Does having kids really make you less happy?

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scratch123
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Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby scratch123 » Fri Nov 25, 2011 1:42 am UTC

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1941195 ... bliss.html

I read the book stumbling on happiness a while ago and then found this link that reinforces what it said about having children lowering happiness. This idea does seem to be based on research and it kind of makes sense if you think about it since kids are alot of work. Since kids lower happiness does that mean people shouldn't have kids then? You could make the argument that people have a psychological need to have children so they should have them but then you could just make the argument that this psychological need is irrational (for the individual not the species)?

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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Yakk » Fri Nov 25, 2011 3:12 am UTC

You know that being in a few years who is going to have my memories that people are going to call "me"?

Screw that being. I am doing what makes me happy, not what makes some being who will remember making my decisions happy. Changing my behavior simply because some being in the future will have memories of these decisions is utterly irrational, unless you go and extrapolate my "self" from my immediate experience and have some kind of mumbo-jumbo "continuity of existence" assumptions.

What makes me happy isn't running some kind of utility maximizing game for a "future me". I suspect that my "future me" will also not be running a similar utility maximizing game. And many of the decisions that make me happy, possibly including "planning to have children" and going through with it, may or may not make "future me" happy. Why should I care about the utility function of future me, anymore than I should care about the utility function of the human species, or the utility function of the possible children I will own?

And yes, I'll care about all of these to a limited extent. But I'm not going to enslave myself to some rationalist rationalization of L_1 integrated with discount factor expected returns for a myriad of reasons -- first, because I lack the information, second because I consider naive utilitarianism a rather poor moral framework judging from the perspective of my current values, third because my future discount window is steeper than economists could ever dream of, and forth because my present utility is heavily influenced by what plans my current actions are heading towards, and less so by the actual results of said plans.

And finally, happiness is overrated. I'd be miserable if I thought I was merely a happiness maximizing hedonist, as it doesn't fit my self image.
One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision - BR

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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Fri Nov 25, 2011 4:54 am UTC

Yakk wrote:Screw that being.

Are you really comfortable with the idea that:
  1. Your "future self" is a distinct person from you (and presumably therefore not responsible for actions that you take), and
  2. It's ok for you to saddle this person with children?

More generally, you don't ever plan for the future (or think that it's reasonable for people to do so)?
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Noc » Fri Nov 25, 2011 5:23 am UTC

Srsly.

If you hate your future self so much, why don't you hatemarry them?
Have you given up?

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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Mighty Jalapeno » Fri Nov 25, 2011 5:45 am UTC

As someone with three kids, there is a definite probability that I am, from a certain point of view, "less happy". 23.5 out of every 24 hours has something booked, whether it be driving to work, working, driving from work, cooking, cleaning, bathing, reading stories, playing catch, playing Wii, discussing biology and astrophysics (one of my kids is a nerd), snuggling with my wife, and even sleeping, while the remaining 0.5 hours per day is when MJ can be MJ (and I spend it on the internet. Go me.) I spend just about every moment of every day working for someone else, taking care of someone else, or dealing with someone else's problems.

Do I miss playing poker with Hell's Angels, going for a Slurpee run at 3am with a police tail, stealing vegetables from people's gardens and working graveyards at gas stations where my sense of global responsibility and personal accountability was virtually nil? Hell yes. Those were some interesting times.

"Current me" is setting up a lot of shit for "future me", because "future me" is going out of his god-damn mind worrying about money and mortgages and medical issues. "Past me" is drinking on a street corner somewhere thinking about playing Tetris... on weed. We may be separate, but the instant "past me" came home from work, got told he was going to be a father, and kissed his girlfriend goodbye while SHE went to work, "past me" started thinking "OK, time to put some stuff on hold. If I know future me, he's going to need a lot of help."

Happiness is relative.

Spoiler:
And this makes me very, very happy.



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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby lalop » Fri Nov 25, 2011 11:34 am UTC

Yakk wrote:Screw that being. I am doing what makes me happy, not what makes some being who will remember making my decisions happy.


