The XX Factor

Happiness: Bah! Humbug!

The Wall Street Journal has a piece today declaring happiness is not all it’s cracked up to be. It cites new research that the pressure on the congenitally dour to elevate their mood because it’s supposedly good for them is counterproductive. The pressure to find life “great” instead of “fine” itself produces the grinding, useless stress we’re told to avoid. The researchers quoted in the story also address the core of what I think are the pernicious findings we’re always reading about: that people with children are less happy than people without. I am not debating people’s choice not to have children. What I am concerned about is the kind of “scientific” propaganda that purports to show that bringing children in a marriage degrades the quality of the relationship and their overall sense of well-being. “Sometimes things that really matter most are not conducive to short-term happiness,” said Carol Ryff, the director of the Institute on Aging at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

What the Journal article shows is that the perhaps the surveys that quantify happiness are asking the wrong kinds of questions, resulting in findings that denigrate parenthood. Da- to-day, being a parent may not be as much fun as a carefree trip to Aruba with one’s spouse, or even the ability to go out to a movie and dinner any time you please. But it’s precisely the challenge of childrearing that makes it more satisfying long-term than being able to pursue one’s pleasure unburdened. Again, this is not to say that the child-free do not live lives equally full of challenges and contributions. I’m just addressing the fear many young women express that children destroy happiness and that there are statistics to prove it. I’ve written about the pleasure that having a child brings. But maybe I should have focused more on the satisfaction that comes from dealing with the difficulties. Helping my daughter work through her transition to high school and having to accept that part of this transition means that often she is pushing me away, makes me marvel at seeing my little girl become a young woman. My husband and I are back to being able to go to a movie any time we want. But Rachael , your post made me wish for the time that all I heard all day was, “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy.”

Photograph by Hemera/Thinkstock.