New evidence from famed happiness researcher Richard Easterlin shows that women are happier than men in early adulthood, but at age 41, this switches, and men are happier later in life. Easterlin says this gap comes from frustration over an inability to get married. Because most people want to be married, and if you want to be married but you can’t get married, you are unhappy.

Intuitively it makes sense that younger women marry more easily than younger men— young women are hot, and they are out-earning their male counterparts, while young men are suffering a masculinity crisis. However as everyone ages, the men earn more money and the women have flabby thighs.

But I don’t think the issue is, as Easterlin says, marriage. I think the real issue is children. Having kids complicates a woman’s life in ways that are not so difficult for men. It’s true that men today are more involved in parenting than ever before, but still, children affect women so much that they don’t start earning less than men until they have kids.

Here’s the deal with parenting: men believe they are doing a great job of parenting no matter what they’re doing, and women always think they could do better. So a woman does better in marriage and career early-on, but when she adds kids to the mix, her self-esteem is challenged (second-guessing her parenting) and her ability to support herself is challenged (she earns less money) and she becomes increasingly dissatisfied.

I’m sure a bunch of women will write to tell me that their kids are the love of their life. But don’t bother. Because I’m not saying women don’t love their kids, and maybe I am saying that the lack of happiness is precisely because women love their kids so much.

So here are three things to do if you’re a woman who wants to hedge against unhappiness in later life.

1. Don’t have kids. Daniel Gilbert (who has a son) has great research to show that kids do not make people happier. Kids give great joy but also wreak great havoc. People used to think there is something wrong with women who don’t want kids. But really, there is something wrong with people who tell you that their kids make them happier: they are lying. Of course, it might not be intentional. And anyway, we lie to ourselves about a lot of things that we can’t change. But stop thinking that everyone should have children. Maybe not.

2. Keep your career. In her book, Necessary Dreams, Anna Fels reports that women struggle to have careers when their children are young. But when the kids are older, the women who kept their careers throughout the early years of raising children are much happier than the women who gave up careers. This research does not, of course, take into account who was happy when they were going on a three-day business trip and leaving a one-year-old at home with the nanny. Also, keep in mind that quitting work to have kids and reentering the workforce later is not that difficult for moms today. So get back into the workforce as soon as you think your kids can handle it; the benefits will ripple throughout your life.

3. If you are divorced, get plastic surgery. I am convinced that a lot of the reason women are happier earlier in life is that women have more control over their destiny when they are better looking. We know that people who are better looking get treated better throughout life, and we know that younger women do better remarrying than older women. So women should get plastic surgery if they get divorced so that they can remarry faster.

I say this about divorced women, but to be honest, I’m not taking the advice. It rings true to me, but it’s hard advice to swallow. The incurable optimist in me tells me I’ll do fine getting remarried just by being me.

But then, that’s the trouble with all research—when it suggests a change you weren’t already excited about, you decide that it doesn’t apply to you. And I’m no exception.

141 replies
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  1. rennie
    rennie says:

    >>>Rose Kennedy, told me when I was your age. You can have it all, my dear, but you can not have it all at once. Life is a journey with many different adventures and each part of it is special. Sometimes you will have to focus on the task at hand.<<<

    Dana, this statement is magnificent. I was meaning to comment something on this order but yours said it much better than I ever could. Mrs. Kennedy’s advice is so true.

    I’m approaching 50 and am very happy. In fact, I think the decade of my 40’s has been my happiest yet – although my life as a whole has been quite happy. I can attribute this to several factors:

    First: I realized early on that I can’t do everything at once, that to try to do so, leads to a half-ass job at each of them. So, when I had my kids, I raised my kids. When my kids were older, I worked minimally. And when they were grown, I began my full-fledged career.

    Yes, I’m almost 50 and career-wise it appears I’m a late bloomer. But, hey, I’m thinking I have at least 20 years ahead of me to fully develop whatever I want it to be. What’s great is, I know who I am. I’m confident with who I am. I have a world of life experience. And I have no distractions. In reality, I’m way ahead of the game compared to my 20-30 yr. old peers.