So you'd have unprotected sex with the hot, HIV-infected community if they just gave themselves up to you?


My answer to the actual topic is: it honestly depends. Some people get great joy from their kids, and not all work is a bad thing. Unfortunately, there's no way to really know until you do it.

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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Zamfir » Fri Nov 25, 2011 12:05 pm UTC

Noc wrote:Srsly.

If you hate your future self so much, why don't you hatemarry them?

He's not saying he hates his future self, not at all. He's just saying that he won't approach his life as a business decision, constantly calculating how much "happiness" he should destroy now to get it back with maximal interest in the future. I think he's right about that implicit attitude behind articles like this.

There are far too many people who do claim that you should try to lead your life that way, especially among economists and other social scientists with a mathematical bend. You can often recognize them when they talk about "rational behaviour" and "utility" and "happiness measurements" as if those things are objective facts, instead of crude simplifications of reality.

I mean, what kind of person would really like to have kids, but decides against kids because psychological research indicates that people with children self-report lower values of life satisfaction than other people who do not have kids but are otherwise statistically similar on a variety of quantifiable social factors?

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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby lalop » Fri Nov 25, 2011 12:17 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:I mean, what kind of person would really like to have kids, but decides against kids because psychological research indicates that people with children self-report lower values of life satisfaction than other people who do not have kids but are otherwise statistically similar on a variety of quantifiable social factors?


Sure, people may hate such complicated explanations, but I imagine stuff like http://xkcd.com/946/ would actually make a difference.

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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby AvatarIII » Fri Nov 25, 2011 12:26 pm UTC

I want kids one day, and my life will probably (certainly?) suck because of it, but I'm sure the suckage will only last at most 25 years, (not that long considering life expectancy is almost 80 now, and that's for people born 80 years ago, life expectancy has steadily increased by almost 10 years in the last 50, who's to say it won't increase another 10 in the next 50?) and even during that suckage, I can live vicariously through my kids.

Oh and if I'm nice to them, they can look after me when I need my nappies changed, and need driving everywhere.

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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Yakk » Fri Nov 25, 2011 1:35 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
Yakk wrote:Screw that being.

Are you really comfortable with the idea that:
  1. Your "future self" is a distinct person from you (and presumably therefore not responsible for actions that you take), and

Of course the future self is "responsible" for my actions -- society holds my future self responsible for my actions.
  • It's ok for you to saddle this person with children?

Yep.
More generally, you don't ever plan for the future (or think that it's reasonable for people to do so)?
I plan for the future all of the time. Planning for the future is one of the things that makes me happy, right now. Often a realistic plan for the future makes me happier than how I think I'll actually feel when the plan comes to fruition.

I just don't do a utility maximization algorithm on the likely results of my plans for a myriad of reasons. Instead, I use my current neurosis, preferences, and self image to decide what it is I am going to plan to do.

Heck, I can give reasonable utilitarian type reasons why doing so is not all that smart, yet many would presume that it means I've accepted utility maximization as my moral decision making process. So I'm not interested in that discussion.
lalop wrote:So you'd have unprotected sex with the hot, HIV-infected community if they just gave themselves up to you?

Nope, because that wouldn't make me happy right now. Seriously -- my self image as a prudent person wouldn't find that scary, and would make me unhappy. Similarly, failing to check if it was the case would make me miserable.
Noc wrote:If you hate your future self so much, why don't you hatemarry them?

I don't hate my future self -- I no more hate my future self than I hate some random person on the street. Ok, maybe a bit more, that future self is going to claim all my stuff! (joking). I just don't place (some arbitrary measure of) my future self(ves?) happiness as being the ultimate goal of my present existence.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby jules.LT » Fri Nov 25, 2011 1:59 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:I mean, what kind of person would really like to have kids, but decides against kids because psychological research indicates that people with children self-report lower values of life satisfaction than other people who do not have kids but are otherwise statistically similar on a variety of quantifiable social factors?

