Entries in well-being (8)
Last month study results results1 from German researchers on parental well-being (or lack thereof) appeared in news articles around the world. This isn't the first time a study has made waves for supposedly demonstrating that nonparents are happier than parents (see here for more).2 This time, researchers found a headline-grabbing correlation. As CNN3 paraphrased,
According to a recent study, the drop in happiness experienced by parents after the birth of first child was larger than the experience of unemployment, divorce or the death of a partner.
Wow! Having a kid is worse for your happiness than losing the person you love the most. They seem to be inferring that creating life, with your life partner, is more traumatic than that partner dying!
The NY Daily News trumpeted the news, too:
Having Kids is Worse for Happiness Than Divorce, Death of a Partner: Study
But all was not as it seemed. CNN noted, later in the article, that the findings were more nuanced:
The authors said they were not looking at what makes parents happy or unhappy -- they were specifically looking at why, although most German couples say they would like to have two children, they end up stopping after one. "On the whole," Myrskyla said, "despite the unhappiness after the first birth of a baby, having up to two children rather increases overall happiness in life."
Wait, so there's unhappiness after the first child, but "up to two children" increases happiness?
Which one is it?
Parenting, no doubt, is a demanding job. While parenting can bring people great joy and meaning, it can also be incredibly stressful and frustrating. The debate over whether parents are more or less happy than non-parents doesn’t have a definitive answer. This is in part due to the fact that people who have children differ, on average, from those who do not have children in ways that are related to happiness, such as in their marital status, age, and income.
While people have debated whether parents are happier than non-parents, researchers suggest that the question of whether parents are more or less happy is not the most meaningful question. Rather, we should begin asking the questions of when, why, and how parenting may contribute to greater happiness or negativity. In a recent review linking parenting and well-being, researchers outlined a number of these differences, and identify a wide range of factors that affect the degree to which parenting affects happiness.1 Spoiler alert: It’s complicated.
Perhaps no life events fill us with more joy or sadness than those that involve important relationship partners. Whether we are committing to lifelong partnerships with someone we love, bringing a new addition to the family, leaving a bad relationship, or losing a loved one, relationship events may have different effects on how satisfied and happy we are with our lives.
How do important relationship events impact our well-being over time? In a recent meta-analysis (a research paper that combines results from similar studies), researchers examined this very question. Specifically, they studied how our cognitive and emotional well-being change over time in response to four important life events: marriage, divorce, bereavement, and the birth of a child.
I study romantic relationships. I’m also engaged. So, of course, I’ve given a tremendous amount of thought as to what it really means for my partner and I to marry one another. Researchers have found that weddings are deeply significant life events, but we don’t really know why they’re so meaningful. Marriage may simply be about celebrating a milestone: recognizing the relationship that a couple has built together and the love that they share for each other. But weddings are also very future-oriented, as the couple publicly promises to maintain their relationship for life. I suspect that it’s really these vows – the solemn promises that the newlyweds make to each other in front of their closest friends and family – that are at the crux of why weddings have such an emotional impact.
We typically think of significant others as an important source of support when things go wrong in our lives; someone to catch us if we fall. If you were to lose your job, you’d turn to your partner for support to help you through that rough time. However, your partner’s support for positive life events is equally as important. When good things happen, like a new great job falls into your lap, is your partner supportive? “That’s a great opportunity! I’m so excited for you!” Or are they uninterested or negative about your good news? “Wow, that sounds like a lot of work. Are you sure you’re up for it?”
Decades of research show that close relationships play a critical role in our health and wellbeing. People need to feel connected to others, and so they fare much better when they have supportive, nurturing relationships with people such as family members, friends, and romantic partners. But what about our relationships with our four-legged friends? Are pets just cute and fun to play with, or can they actually help to meet some of our important psychological needs?
There’s been a lot of talk lately about the costs of raising kids. To be clear, I’m not talking about the monetary costs ($118k to $250k in the U.S. by the time the kid reaches age 18, and that’s not counting college). Rather, a lot of the popular press writing on the topic has focused on the drop in marital and/or life satisfaction individuals experience following the birth of a child. Both New York Magazine (All Joy and No Fun: Why parents hate parenting) and a more recent story on CNN.com (Does having children make you happy?) paint a gloomy picture regarding the impact children have on individual and relationship well-being.