    By taking life adventures one at a time, you get to enjoy each of them so much more. Each one is so exciting in its own way. Why jumble them all together and miss out on parts of it?

    Secondly, I’m an optimist and happy person. This may come by nature, but, yes, sometimes I also have to work at it. Happiness is a state of mind. You can focus on positives and decide you’re happy, or you can dwell on negatives and decide you’re unhappy. One of the greatest forms of happiness comes from taking the focus off yourself and giving it to others.

    And finally, in response to “I’m approaching 40 and still have tons of hot, young women to choose from”….leave this dude to the 20-yr.-olds. I’ve had a REAL man for 30 years. And I’m hot without the nip and tuck because I had time throughout the years to take care of myself.

  2. Celeste
    Celeste says:

    I have no problem with plastic surgery, (and wouldn’t be opposed to getting it in ten years if I weren’t terribly afraid of pain). However, I think a better thing to have put there would be #3 Exercise. Regular workouts help people keep their shape, which in turn makes them younger looking and more likely to attract a mate. Also, exercise increases endorphins.

  3. David
    David says:

    A lot of insulated people/perspectives. Having children may well lead to being more selfish, especially if they are primarily for security in old age. Life is to be lived, living it well is what makes you happy. Children are to be loved and let go, to live their own lives. Otherwise, it is narcissism. It took me a long time to discover how to live.

    We are being forced to change how we live on this planet and forced to change our theories of government and economics, too many of us thought that because we're Americans, etc., we're above all that. This shift wasn't generated solely by the poor and miserable.

    I thought of myself as a young professional and I traveled the world. Engaging in a little casual sex? Well, why not? A painful way to become educated. I learned more than I ever did in college. There was a reason for us to have gone through the social upheaval of the sixties and seventies, it was not all done then.

    After that first child I got a vasectomy because I realized I was not prepared to be a father and/or a professional, and after my third divorce, apparently not a husband. That the failings were not all mine would have to be obvious. We all have our own circumstances under which we grew up and they go with us throughout our lives, and so we are (continually)forced to make choices. Some people choose to believe life is linear even though there are no straight lines in space.

    What I have learned now that I am alone and into my later years, is that I will be all right with how my years continue to unfold and with whatever happens.

  4. Jeanette Jessup
    Jeanette Jessup says:

    get plastic surgery? GET PLASTIC SURGERY???

    you call THAT advice?

    I am appalled and disheartened that of all the “advice” you offer NONE of it deals with improving the inside as opposed to SHALLOW aesthetics. If a man is only willing to marry you because you are physically beautiful then the marriage won’t last for very long.

    Aging gracefully with a good heart and passion for the world community should mean more than a pretty face

    Please refrain from offering any further advice to women. You are not suited for the task

  5. Wendy Aron
    Wendy Aron says:

    I am a married, 47-year-old woman without kids and with a career. I wouldn’t say I’m ecstatic, but I’m content because of my decisions. Therefore, I wholeheartedly agree wtih the author of this article.

    Wendy Aron, author of Hide & Seek: How I Laughed at Depression, Conquered My Fears and Found Happiness

  6. earlgreyrooibos
    earlgreyrooibos says:

    If you don’t have kids, who is going to love you when you are old?

    Having kids won’t guarantee that you’re going to be loved when you are old. My father was abusive to my mother and was cruel to me and to my sister. I sure won’t be visiting him in a nursing home. Heck, he doesn’t even have my address! Just because you have children does not guarantee that they will love you in old age.

    Plus, I think that comment is a little insensitive to those parents who had a child that died at a young age, and either could not have any more or chose not to have any more because it was too painful.

  7. earlgreyrooibos
    earlgreyrooibos says:

    3. If you are divorced, get plastic surgery.

    I think what bugs me about this one is the class bias on display here. So middle- and lower-class women can’t be happy? Say a woman doesn’t have kids and keeps her career (or has kids and manages to keep her career) – that doesn’t mean she can necessarily afford plastic surgery. There are some women who will never be able to afford these procedures. So they lose out on that opportunity to be happy? Something about that idea just doesn’t make sense to me.

