Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Kids Do Help Happiness, After All

Our topic on WKYB this morning.

The conventional wisdom was that kids made parents less happy than non-parents.

However, a new study is upending that conclusion. First, they distinguished parents with young children at home from people who had ever had children - the latter being a much more mixed group.

Second, they noted that, since the 1990s, the happiness of non-parents had gone down, whereas the happiness of parents had held steadier. A higher percentage of parents with kids at home started saying they were "very happy", compared to the percentage of non-parents who were very happy.

I read this evidence this way:

Parents generally think that raising kids is meaningful, though hard.

Thinking that what we do is meaningful is a big part of being happy.

Parenting is a specific kind of project, which focuses the mind on what we need to do and to have.

This explains one interesting tidbit of this new study: parents were more confident that they had the financial resources to be happy than were the non-parents.  I think this is not because parents had more money, but because they had a better idea of what money they needed.  Within the vast and varied group of non-parents are many people who do not have as specific a project for their lives, so they don't know what kind of resources they will need.  They can imagine all kinds of scary contingencies - and against our anxieties, no amount of money can ever be enough.

It makes sense to me that people raising kids are happier because they have a better idea of what they are trying to do - and they believe that doing that is, on the whole, happy-making.


Adriana said...

Could it also be about purpose, and not even just the child factor (though that is a very in-depth purpose for which to work)? I think about other child-free couples we know, and those who have purpose - generally for the social good, whatever that looks like - tend to be happier than those who are more aimless, or whose purpose is entirely self-serving. Thoughts on that layer of the conversation?

Gruntled said...

Yes, there are many ways to have a happy and purposeful life without children. I think parenthood is holding its own as a source of happiness against a general decline in happiness because that purpose remains so widespread, available, and obvious.

K. Adams said...

I also wonder to what degree being fully enmeshed in a community affects happiness. Since having children, I am much more tightly bound to my neighbors, to other families from my kids' schools, to the parents of my kids' friends, to colleagues who also have children. Kids create an opening to make introductions and give us a reason to foster relationships more widely than we otherwise would.

Gruntled said...

Doing something meaningful with others seems to be a constant of the happiest groups. Caring for kids yourself is meaningful, but being part of a community that cares for kids is, I think, what makes the world go 'round.