That person would probably be miserable because of regret for that decision.
The main reason for people to not have kids is because they don't have that longing. Just because they're happier on average doesn't mean that someone with that (very natural and common) longing will also be happier without kids.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby morriswalters » Fri Nov 25, 2011 3:23 pm UTC

Anybody care to explain to me what happiness is? I feel bad and good from time to time but I've never been able to pin down what I'm supposed to be when I'm happy.

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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Fri Nov 25, 2011 4:09 pm UTC

Yakk wrote:
TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
Yakk wrote:Screw that being.

Are you really comfortable with the idea that:
  1. Your "future self" is a distinct person from you (and presumably therefore not responsible for actions that you take), and

Of course the future self is "responsible" for my actions -- society holds my future self responsible for my actions.

This is equivocation. I'm talking about the kind of responsibility that makes it OK to make me raise my own children and not-OK to make me raise other people's children. And wondering how, or whether, this distinction exists in your weird theory of personhood.

To put it more directly: it's wrong for society to make me take care of your children. It's not wrong for society to make me take care of my children (or "the children spawned by some past person whose memories I now possess," if you prefer). Do you agree? If not, what the fuck? If so, how do you account for it on the view that you bear no special relationship to any particular future person?

(The problem is not, of course, limited to child-bearing responsibilities. More generally, it's about any case where your future self will have to live with the consequences of your actions, where it would be wrong to inflict those consequences on others. And the point is not really "Should society behave this way?", but rather "Should I behave this way, given how I know that society will respond?" There are equivalent questions that don't deal with society at all.)

Edit: In fact, let me give one: It's OK for me to get drunk, knowing that my future self won't have any choice in the matter and might hurt himself as a result. It's not OK for me to spike someone's drink, knowing that he doesn't have a choice in the matter and might hurt himself as a result. Am I wrong? Or is there a moral difference here that a theory of selfhood needs to account for?

Yakk wrote:I just don't do a utility maximization algorithm on the likely results of my plans for a myriad of reasons.

And that's fine. I'm challenging your claim that "Changing my behavior simply because some being in the future will have memories of these decisions is utterly irrational." The arguments that you give for this aren't about personal preference. They imply that it's irrational for anyone to give a unique shit about her future self.

Zamfir wrote:He's not saying he hates his future self, not at all. He's just saying that he won't approach his life as a business decision, constantly calculating how much "happiness" he should destroy now to get it back with maximal interest in the future. I think he's right about that implicit attitude behind articles like this.

There are far too many people who do claim that you should try to lead your life that way, especially among economists and other social scientists with a mathematical bend. You can often recognize them when they talk about "rational behaviour" and "utility" and "happiness measurements" as if those things are objective facts, instead of crude simplifications of reality.

There's some room in between here. You can worry about whether a decision will make you more or less happy without thinking that it's in any way tied to what would be right or rational for anyone else. I mean, is someone who says "This career path will get me more money, but will it make me happy?" really in need of a paradigm shift?
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby lalop » Fri Nov 25, 2011 6:01 pm UTC

Yakk wrote:Nope, because that wouldn't make me happy right now. Seriously -- my self image as a prudent person wouldn't find that scary, and would make me unhappy. Similarly, failing to check if it was the case would make me miserable.


But this in itself doesn't quite make sense. Why do you care whether or not the other person has HIV - you'll only develop symptoms years later, when you're no longer the same person anymore. Similarly, why be prudent (I think that's what you're saying; there a couple of double-negatives running around) when you've just indicated that said results shouldn't matter to you? If future symptoms really don't matter to you, then all that's left is [hawt secks!?!?!?!], and that decision should be a no-brainer.

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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Goplat » Fri Nov 25, 2011 6:07 pm UTC

Yakk wrote:You know that being in a few years who is going to have my memories that people are going to call "me"?

