If you want to live happily ever after, don't have children, go to university or live near a lottery winner.

Professor Paul Dolan, a "happiness expert" from the London School of Economics, says our desire to keep up with the Joneses and have a family because that is expected of us can be detrimental to our well-being.

"It would be awful if anything happened to them, but the experiences we have with children are largely miserable," he told the Hay Festival.

"For some people, having children is great. But for a lot of people it isn't and the idea that we can't talk openly about why that might be is a problem."

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He added that the happiest sub-group of the population is single women without children.

Society puts too much emphasis on going into higher education, becoming rich and getting married, when many people would be happier with a vocational course, an average income and the single life, Dolan said.

"I'm not suggesting that people don't strive for wealth, success and education. What I'm suggesting is, it's not for everybody all of the time," he insisted.

He cited a US study that found having a lottery winner in your neighbourhood increases your likelihood of going bankrupt, due to the "contagion effect" of conspicuous consumption.

Another study found that childless, single women are happiest, and men are happier when married. "If you're a man, you should probably marry. If you're a woman, don't bother," he said.