Does having kids really make you less happy?

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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Zamfir » Mon Nov 28, 2011 9:37 pm UTC

Dr. Gilbert responded by basically saying that our brain creates that illusion despite the fact that our measured satisfaction actually decreases.

Like, there is a kind of happiness that isn't an 'illusion created by our brain'?
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Yakk » Mon Nov 28, 2011 9:39 pm UTC

Yes. It is the kind of happiness that is an illusion created by scientific studies asking you "are you happy? Please answer from a scale of 1 to 10."
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Dark567 » Mon Nov 28, 2011 9:45 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:
Dr. Gilbert responded by basically saying that our brain creates that illusion despite the fact that our measured satisfaction actually decreases.

Like, there is a kind of happiness that isn't an 'illusion created by our brain'?
Well no.

I think what he is saying our brain creates a belief/instinct that "kids will bring me happiness", but ends up failing to actually meet that. Which evolutionary seems completely plausible.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby gaurwraith » Mon Nov 28, 2011 10:01 pm UTC

I understand the doctor says:

A child creates an illusion of happines.
But throwing parties and going to dinner at expensive restaurants; or growing ferns in your backyard; or building scale ww2 aeroplanes ( or whatever it be a single person 's happiness) is real happines, not an illusion.

Bit retarded.
But then, trying to measure happines is a stupid effort. Because, someone asked before, what is "happy"?
Which is the best song ever?
What is the most beautiful landscape in the world? Rank them! Give them % of beauty! Who is the happier person on Earth? Has he over 9000 points of happiness?

what is more, I think we have not yet proved that reality is not an illusion, or that the world exists outside our brain, go figure
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby guenther » Mon Nov 28, 2011 10:07 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:
Dr. Gilbert responded by basically saying that our brain creates that illusion despite the fact that our measured satisfaction actually decreases.

Like, there is a kind of happiness that isn't an 'illusion created by our brain'?

I should be careful about what statements I attribute to him since I'm paraphrasing from memory after a few years. (Here's the audio for anyone that wants to hear for themselves.) But I think the point was that it's not just the brain attaching emotion to objective events, but rather that the brain alters the way we perceive our past. When we assess whether our kids brought us happiness, we are evaluating from a fabricated landscape, an alternate depiction of reality created by the brain which we perceive as real. In the book, he does seem to paint the picture that our brain generally works from this fabricated landscape more often than not, so you might be right to wonder if all happiness is like this. But the message I took away was about how much our brain warps our perception, and this particular case just happens to be an example that's startling to look at since our perception deviates so much from what is actually measured.

Yakk wrote:Yes. It is the kind of happiness that is an illusion created by scientific studies asking you "are you happy? Please answer from a scale of 1 to 10."

Are you saying that we can't measure happiness in any meaningful way? Or is your point about this particular method?
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Dark567 » Mon Nov 28, 2011 10:12 pm UTC

gaurwraith wrote:I understand the doctor says:

A child creates an illusion of happines.
But throwing parties and going to dinner at expensive restaurants; or growing ferns in your backyard; or building scale ww2 aeroplanes ( or whatever it be a single person 's happiness) is real happines, not an illusion.
I don't really think your capturing it there though. He is not claiming a child creates an illusion of happiness. He is claiming that people believe that having a child will make them happier when it in fact doesn't. When deciding to have a child, you don't really know what the effect on your net happiness is going to be. Your guessing. The Dr. is claiming that most peoples guess is too high.
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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 Zamfir » Mon Nov 28, 2011 10:15 pm UTC

But that particular example is about a woman who has kids, and says there are special moments that compensate for the bad moments. The doctor than says the good moments are illusions created by her brain (while presumably the bad moments aren´t)
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby guenther » Mon Nov 28, 2011 10:42 pm UTC

My recollection is that the claim is that our whole perception is the illusion, not just the good moments. The woman on the phone remembered that bad moments happened, but likely her perception of the frequency and severity of the bad time in relation to the good times are distorted. So the picture comes out looking rosier than if she were to make an assessment based on looking at the actual data.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby gaurwraith » Mon Nov 28, 2011 11:18 pm UTC

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


He is claiming that people believe that having a child will make them happier when it in fact doesn't.


