A beloved friend of mine recently got me a subscription to The New Yorker (which makes me feel like a genius whenever I manage to read an entire article), and a recent piece entitled “The Case Against Kids” by Elizabeth Kolbert studied the argument that people who have children are less happy than those who don’t.I’ve grown a little weary of this position, as, frankly, I don’t need to hear it. So I was pleasantly surprised to read the following letter articulately addressed to the editor in the May 7 issue.
Elizabeth Kolbert mentions “research [that] shows that people who have children are no more satisfied with their lives than people who don’t” as a factor in Christine Overall’s case that people should reconsider procreation (“The Case Against Kids,” April 9th). But what does self-reported happiness really measure? Consider two hypothetical Saturdays: one spent sitting on the sofa, and another spent climbing a mountain. It is safe to assume that the couch-sitter would report higher levels of hour-by-hour happiness than the climber, as he would encounter none of the fatigue and pain experienced by the latter. But the climber would be able to report a sense of accomplishment, and would have banked a memorable experience. Put simply, happiness involves two dimensions: gratification and achievement. When some researchers purport to be measuring “happiness,” I think they are really measuring gratification. As the parent of a small child, I can attest to the fact that parenting at this stage is mainly an achievement activity, in that every day feels great, but often not until I’m sitting on the sofa with a glass of wine at the end of it.
Hurray for a smart person!!! I love the distinction between gratification and achievement, and definitely feel the latter more than the former these days as the parent of a two-year-old. Thank you, Mr. Mayer, for putting into words what no amount of research ever could.
(And with that distrust of research in mind, I also share the following article from USA Today, purportedly claiming that parents today are happier than non-parents.)