Professor Gilbert is a brave soul.  After years of listening to his mother’s advice about how to be happy, he conducted an experiment that proved her “partially” wrong.

To love and to cherish, but only for the first 15 years. Photo: Herald Sun

Apparently Mrs Gilbert was always banging on about how money, marriage and kids were the secret to a happy life. 

But Professor Gilbert, now a father and grandfather, had quite enough of that kind of talk.

According to his “research”, marriage is good when done right, but not for too long. Most marriages go downhill after about 15 years and the happiest people then are those who get divorced, he said.

Money was unsurprisingly a pretty necessary part of a happy life, so long as you earn a reasonably modest amount and share it with others.

But kids – well they are anathema of modern happiness.

“Once people have kids, there’s a downturn in happiness. The only symptom of empty nest syndrome is nonstop smiling,” he told a Harvard lecture theatre. Allegedly while smiling.  Ouch.

Say what you will about these theories, but they are nothing if not refreshingly honest.

What a nice change to be reminded that greed and working ourselves to the bone really isn’t that good for anyone’s well being. 

And that thinking of others and extending ourselves beyond the limits of “normal life” by being creative and asking questions about the world around us can actually make us feel happier. 

The only real question is whether Professor Gilbert was tough enough to tell his mum.

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23 comments

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    • Spell checks on the Punch says:

      12:43pm | 06/03/13

      So if I am a childless divorcee on a reasonable income I am automatically going to be happy? What if I am a confirmed bachelor (either heterosexual or homosexual)  with no offspring? When I sit in the old age home looking back at my life will I be happier than what I am now?

      Studies like this are meaningless as no study can capture individual nuances and circumstances that influence our lives regardless of our marital status or number of children.

      Personally my entire world lights up when my son runs and leaps into my arms screaming “DaaaaDY!. And when he is 17-18 and being an adolescent jerk I will remember my youth and try and be patient with him. Empty nest syndrome? I look forward to seeing the man he becomes and what he achieves on his own. I will look at him proudly.

    • Anne71 says:

      01:05pm | 06/03/13

      Sigh. I think what the Professor meant is that, despite what we’re told, marriage and children do not automatically guarantee happiness for everybody. That’s all. No need to get defensive.

    • Sam says:

      01:26pm | 06/03/13

      Twas my birthday the other day, when I dragged myself out of bed my 2 year old greeted me with arms wide open and a great big “Happy Birthday Daddy” (maybe not quite so clear pronounciation). Ran up to me and gave me a huge hug before handing me a card and promptly telling me to open it, then taking the card back as it had Mator on it. That is by far the best start to a birthday I have ever had since being a small kid myself. I even got to blow out 2 of my candles and open 2 presents without ‘helping’, loved it.

    • Spell checks at the Punch says:

      02:18pm | 06/03/13

      @Anne71 says “sigh”. Hmm, bit presumptuous isn’t it? There was no defensive posturing from me, I was just saying that the study is meaningless as individuals cannot be lumped into neat boxes. I am happy not because I am married with child but because I get to share my happiness with them. Different thing.

    • W J Craig (Mrs) says:

      02:53pm | 06/03/13

      Spell check
      The secret is to make damned sure you never, ever end up in one of those ghastly places - particularly if you are the only male in one of them!
      I am fortunate for my family thinks about those “Waiting for Death” places as I do & they say that unless I am extremely ill & need round-the-clock care as provided in a Nursing Home or Palliative Care Hospice (by which time I probably won’t be aware nor care, I am to stay in my own home & they will keep a combined eye on me. So far it works like charm. I’m not lonely, I see some member of the family every day or speak with them on the phone.
      Of course though I am in my late 80s I have a new interest: The Punch!

    • Modern Primitive says:

      12:50pm | 06/03/13

      “What a nice change to be reminded that greed and working ourselves to the bone really isn’t that good for anyone’s well being.  “

      Well that’s all very well and good, but I have to make rent and get ahead somehow.

    • Tubesteak says:

      02:02pm | 06/03/13

      hahaha yep.

      Give me a “modest” $100k passive income when the house is paid off and I’m free to do what I want when I want without having to work for a living. That’s happiness.

    • andrew says:

      12:58pm | 06/03/13

      For me personally the increased enjoyment of time spent with my wife is counteracted by the reduced independance and less time spent doing recreational activities with my mates.
      We don’t have any kids yet however I can only imagine that as with marriage, any enjoyment gained from time spent with them would be evened out by the negatives of less time to myself and more time spent at work to pay for them.
      As for money, once again its a zero sums game. The increased ability to buy luxuries gained from earning more results in less free time, more tiredness and less motivation to do anything in the remaining free time you have.

    • tez says:

      01:17pm | 06/03/13

      Just remember MP the more you’ve got the more you have to look after.

    • Modern Primitive says:

      01:53pm | 06/03/13

      Fine with me.