Screw that being. I am doing what makes me happy, not what makes some being who will remember making my decisions happy. Changing my behavior simply because some being in the future will have memories of these decisions is utterly irrational, unless you go and extrapolate my "self" from my immediate experience and have some kind of mumbo-jumbo "continuity of existence" assumptions.


How would you like to earn a few thousand dollars absolutely free? All I ask is that some being in the future with a memory of the decision, not you, pay it back double in a year.

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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Yakk » Fri Nov 25, 2011 7:07 pm UTC

It isn't OK for me to get drunk, because I don't want to be the person who gets drunk.

Why should I care if the other person gets HIV? Why would my decision to avoid HIV be merely a function of likely future consequences? That utilitarian maximization model doesn't match how people actually behave (people behave "unrationally", where rationally is defined by utilitarian maximization), nor does it match how I behave. The "just so" story that I'm avoiding getting HIV because in the future I don't have HIV is a just so story. When you actually check people's behavior, that isn't how they actually behave, as if the future selves where real. Instead, they have "irrational" cognitive biases -- they procrastinate when it isn't rational, they make their decisions based on what they have available in their heads and have heard about recently, etc. The "just so" stories might be persuasive, but they don't explain my (or, as far as we can tell, others) behavior.

I have a bunch of rules of thumb, habits, self images, and the like that determine my actions. I am not a utility maximizing equation execution system. I state this from experience. I have an image of what a "good" person is, and I want to be a "good" person, so I do the things that make me validate my own self image. As it happens, many of these things line up with some "approved" method to maximize my future self interest. Now, that isn't my only source of behavioral guidance -- I'm no saint -- but the fact that I'm not claiming to behave based on { (christian morality) (future utility self-maximization) (future utility group maximization) (kantian philosophy) (objectivism) (daffy duck cartoons)} doesn't mean that I'll act in opposition to any one of their prescribed behaviors.

It just means that a moral argument based on them isn't a veto strength sway on my behavior. And I suspect this is true even of people who claim to be motivated by those systems.

---

"Wrong for society" -- moral codes at a societal level are different, from my perspective, than personal moral codes. Because societies aren't people. So yes, society as a construct that self perpetuates is going to set up rules to make it self perpetuate, and instill in individuals in it incentives, habits and patterns that tend to cause this, because societies that didn't and don't do this went kurplunk. This sounds quite optimal for a society.

So "should" society "hold my future self responsible" for my actions? Sure, it seems to work.

And that's fine. I'm challenging your claim that "Changing my behavior simply because some being in the future will have memories of these decisions is utterly irrational." The arguments that you give for this aren't about personal preference. They imply that it's irrational for anyone to give a unique shit about her future self.
No, I'm stating that rational utility maximization doesn't imply that consequence. That consequence is an "irrational" one. So for those who insist that we follow rational utility maximization (and utility maximize with whatever limited means we have by definition), it frames the position that the naive utility maximization arguments are exactly that -- naive.

People, as far as I can tell, don't behave as if future events are as "real" as present events, and that future consequences are as "real" as present ones. Some people seem irresponsible and don't seem to care about consequences -- others neurotically seem to constantly over-avoid certain negative consequences while under-avoiding others. The model doesn't seem to predict human behavior very well at all.

Irrational means "not rational". If it is not rational for A to imply B, it doesn't mean that A implies ~B, which seems to be what a bunch of people in this thread are acting as if my statement means. Just because the future happiness of oneself is not a rational motivator, doesn't mean that anything that makes your future self happy cannot be a rational motivator. You can happily believe that just so stories about your future happiness should guide your behavior: if that makes you happy, and doing such actions makes you happy, and happiness is what you maximize when you act rationally, then there is nothing irrational about being motivated by just so stories that dictate certain behavior.

I have no problem with this.

However, I'm pretty much aware that many things I do will make me less happy down the road, from procrastinating about raking leaves to staying up late to giving money to charity rather than hedonistic pursuits. One of the things that might make my future self less happy be having children. I'm am ok with that. Because I don't believe I'm a utility maximizing being for my own future self. Other things, like brushing my teeth, are probably going to make my future self happier. And I'll do them even if I'm not basing my actions on my future self utility, but rather on my own immediate quirks, motivations and state of mind.

