The Princeton-Stony Brook study -- which involved an examination of a survey of 1.8 million Americans, including parents between the ages of 34 and 46, conducted by Gallup from 2008 through 2012 -- did find one difference between parents and the childless: Parents tend to experience more highs and lows. "They have higher highs. They have more joy in their lives, but also they have more stress and negative emotions as well," said Stone.I'm always a little skeptical of these studies. Whenever people self report something, especially something as subjective as happiness, how reliable is the data? This would be especially suspect if something in the study tipped off the participants to the fact that they were studying this topic. Some parents have an agenda to convince the world that parenting is both the hardest job in the world and the most rewarding - an agenda that might eclipse any inward reflection. The presence of this type of parent could mar the results. Even if they didn't realize what was being studied, the mentality might be pervasive.
And as I have mentioned before, we're not good in general at gauging our own happiness. We tend to remember the Kodak moments and the rest gets fuzzy.Dr. Daniel Gilbert explors this in his book Stumbling Upon Happiness.
Yet all this aside, on some level this just feels true. I've definitely had this conversation with childfree people. And while there are childfree people I know who chase the highs and lows - people who own businesses, have more dramatic relationships, or just have that kind of life for whatever reason - it isn't built into our lives. I live a life without a lot of those lows, without that kind of stress. And I suppose the trade-off is not experiencing the comiserate highs.
Of course, childfree people can have a great deal of happiness. We find joy in our friends and family, in our careers, in our pets, in our passions. Parents have those things too, and some will say it isn't the same. Or that they had that life before, and it doesn't compare. Maybe they're right. Who can tell? It's hard to put ourselves in anothers' shoes, and childfree people may feel a particular way about a spouse or career that a parent couldn't understand. A way that tells them they could never, ever, cut back on time with their husband, or time pursuing their passion, to have kids. Not all of us, but it does raise the possibility that you can never really compare feelings.
Ah, well. Even if they do have higher, highs, I would take this option all over again. I'm just not interested in an emotional roller coaster. I have enough joy in my life that it would never be worth buying a bit more with stress, worry, and all those other costs.
But at the end of the day, it is pointless to compare happiness. A lot of women would be miserable without children, and many most) of us would be miserable with them. Perhaps even immune to that joy. Trading places just isn't an option. It's all just an intellectual exercise. At the end of the day we all just have to make the best choice we can for ourselves, then find as much happiness as you can within those choices.