No, he says that this woman's feelings of deep reward are an illusion. He even has to be subtle about it.
And then says that he can measure satisfaction, (in kilohertzs or maybe Gigaohms) and that satisfaction ACTUALLY decreases.
And I get all enraged. In a scale of 0 to 28 I clock at 7,8675 nanoragers.
Now again, how do you measure satisfaction?
Is it maybe by levels of certain neurotransmitters?
Then how this levels are for real but the levels of the neurotransmitters for "deep reward" are fake?
what produces the satisfaction?
Some people feel satisfied by entering a big shop and buying for two hours. Whereas I would feel really bored. if you say that what matters is not what produce the satisfaction, but the satisfaction per se, then, how can we feel a fake "deep reward for having a kid" and a real satisfaction for always having the latest apple gadget?


Ed. and this comparison is not totally random I guess. Because in a world that lives a profound economical crisis, and has an apparent overpopulation, and now that it seems clear that single people SPEND more, what a suitable study. Don't breed, be happy! (happy= spend money to be happy, we have all the needs you could ever want, cover them and be satisfied, see your satisfaction levels grow and keep the money rolling) two birds in one shot.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby guenther » Mon Nov 28, 2011 11:44 pm UTC

gaurwraith wrote:No, he says that this woman's feelings of deep reward are an illusion. He even has to be subtle about it.

I might have misspoke about what the doctor said. I don't even remember if he even used the word "illusion". (What he actually said is in that podcast for anyone with the time to listen.) I'm just distilling my recollection, which is that he meant that how we perceive this stuff is an illusion. And thus we often stumble on happiness because we are making predictions about our future happiness based on our poor mental models of what actually happened in the past (among other factors that cause problems). Though I should point out that I don't think he ever labeled the whole parenting thing as a "stumble", but rather used it as evidence that what we perceive and what we measure can be wildly different.

gaurwraith wrote:Some people feel satisfied by entering a big shop and buying for two hours. Whereas I would feel really bored. if you say that what matters is not what produce the satisfaction, but the satisfaction per se, then, how can we feel a fake "deep reward for having a kid" and a real satisfaction for always having the latest apple gadget?

Again, despite what I wrote, I don't think he was calling the feeling of deep reward fake, though he might have linked our likelihood for having those feelings to evolution or something (i.e. we're wired to find reward in raising a child because otherwise no one would ever do it). But I don't think he was discounting the woman's feelings at all, just trying to explain why the data he observed comes as quite a shock to many people.

I get that this type of research doesn't interest you much, but when we measure data that thoroughly defies our expectations, then that seems like the perfect place to go digging around for what's really happening. And this process is not about prescribing how you should feel about kids or the latest Apple product, but about describing what is actually going on with our feelings. In that book, he explicitly says that it's not a self-help guide to avoid stumbling on happinesss.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby gaurwraith » Tue Nov 29, 2011 12:04 am UTC

but guenther, what I try to say is that when dealing with "feelings" everything is somewhat an illusion. Every feeling is there for a reason, you feel good when you eat, when you piss, when you take a dump, of course when you have sex. Nature tricks us into feeling a deep reward when we have kids? No more than it tricks us to eat, to stay away from trouble, to share our points of view, to look at ourselves in the mirror and oh, remove the booger that is stuck outside our nose.

I remember fondly my teen years, I was in a rock band, I was wild, romantic, creative, happy... but when I look at things I wrote at that time I thought life was shit, I was depressed most of the time and had to drank gallons of alcohol to be able to enjoy a night out. You ask me now I tell you I was happy, you ask my then self and he would have tell you he'd like to die as soon as possible and end the UNBEARABLE pain.

To try and measure a feeling you'd need to have some reference. If it was possible to have kids, say at 25, spend 30 years with them, and then go back to 25, live 30 years without them and compare, and have this experiment done with a good bunch of people, and most of them ended up saying they prefer not having kids over having them, then that would be a more serious study.