I have many strange quirks. I save up money in investment accounts, do career planning, maintain and improve a house, engage in positive social reciprocital(?) interactions with people. I pay bills, build programs, argue on the internet, fix bugs, play games, and generally live a decent life. But I am not under the illusion that this is because I'm a utility maximization engine for some future self. It is because I've built up these habits over my life, and when I do them I feel like I'm doing what I should be doing.
Goplat wrote:How would you like to earn a few thousand dollars absolutely free? All I ask is that some being in the future with a memory of the decision, not you, pay it back double in a year.
No? I have models in my head of profit/loss etc, and I like following them. It is like winning a game.

On my scorecard, your proposal wouldn't be a winning move, and I don't like losing this game.

Once again, just because X->Y and ~X, this doesn't mean ~Y. Rather, ~Y implies ~X. When we look at the world, and we predict human action based on rational decision theory with future selves being the utility of whom we are trying to maximize, we don't see what it predicts. This implies that "rational decision theory with future selves being the utility of whom we are trying to maximize" is false, or our observations are wrong, or our model is in some other way flawed.

...

I fully expect some of my decisions are going to make myself miserable. And that is ok by me. Others will want to avoid that -- about future me, or future themselves. That is also ok by me.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby lalop » Fri Nov 25, 2011 7:30 pm UTC

Yakk wrote:No? I have models in my head of profit/loss etc, and I like following them. It is like winning a game.

On my scorecard, your proposal wouldn't be a winning move, and I don't like losing this game.


But this is kinda like what I was saying beforehand: this model doesn't make sense. You can get (let's up the stakes), a million dollars to kill on whatever you want, no consequences, while some other guy has to pay it all back in the future. I call that a win.

It's just like if I offered you a million dollars now, with the stipulation that random guy G on the street has to pay it all back to me. You don't lose by taking this deal. You absolutely win. G may lose, but that's a completely different story.

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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Zamfir » Fri Nov 25, 2011 8:28 pm UTC

this model doesn't make sense.

Indeed, but you're hardwired to follow it anyway. When I go to the bathroom and eat chicken afterwards, I suddenly start caring a lot about the future of part of that dead chicken and not at all about the part of me that I just flushed down the drain.

Perhaps it doesn't make much sense, but that's how we work and we have to live with it. Wanting children is a weaker but similar effect. At least some part of our essense is as an imperfectly self-sustaining pattern, both through our own lives and through our kids.

As Jules says above, some people don't want children, or not very strongly. Not wanting things can help to be happy, or at least feel comfortable.

It's even part of the English language: somewhere in time between 'The lord is my shepherd, I shall not want' and 'All I want for Christmas is you', it became possible to want cake and have it too. Though even Mariah Carey sings mostly about how she's happy for not wanting things.

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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Cheezwhiz Jenkins » Fri Nov 25, 2011 10:00 pm UTC

In fact, let me give one: It's OK for me to get drunk, knowing that my future self won't have any choice in the matter and might hurt himself as a result. It's not OK for me to spike someone's drink, knowing that he doesn't have a choice in the matter and might hurt himself as a result. Am I wrong? Or is there a moral difference here that a theory of selfhood needs to account for?


I...what? So...even though I accept responsibility for the consequences of my actions, it's inconsistent or immoral to do things (to) myself (to which, obviously, I consent, as I'm the only one involved here) which it is both legally and morally NOT okay to just do to someone else WITHOUT their consent? But it's IMPOSSIBLE for future me to consent, because future me doesn't exist yet! It's like saying I shouldn't have kids because I don't know if they want to be born. If I decide that I'm not going to consider future me since I can't predict what she will want, but I still regard both present and future me as beings whose actions I am equally accountable for, what is the issue here? Future Me (in this line of argument) isn't the same as Present Me, that's true, so I say "screw them, idk what they will want and I don't really care." But it's absurd to say that this automatically makes Future Me morally equivalent in every way to someone who has nothing to do with me, just a stranger on the street. Such reasoning makes it immoral to eat anything right now (I'm force-feeding Future Me!), to accept a job (I'm signing contracts for Future Me without their permission!), to have sex with anyone (I'm raping future me!), etc. Living in the moment doesn't imply such silly conclusions.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Panonadin » Sat Nov 26, 2011 4:41 am UTC

I would say from my personal experience yes.

