Does Having Kids Make You Happy?

1Research has found that having children is terrible for quality of life—but the truth about what parenthood means for happiness is a lot more complicated.

Few choices are more important than whether to have children, and psychologists and other social scientists have worked to figure out what having kids means for happiness. Some of the most prominent scholars in the field have argued that if you want to be happy, it’s best to be childless. Others have pushed back, pointing out that a lot depends on who you are and where you live. But a bigger question is also at play: What if the rewards of having children are different from, and deeper than, happiness?

The early research is decisive: Having kids is bad for quality of life. In one study, the psychologist Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues asked about 900 employed women to report, at the end of each day, every one of their activities and how happy they were when they did them. They recalled being with their children as less enjoyable than many other activities, such as watching TV, shopping, or preparing food.

Other studies find that when a child is born, parents experience a decrease in happiness that doesn’t go away for a long time, in addition to a drop in marital satisfaction that doesn’t usually recover until the children leave the house. As the Harvard professor Dan Gilbert puts it, “The only symptom of empty nest syndrome is nonstop smiling.”

After all, having children, particularly when they are young, involves financial struggle, sleep deprivation, and stress. For mothers, there is also in many cases the physical strain of pregnancy and breastfeeding. And children can turn a cheerful and loving romantic partnership into a zero-sum battle over who gets to sleep and work and who doesn’t.

As the Atlantic staff writer Jennifer Senior notes in her book, All Joy and No Fun, children provoke a couple’s most frequent arguments—“more than money, more than work, more than in-laws, more than annoying personal habits, communication styles, leisure activities, commitment issues, bothersome friends, sex.” Someone who doesn’t understand this is welcome to spend a full day with an angry 2-year-old (or a sullen 15-year-old); they’ll find out what she means soon enough.

Read: It isn’t the kids. It’s the cost of raising them.

Children make some happy and others miserable; the rest fall somewhere in between—it depends, among other factors, on how old you are, whether you are a mother or a father, and where you live. But a deep puzzle remains: Many people would have had happier lives and marriages had they chosen not to have kids—yet they still describe parenthood as the “best thing they’ve ever done.” Why don’t we regret having children more?

One possibility is a phenomenon called memory distortion. When we think about our past experiences, we tend to remember the peaks and forget the mundane awfulness in between. Senior frames it like this: “Our experiencing selves tell researchers that we prefer doing the dishes—or napping, or shopping, or answering emails—to spending time with our kids … But our remembering selves tell researchers that no one—and nothing—provides us with so much joy as our children.

It may not be the happiness we live day to day, but it’s the happiness we think about, the happiness we summon and remember, the stuff that makes up our life-tales.” These are plausible-enough ideas, and I don’t reject them. But other theories about why people don’t regret parenthood actually have nothing to do with happiness—at least not in a simple sense.

One involves attachment. Most parents love their children, and it would seem terrible to admit that you would be better off if someone you loved didn’t exist. More than that, you genuinely prefer a world with your kids in it. This can put parents in the interesting predicament of desiring a state that doesn’t make them as happy as the alternative. In his book Midlife, the MIT professor Kieran Setiya expands on this point.

Modifying an example from the philosopher Derek Parfit, he asks readers to imagine a situation in which, if you and your partner were to conceive a child before a certain time, the child would have a serious, though not fatal, medical problem, such as chronic joint pain. If you wait, the child will be healthy. For whatever reason, you choose not to wait. You love your child and, though he suffers, he is happy to be alive. Do you regret your decision?

Read: How adult children affect their mother’s happiness

That’s a complicated question. Of course it would have been easier to have a kid without this condition. But if you’d waited, you’d have a different child, and this baby (then boy, then man) whom you love wouldn’t exist. It was a mistake, yes, but perhaps a mistake that you don’t regret. The attachment we have to an individual can supersede an overall decrease in our quality of life, and so the love we usually have toward our children means that our choice to bring them into existence has value above and beyond whatever effect they have on our happiness.

This relates to a second point, which is that there’s more to life than happiness. When I say that raising my sons is the best thing I’ve ever done, I’m not saying that they gave me pleasure in any simple day-to-day sense, and I’m not saying that they were good for my marriage. I’m talking about something deeper, having to do with satisfaction, purpose, and meaning. It’s not just me.

When you ask people about their life’s meaning and purpose, parents say that their lives have more meaning than those of nonparents. A study by the social psychologist Roy Baumeister and his colleagues found that the more time people spent taking care of children, the more meaningful they said their life was—even though they reported that their life was no happier.

Raising children, then, has an uncertain connection to pleasure but may connect to other aspects of a life well lived, satisfying our hunger for attachment, and for meaning and purpose. The writer Zadie Smith puts it better than I ever could, describing having a child as a “strange admixture of terror, pain, and delight.” Smith, echoing the thoughts of everyone else who has seriously considered these issues, points out the risk of close attachments:

“Isn’t it bad enough that the beloved, with whom you have experienced genuine joy, will eventually be lost to you? Why add to this nightmare the child, whose loss, if it ever happened, would mean nothing less than your total annihilation?” But this annihilation reflects the extraordinary value of such attachments; as the author Julian Barnes writes of grief, quoting a friend, “It hurts just as much as it is worth.”