    But yeah, hooray for not having kids! If people want to do that, fine, but it’s not for me!

  8. Jordan
    Jordan says:

    There was no intent for children and my daughter was born around my 31st birthday. I’m not a conventional mother so ‘wreak havoc’ didn’t apply.

    Being a mother has been one of my greatest life experiences I’ll never regret. Regretting children over a career calls for some soul searching. It’s just a career who cares.

    #3 Women should do it for themselves if it makes them happy. Not for any man or required because of age. Penelope your optimism is accurate. Keep being wonderful Penelope!

    I don’t drink or smoke, I’m active and eat right. Men are confused when I tell them I’m not as young as they think.

    Exercise is for you emotionally and a healthy body is a side effect. Use it or lose it is a true statement.

    Nip/tuck guy what a horrible thing to say! Debatable too.

  9. Dana Boyle
    Dana Boyle says:

    @Mary:Thank you for the compliment. I’m glad that I was listening on that day. I’m sure Mrs. Shriver had no idea she would have a profound influence in the ten minutes I spent with her. Your comment about the depth of enjoyment of each stage of your life due to taking one thing at a time and living it to its fullest is refreshing. We all have to define success and happiness for ourselves. Gratitude is an important part of happiness, and you express it delightfully.

  10. Josh
    Josh says:

    I agree with Kate above. Real people don’t reduce all life experiences to a happy / unhappy score. We have children for all kinds of reasons: because we have an emotional need that transcends individual feelings, for instance.

  11. Rachel - I Hate HR
    Rachel - I Hate HR says:

    Hey, I’m young and UNhappy. One day you’re young and carefree the next everyone around you is getting married and having kids. Then people start telling you that egg quality starts decreasing around the age of 30. And you realize that you always expected you’d get married and have kids before you turn 30 but now you’re 24 and there’s none of that in the immediate future. So you start freaking out that you have 6 years to make these major changes in your life and oh by the way where the hell are you going to get the money for a kid?

    /end rant

  12. MFK (Open-Source Career)
    MFK (Open-Source Career) says:

    I think it’s essential also to start saving & investing when you’re young, so that you have your own money / nest egg / portfolio / security when you’re older. Nothing reinforces happiness and self esteem like being independent and not having to rely on someone else for the “what if’s” and for comfort & security in retirement!

  13. Brian Johnson
    Brian Johnson says:

    While I’m not a woman, it strikes me that all 3 of these suggestions qualify as taking the easy way out and are likely to provide short-term, surface-level benefits at best. A far better approach would be to take the time to confront the universal challenges we all face in having regular happiness – always wanting more, fear of the unknown, guilt, regret, etc. While it’s a lifelong journey, I believe (and there is now plenty of science behind this from Prof. Richard Davidson and other brain researchers) that learning the practice of mindfulness and being present will yield far deeper and lasting happiness than a new pair of boobs. I mean can anyone possibly take that seriously as a suggestion for lasting happiness? This is not edgy advice.

    I’m obviously a big fan, but stuff like this is just catering to the lowest common denominator. Aim higher. People need to be told over and over that you get out of life what you put into it. Might not make for great blog posts, but truth is truth.

  14. Leanne
    Leanne says:

    Great post! I’m 40 and feel like the unhappiness thing was the last few years of my life and I’m slowly turning it around (3 years after my first and possibly only kid). As my husband always says…”It’s best to be the Dad – you should try that next time – it’s much easier.” The fact that he finally gets it is certainly helping the happiness thing to make a comeback – although not the salary I used to earn!

  15. Dan
    Dan says:

    If happiness equals hedonistic constant self-pleasure, as is implied here, then all of our mothers screwed up.

  16. le
    le says:

    wow – you have stirred up a hornet nest here … I did not read this advice as your position on things ….

    me, well I was a CEO pre two babes, have been one since and last month chucked it in to stay home and freelance now and then – I’m 41yrs.

    The whole “to children or not to children thing bringing happiness or detracting happiness’ makes me smile.