I am in the sameish boat as MJ. Not a minute of my day is really mine. I'm either taking care of them, setting up something so I can take care of them later, or working so I can provide for them. I end up getting about 50% of the sleep I need in order to have any time for myself.

I do love them and they do make me happy but I am pretty sure that I COULD (key word) be happier. Having twins for your first "child" isn't as awesome as everyone around you makes it out to be. I don't know if it's an emotional thing but they don't really seem to be as fulfilling as everyone makes them out to be either.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Mighty Jalapeno » Sat Nov 26, 2011 5:28 am UTC

How old are they (and you, if you don't mind me asking), Panonadin?

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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Panonadin » Sat Nov 26, 2011 5:33 am UTC

My twins just turned 4 this past August and I just turned 27.

They are hilarious amounts of fun most of the time and from reading a lot of your posts I can see yours are too. I think every parent could have thier own show on funny stuff their kids do on a daily basis.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby mister k » Sat Nov 26, 2011 10:46 am UTC

Beware of drawing causal conclusions from observational studies. If I am very eager to have children.and choose not to have them because of some correlations, will I really be happier in ten years time? of course I will choose what I want to do, because happiness is actually a terrible model dore what humans actually seek
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Vaniver » Sat Nov 26, 2011 4:42 pm UTC

One study does not a result make. From what I've seen, it seems likely that the positives and negatives of having children are roughly similar for happiness, but that the positives outweigh the negatives for satisfaction. Put somewhat flippantly, children are great once they've grown up.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Mighty Jalapeno » Sat Nov 26, 2011 5:08 pm UTC

Children are work. A lot of work. A really, really large amount of work. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly exhausting it is. I mean, you may think it's a lot of work to change the oil in your car, but that's just peanuts to children.

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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby elasto » Sat Nov 26, 2011 8:48 pm UTC

I pretty much get what Yakk is saying (though he's putting it in a bit of a confrontational way!)

Basically, people only ever consider their present happiness. It's just that, for most of us, part of our present happiness is derived from our knowledge of how our present actions will impinge on our future happiness. (But, since none of us are perfectly rational, we don't always think about our future happiness in ways we rationally should - hence why people smoke etc. )

In a way, it's like the argument that pure altruism doesn't exist. People who do altruistic things do so because it makes them happy thinking about what they're doing and what they've done. Which makes it selfish.

(Both arguments are slightly over-simplistic - but a reasonable first approximation to reality, I think. I believe there is a hard-wired, instinctive self-sacrifice such that we will sometimes do things even if we derive no happiness or pleasure from the act at the time. But the whole benefit of the development of the pleasure/pain systems of the brain is to provide a link between present happiness and future happiness. The more your brain can make actions that are self-sacrificing in the short-term but bring reward over the long-term actually pleasure/satisfaction/happiness-inducing now - the more functional and successful a human being you will be.)

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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby mat.tia » Sun Nov 27, 2011 10:51 pm UTC

Woo, I'm kind of scared while I read of how someone thinks of himself and his happiness... I don't think happiness should be looked at as something rational, because it being irrational is what makes you happy. A thought alone cannot make anyone happy, I think.
I'm too young to have children, but from my experience the only thing that really fulfills me is the irrational unconditional love; not only the romantic love, but the love to my family, my close friends. I'm that kind of paranoid that is always looking for a reason, a meaning, something worth being your best, and I think I could find all this in having children. Of course it's a lot of hard work, but it's a good reason to quit drinking, smoking and go out every night, and finally decide instead to worry about some kind of "career" to pursue in order to provide your family a well being, because it needs to be done at some point. It's also an excuse to re-read all your favorite books (to your kids this time) and to finally have someone to talk to about your interesting nerdy interests.
Maybe I'm a little emotional because I just said goodbye to my little sister, but this is how I've always seen the question, and it's the only one I do not feel the need to over analyze and rationalize : )

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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Cheezwhiz Jenkins » Sun Nov 27, 2011 11:11 pm UTC

mat.tia wrote:A thought alone cannot make anyone happy, I think.


