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Author explains the keys to finding happiness amid life's complications

As a personal and executive coach, Valorie Burton helps people out of the entanglements of modern life. In "Happy Women Live Better," Burton spells out her tools for navigating life's pitfalls and maintaining maximum happiness. Here's an excerpt.HAPPY WOMEN READ INTRODUCTION!I know, I know. You like to go straight to the first chapter and skip the introduction. But this one time, don’t. Before w

As a personal and executive coach, Valorie Burton helps people out of the entanglements of modern life. In "Happy Women Live Better," Burton spells out her tools for navigating life's pitfalls and maintaining maximum happiness. Here's an excerpt.


I know, I know. You like to go straight to the first chapter and skip the introduction. But this one time, don’t. Before we dive in and discover how you can be happier starting today, I want to shed some light on why this subject matters at this point in history. And why your picking this book up is about more than just your happiness. It is about a movement.

We are in a crisis. But no one seems to have noticed. As women, we have more, but we enjoy less. We are more educated. We have more choices. We make more money. We raise fewer children. And thanks to technology, the chores are much easier. Women today have more opportunities than any women in the history of the world. And yet,research shows that collectively we are less happy than we were 40 years ago—while men are actually getting happier. Why is that? And just as importantly, what can you do about it so you don’t fall into these alarming statistics? Here are just a few of them:

  • While we were told we could “have it all,” and it is assumed we all want to climb the highest heights of professional success, three quarters of working women today say they aspire to a financial lifestyle that would allow them to stop working and stay home.
  • Women today are twice as likely to be depressed as men.
  • Today, the average age of the first onset of depression is ten years younger than it was just a generation ago.

  • Women who pursue “it all” (education, career, marriage,children) have increasingly discovered that the more they achieve in the first half of that equation (education,career), the smaller their chances of success in the second half (marriage, children). Statistics are clear that the more educated you are and the more money you make, the less likely you are to ever get married and have children. The opposite is true for men.5

I have written this book with a dual mission in mind: to get women talking about their happiness and to give you the tools to be happier.

My conversations with women from all walks of life echo the same refrain, whether they have a stellar career and no kids or are married, stay-at-home moms of five: “I should be doing more.” “This isn’t what I thought life would be.” “I feel like I’m missing out on something.”In this book you’ll hear from women like you, talking about the angst they feel in life. The pressure they feel to catch up. The disappointment they feel at having done the right things and checked the right boxes,and somehow still not getting the life they’d expected. And you’ll hear from some who somehow seem to “have it all.” What’s their secret? I think you’ll be surprised by the answers.

Mission #1: What's Going On?

First, I want to spark conversation between you and your girlfriends,daughters, aunties, cousins, coworkers, and any woman in your circle. As women, we need to raise our consciousness about the impact of cultural shifts on our collective happiness. Why does high income decrease a woman’s prospects for marriage and family? Why do men get happier as they get older while many women tend to get sadder—and how can you keep that from being your story? And can you really “have it all”—and how do you define “having it all”?

'Happy Women Live Better'

Through multiple conversations and taking a look at the growing research, it has become obvious to me that the threat to women’s happiness has been gradual. Because of that, most of us have not noticed the changes in expectations and dynamics over the last 40 years or so that have dramatically increased our stress levels and made it harder to achieve happiness. Women who were young adults in the late 1960s and early 1970s point out the differences in cultural expectations easily.Having lived it and watched the changes over time, the contrast is stark.

“In 1972, there were fewer expectations on anybody about anything!”pointed out Christine Duvivier, positive psychologist and parenting expert. “I don’t think there were as many expectations on anybody about what you were supposed to achieve or supposed to have.”

Whatever the reasons for the shifts in our culture—changes that are likely impacting you in ways you may not have previously considered—you can be a part of the solution. You can raise awareness merely by bringing up the subject. I promise. Every woman has an opinion about it.

As I stumbled across this topic, I simply brought it up casually to every woman I came in contact with. “Did you know research shows that since the early 1970s women have become less happy while men are getting happier? Especially by their early 40s, many women are feeling like life just hasn’t turned out to be all they’d hoped. They’ve tried to have it all, but too many come up short. Why do you think that is?”Not one woman responded, “I don’t know.” Instead, they launched into long diatribes about their own lives, their daughters, their mothers,their friends. The comments were wide-ranging, but shared a similar theme:

I’m exhausted trying to do it all.

I feel like I’ve never done enough.

I feel guilty that I don’t do more.

One spring morning while sitting at Starbucks in Rockefeller Center after appearing as a guest on TODAY, I met with producers from the Dr. Oz show. I’d previously appeared on their show and one of the producers asked what I was working on now. I started talking about this book and began to share the themes women were sharing with me. The two producers chimed in, sharing opinions from their own lives and families. Out of the blue, a perfect stranger approached our table. She looked a little scattered and quite interested in telling us something. In her British accent she said, “Excuse me. I don’t normally eavesdrop on conversations, but what you’re talking about is so fascinating and so true.” Then for the next ten minutes she eagerly explained the stress of working, commuting, and being a wife and a mom. “I think it’s just a myth that you can have it all,” she said, sounding frustrated and like she just needed someone to hear that. “I don’t even want it all. I wish I could just stay home, but I can’t. We need the money.”

She isn’t alone in her angst. Consider some of these comments from women I interviewed:

  • A 43-year-old mom of six, married 18 years and now embarking on a career in ministry, said, “I just feel so behind. I feel like I should have gotten started ten years ago.”
  • A 26-year-old newlywed shared, “I feel so much pressure to get it right—at work, at home. Everyone is asking when we will have kids. I don’t know! Right now, I’m just trying to figure out how to be married and have a career at the same time.”
  • A 38-year-old single professional shared, “I feel judged so often, like people think I exchanged having a family for having a great career. Truth is, I want it all. I thought I’d be married by now. It hasn’t happened. I’m starting to wonder if it ever will. I am usually strong in my faith so I feel guilty about my doubts.”
  • A 60-year-old mom of two chimed in: “I think young women are stressed today because they have so many expectations on them. When I finished high school, the expectation was that I’d get married and have a family,maybe become a secretary. I felt no pressure whatsoever to conquer the world.”

The last comment by the Baby Boomer mom may just have hit the nail on the head. With more choices than ever before comes more opportunity for second-guessing and regret. With higher expectations come more opportunities to disappoint and fail. With more women than ever climbing the ladder of professional and financial success comes more opportunities for comparison—and the chance to feel guilty that somehow you are not doing enough. Multiple challenges can contribute to feelings that deplete happiness and contentment. And through these pages, I want us to start a much-needed conversation about it.

From the book HAPPY WOMEN LIVE BETTER by Valorie Burton. Copyright © 2013 by Valorie Burton. Reprinted by arrangement with Harvest House Publishers.