Michael Silverstein, co-author of the upcoming book Women Want More, asked thousands of women: What makes you happy? Those are the top answers.
Not loving spouses. Fabulous children. Interesting work. Or a bank account full of cash.
I got a sneak peek at the book and Silverstein’s thought process when we touched base earlier this week. And so I asked him: What’s the deal?
“Women are overburdened by all the responsibilities around them. They have a time challenge,” he explained. “So when they think about their day dream it doesn’t involve their children or their husbands or [anything else that might be another drain on that time.]” It’s not that women don’t love their children or their spouses, he went on to say, but rather that when almost everything in your life represents a potential time-suck (my term, not his), when you have the opportunity to fantasize you tend to focus on you and the things that give back to you without asking much in return. Thus: Pets. Food. Sex.
The intersection between money and happiness has always been fascinating to me. A Roper study I commissioned in 2002 for my book The 10 Commandments of Financial Happiness showed that once you have enough money to live comfortably (pay your rent, put food on the table, take a vacation once in a while) more money doesn’t buy more happiness. What does boost happiness and optimism? More control over the money that you have – and more control over your life in general.
Silverstein’s new work backs that up. He and his colleagues document a typical woman’s “V-Curve of Happiness.” When we’re young, single and right out of college, we may not have much in terms of money but we also don’t have much in terms of responsibility. Our time and our resources are our own. At that point, he says, we’re “peak happy.” Then we get married. And we lose 10 hours of our discretionary time – per week — to, as Silverstein puts it, our “first child” – i.e. the husband. Have a baby? There goes another 22 hours. So now you’re down 32 hours. Where does that time come from? For most of us, not from work outside the home … or in it. The groceries still need to be purchased. The counters to be cleaned. No, confirms Silverstein, it comes from taking shorter showers, not having drinks with the girls and less sleep. Is it any surprise we’re less happy?
But here’s the amazing thing: That V Curve doesn’t right itself, Silverstein notes, until those beloved offspring are actually out of the house. Yes, you read that right. Decide to marry and then to breed and you’re looking at two-plus decades of subpar glee.
So, although I continue to believe that more money doesn’t buy more happiness, perhaps you can spend your way out of these doldrums. It seems to me that the key to finding happiness with life beyond your beloved Cockapoo, a nicely charred porterhouse, and the occasional tumble in the sheets has to do with using your financial resources (despite the fact that they’re likely a bit more limited than they used to be) to add time, rather than things to your day. That $100 may be much better spent on someone to help with the cleaning, the cooking, even the homework, than on yet another pair of ballet flats. I, for one, am going to give it a try.