I have to take extreme exception to this, I'm afraid. I know it to be false in my case.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Griffin » Mon Nov 28, 2011 12:34 pm UTC

Being irrational certainly doesn't make me happy. Being productive does (which often requires significant doses of rationality).

(But, since none of us are perfectly rational, we don't always think about our future happiness in ways we rationally should - hence why people smoke etc. )

You do realize it is possible to smoke while remaining perfectly rational, right?
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby jules.LT » Mon Nov 28, 2011 1:23 pm UTC

Griffin wrote:You do realize it is possible to smoke while remaining perfectly rational, right?

Seeing as it's impossible to be perfectly rational, how would you know that?
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby AvatarIII » Mon Nov 28, 2011 1:43 pm UTC

Griffin wrote:Being irrational certainly doesn't make me happy. Being productive does (which often requires significant doses of rationality).


what's more productive than reproduction right? not only are you producing something, you are producing something that is ALSO CAPABLE OF PRODUCTION! :shock:

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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Griffin » Mon Nov 28, 2011 3:03 pm UTC

Seeing as it's impossible to be perfectly rational, how would you know that?


First, slightly different definition of "perfectly". ;)
But fine, then, it can be a boundedly rational decision. Which is pretty much the best we can do.

what's more productive than reproduction right? not only are you producing something, you are producing something that is ALSO CAPABLE OF PRODUCTION!


Genius! I will commence work at making babies immediately!
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby jules.LT » Mon Nov 28, 2011 3:18 pm UTC

Griffin wrote:First, slightly different definition of "perfectly". ;)
But fine, then, it can be a boundedly rational decision. Which is pretty much the best we can do.

Right ;)

Humans tend to be rather irrational, and even more so when the consequences are not short-term. Like the baby that you'll only see 9 months later or the cancer that you'll only have an increased likelihood of (and would most likely happen in many years anyway).
Elasto's point stands pretty well :)
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Richard Feynman & many others wrote:Keep an open mind – but not so open that your brain falls out

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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Zamfir » Mon Nov 28, 2011 4:07 pm UTC

I don't think rationality is well-defined enough to say things like 'humans are often irrational', or to apply concepts like 'bounded rationality' or 'perfectly rational' to all of the real world.

You can apply such concepts to toy models of reality, and by extension to specific subsets of reality that happen to match the toy models good enough. Those models include a priori what constitutes the 'correct' decisions, such as a utility function. So you can measure a rational decision making process by its ability to reach these correct outcomes. That can be extended to reality in situations where there is agreement on how various outcomes are to be ranked.

But in a lot of reality, lik smoking or having kids, there is no such correct outcome or ranking of outcomes. You can't reason how much you want to have kids or how much you like smoking or how much you fear cancer, and such aspect are unavoidable parts of the decision.

A rational decision process here involves collecting some relevant knowledge and spending some time to consider your options and their consequences, but that's it. Beyond that there's no more or less rational, let alone perfectly rational or a bounded approximation of that perfection.

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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby jules.LT » Mon Nov 28, 2011 4:24 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:A rational decision process here involves collecting some relevant knowledge and spending some time to consider your options and their consequences, but that's it. Beyond that there's no more or less rational

I'd argue that "more or less rational" means "how much weight that process of collecting relevant knowledge and "logically" analyzing it had in your decision".
Well, that's a first step towards a definition anyway ;)
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Richard Feynman & many others wrote:Keep an open mind – but not so open that your brain falls out

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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Zamfir » Mon Nov 28, 2011 4:44 pm UTC

jules.LT wrote:I'd argue that "more or less rational" means "how much weight that process of collecting relevant knowledge and "logically" analyzing it had in your decision".

