Gratification vs. Achievement: I guess parents aren’t as unhappy as we thought.

16 May

Um…maybe not THIS happy. This image proudly taken from some miserable stock photo website.

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.

Dan Mayer
Berlin, Germany

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.)


6 Responses to “Gratification vs. Achievement: I guess parents aren’t as unhappy as we thought.”

  1. Barbara May 16, 2012 at 5:15 pm #

    Some parents are happy. Some aren’t. Some people are happy. Some aren’t. I think it’s an individual kind of thing based on the kind of person you are anyway. I don’t think happiness can be measured. And I also think most surveys are stupid and can be easily skewed. However, I am a parent of 3 beautiful grown up daughters, and I consider myself to be the luckiest girl on earth, and I thank God daily for the wonderful gifts he has given me (including an amazing husband who was/is a fabulous dad.) I am a happy mom.

    • Grandma L May 16, 2012 at 8:08 pm #

      You DO have wonderful girls:)

  2. Grandma L May 16, 2012 at 8:07 pm #

    I am happy I had my boys. I am happy how they turned out – fantastic. There were times (between 16-18) that I wasn’t so happy, but I never wanted to trade them in for a childless home.

    • Barbara May 16, 2012 at 11:25 pm #

      You have amazing boys–maybe because they have an amazing mom? And, LUCKY YOU, you have an amazing grandson (and granddaughter!!)

  3. Anne @ Always Half Full May 17, 2012 at 10:29 am #

    Eggs are bad for you, eggs are good for you. Parents are unhappy, parents are happy. I do like that letter to the editor!

  4. Marta May 17, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    I’m always happy when someone is able to articulate an argument much better than me. I don’t think you can remotely measure happiness in relation to having or not having children. I went through bouts of depression BEFORE I had kids and I still sometimes have them now. Less often, but they happen. Am I thus more happy because I have kids or less happy because I still get depressed? I actually think its irrelevant. My happiness is often very much so separate from my children but bound by many other factors.

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