According to a press release from the University of California Riverside, a forthcoming UCR study will reveal that adults who have children are happier over the course of a lifetime than those who don’t.
Well, sort of – the findings are a bit more nuanced than that in the actual study, of course, and the results shared in the press release mention that this is not necessarily true for younger parents, single parents or for mothers (since the life changes and responsibilities of motherhood may balance out the joys of it). What the authors do feel safe in concluding, however, is that those couples who are older and more established are the most likely to be happiest over their childless peers, presumably because those older couples are better equipped emotionally and financially for the experience.
I’ll admit that I’m a tad biased today, given that I’ve been a parent for just over a year now – and yes, I’m a happy one. But I’m also a little bit skeptical of the findings expressed in this study (which, the authors acknowledge, has its limitations). For one thing, it isn’t surprising that parents would report higher levels of happiness than non-parents, because the very act of having a child means creating a little person who is a reflection of yourself and upon whom you can project your feelings and through whom you can live vicariously. It allows you to shift your perceptions away from yourself and onto a creature over whom you’ve been given natural dominion – at least until your child learns to say, “no!” when you shout “eat your peas!”, of course.
But another nuance that’s also missing is the dimension of pets. My wife and I had pets for years before we had a child, and we treated all three of our dogs much like we treat our toddler now. We took pictures of them, gave them special treats, took them on trips with us, and told stories about them to our friends. I will say that it’s not quite the same as having a child – having a developing human being in your house is quite different from the perpetual-two-year-old state that dogs tend to achieve. But I suspect that childless couples with pets are happier than those without. This suggests a dimension to me that’s fairly human:
- Generally speaking, it’s no fun to be by yourself since we’re social creatures.
- It’s better to be with a committed partner than no one at all.
- It’s better to have pets with your partner than no pets.
- It’s better to have children with your partner than pets alone.
- It’s best to have pets and children with your partner.
So, if you want to maximize your happiness, generally speaking, my hypothesis is that the happiest home is the one that’s teeming with kids, cats and dogs. And maybe a tarantula, turtle or snake if your partner’s cool with it. (Mine is not.)