Yeah, perhaps. Though you quickly reach the end of that. Smoking increases your odds of getting cancer. Lungcancer is nasty and often lethal. Nicotine has a physically addictive effect. That's pretty much the amount of knowledge and analysis you can bring to smoking, and most people nowadays reach that point.

Beyond that, rationality just isn't a very useful tool anymore to help you make a choice.

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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Dark567 » Mon Nov 28, 2011 5:00 pm UTC

It's only one study... but if it were repeated I would certainly take it into consideration.

I mean, I don't know what my happiness levels from having children would be.... like at all. So do I want kids, I don't fucking know. If there is research out there saying that I am more likely to be less happy, I want to know that. Is it possible I am wrong? Sure, but I want to maximize my expected value. Basically I am working with limited information, and anything that can add to the information about this life changing decision that isn't really reversible, I am going to take into account.
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Yakk wrote:The question the thought experiment I posted is aimed at answering: When falling in a black hole, do you see the entire universe's future history train-car into your ass, or not?

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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby guenther » Mon Nov 28, 2011 7:54 pm UTC

Having kids is a lot of work, and I don't know how you do that much work without happiness taking a plunge (with the assumption being that people would rather play than work). I've heard an interview with the author (Daniel Gilbert) talking to a mom about how having kids was the most amazing thing in her life. She admitted that there were a lot of stressful times, but there were other times where she experienced deeply rewarding feelings when she was with her kids. Dr. Gilbert responded by basically saying that our brain creates that illusion despite the fact that our measured satisfaction actually decreases. (He worked very hard to say it in a respectful way and acknowledged that this was probably the most controversial part of his book Stumbling on Happiness).

So much of our happiness is based on our perception of reality, and our perception of our kids seems to be enhanced in some way to make our reflection on them very profound and meaningful. I don't think this is bad in any way. But this sort of thing is hard to capture in a study. How do you sum lots of time of struggle with smaller periods of profound reward? Coming up with a utilitarian metric of happiness such that we could use to optimize our life is not very straightforward even with data like this.

Anyway, that's my take. I'm also a parent, and my experience is much like that woman caller. There are things that I can't do now that I have kids, and much of my time is spent getting them ready so we can rush to someplace they need to be. But those times when I stop to enjoy my time with them, it's just amazing!


I just thought of one more thing I can add to this. We are new homeowners, and the having a home can be kind of like having a kid in some ways, like how the amount of time, work, and money we have to spend just to maintain it. But it's exciting having a owning a home. So maybe there's parallels here where we culturally raise the emotional value of this, and we use it to offset the heartache it brings.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Mighty Jalapeno » Mon Nov 28, 2011 8:07 pm UTC

Owning a house and having a kid, I thought many years ago, both share one peculiar similarity: the thought that out of a huge and crazy and uncontrollable world, these little pieces are mine. This is my house, that I own and control and maintain and is unlike the other billions in the world, and these are my kids, that I raise and guide and mould and educate and are unlike the other billions in the world.

I hate the idea that 'they're my legacy', but there is a sense of permanence, and I have to wonder just how many of my feelings are 'real' and how many are evolutionary adaptations to ensure survival of the species.

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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Griffin » Mon Nov 28, 2011 8:59 pm UTC

How the hell do they even measure "happiness" anyways? And how do they get decent control groups for something like this?

Do they compare parents to non-parents, or specifically parents to infertile couples that want to be parents that can't?

There's flaws in both methods, but comparing it to the first is obviously going to yield irrelevant results.

Most "happiness measures" I've seen have been anything but, in all honesty.

Also, the original piece just seems to be some fluff journalism - does anybody have sources to something a bit more concrete?
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