    I make my own happiness happen and don’t rely or hand away the responisbility to my lads.

    To me not having children (in whatever form – yours, someone elses ) cuts you off from one of life’s great adventures … and I do love a great adventure.

    They are my little in house projects :)

    cheers le

  17. Don B.
    Don B. says:

    To be happy be thankful for what you have and lessen your expectations for more. Choose happiness. There was a homeless man in Boston who had an obituary befitting royality as everyone knew him and he was always happy even though he lived on the street and begged for money. He chose to be happy. Your advice to women lessened my happiness. It’s your opinion so it is not wrong, but I am choosing to be happy by thinking your gloom will fade and your future will find new radiant sunshine that transforms you to that place where happiness surrounds you all the time and keeps you warm, safe and fulfilled.

  18. Jeremy F.
    Jeremy F. says:

    Wow! Now I know why you don’t write for Yahoo! Finance anymore. How superficial are you? Have you ever stopped and wondered if the reason women are so unhappy is because of other women like you?

  19. Editormum
    Editormum says:

    Could you GET any more shallow?!

    Don’t have kids. Right. Ignoring the fact that if every woman followed this advice, the human race would disappear in less than 100 years, having kids is a wonderful, scary, crazy adventure. And in the end, if you are paying attention and doing it right, you learn more about yourself and you grow emotionally and psychologically because of what your children will reveal to you about yourself and about interpersonal relationships.

    Keep your career. Well, duh. But why not put your career on a slightly slower track so that you can enjoy your kids, or just do what you want to do? Balancing work and life is not just for people with kids. People who choose not to have kids need time to focus on things besides work, too.

    Have plastic surgery if you are divorced. Oh. My. Gosh. I can’t BELIEVE you even put this in. First off, if someone’s not going to want me because I don’t look like Barbie, to heck with them! I don’t need the angst of “will you still love me if I’m not pretty.” No one does. Second, not everyone can afford plastic surgery, so you’re basically saying that poor people or middle-income people are doomed to life as ugly, unwanted people. And why only if you are divorced? Married people get wrinkly and saggy and bulgy, too. I’m not saying people shouldn’t do all they can to maintain health, fitness, and their best possible appearance. But to recommend surgery as a matter of course is outrageous.

    You really need to re-evaluate where you put your priorities. Because they seem seriously skewed to me.

  20. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    “Don’t have kids … Ignoring the fact that if every woman followed this advice, the human race would disappear in less than 100 years …”

    The planet wouldn’t care. There might even still be a green spot left on it after the last human keeled over.

  21. gt
    gt says:

    I believe Penelope has the right idea about her suggestion of plastic surgery for those who have nothing else going for themselves. Throughout our lives, it is a competition. For women it is much about appearance. For men, financial status. Women with better looks have a better chance in attracting men and men with more money have a better chance in attracting women. It is easier/quicker to become “more attractive” thru plastic surgery than to become more rich, so for a modest investment to improve ones appearance, you may just find yourself moving up the ladder in the competition for the rich(er) spouse. This may all seem very shallow, but for a large part of our population, that is just the way it is. If you believe it is important to be the “winner” in the dating/spouse hunting game, then many women will do whatever is necessary to gain an edge. Marriage for some women appears to be not for love and affection for the man, but for security and status. That’s not to say all women are this way, but it does appear to be a strong driving force for many.

  22. Annie
    Annie says:

    A co-worker sent me this article because of the comment “kid’s don’t make you happier”. She knows that I am purposely and happily child-free and I am always interested in articles like this.

    There are many reasons that people decide not to have children, and yes, one of those is career. Others want to invest their time with their partner, or decide that they like their lifestyle how it is, and some, believe it or not, simply do not like children. Are they happier? Some are and some aren’t – I think it all comes down to actually doing what YOU want in life, not what you think you should be doing.

