The well-known saying “happy wife, happy life”, despite its popularity, is not present in dictionaries. Nonetheless, there appear to be a fair amount of literature about it, such as:

Exposing the Myth of ‘Happy Wife Happy Life (goodmanpronect.com)

Happy Wife, Happy Life: Why It's ACTUALLY True (womenhealthmag.com)

Study Finds That ‘Happy Wife, Happy Life’ Is Pretty Dead On (Huffpost)

and much more...

I couldn’t find anything about its origin, and Google Books does not appear to be of much help here.

How old is this saying? Does it come from some work of classic literature of the Romantic period for instance? Is it BrE or AmE in origin?

  • Have you been reading "Fire and Fury?" – RaceYouAnytime Jan 9 at 19:31
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    @RaceYouAnytime - smart guess, it may actually have something to do with it :) – user240918 Jan 9 at 19:35
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    The 1969 Musical 1776 has the first mention I've been able to find. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 9 at 20:22
  • I, and I'm sure I'm not alone, believe this phrase to be missing it's complementary other half which mentions the misery of the husband in the accomplishment of keeping the wife happy. But ... unsurprisingly, there is none to be found. This phrase on it's own seems rather one sided. – unsatisfied Apr 8 at 12:52
up vote 3 down vote accepted

The adage 'happy wife, happy life' could be said to have appeared at least as early as 1903, in the final verse of a choice bit of doggerel titled "The Work and Wages Party", where the parallel and rhyming phrases might as well have been no more than a congeries, rather than expressing causality:

I'm a work and wages party man,
I say that's what I am.
You'll find me true and hearty, man,
For that is what I am.
Now, let's rejoice to end the strife,
With all the kids in clover,
A happy wife, a happy life,
And a jolly good turn over.

Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, 22 October 1903 (paywall)

The working man's song was in the neighborhood of three other articles about labor disputes.

From there, I find no further appearances until the adage shows up in a series of real estate ads in 1958, in Abilene, Texas. Here's the earliest of the series:

ATTENTION MR.
ABILENE! HAPPY WIFE!
HAPPY LIFE!
HEAP O' LIVIN'
1358 Leggett Drive.
2 bedroom, deck, plus every luxury in the book. Come by, take a look, and make an offer.

Abilene Reporter-News (Abilene, Texas), 07 Aug 1958 (paywall)

This is again not necessarily more than a congeries of phrases.

In 1970, the same year the adage is claimed to have appeared as a lyric sung by Thomas Jefferson's wife in "1776; a musical play", it shows up again in a real estate ad, this time in The Morning Call of Allentown, Pennsylvania (01 Nov 1970; paywall).

Sporadic use of the adage as ad-man's fodder is not replaced by frequent use until the late 1990's (1998), when Jeff Allan (aka Jeff Allen) adopts it for the title of a filmed compilation of comedic sketches, skits and social commentary.

As a popular expression, "Happy wife, happy life" does not appear to be very old. Charles Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder & Fred Shapiro, The [Yale] Dictionary of Modern Proverbs (2012), which tracks only proverbs that were less than a century old in 2012, has this entry for it:

Happy wife, happy life.

1980 Vancouver {British Columbia} Sun 2 Feb. (classified ad): "HAPPY WIFE HAPPY LIFE / In this 2 storey home on 1/4 acre" (capitalization as shown). 1998 Jeff Allen Live: Happy Wife, Happy Life (a motion picture consisting of the comedian's performances). Cf. "If mama ain't happy, ain't no one happy." [The dictionary traces the latter phrase to 1982.]

As user159691 observes in the posted question, a Google Books search really isn't very helpful in this instance. The earliest confirmable match I obtained there was from 2004. It is interesting, however, that most instances of the expression that my Google Books search found appear in marital advice guides—and especially in ones that have a Christian orientation.

I believe it comes from the musical, "1776"

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    When is the expression used in the musical? – user240918 Jan 10 at 16:55

protected by tchrist Apr 8 at 13:05

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