For a few years there, it seemed like everything published about parenting was about how miserable it made you. This collective freakout was largely sparked by a 2010 story in New York magazine called “Why Parents Hate Parenting,” by Jennifer Senior, which centered on a study that showed that childcare ranked sixteenth in pleasurability out of 19 activities.
I was a bit freaked out by all this. I mean, happiness wasn’t the motivating force behind my desire for kids, but I sure hoped it would be one of the outcomes. And not just occasionally. Well now the freak out has ended thanks to a new study that tells us that kids do in fact make us happier.
In an interview with NPR, happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky, the author of the new book “The Myths of Happiness,” talked about how she read the study that Senior referred to in her piece and felt like something was off. She said that she noticed that people reported that they were happiest when having sex, but didn’t report having sex very often. So, yes, she reasoned, they were happier when having sex than they were when taking care of their children, but this didn’t necessarily mean that sex gave them more overall happiness.
And so she did a some poking around of her own and discovered what many of us suspected or knew intuitively, that kids do bring us happiness. Or, as she put it, parents are actually happier than non-parents. This might not be the case on a moment-to-moment level, but it is true on a larger “you’re 46 and on a train and looking back at your life” level.
Considering I decided to bite the bullet and have a kid anyway — despite the cloud of potential misery looming in my mind during my 10 months of pregnancy — hearing these findings on NPR gave me a some relief. Yes, partially because it told me I would, in fact, be happier. But more so because it helped me realize that thinking about parenting as something that only exists on a happy/sad axis is kind of a waste of my time.
I am new to this whole parenting thing, but I can already tell that the experience is far messier and richer than I could have ever imagined. When friends ask me how it is to be a parent, I literally them it is everything. Because it is.
Spending my days contemplating whether or not being a parent is making me happier will undoubtedly flatten the whole experience, like trying to paint the sky with one shade of blue.
Elissa Strauss has written for the Forward over a number of years. She is a regular contributor to CNN, whose work has been published in a number of publications including The New York Times, Glamour, ELLE, and Longreads.