    Obviously, from reading the comments to your blog, most of the people out there have no idea what pressure society puts on everyone to have children. It’s considered abnormal not to want children. We are considered selfish or ambitious. The fact is, there are a lot of people, men and women, who have never wanted children. They didn’t play with dolls when they were younger, they don’t dream of little rugrats running through the house. AND, most important, they don’t consider themselves selfish because of the fact that they don’t want the responsibility of children in their lives.

    And for the one argument in the comment above about having kids so you aren’t lonely when you are old… how ridiculous. What a reason to have children. What a WRONG reason to have children.

    My goal is to continue to educate, and maybe someday the option of being child-free will be taught in schools along side abstinence, birth-control, adoption, abortion and sexual freedom.

  23. Danielle
    Danielle says:

    The biggest barrier to happiness is expectations. Those who expect everything to be sunshine and roses in marriage, career or parenting are going to be disappointed. There are definitely large tangible down sides to having children not the least of which is money, careers and your social life. The upsides tend to be more of the intangibles. A sense of leaving a legacy, the close family bonds, the people to share happy/sad events with, and yes the possibility that someone will still be around to care about you when you are 95 and in a retirement home.

    The sad thing about this topic is that most of your readers probably fall under the category of people who made a conscious choice to have children or not i.e. the higher classes. The lower classes with less education and access to birth control are more likely to have unplanned children. Just a fact of our society.

    I have nothing against plastic surgery, especially the more “lifting” rather than augmenting types of surgeries, but I think its important to note that lots of other things besides surgery can be done to improve your attractiveness to the opposite sex later in life. Working out, eating healthy, the quality of clothes you wear etc.

    @Juki Schor – I have heard that autism occurs more frequently in unions where both partners have high analytical/math type skills. Since people who develop those skills are often rewarded monetarily in American society, it makes sense that the women of these relationships can be just as driven as men to have a career.

    @Dana Boyle – Very fitting anecdote to display here! I almost want to print it out and put it in a place where I can read it every day!

    @Jeanette Jessup – I think Penelope has a point here, the surgery (exercise, diet etc) are to help you attract a man. The steps that lead to marriage usually involve more than physical attraction, but its kind of hard to marry a man you never went out on a date with.

  24. gt
    gt says:

    @ Danielle – “its kind of hard to marry a man you never went out on a date with.”

    That’s probably one of the most realistic statements in this thread. Men aren’t the pigs that many may believe, but the reality is he will most likely do his initial choosing with his eyes and then finds out/decides if it’s worth continuing. Are women really much different intially at how they are first attracted to a man? How many strangers do you walk up to who are “unattractive” with the thought of dating them? Women are also the choosers, not just the men. Certainly for either gender, the more attractive you are (surgically enhanced or not) the greater the advantage, at least initially, you most likely will have over your “competition”. And in competition, if you don’t get a chance to come up to bat, you will not have a chance to win.

    Someone else said they would not want to have someone who would be so shallow to choose looks over personality. Well, “looks” is what is seen first. Your personality isn’t on display and won’t get you perhaps your only chance to meet someone. I don’t believe it is shallow to initially choose the “more attractive” person. It only becomes shallow if the chooser stays with that person despite there being nothing else but the attractiveness. There are plenty of people who will “fix” themselves up to move up the line to get a better chance at that first look. Frankly, if one doesn’t care to keep themselves looking nice, surgically or not, they may find themselves being pushed to the back of the line.

  25. HappyToBeChildfree
    HappyToBeChildfree says:

    NOT having a child was the best decision I ever made, and I do NOT regret it!!! As for that bingo ”
    who will love me/take care of me when I’m old?” GET REAL. I WILL LOVE myself. If, God forbid, I am ever at a point where I can’t take care of myself, then I will hire outside help. I’ll be happy and blessed if I make it to 65, 75, 85, 95 and 105.

    The bottom line is, life is too short for B.S., and whatever you, as a person, think will make you happy and satisfied in this life, JUST DO IT.

  26. sircat
    sircat says:

    If men were only attracted to youth, there wouldn’t be so many younger men dating older women. I don’t believe money makes a man sexy and I never found older men attractive. Some older men will date women their own age and some won’t. Who cares if the erectile dysfunction demographic won’t date you if a younger man will.

