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Does having children make you happy? - CNN


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Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert's book "Stumbling on Happiness" looked at several studies and found that children give adults many things, but an "increase in daily happiness is probably not among them."He says that psychologists have found parents are less happy interacting with their kids than doing activities such as eating, watching television or even exercising."It's such a counterintuitive finding, because we have these cultural beliefs that children are the key to happiness and a healthy life, and they're not," said Simon.

He's right, it's not intuitive.

Intuition says children correlate with higher happiness.

That they are not correlated makes me wonder how the human race has not died out.

I'm biologically wired to urinate as well but it doesn't make me happy when I do so. (Although it certainly does remove a source of pain in certain long haul road trip situations.)

Removal of pain correlates with happiness. Somewhat. :)

That is because happiness is a decision in all matters, not a matter of course. One doesn't just have children and become happy just as one doesn't become elated in any course of life. It takes effort and commitment. Natural human state is not always happy. But it can be if we decide on that outcome.

Having children means we have to give up something of ourselves--to choose to play trains rather than reading a book for example. But when you really focus on the joy your time and attention give to a little person, the decision to be happy with children outweighs the stress that is their biological job to cause. 

It's clear there are other benefits that make having children very worthwhile.

It's also clear that optimizing for happiness is not ideal.

There are things more important than happiness.

The key thing to keep in mind (I speak from experience as a parent) is that while children are not a source of moment to moment happiness, they are a source of meaning.

Parents consistently report higher levels of meaning, despite lower enjoyment.

I also have a standard answer to people who wonder about parenting: "Parenthood is a good for which there is no exact substitute."

Nonetheless, if you don't want children, don't have them!  Parenting is hard enough when you desperately want to have kids.

I read in The Atlantic recently that 60% of American adults have meaning in their lives.

I'd dare say that most of those folks find meaning in their children.

Here's the article:

http://pandawhale.com/post/14360/theres-more-to-life-than-being-happy-emily-esfahani-smith-the-atlantic

Well said, Chris. I believe this begs the question of how we define happiness. If it's defined as "getting to do what I want when I want," then I would have to agree that having kids is definitely going to put a damper on things! However, if we take a longer term view of building meaningful relationships and benefiting those we are connected to, then I believe we can ultimately be "happier" with children. As a fellow parent (and of a teen, no less!), I would have to say that my children have taught me invaluable lessons and made my life richer, better...and even happier.

Rich, you're right, it's all about how you define happiness.

I wonder if the survey asked older people with grown children as well. Because I agree with Chris and Rich, that parenting is rewarding, if not giving constant moment to moment happiness. It's hard work, and a big responsibility.

I'm pretty sure they did not ask older people with grown children.

Also, I've seen other articles that say there's more to life than happiness:

http://pandawhale.com/post/14360/theres-more-to-life-than-being-happy-emily-esfahani-smith-the-atlantic

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