Image

Regarding the podcast, well my understanding of spoken English is really bad. I'll try though. Seems I'm interested in the subject, cos I should be sleeping!

what we perceive and what we measure can be wildly different.

that I agree completely. I have completed a good lot of "satisfaction" surveys about the library, the swimming pool, the university services, and most times they are too vague, imagine you like 3 of the clercks but hate one, so when you're sked about the staff you have "totally unsatisfied" or "a bit unsatisfied", "satisfied", "very satisfied" "completely satisfied". I think the last 4 choices could be applied, each one with a reason, and it depends on such a lot of things that is a bit silly.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby guenther » Tue Nov 29, 2011 12:37 am UTC

gaurwraith wrote:but guenther, what I try to say is that when dealing with "feelings" everything is somewhat an illusion. Every feeling is there for a reason, you feel good when you eat, when you piss, when you take a dump, of course when you have sex. Nature tricks us into feeling a deep reward when we have kids? No more than it tricks us to eat, to stay away from trouble, to share our points of view, to look at ourselves in the mirror and oh, remove the booger that is stuck outside our nose.

My understanding is that he's not just out studying feelings, but to ask the questions about happiness, and why we have such a struggle attaining it. This deals with feelings because happiness is one, but it also deals with how we use those feelings to give things value, and how those feelings alter our perception of our past and our imagination of the future. A feeling isn't a fake anything unless you say what a "real" feeling is, but that's not what's happening here. The illusion is how we process the world around us, where there is a measurable answer for what is real.

gaurwraith wrote:To measure a feeling you need to have some reference. If it was possible to have kids, say at 25, spend 30 years with them, and then go back to 25, live 30 years without them and compare, and have this experiment done with a good bunch of people, and most of them ended up saying they prefer not having kids over having them, then that would be a more serious study.

And a seriously hard study. I bet researchers would love to try something like that (though you don't have to rewind time, you can run with two different groups in parallel and track the differences between them). But conducting more feasible research doesn't mean that it's less serious. I agree that the headline of the article is a bit much, and maybe that accurately reflects the researcher's opinion, or maybe that's just sensationalism to get people to click. But why is it bad to study how people self-report on their levels of satisfaction across time and correlate that with the child-rearing years? When you track feelings across time and compare them to what your memory says you felt at that time in the past, you get different answers. That's the illusion. And that's what I find fascinating about this. My take (which is based on reading the researcher's book, hearing that podcast, and reading the cited article) is that our sense of happiness and how it relates to children is based on this illusion. It's based on how we perceive the past rather than on a reliable record of the past.

EDIT:
gaurwraith wrote:
what we perceive and what we measure can be wildly different.

that I agree completely. I have completed a good lot of "satisfaction" surveys about the library, the swimming pool, the university services, and most times they are too vague, imagine you like 3 of the clercks but hate one, so when you're sked about the staff you have "totally unsatisfied" or "a bit unsatisfied", "satisfied", "very satisfied" "completely satisfied". I think the last 4 choices could be applied, each one with a reason, and it depends on such a lot of things that is a bit silly.

This is a problem with poorly defined questions. It's not clear how to sum varying experiences into one number that describes the whole. But I meant that what we remember feeling in the past is different that what a record of our feelings would show. The article is looking at satisfaction measured across time for a married couple. And assessing happiness from that record is different than assessing it from what they recollect of their feelings. I think that's what is surprising. If we just saw the data on satisfaction versus time, we'd never conclude that such an event could be described as bringing them happiness. But people do describe it that way consistently. And my understanding is that the researcher is saying this disconnect is from how our brain perceives the past.

And on the podcast, I thought it was fascinating enough to immediately go out and buy the book. And that book is one of my favorite popular science books (i.e. science written for the layman). Every day I would share with my wife some new fascinating experiment that completely defied how we think we behave. So I recommend the book if you have an interest in this topic.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Yakk » Tue Nov 29, 2011 2:04 am UTC

guenther wrote:
Yakk wrote:Yes. It is the kind of happiness that is an illusion created by scientific studies asking you "are you happy? Please answer from a scale of 1 to 10."