  27. jjj
    jjj says:

    no offense, but this blog entry is mediocre at best. have plastic surgery if you’re divorced? why the hell are you giving such crappy advice?

  28. Ssss
    Ssss says:

    How about volunteer work and giving money to charity? Actually giving to people who need help has been shown to make people (women as well as men) happier.

  29. Janee
    Janee says:

    I’m no scientist, but shouldn’t a study comparing gender differences include data related to biology? As in hormone levels. It seems pretty obvious to me that the stages of happiness in both genders are related to increases in estrogen production. But, like I said, I’m no expert.

  30. Sassy
    Sassy says:

    There is something decidedly unattractive in this post. Like a little bit of mold on a block of otherwise-good cheddar cheese.

    Having kids isn’t about being happy. But if having kids makes you unhappy… what are you supposed to do about it?

    Happiness, in my opinion, is vastly overrated, especially by the ego-consumed young professional set.

  31. earlgreyrooibos
    earlgreyrooibos says:

    Having kids isn’t about being happy. But if having kids makes you unhappy – what are you supposed to do about it?

    Not have them.

    Of course, if you’ve already done it and you regret it, you’re stuck. And I genuinely do feel sorry for an entire family if their are unwanted or regretted children. I feel sorry for the parents AND the kids, because I don’t think it’s fair for children to grow up in a home where the parents are unhappy with the decision they made to have kids.

    I’ve always been fond of this cliché: “I’d rather regret not having children than regret having them.”

  32. Terris Linenbach
    Terris Linenbach says:

    I say this as a parent of a 7 year old.

    Most people have children only because they had sex while drunk.

    It’s an expensive and tiring mistake. Parenthood has its occasional good moments (e.g., when you send your child off to her first slumber party) that are extremely temporary.

    If you really want to become irrated by your spouse, have a child with him/her.

    We’re way past the time for having children to be optional. We have way too much garbage already.

    Or better yet, don’t get married.

  33. MDH
    MDH says:

    Well this post messed with my head a little! I spent a week thinking about it and can finally comment.

    I am 25, married four years, and had finally decided to start trying to have children. Of course, in the back of my mind I have been wondering if it will be at the expense of my career and my body (both of which, frankly, I love).

    After reading this article it was back to the birth control in an attempt to save my life from the horror that it would become if I had children! I realized I had to think about this a little bit more! What if I can’t keep up with being a good mom? What if I lose my career because I can’t do both? What if I get old and ugly and droopy and no man will want me?

    Oh wait, I have a man that wants me.

    My lesson learned from all of your comments? Don’t get divorced. A lot of you commented on the struggles of doing the family thing and the career thing all on your own, while you’re man-hunting no less! It’s not meant to be a job for one person! Sure, I can’t control how he will feel 10, 15 years from now, but as long as I don’t abuse him for the sake of my children or my career I think he will stick around and enjoy all life’s challenges with me. Maybe a little nip/tuck later in life will help keep his interest. Small price to pay. Gotta have faith right?

    I told my husband how much I appreciate him today and how excited I am about starting a family. Ah, to be young, in love, and blissfully ignorant.

    Don’t spoil my dreams folks.

  34. Hayli Morrison
    Hayli Morrison says:

    Children are often the result of an “oops.”
    Societal pressure to have children/get married is tremendous, particularly in the south.
    Children are expensive and tiring.
    I have never received such unconditional love from one human being as from my child, which for purely selfish reasons, is rewarding.
    I like molding my child and introducing him to new experiences, another selfish reason.
    Spouses can be a life-saver or a life-wrecker after kids enter the picture, depending on their willingness to help out.
    You do not have to give up your career after becoming a parent, but your kid will have to suffer some intermittent periods of being ignored.
    Women who keep their career going strong, particularly as a telecommute employee or a home-based business, do seem more satisfied.
    I am making more money than ever before, and from home.
    I started out in newspaper journalism, so that’s not hard.
    I really miss my newspaper career, but am relieved to be out of what could very well be a dying industry.
    My child ruined my crime and courts reporting career, but spurred me to learn new skills and enter a new industry (marketing copywriting).
    I really do feel like I have it all, but my house is a wreck and I have to live with that. Hub helps out some.
    I am very, intensely jealous of my childless friends who can breeze off and do whatever they want at any time with their boyfriend/spouse.
    I want to do dates more with my husband but childcare is expensive.