By Paul Bloom

Source: Does Having Kids Make You Happy? – The Atlantic

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More Contents:

. “A review of the relationship among parenting practices, parenting styles, and adolescent school achievement” (PDF). Educational Psychology Review. 17

 “Parenting Style as a Moderator of Associations Between Maternal Disciplinary Strategies and Child Well-Being”

“The Influence of Parenting Style on Academic Achievement and Career Path”Day, Nicholas (10 April 2013). “Parental ethnotheories and how parents in America differ from parents everywhere else”. Slate. Retrieved 19 April 2013.[verification needed]

“The Terrible Twos Explained – Safe Kids (UK)”Kenneth R. Ginsburg. “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds” (PDF). American Academy of Pediatrics. Archived from the origina

Why We Procrastinate & How To Stop It

There are days when procrastination comes for us all. You wake up, thinking about a project at work or the life admin you can no longer put off and feel a swell of dread fill your chest. You know you have to deal with it today but you start puttering around and somehow end up deep-cleaning the bin instead of replying to emails or watching sitcom bloopers rather than putting on your running shoes. The putting off of tasks is time-wasting and mindless but sometimes it feels inevitable.

The word ‘procrastination’ has deep historical roots. It derives from the Latin ‘procrastinare’ – meaning ‘to put off until tomorrow’ – but is also derived from the ancient Greek word ‘akrasia’, which means ‘acting against one’s better judgement’. The etymology says that when we procrastinate, we are well aware of what we are doing, which implies that the negative consequences of this delay rest solely on our shoulders. And yet…we do it anyway.

Why procrastination happens – and why it can feel like an inevitable part of our day – is a question that has plagued people for centuries. It’s generally assumed that this behaviour is down to a failure to self-regulate in some way: that a combination of poor time management, laziness and a lack of self-control leads us to procrastinate. In other words, it is because an individual isn’t trying hard enough. This is not just a cultural assumption but one explored by many researchers and institutions too, with studies such as this one from the University of Valencia which found that no matter how long students are given to do their work, procrastination will likely occur.

However there is a growing number of researchers countering this view. Dr Tim Pychyl is the author of popular self-help book The Procrastinator’s Digest: A Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle and the writer behind the Psychology Today column Don’t Delay. He believes that procrastination runs far deeper – that it is influenced by biology, our perception of time and our ability to manage our emotions.

On the biological front, procrastination comes down to ongoing tension in our brains between the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex, according to the neurosurgery department at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.The limbic system is a major primordial brain network and one of the oldest and most dominant parts of the brain. It supports a variety of functions, including emotions – particularly those which evolved early and play an important role in survival. This includes feelings of motivation and reward, learning, memory, the fight-or-flight response, hunger, thirst and production of hormones that help regulate the autonomic nervous system.

On the other hand, your prefrontal cortex is linked to planning complex cognitive behaviour, personality expression, decision-making and moderating social behaviour. This is where decisions, forward-planning and the rationalising of the impulsive, stimulus-based behaviour of the limbic system is centred. As the prefrontal cortex is the newer, less developed (and therefore somewhat weaker) portion of the brain, the instinctual limbic response will often win over rationalising.

This all feeds into the psychology at the heart of procrastination: what makes us feel good now (such as avoiding or delaying tasks) has a stronger hold over us than what makes us feel good in the long run. As Dr Pychyl told The New York Times: “Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem.”

This is an example of ‘present bias‘, the NYT article goes on to explain: our tendency to prioritise short-term wants and needs over long-term ones, even if the short-term reward is far smaller. This feeds into a larger disconnect between the present and future self and our perception of time. We struggle to connect to our future self (aka the one who would benefit from us taking the bins out in a timely fashion) or see them as ‘us’ when the ‘us’ of today has far more immediate and pressing concerns.

At its core, procrastination is thought by Pychyl and his collaborator Dr Fuschia Sirois to be linked to an inability to regulate our emotions, which can be seen in how we prioritise short-term relief over long-term satisfaction. Putting off a task makes you feel good in the short term because it provides relief from largely negative emotions: stress, panic, disgust, anxiety, self-doubt and so on. The long-term consequences have little bearing on how good it can feel to be distracted or absorbed in something that has nothing to do with the big assignment that is making you panic. However, as all procrastinators can attest, that relief is short-lived, leading to the cycle repeating itself.

So what can you do if you’re prone to procrastination? As with anything, especially actions that regulate your emotions, you can’t just stop and expect that to work. Without learning how to regulate your emotions in other, less destructive ways, the temptation to procrastinate will once again rear its head.

Recognising that procrastination is not an act of laziness but a tool for emotional regulation can be hugely helpful, says Pychyl. It is a step towards forgiving ourselves and having self-compassion for procrastinating, both of which have been found to help procrastinators: in a 2010 study, researchers found that students who forgave themselves for procrastinating on studying for an exam were able to procrastinate less for subsequent exams. Another study, from 2012, looked at the links between procrastination, stress and self-compassion. It found that lower levels of self-compassion (aka treating ourselves with kindness and understanding when we make mistakes) may explain some of the stress that procrastinators experience. You can start to harness self-compassion by following guided meditations such as these by the founder of the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, Dr Kristin Neff, or simply by committing to meeting challenges with kindness and understanding.

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Seeing procrastination this way can also help with the impulse towards waiting until you feel ‘ready’ to perform a certain task, as Pychyl told The Washington Post. Once we can see how our emotions have shaped how we respond to a task, it makes it easier not to let how we feel dictate whether or not we can get started. You do not need to be in the right frame of mind to start working or cleaning or studying. Instead of focusing on feelings, Pychyl recommended breaking down a task into small, component parts which can actually be accomplished. It could be as simple as writing the first sentence, dusting one surface or closing all the distracting links you have open.

Procrastination is part of life. Its impact can range from mildly irritating to life-changing but the main thing to remember is that it can’t be countered by self-flagellation. By finding ways to forgive yourself in the moment and be kind to your future self, you can slowly chip away at the habit.

By: Sadhbh O’Sullivan

Source: Why We Procrastinate & How To Stop It

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References

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