – about what works for you to balance the relentless demands of work and family.

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5 thoughts on “Are You Happy? A Personal Exploration of Women’s Declining Happiness

  1. I’m a newlywed with no children yet, but my husband and I are in full out planning mode about how to do find security and happiness in our individual and marital lives.  

    It seems that we have set up a framework that just may become our parenting model.  Both of us want to work, hopefully both at home offices.  However, I am the one who works from home.  Our goal is to get my career, my path developed enough so that when children come I will know enough about my goals to be able to handle them and my work from  home.

    My greatest fear is that I won’t have my path figured out enough before it becomes time to have children, and that I’ll be swallowed up in their needs before I know it.  

    This is the “balance” we have now.
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  2. I like it that you bring up this topic. I wrote a similar article last year. I’m not that surprised that women are less happy. First of all the pressure on women is very high. It is hard to combine family life with a job, let alone handle family life OR a job properly. But I think most of the pressure comes from other women. You can’t do anything right anymore. A stay-at-home-mum is being judged, because what does she do all day? A working mum is being judged because she neglects her children. And someone who chooses to be childfree is also judged because a woman who does not want to have children must be mental.
    Instead of creating a support network, we women are just bitching at each other, comparing, winning imaginary competitions, etc.
    It is great that feminists fought for freedom of choice for women. But what are we going to do with all these choices? Sometimes life is a lot easier and happy if you do not have to make any choices at all….
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  3. Thank you for your comments, Lydia and Suzanne.

    Lydia – You remind me of me three years ago! I, too, wanted to wait until just the “right” time to have kids – until my business was successful enough to sustain itself while I devoted some of my attention to my new baby. Yet even as business success came, the “right” time to have babies never did. Instead, knowing that we wanted children, that it was the right decision for us, if not the perfect time, hubby and I jumped in with both feet. For me, at least, “balance” is the pot at the end of a never-ending rainbow.

    Suzanne – I absolutely agree that women can be our own biggest critics ¬– and worst enemies, unfortunately. It’s too bad because we really ought to be supporting each other, however different our goals and life pursuits. I have to say, though, that for me personally, the immense pressure I feel to succeed in business (and run a household, and be a good mom and wife) comes from one place: me. . .
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  4. Great discussion ladies! I would just like to thank Molly for bringing up the subject and for being so honest in this post.

    First, I agree that we certainly need to support each other as women and not judge other women whose choices may not reflect ours.

    Suzanne, when you say “Sometimes life is a lot easier and happy if you do not have to make any choices at all” I think you’re onto something that may prove to be a factor in why the happiness of women is declining. I mean, women 40 years ago did not have the same choices to make as we do today. Men used to make a lot of choices for women. The Maria Shriver study that is going to be discussed in news programs next week shows that women now make up more than 50% of the work force. Women are also the majority of graduates at colleges now. A HUGE shift is happening that will continue for the next several years. The study shows that women now hold more power than ever.

    It will be interesting to see if the happiness of women will continue to decline as women become a more powerful force. Can we not handle the power and the choices? As more studies are conducted it will be interesting to see what results are produced.

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