  35. Hayli Morrison
    Hayli Morrison says:

    On top of all that cathartic ranting, let me add that I plan to have my second child soon. I am a bit afraid of how my blossoming writing career might suffer as a result.

    I also once had a divorced colleague who was very proud of her killer boob job, so plastic surgery can turn out alright. Whatever turns your crank.

  36. HM
    HM says:

    One more thing – sorry, people. As someone who almost wound up divorced this summer after three years, I can honestly recommend The Five Love Languages to MDH. That book will absolutely revolutionize your marriage.

  37. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I’m glad to hear you’re not taking the plastic surgery advice. I expressed my opinion about plastic surgery in your 4/8/08 post. However I do my best to keep an open mind and read about the latest research and advances whether the topic is plastic surgery or something else. I just read an article about a team of computer scientists that have developed a computer software model that goes beyond Photoshop. The link to the article is

  38. hardworking_single_mom
    hardworking_single_mom says:

    Decided to copy-paste the list of bonuses of not having kids.
    Written by a childfree person, list of benefits:

    A marriage fully centered around each other and unstrained and undistracted by the stresses of childrearing;

    A full night’s sleep every single night;

    No bags under the eyes;

    The freedom to come and go at will;

    Nice long naps on the weekend;

    Being independent, self-determined and autonomous;

    Living a relaxed and unharried life;

    Maintaining my personal identity fully;
    The time, ability and energy to sustain meaningful and substantial intimate relationships;

    Having a home that is a serene and peaceful retreat;

    Having far fewer wrinkles than my child-encumbered peers;

    Not having to be an example;

    Being able to eat cookies for breakfast out in the open;

    Every night is “date night” if we want it to be;

    Not having to be a cheuffer;

    Not having to sock away thousands of dollars for kids’ college education;

    Being able to set my own agenda;

    Having the personal privacy I desire;

    Not having to yell, fight, scream, correct, punish, scold anyone;
    Having a home that is completely free of kindercrap and is decorated as I wish;

    Being able to do yoga or have quiet contemplation when I choose;

    Being able to give our cats the full and undivided love & attention they deserve;

    Being able to invest in a comfortable retirement;

    Being a genuinely enthusiastic and engaged aunt (because I am not jaded from having kids);
    The ability, energy and time to be a devoted friend;

    Having an attention span (most people lose this upon becoming parents);

    The time and energy to take care of my health and appearance;

    The ability to be spontaneous;

    The time and ability to be involved in the community, volunteer work;

    Taking a “down day” whenever I need it;

    Using my vacation time for fun vacations (instead of for caring for sick kids);

    Cooking when I feel like it and cooking sophisticated/gourmet dinners when the mood strikes;

    Driving whatever type of car I prefer to drive;

    Watching whatever I want on the t.v. with no worries about who is exposed;

    Visiting whatever web sites I want with no worries about who is looking over my shoulder;

    Dropping the F-bomb at home (or other unsavory words/statements) at will whenever I need the release;

    Having to do only 2 loads of laundry per week;

    Monthly expenses that are about half of what people with kids have;

    Travelling wherever I want (not limited to Disney World or other kid-friendly places);

    Travelling whenever I want (not limited to working around kids’ school schedules);

    Pursuing a new hobby – taking classes, etc…whenever the mood strikes;

    The ability to pursue higher education if desired without guilt or limitations;

    The ability to be fully invested in my career and forward mobility and being a dependable employee;

    The ability to live in any neighborhood/area we want with no concern about schools, etc.

  39. Mehnaz
    Mehnaz says:

    Love your blog! Just happened to run across it on google when i was looking for something peripherally related. Thanks for being honest. It’s refreshing…and rare

  40. Childfreeee
    Childfreeee says:

    Good post and thanks for posting my list of things I am thankful for! Cool to see it here.

