22 November 2006

Ask MeFi: On parental happiness

(Good stuff on the net today!)

Now here's an Ask MetaFilter thread you can really sink your teeth into. Especially as we approach the American Day of Thanks tomorrow:

Does having kids actually make people less happy?

The answers are fascinating and honest. A friend and I were talking about this topic once, when our kids were younger and (in general) harder to handle, and she said, talking about herself and her husband, "Are we 'happier' as parents? Probably not. But is there more joy in our lives? Absolutely."

That statement always stuck with me. I don't necessarily feel the same way, but I do feel like she was onto something by making a distinction between "happiness," which can be ephemeral, and "joy," which transcends the bad days.



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The Dalai Lama makes a distinction between "pleasure" (what you call "happiness") and "happiness" (what you call "joy"). Pleasure is more immediate, and happiness is deeper and longer lasting. I definitely agree that parenting is hard and maybe not the "WHEEEE!" kind of fun, but certainly fulfilling and deeply satisfying. Of course, my daughter's only seven weeks old, so my experience is sort of limited. But that's been the case so far anyway.

This summer I read "Stumbling On Happiness" by Daniel Gilbert. It's a fine book that offers a researched opinion on the process of happiness. It's not self-help and doesn't have any prescription for happiness. It just makes you understand how happiness can be derailed.

In the book he makes the argument that people with children aren't happier than those without. Often they have more responsibility and less money than they would if they remained childless. As someone who spent over a decade as a childless adult, I can see the truth in his evaluation. We didn't even own houseplants so we could travel spontaneously and at length. We bought whatever we wanted and still had money in the bank. It was great.

However, either Malcolm Gladwell or the Freakonomics guys wrote about the Pepsi challenge. Pepsi won the short term taste test, but Coke still led the market in sales. Why? Because the sweetness of Pepsi appeals in a single, quickly consumed serving, but overwhelms a lot of consumers in a real life pattern of consumption.

I think parental happiness is much like that. It is riddled with barf on the carpet, fiscal concerns, and responsibility. It makes me think of a long mountain hike on a hot, hot day. I'm tired and breathing thinner air than I'm used to. In some ways, I definitely prefer a tiny stroll from my car to an ice cream shop counter to order a scoop of Pistachio. It would be easier, mostly climate controlled, and completely comfortable. But curiousity and cumulative accomplishment are not being factored into this assessment.

I want to see the view from the peak. I want to know that I could indeed complete the journey. The journey is beautiful too though at times uncomfortable and even troubling.

Cumulatively, I think parenting provides a lot of happiness, but like Impressionism, sometimes it takes a little distance and contemplation to really understand what you're looking at.

At least this is what I keep telling myself.

being parent for one year baby is very hard. It was already one year I did not have full sleep at night. must work harder to cover all expenses. But I fill happy when I see my daughter, there will always a smile in my face when I meet her after work, if you call this happy, than I am.
Sometime I just feel tired. sleep only 5 hours a day, and must take care my daughter after work. But I think as a parent, I am to busy to tired or even thinking am I happy having my daughter?

Having a child gave my life purpose. I have a richer, more fulfilling, more reflective life now. I appreciate and savor moments in each day. When my brother died, I thought I had reevaluated the meaning of my life, but having a child has taken my awareness to a deeper level.

Here is a quote from Charles Van Doren at his 40th college class reunion: "I remind you that according to Aristotle, happiness is not a feeling or sensation but instead is the quality of a whole life. The emphasis is on 'whole,' a life from beginning to end. Especially the end. The last part, the part you're now approaching, was for Aristotle the most important for happiness. It makes sense, doesn't it?"

Aristotle's theory:

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