Turns out women aren’t happy.
Turns out the older women get, the sadder they become.
Turns out once she hits 47 years old, a woman’s happiness declines quite steadily.
Buckingham is a smart guy — his work has transformed the way we talk about work and life by shifting our collective focus from shoring up weaknesses to centering in strengths.
I like him.
So back to this women-are-increasingly-unhappy idea… what’s the deal?
In the article, Buckingham says it’s not because women are paid less than men, although that is a fact. Nor is it because women assume more of the household chores than their male partners. Also a fact. And it’s not because women have limited opportunities. Because we have so many more opportunities than our grandmothers did.
Why are women aging unhappily?
Of course, I have a theory.
Let’s call it the Disillusionment Theory.
From the work I do with women, it seems that for a certain generation the message we got growing up was, “Be a good girl, don’t have strong opinions or talk too much, get along, be pretty enough to catch a husband, have kids and then everything will be easy for you.”
And what happens to many women by the time they turn 47? The kids you put your life on hold for are grown up and have their own lives. The husband you put through medical school left the marriage. The parents who defined you as their darling good girl have died. Your body’s not the same. The media tells you that you’re no longer pretty enough or young enough to catch a man’s eye, let alone a second husband. It’s grim.
Because your whole life you played by the rules, but in mid-life the rules seem to have changed. Life is not easy.
Nothing’s the way it should be.
But we know, and Buckingham documents, the women who find deep happiness and satisfaction despite the loss trajectory of their lives. What do they have that other women don’t?
Buckingham gives us some juicy tidbits about the happiest women — they:
* Don’t agonize over who they aren’t—they accept and act on who they are. They have discovered the role they were born to play and they play it.
* Don’t juggle—they catch-and-cradle. They don’t keep things at bay, but select a few things and draw them in close.
* Don’t strive for balance—they strive for fullness. They intentionally imbalance their lives toward those moments that make them feel strong.
* Always sweat the small stuff—They know and act on the specific details of what invigorates them (and they let go of what doesn’t strengthen them).
So, to be happy at mid-life, women have to focus on what makes them happy and do more of that. And they have to let go of what no longer makes them happy. They need to find new ways to define themselves — based on their strengths — and drop the old ways they were defined.
In terms I use as a coach, to be happy in mid-life women need to move from living in their “social selves”, concerned with What Other People Will Think, to living firmly in their “authentic selves”, which is who they are at their very core.
Calls to mind Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s famous quip, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” Perhaps especially in mid-life, it’s “Well-behaved women are seldom happy.”
Y’know what? I choose happy. If that makes me appear less well-behaved, then so be it. And you are welcome to join me.
And for my fabulous guy readers — if there is a woman in your life who is approaching the happiness tipping point, what can you do? Try this: encourage her to misbehave. Encourage her to step out and step up. Throw away the old rules, and join her in making some new ones. Believe me — you will love it. By encouraging the woman you love to be more fully herself, you will be amazed at the joy and happiness that will flood your life. She’ll be more her, which only allows you to be more you.