Monday, March 23, 2009

Perspective: Happiness and Parenting - the daily tribulations matter

ScienceDaily offers an economist's view of how the social expectations of happiness run head first into the realities of parenting (the excerpt is edited a bit for brevity...)

Is Parenting A Joy Or A Trial?

University of York economist Nattavudh Powdthavee claims that the idea that parenting makes us happy is an illusion. Writing in the latest issue of The Psychologist, he offers an explanation to one of the most surprising conclusions of recent research into wellbeing -- that having children does not increase our level of happiness.

"Social scientists have found almost zero association between having children and happiness," he said. "In a recent study of British adults for example we found that parents and non-parents reported the same levels of life satisfaction. Other studies from Europe and the USA found that parents report significantly lower levels of satisfaction than people who haven't had children."

Dr Powdthavee argues that the belief that having children makes you happy is a focussing illusion. "To imagine what it's like being a mother or a father we're likely to focus more on the good things about being a parent than the bad things. This is mainly because we believe that the rare but meaningful experiences like a child's first smile or seeing them get married will give us massive and long-lasting increases in happiness.

"But in reality, we rarely think about these big experiences on a daily basis, simply because they do not occur to us every day.

Instead, parents spend much of their time attending to the very core processes of child care - problems at school, cooking and laundry - which are much more frequent but a lot less salient events. And it is these small but negative experiences that are more likely to impact on our day-to-day levels of happiness and life satisfaction."

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