As an expert in happiness, Paul Dolan has set himself the task of examining the traditional ideas of joy and contentment. It’s an understandably hot topic and there are a huge variety of recommendations on how we should live our lives. Happiness is often linked closely to self-improvement. Finding the perfect job, the perfect home and the perfect partner is all followed by getting married, traveling and having kids. It’s the guaranteed recipe for happiness, right?
Are there set guidelines to finding happiness?
In his book, “Happiness by Design,” Paul Dolan demonstrates that narratives dictated by society (and then spread by social media) are not necessarily the real paths to happiness. We don’t just become automatically happy because we’ve reached particular milestones. Even more interesting is his research on marriage and partnership. Here Dolan’s results show that women are generally happier and healthier when they are single. What exactly leads him to this conclusion?
Are single women without children really the happiest?
Dolan bases his research on the results of the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), released by the US government. This set out to learn more on how people spend their time and compares the happiness levels of unmarried, married, divorced, separated and widowed people. Dolan also examined the financial and health implications of relationships, even discovering that married men are usually more restrained and take fewer risks than their unmarried peers. Additionally, they earn more and live longer lives. In contrast, married women have shorter life expectancies and are generally unhappier than men. Dolan’s conclusion? Women that remain single and do not have children are the happiest people by comparison. Seriously?!
Is it really possible to compare happiness levels?
As groundbreaking as Dolan’s insights might sound, they should still be considered from a critical perspective. After the media hyped up Dolan’s appearance at the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts, critics began to speak up. They suspected that Dolan had misinterpreted some of the data and found the results unclear, especially since the study had only included US citizens. Projecting these findings on other cultures and societies without making any adjustments is questionable science. Additionally, comparing women of all ages, regardless of marital status, doesn’t make a lot of sense.
So what it comes down to is that there isn’t really a general path to happiness, especially one that conforms to social norms. In today’s society, women that have neither children nor a partner are often considered somewhat pitiable. In reality, every life is unique and should stay that way. Happiness comes in as many diverse forms as there are people on earth. Whether science backs you up or not, the only guide you need is to listen to yourself and find your own way to happiness!