Are you saying that we can't measure happiness in any meaningful way? Or is your point about this particular method?
The method is just funny. And, last I checked, one of the state of the art ways to measure happiness (admittedly, that was a few years ago).
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Griffin » Tue Nov 29, 2011 2:24 am UTC

guenther,

You suddenly seem to be conflating happiness and satisfaction. Which don't really have a heck of a lot to due with each other.

Spending a day out on the yard tearing up the garden for the new season, planting and weeding and trimming and mowing, and you'll find I'm probably not particularly "happy" at any point in the process. But when I'm finished, I will have immense satisfaction at what I've accomplished.

Simultaneously, give me a day spent flitting from bar to comedy club to theatre show and around again, with some nice meals in the middle, and I'll probably be incredibly happy for most of it - but in the end, I might well feel that I ultimately wasted the day, and I may sink even as far as miserable when I get the bill.

Things aren't as simple as these studies like to make them out. It may be that for many people having children is the worse choice for both personal happiness and satisfaction. But I know people who don't have kids, and they are torn apart with regret over it.

With the methodologies involved in these studies, the conclusion is usually closer to "people who don't want kids, and manage to avoid them, are happier than people who want kids (and those who have accidental pregnancies)"
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby guenther » Tue Nov 29, 2011 11:25 pm UTC

Yakk wrote:The method is just funny. And, last I checked, one of the state of the art ways to measure happiness (admittedly, that was a few years ago).

What other method might exist? I know people have tried to correlate happiness with various biological signals, but which signals will you trust more than what a person says? I.e. if the signals indicate happy but the person says unhappy, will you conclude that the person is happy but just doesn't know it? Or does that mean that the signal isn't accurately capturing the person's level of happiness? I honestly don't know the right answer here, but to me it seems we can't escape having happiness indicators rely on a person's own subjective quantification of their happiness. But maybe this is just due to my inexperience in this field.

Griffin wrote:You suddenly seem to be conflating happiness and satisfaction. Which don't really have a heck of a lot to due with each other.

That's a fair point. I do conflate them without intending to because I don't keep them rigorously distinct in my head. You seem to use happy to indicate a moment to moment feeling where satisfaction seems to take a wider view. And that's fine, but I don't know that happy can't be used in a wider context. But regardless, I suppose what really matters is that the researchers are applying the appropriate rigor.

Griffin wrote:Things aren't as simple as these studies like to make them out. It may be that for many people having children is the worse choice for both personal happiness and satisfaction. But I know people who don't have kids, and they are torn apart with regret over it.

The existence of measurable trends in data doesn't mean exceptions don't exist (i.e. "Men are taller than women" doesn't mean "All men are taller than all women"). And I didn't read the original study to know how simple all this is made out to be. The article certainly did put a simple spin on it by talking about "the key to bliss". I definitely agree that this can be interpreted in a simple way, but that doesn't mean that the results aren't interesting or worth pursuing.

EDIT: To refresh myself, I opened the book I mentioned written by the guy in the article. His point regarding this topic is about how our culture promotes a belief that kids make us happy, which is understandable since we naturally promote beliefs that help us propagate. His view is that this belief biases our view looking forwards when we predict what happiness kids will bring, and it biases our view looking backwards when we reflect on what happiness they brought. In addition, raising kids is a huge investment in time and energy, and our mind elevates the perceived value we get out of it to improve our return on investment. In other words, we want to believe that we made a good choice, so our brain alters our perceptions and our valuation of different experiences such that we feel that it's true. Presumably this would mean that people without kids who didn't invest so much in the idea that kids bring happiness would be less inclined to believe it's true.

So none of this is about discovering the right choice on whether to have kids, or telling people that when they feel happy about their kids that it's really fake. Rather it's about how our beliefs and our perceptions can be at odds with what gets measured.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby morriswalters » Wed Nov 30, 2011 12:12 am UTC

Is happiness a discrete structure or a continuous waveform? I mean 25 years is a long time to grin like a ja.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Griffin » Wed Nov 30, 2011 4:17 am UTC

The existence of measurable trends in data doesn't mean exceptions don't exist (i.e. "Men are taller than women" doesn't mean "All men are taller than all women"). And I didn't read the original study to know how simple all this is made out to be. The article certainly did put a simple spin on it by talking about "the key to bliss". I definitely agree that this can be interpreted in a simple way, but that doesn't mean that the results aren't interesting or worth pursuing.