    It seems a lot of comments here are focused on the question of whether kids make a person happier. Those interested in reading more about the research Penelope referenced (as well as lots of other research) may be interested in reading my masters thesis which delved into this area fairly substantially. You can read about all the research here:

    If you don’t want to read the whole thesis (which I couldn’t blame you for – it’s pretty long), scroll down to the section entitled “The Truth About Childfreedom” and then read the section entitled “Happiness and Well-Being”. That’s where I go into the research about children/happiness.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  41. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I think it’s interesting you did not point out that Daniel Gilbert’s study showed that the happiest people (between couples with no kids, middle aged parents, or couples whose children had left the nest), were those on either end of the study (couples with no kids, AND those whose last child had left the home).

    He also beats this horse dead into the ground: that our happiness is based on our frame of reference, and this changes each day as we learn, grow, and experience life. So basically we cannot well predict how happy we will be without children, marriage, or plastic surgery ten years from now because we do not know what our frame of reference will be then.

    Interesting that you stated, “there is something wrong with people who tell you that their kids make them happier: they are lying,” AFTER having read Gilbert’s book. You sound like the people in Gilbert’s study who did not believe conjoined twins could be happy. Their assumption was that obviously the twins didn’t know any better so their happiness wasn’t real.

    Do I, as a mom, simply no know any better? Am I deluding myself? I think it is a luxury to live my life (the life of a mom). Perhaps I am deluded, but like the conjoined twins, I’ll take my life and circumstances over that of someone else.

  42. Robert
    Robert says:

    It seems to me that your advice not to have kids in order to be happier is extremely naive, hedonistic, and dumb. First, Dan Gilbert’s Time article does not quite say what you are asserting it says. I have met scores of couples and widowed women who are past child-bearing age, who chose to be “happier,” and who now deeply regret their decision. I have rarely (if ever), met a childless couple in those circumstances who say honestly that they are happy with their decision in hindsight. Happiness is an extremely relative concept, and you seem to be defining it solely in materialistic and hedonistic terms. Life seems to be a bit more subtle, complex, and interesting than all that. I suppose it’s understandable since you are in business, and saying dopey things inevitably drives people to your blog and your website, translating into more hits and more money, regardless of the merit of what you say.

  43. Reality Check
    Reality Check says:

    Ok, so I’m real late to get to this one.

    I agree wholeheartedly: if you know deep inside that you are a self-centered ass, please do yourself, your “kid”, and the rest of society a favor — get sterilized. Actually, don’t get married either.

    Self-centered people have no business sharing a life with anyone else besides someone as selfish as they are.

    Life really isn’t about money or career. Even if you were at the very top of a Fortune 100 corporation, no one gives a damn after you quit and your work is easily forgotten. I can show you miserable poor people and miserable wealthy people. Yes, they exist.

    Penny, don’t you have a kid? I don’t remember that far back from Yahoo!. If you do, please please ignore your silly advice and choose to love your kid today and henceforth.

    One more note: no matter how hot you are, eventually no one likes a selfish ass. If you want a nice man in your life, how about being a little different and getting over yourself?

  44. Barb H.
    Barb H. says:

    I put off reading this post for several weeks because of the title…

    But I finally succumbed to temptation.

    Wow! I know this sounds disrespectful, but sometimes I wonder if you are an android?

    happiness is not something that you put in the bank to accrue interest for one’s “old age” when the wrinkles and grey hair set in.

    Happiness is a choice, and has nothing to do with one’s outer circumstances or appearance.

    Sure, there are moments I’d like to look again like I did at 20, but that’s not how things work.

    What gives my life meaning are friends, family, creativity, nature, choosing to live a greener, simpler life, and service to others through volunteer work. And an occasional trip to the Estee Lauder counter.

    I’ve lost family, friends, and fortunes during my 51 years on this earth and the one constant in my life is my radiant inner spirit so that’s what I’ll continue to nurture.

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