The recent so-called happy news for single childless women did not make this single childless woman happy. Let me precis the details - happily - and then explain why.

Paul Dolan, a professor of behavioural science at the London School of Economics, said last week that unmarried and childless women are the happiest group in the population - and are likely to live longer than women with children and a ring on it.

In a talk to promote his new book at the Hay Festival, Prof Dolan said the latest evidence showed that marriage and babies - the usual markers of success - didn't necessarily equate to happiness.

"We do have some good longitudinal data following the same people over time", he explained, "but I am going to do a massive disservice to that science and just say: if you're a man, you should probably get married; if you're a woman, don't bother".

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So men have lucked out again? Dolan continued: "You [men] take less risks, you earn more money at work, and you live a little longer. She, on the other hand, has to put up with that, and dies sooner than if she never married. The healthiest and happiest population subgroup are women who never married or had children".

This research brings me unhappiness for two reasons: this sort of stuff shuts down legitimate grief (forwarding Dolan's theory to me - and eight people did - is in the "Have my kids for a weekend! Then you won't want any!" insensitive territory) and it simply offers nothing concrete or helpful.

Generalising is pointless. Stats, research, people, can lie. There are happy marriages; there are hideous ones. Ditto children.

What we can say for sure, though, is that any happiness is hugely determined and skewed by societal attitudes and expectations. If we are constantly told we can't be happy childless and single (even if we're being chatted up on a train home from a brilliant party, where we drank too much and stayed too late because we never have to think about babysitters) then we probably won't be happy childless and single.

Let's start with the dream: a soulmate marriage and 2.4 gorgeous children. And now let's look at my supposed nightmare: 53-years-old, no babies and my last relationship ended the day after Princess Diana died. But, I don't think I am living a nightmare. In fact, I think I'm straddling happy - and that's all most of us can ask for, right?

Actually, no. What we can also ask for is a bit of open-mindedness around the route to happiness and our woefully outdated notions of "happily ever after".

So why is this blueprint - the one "allowed" way to be happy - so ingrained? To give people possibly dissatisfied with their traditional lot some protection or balm? That doesn't help you or me.

We rightfully strive for equality for everyone - except the unmarried and childless. We still want to pass judgement on them. And, though I hate to say it, most of the culprits are married parents.

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Attitude is key. Yesterday, a friend asked, "What's your percentage of grief and unhappiness because you didn't have a baby - that physical loss - and what percentage is because of the continuing trauma of other people's reactions?" What a ruddy good question.

My visceral grief was, and is, real. I've seen my parents die, been around alcoholism and violence, been homeless – but not having a baby is easily the worst thing that has ever happened to me. Easily. Kept me consumed with grief for 10 years and full of Sertraline for two.

Some days - more days, now - I feel I'm healing a little; finally moving on. But it's hard to feel happy when you're repeatedly told you are less - by the #AsAMother club that rules my social media feeds, the "hardworking families" rhetoric; plus the possible future Prime Minister, Andrea Leadsom, essentially telling me I don't have a "tangible stake in the future" - as she did Theresa May during the last Tory leadership race - simply because I haven't bred.

And that's before you take into account the blatant discrimination that single, childless women endure: from being at the bottom of the pile when it comes to booking holidays at work and being expected to stay later (for where else do you have to be?) to the financial benefits we are denied - joint accounts, insurance deals for couples and the marriage allowance.

Ah yes, marriage. For, according to Prof Dolan, the happiness divide is not merely about procreation, but also about your marital status. Even last week I heard myself telling a friend I would love to get hitched. But would I ? I can't even commit to a shampoo. Maybe, if I'm really honest, marriage isn't for me. That said, I would love to be in love.

But where do you find it if you're not prepared to enter the Love Island villa? From what I hear and see, relationships are tough. There's often no support, no caring, no sharing - and instead of laughs there are rows, frustration and deep seated "If I hear his jaw click as he's eating once more, I'm going to break his baguette" irritation.

Some marriages are gloriously happy, of course. But some are not. I don't want the affairs, the devastating divorce, the yawndom.

There is great happiness in being single: there's hope and excitement ("I wonder who the future ex-Mr Bibi will be?"); there's thrilling new sex (saying that, the last time I had any was when I sneezed and coughed at the same time, so let's not dwell); and, most importantly, there's the liberation of being happy by yourself - and with yourself.

But am I a bitter spinster? Not so much. I have an amazing life. My friends and family are beautiful; my career brings me joy; and I'm still excited by my adventures and what the future will bring. All this, despite society secretly wanting me to be miserable.


The only people who seem to have a more accepting and open-minded take on happiness - particularly in the realm of love - are the young. The millennial generation often comes in for a hard time, but I think they might just have the happiness conundrum sorted.

On the BBC radio show I co-host, After the Watershed, we frequently interview under 40s - bisexual, pansexual, polyamorous, throuples - and they seem happier (and more exhausted) than I've ever been.

They're not so restricted by social mores. I wonder whether that's because they've had role models and been shown there are alternative ways to live and to find happiness. I didn't have role models like that when I was young - but maybe people like us are instructive to them. They're seeing what we have, what we're still blind to, and what they don't want.

It's 2019, after all. So let's embrace the many different ways to finding our happy place. That's what would really make single childless women happy.