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Parenthood Makes People Happier

May 30, 2012
Parenting and happiness

People who have children experience greater happiness and feel they derive more meaning from life than those without kids, claim psychologists from the University of California, Riverside, the University of British Columbia and Stanford University.

It was also revealed that in spite of all kinds of stress associated with parenthood, parents feel happier during the day hours when they are taking care of their kids than during other daily tasks. The report, titled In Defense of Parenthood: Children Are Associated With More Joy Than Misery, encompasses three different studies, one from each University, and will appear in the journal Psychological Science later this year.

The research was carried out in three stages, and in each of the parts psychologists interviewed about 190 participants and asked them to rank how they felt during their daily activities, which included cooking, commuting, changing diapers, doing dishes, going to work and playing with the kids. The authors wanted to figure out whether people who had children felt happier overall and evaluated their lives more positively when compared to those without kids. They also were interested whether parents experienced more positive emotions while taking care of their kids than when doing some other day-to-day chores.

According to Elizabeth Dunn, psychology professor at the University of British Columbia and a co-author of the study, the results were quite a surprise for the researchers. All the participants who had children reported that care for their young ones was more meaningful and made their lives much happier than any other activity did.

These findings challenge the common belief that children are associated with reduced well-being, researchers said. The impression many people have now from media and academic research is that being a parent seems to be quite a negative experience. Many previous studies on this topic linked parenthood to unhappy marriages, lower life satisfaction and even depression, Elizabeth Dunn, who is expecting her first child, said. In Dunn's personal opinion, parenthood is related to, but may not cause, happiness.

The results revealed that age and marital status also played a role in parental happiness. The study found that older and more mature married couples who have higher social status and do not have financial problems are more likely to be happier if they have kids when compared to their childless counterparts. Even single parents said that all the stresses associated with parenthood did not completely wipe out the feelings of meaning and satisfaction of caring for kids. On the other hand, young parents who were under the age of 26 years, were found to be significantly less happy than their peers who did not have children. Interestingly, fathers in the study reported to be particularly content and experienced only positive emotions compared to men without kids.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at UC Riverside and a leading scholar in positive psychology, said that their study does not necessarily mean that parenting makes people happy; however, there is a clear connection to be taken into consideration. And while more research is needed on the matter, the new findings suggest that the pleasures of having children may be offset by the surge in responsibility and all the work that arrives with parenthood, and child care may actually be linked to feelings of happiness and meaning in life.

Tags: Parenting and Families, Happiness