In the communistic Soviet Union era, a Frenchman and a Russian talked about the meaning of true happiness.
“True happiness,” mused the Frenchman, “is enjoying good cuisine with your loved one, followed by great love-making.”
“No,” replied the Russian. “True happiness is when the KGB knocks on your door at 2 am in the morning, waking you up, shouting: ‘Ivan Ivanovich, open the door!’ And then being able to shout back: ‘Ivan Ivanovich lives next door!’ ” (Old joke)
Not everyone define “happiness” in the same way. That, in itself, is enough reason to be sceptical of this kind of claims by sexists:
“Every study shows the same thing: as women become freer, richer, better educated and have more choices, they get progressively more miserable,” – Milo Yiannopoulos
“Why do you think that as women have gained more education, more economic independence, more power, and more freedom, they have become less and less happy?” – Mary Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss, “True woman 101” (bold mine)
Their conclusion tends to be that we should go back to a time when women had less rights and opportunities. But are women actually unhappier?
1) A few observations on happiness
1.1) There is no way to objectively measure happiness. Happiness can’t be weighed on a scale, you cannot hold a yardstick next to it to measure the length.
Subjective well-being means, for example:
Anne is very happy. Bernice is slightly unsatisfied with her current life circumstances. Christa’s life is really falling apart, and she is considering suicide. You ask each of them: “How are you?” Anne says: “Fine, thank you.” Bernice says: “Not so well.” Christa says: “Fine, thank you.” By subjective well-being, Anne and Christa are equally happy and Bernice the least happy.
Happiness measuring depend on self-reporting and is thus very imprecise.
1.2) This reporting probably depends on how the reporter define happiness. (Remember he Ivan Ivanovich joke?) I recall, as a young child in roundabout 1980, at least one conversation like this:
Me (in a bad mood): “I am unhappy.”
My mother: “Nonsense. You have food. You have parents. You are healthy. You are happy. Stop being ungrateful.”
If happy means “the absence of terrible circumstances”, most people in the Western world are reasonably happy. But happiness, nowadays, means the presence of good feelings about your life. It is possible that women changed their way of defining happiness even more than men.
1.3) Correlation is not causation. A world where people are objectively doing better but are getting less happy may not mean that success makes them unhappy. There may be other factors at work, for example some of the social and legal changes listed on page 4 of the report. Or the world may, totally unrelated to their human rights successes, also have focused less and less on spiritual values like thankfulness and contentment. may play a role.
1.4) A bigger willingness to call yourself unhappy may also be because you are more convinced that people actually care, that your opinion matters, or that admitting unhappiness is socially acceptable. If men have been more free to express unhappiness than women, and they are currently equally free to express it, then you will see more complaining women and equally many complaining men as before. But the conclusion that one sex is getting less happy will be wrong.
1.5) Even other methods of measuring (un)happiness, like suicide, is imprecise: A decrease in suicide may mean people are happier. Or it may mean they found other ways (i.e. drugs) to self-destruct, or that they are more likely to direct anger away from themselves onto others. It may even mean that gun control or pharmacy regulations make it harder to have access to the means for suicide.
Conclusion) It is very hard to say that people are or are not getting (un)happier. You could, at most, say they are more (or less) willing to use, for whatever reason, the labels “happy” or ” unhappy”.