Happiness vs. Engagement
January 27, 2013 - 3:27pm
I was going to write about this article, but Jill at Feministe beat me to it, providing a much more articulate and witty takedown than I would have managed. My only quibble is her reference to this article, which she and other writers cite as evidence that having children is detrimental to emotional health and well being.
The New York article is actually a thoughtful review and discussion of recent research on parental happiness and satisfaction, and these studies, cumulatively, do make a good case that active parents are more tired and stressed, and less happy and satisfied, than non-parents or those whose children are grown. But I don't think that is an argument against parenthood; rather, it illustrates the relative non-importance of such concepts as "happiness" and "satisfaction" in many parents' lives and choices.
It isn't that we don't want to be happy and satisfied, or that we couldn't use more rest and support. And of course it is next to impossible to know, before entering into parenthood, exactly how exhausting and mind-numbing it can be to care for a small child, so in that sense parenthood often isn't a true choice, even if we do it on purpose.
But nearly all great endeavors require sacrifice, commitment and self-denial. People in the throes of writing a novel, composing a symphony, or training for a marathon aren't likely to describe themselves as happy and satisfied either. And writers, composers and athletes — unlike parents — have the option of taking a break from their grueling routines, or even abandoning their projects altogether. Yet many persevere.
I feel happy when I eat ice cream and watch old movies on television. Probably when I am doing both at once, I feel more content and satisfied than I did on any random day when Ben was small. Yet eating and watching TV don't offer the engagement, fierce joy and even transcendence that such intense connection with another person (or a work in progress, or one's own body and developing strength and skills) can produce. And I wouldn't want to look back on a lifetime of eating and watching and think that that was all I had accomplished, however happy it made me in the moment. There is so much more to life.