Parenting and Happiness

Laura Norén has a good post (and graphic) on a recent study that argues that people who have kids may be less happy while raising those children, but more happy later in life.

As a parent of a four-year-old, I take some comfort in this. However, I’ve always felt a little uneasy about happiness studies. Here’s what they asked people:

Taking all things together, would you say you are very happy, quite happy, somewhat happy, or not at all happy?

Right now, I’m “very happy” because it’s early in the morning and no one else is awake, I’m sitting on the couch, drinking coffee, and playing on the internet. Any minute now, the kid will wake up. Today, she happens to be sick, which could make for a particularly difficult morning. This may make me “not at all happy”…or “very happy” — when she’s not feeling well she can actually be considerably more cuddly and sweet. She can also throw ginormous fits and be totally inconsolable. In short, not much changes when she’s sick, it just throws an extra layer of concern over the normal craziness.

But I’m not sure this craziness really makes me unhappy. Moment to moment, it absolutely can. But it’s also my experience — and I know this may sound hokey — that anything ambitious or challenging makes us miserable at least part of the time. That’s certainly the case when I think back on my life, at least. Now, there may be a slippery slope from here to glorifying misery and depression. I definitely don’t want to do that. I just have no clue how I’d answer that question if I were asked today. It would probably depend quite a bit on my mood at the moment and not necessarily reflect my overall attitude towards where I’m at in life right now: a point that is both stressful, but also exciting.

The kink in my critique here, though, is about the key finding here: older parents are happier. After the kids are gone, what makes parents happier? I kind of suspect there’s something else going on here. If you control for, say, number of regular personal connections a person has does this go away? Children tend to be a good source of lasting relationships. Does the parental boost in happiness depend on how close the parents are with their children after they’ve grown up? (#lazyblog warning: I haven’t read the article. They may address this.)