parent opinion

"As a mum, I've apparently ruined my chances at happiness. But that's bollocks."


For some time now, we’ve been told that married men live longer than single men. That might be the case, or is it just because the married men have partners who made them fill out the survey? Maybe the single men haven’t opened the mail in a few months! Conversely, according to behavioural scientist Paul Dolan, “the healthiest and happiest population subgroup are women who never married or had children.”

That’s a pretty broad statement to make. And as a married woman with five kids I am reticent to compare myself to my single, childless girlfriends.

These ‘findings’ seem to grossly underestimate how diverse we are as a population and I don’t believe our happiness or our health can be generalised and aggregated to conclude that married men live longer or married women die first. What happens to people in their lives is intensely personal and non-comparative and most people would feel very different on any different day depending on their circumstances.

There might be very little correlation between how happy you are, your relationship status and the number of kids you have, but here are some scientifically-proven happiness hacks you can try:

Video by MMC

The first single childless girlfriend of mine I tried to chat with texted back ‘can’t talk now, on a date’. Then she sent me a photo of her coffee cup on a yacht on Sydney harbour. Ironically, I’m sitting in my tiny office writing stories about women’s happiness or lack of to pay for my kids’ education.

While I’d love to be sunning myself on the harbour I don’t feel more or less happy and I wouldn’t dare compare myself to my glamorous globe trotting girlfriend. She’s just come back from six years living in Berlin. She’s amazing – she and I often talk about who we are and what we thought our lives would hold, and I don’t think either story, the woman married with kids, or the childless woman alone, matches anything we ever envisaged. Sometimes we drink wine and laugh, sometimes one of us cries.

What is happiness anyway? Do my children give me happiness? I don’t recall having kids with this in mind. For me, having kids gave my life a meaning I hadn’t had before. The meaning is what caused me to experience a very deep sense of purpose that made me more focused on trying to sort myself out, both personally and professionally. In saying this I am in no way saying that childless women don’t feel this or do this. They come to this same destination from another street. It’s just that it’s a personal agenda, and I don’t believe, for any women, that our happiness can be quantified by our child bearing productivity, or lack of it, or our existence on or off the proverbial shelf.

My friend Tracey did get back to me. She also believes it’s a ‘lifespan issue’ that tries to create a binary about better or worse in relation to those of us who stood at the altar and muttered ‘for better or for worse’. When I looked at my husband I didn’t think ‘well he’ll live longer and I’ll die sooner. Lucky he’s 10 years older – we might still share a twin grave.’

women happier without children
"What happens to people in their lives is intensely personal and non-comparative and most people would feel very different on any different day depending on their circumstances." Image: Supplied.

Tracey has never burned for motherhood like some women. So for her, not having a child was very much her choice. There are many women who have had children who perhaps would have preferred not to, and many who haven’t who would have loved to. How do we measure them? Tracey says, "I have always subscribed to ‘there are other lives’ aside from motherhood. I was motivated by freedom to do things like travel. But, I also love children. I have several god children and love most of my friend’s children. There’s no shortage of children on the planet but there is a shortage of love."


I’m hoping when she says ‘some of my friend’s children’ that mine made the subgroup. See how I question myself? Has that just made me less happy?

I have sat with married friends who have despaired over their loneliness with their partners, and held the hands of women who have despaired over the loneliness without one. Life is not a race. If you live longer you don’t win. Perhaps many of us do die worn out and exhausted, disappointed by our failures and the failures of our children or our partners to ever complete us.

That's because we’re all already complete – regardless of our choices. None of us need anything to make us whole but we all need each other to give us meaning. And whether you live longer, die sooner, there’s no prescriptive approach for what makes any of us happy. Certainly not winning at stupid surveys about who lives longest.

Or maybe I’m just saying that because I’m married for the third time with five kids and I don't have a funeral plan.

Mandy Nolan is also a stand up comedian who is appearing in her show Women Like Us at the Bryan Brown Theatre in Sydney on Friday 14 June.