Parenthood, happiness, and satisfaction

As I’m pretty sure I’ve discussed before, I find the research on
happiness to be rather interesting.  I also refuse to accept the
commonly-touted finding that people with children are less
happy.  I’m convinced there’s a methodological or measurement issue
that can explain this.  Turns out, the issue is one of how you measure
it.  Parents may not experience more happiness, but they do experience
more satisfaction (i.e., finding life rewarding).  Apparently the
original research on the matter only considered moment-to-moment
pleasure rather than longer-lasting psychological reward (I had figured
it must be something like that).  Here’s the summary of the key issues:

Just as in the original DRM research, the participants rated each
episode according to the feelings they experienced at the time, thus
giving a measure of “pleasure”. Unlike the earlier research, they also
rated their thoughts about each episode (for example, by rating their
agreement with sentences like “I feel the activities in this episode
were worthwhile/meaningful”), thus giving a measure of “reward”.

In terms of pleasure, the results confirmed earlier findings, suggesting
that we spend an awful lot of time doing things we don’t find
pleasurable, including “work” and “shopping”. Out of 18 key activities,
“time with children” and “sex” both came in around mid-table, far below
“outdoor activities” and “watching TV”. However, consideration of the
ratings for “reward” (as opposed to pleasure) told a rather different
story, with “work” now the top scorer, and “time with children” not far
behind.

“If one looks only at pleasure, one could come to the
same conclusion as Kahneman et al [about time spent with children]”
White and Dolan said “that this is relatively ‘bad time’, but when
reward is also considered, time spent with children is relatively ‘good
time’. Perhaps the statement that ‘I enjoy my kids’ is not so wrong
after all, if enjoyment is interpreted in a broader sense that includes
reward in addition to pleasure.”

Anyway, it’s good to know that I’m not somehow unusual from taking such enjoyment from my kids.  I guess the key is that parenthood is satisfying and rewarding, rather than pleasurable.  That sounds about right– especially if you had seen Alex and Evan up to their usual nuttiness today.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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