    • ramases says:

      01:22pm | 06/03/13

      Lets see, married for 42 years, two children now in their 40’s who live 400 and 800 klms away with a couple of grand kids that we see occasionally, live in a secluded area with just 100 acres of trees, a wife that still has about the same figure as when we were married,  two dogs and whatever wildlife ventures into the place and I’m as happy as Larry.
      Play golf 3 times a week, own everything, little or no bills as we are fully self sufficient, solar,water and most greens,  Shoot and dress the occasional cow for the neighbours for a share of the meat, funeral insurance to pay our way even when we shuffle off this mortal coil, non flood area,  fit and healthy to the extreme, mind still active and alert, a computer that allow access to the outside world without the outside world intruding too much on our privacy,  a large flat screen TV and pay TV, what more is there to make a man happy. Wouldn’t be dead for quids or divorced and paying through the nose and i personally think that Professor Gilbert should really have a good look at himself and see if he is the problem..

    • Damn says:

      01:47pm | 06/03/13

      Professor Gilbert just got served….

    • Tim the Toolman says:

      03:16pm | 06/03/13

      Sounds like you’ve got a good life there, ramases smile

    • andrew says:

      03:27pm | 06/03/13

      I’ll euthanase myself before i play that much golf again!

    • JOE says:

      01:49pm | 06/03/13

      A bit meaningless. I love my kids, wouldn’t be without them. However saying marriage is the way to go for all of us sounds about as meaningful as deciding that one particular career path would be the ideal for all of us to aim for. Reached a ‘milestone’ wedding anniversary recently. After lots of thinking decided that, for me as a person, it wasn’t really anything to do with personal fulfilment or satisfaction.

    • Janey says:

      01:52pm | 06/03/13

      ramases -  it is rare to see someone happy with what they have.  Good luck to you and Mrs ramases,

    • DocBud says:

      02:52pm | 06/03/13

      I don’t think it is rare at all, Janey. Most of the people I know are happy with family and financial circumstances. Nothing is absolutely perfect but the real test is whether or not you are drastically looking to change things.

      We’ve been married 32 years and love nothing more than spending time together, and where possible with the kids (4). Last year we had the joy of a son marry a lovely young girl and this month a daughter will be marrying a fine young man. We’ve been extremely impecunious in our lives and now are comfortably well off. Having the money means we can share more special times with each other, give the kids a helping hand and help others. Even the not so good and sad times of our lives we would not change as good things have come out of them.

    • Ducks says:

      02:05pm | 06/03/13

      Professor GIlbert isn’t saying people with children are unhappy, just that the childless do tend to be happier. Drawing on your own anecdotal experience doesn’t mean it is the same for the masses. An interesting read on this topic is the following:
      http://nymag.com/news/features/67024/
      My favourite quote was “Even people who believe the data say they feel sorry for those for whom it’s true.” That even people who believe the data shows the childless are happier, don’t believe it applies to them personally.
      Interestingly it does also go on to say, that this could be due to the way we measure happiness. That the childless are happier by current measurements, but there is perhaps some sort of intrinsic joy in raising children that doesn’t tend to get picked up.

    • Nick says:

      03:07pm | 06/03/13

      This is my bug bear with the whole business of science communication - averages get reported as if they weren’t drawn from a distribution, and every distribution is treated as if it was normal.  So we get garbage like PMS is a myth, kids don’t make you happy, men are more violent than women etc etc etc.  The whole business ignores individual variation, the fact that sometimes the spread is tiny, or that there is a heavy skew one way or the other.  It’s lazy and sloppy.

    • Malcolm says:

      02:11pm | 06/03/13

      Married for almost 30 years and 5 children.

      1 aged parent who needs some care.

      A challenge - yes - but fulfilling as well.

      That’s life.

    • stephen says:

      02:14pm | 06/03/13

      Whilst single, though, you do miss out on many relationships that are family bound, such as In-Laws, and so forth.
      (I’m single, and I’m still smiling about this one.)

      The key to a well-adjusted single life is to find a good interest for yourself that is intense, one that hopefully you can make a living from.
      Travel is important too, and so is forming friendships with people far and wide.
      There are some very interesting and clever people out there, but unfortunately, as some of my married friends can attest, a married person is somewhat out of bounds to such glories.
      Married folk lose the ‘adventure’ because regularity requires them to maintain the nest.
      (The women’s cubicle is in the kitchen; the men’s is in the dunny after 2pm on a sunday ... lined up behind his guests who are taking a break whilst the new keg is being jammed.)

    • Yon Toad says:

      03:14pm | 06/03/13

      The best advice my mum gave me was, “And don’t ever bloody well bother coming back!”.

    • stephen says:

      03:17pm | 06/03/13

      ps sorry, nothing wrong with that,
      except I can go home whom I want
      and with whom, (sic) will take me.

      ‘jessie, lead the way ; make me free’.

 

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