The Happiness Wars: Who’s Winning – Parents or Non-Parents?

…or something in between?

In July 2010, the New York Magazine cover story “All Joy and No Fun” got a lot of people excited when it revealed that

non-parents are happier than parents. The story cites a Journal of Happiness Studies finding:

“The effect of children on the life satisfaction of married individuals is small, often negative, and never statistically significant.”

Child-Free: +1!

That parents aren’t happier than non-parents wasn’t a revelation in 2010, but it probably made parents feel better about not being thrilled every single day to wake up and take care of their children. However, they may have felt even better if they’d read Daniel Gilbert’s 2006 position on parental happiness, which approaches how we define “happiness” from a different angle:

1. When something makes us happy we are willing to pay a lot for it… But that process can work in reverse: when we pay a lot for something, we assume it makes us happy…Given the high price we pay, it isn’t surprising that we rationalize those costs and conclude that our children must be repaying us with happiness.

2. Memories are dominated by their most powerful—and not their most typical—instances…the sublime moment when our 3-year-old looks up from the mess she is making with her mashed potatoes and says, “I wub you, Daddy,” can erase eight hours of no, not yet, not now and stop asking.

3. Our ability to love beyond all measure those who try our patience and weary our bones is at once our most noble and most human quality. The fact that children don’t always make us happy—and that we’re happy to have them nonetheless—is the fact for which [Father’s Day creator] Sonora Smart Dodd was so grateful.

Parents: +1!

But now, as of Nov. 11, 2011, there is a new Happiness Wars victor.

Susan Newman, Ph.D., in her Babble article “Having an Only Child: Does It Make Us Selfish?,” defends her decision to have only one child, citing many interesting and relevant studies and findings about women, work, childbearing, child rearing, and myths and facts about the psychological and emotional well being of the Single Child.

And then she goes in for the Happiness Wars kill:

“There’s no question that people with children are happier — happier than those without children…”

(Wait. Yes, she’s wrong – of course there’s a question – but that’s not the kill-shot. She goes on.)

“Increasing evidence shows that mothers of one are happier than parents with more than one child.”

So, not only are mothers of one child happier than the child-free, but they’re also happier than all other parents – they’re the happiest of ALL!

BOOM! Mothers of 1: WINNERS!

At the end of her article, Newman asks, “Where do you draw the line between being selfish and having a life that allows you to be a content, happy person or parent?”

My own question: When do we a) stop using the word “selfish” as a label for anyone who makes a life choice unless that life choice directly and negatively impacts another, and b) stop fighting the Happiness Wars in this barely veiled effort to prove that whatever choice we made is the superior choice and that other people’s choices are ugly and smell funny?

Isn’t it safe to assume that as long as we’re doing what we want to be doing – raising no kids, one kid, or 16 kids – we’re probably (generally) pretty happy doing it, even if we aren’t exploding with enthusiasm every second of every day?

~ ~ ~

Kindle book

What Every Woman Wishes Modern Men Knew About Women

by Sylvia D. Lucas

“An odd combination of really funny and really insightful.”


5 thoughts on “The Happiness Wars: Who’s Winning – Parents or Non-Parents?

  1. Jenny

    Who is she to make such a sweeping generalisation that ‘There’s no question that people with children are happier — happier than those without children’, Grrr, people like her piss me off. Not only is she stating something that isn’t true, she’s saying HER lifestyle choice is the one that makes people most happy. HAVING CHILDREN IS NOT FOR EVERYONE! I just don’t think you can possibly compare people with children (even just one) with those without (unless she is talking about those who want but are unable to have children, but she didn’t make this clear). NOT having children makes me happy, having a kid would make me miserable. So, just because there are more people who have them does not make those people more happy. Google ‘I hate being a mom’ for proof. I would never have used this idiot’s quotes in this article.

  2. Joey

    Brilliant Sylvia (as usual).

    As as far as happiness goes, my wife and I are now enjoying the 16th year of our honeymoon; a sentiment I’m not sure I would have if we had opted to be parents. And, we are not alone. The US census reports statistics of childfree adults has shown consistent increases since the 70’s.

    One more thought: The ‘selfless’ argument that parent cling to is truly ridiculous. I can think of no decision more selfish than bringing a person into this world without their consent.

  3. Pingback: Want to Be a Happy Parent? THINK First! « "Anonymous" Was a Woman

  4. Ahaha I read that BABBLE article too ..maybe have repost it on my blog as well…but I thought she was bananas for thinking the childed are happier when studies point elsewhere. Glad to see you have a blog, Sylvia :) SO far…Amazing!!!!!!!!


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