But its perfectly possible to draw false conclusions from data that doesn't support those conclusions, but sounds like it does. And it happens all the time. Either because the methodology is poor, of the conclusions are false simplifications.

Example:
You do a study of the top 100 positions in society. 80% of them turn out to be men, so you publish that data, the newspapers herald it as "men are more successful than women!"
But it doesn't follow. It may be true, but you can't draw the conclusion from the data presented. Because when the next study comes out and looks at the poverty-stricken criminal population, 80% of them turn out to be men, and you decide "Everything has changed! Women are now more successful than men!"

Except nothings changed, you're just making another unjustified generalization.

Its why scope, controls, and context are all important - and we've got none of that here. All we've got is sound bites. It may be true! But I haven't seen much in the way of evidence for it yet.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby distractedSofty » Wed Nov 30, 2011 5:38 am UTC

guenther wrote:
Yakk wrote:The method is just funny. And, last I checked, one of the state of the art ways to measure happiness (admittedly, that was a few years ago).

What other method might exist? I know people have tried to correlate happiness with various biological signals, but which signals will you trust more than what a person says? I.e. if the signals indicate happy but the person says unhappy, will you conclude that the person is happy but just doesn't know it? Or does that mean that the signal isn't accurately capturing the person's level of happiness? I honestly don't know the right answer here, but to me it seems we can't escape having happiness indicators rely on a person's own subjective quantification of their happiness. But maybe this is just due to my inexperience in this field.
One of the reasons that it's weird is that you (and this method) are assuming that there is even such a thing as a "level of happiness" that a person can measure.

If the measure was simply "Are you happy? Yes/No", that's pretty uncontroversial. You could even use such a measure to measure happiness over time (Last week you said yes on 3 days, this week it was 4, so this week you are happier in general).

Does cardinal happiness really make sense?

Coming at it from another direction, the very study that was mentioned seems to discredit that happiness scale: how does one rank happiness on a scale of 1 to 10 if not by comparing to previous data? And if we remember the past through rose tinted glasses, how can today's feelings possibly measure up?
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby guenther » Wed Nov 30, 2011 5:52 am UTC

Griffin wrote:Its why scope, controls, and context are all important - and we've got none of that here. All we've got is sound bites. It may be true! But I haven't seen much in the way of evidence for it yet.

You haven't seen evidence because it's not there? Or because you haven't looked? It's perfectly legit to go poking holes in studies like this, but saying that we've got none of that important stuff here seems unfair if you haven't actually investigated the quality of the study and their methodologies. Granted this particular article is light on details, but that's a quality of the journalism, not on the research. I referenced that book where that guy giving the talk lays out a much more detailed case (on the broader topic of happiness, not just on how it relates to children). And if you're interested, I can give the citations from the back to the actual studies on this topic.

To be fair to your point, I haven't read the actual studies either. To an extent I'm trusting that this guy has vetted that research and has captured the results properly. When the book came out, it seemed to get good reviews and I didn't hear any controversy from the scientific community over any of it's points, so I didn't take any extra steps to verify the claims. And in general this is my approach when I read science books written for the layman. Reading scientific papers takes quite a bit more investment just to get to the level of understanding what they're talking about, let alone going beyond and critically examining it for potential problems.

If you have an interest in diving into the actual research here, let me know. I'd be fascinated to hear your opinions on the matter.

distractedSofty wrote:Coming at it from another direction, the very study that was mentioned seems to discredit that happiness scale: how does one rank happiness on a scale of 1 to 10 if not by comparing to previous data? And if we remember the past through rose tinted glasses, how can today's feelings possibly measure up?

It's not that we remember the past through rose-colored glasses. It's that our memory of the past has lots of problems, one of which might be rose-colored glasses.

Happiness is a very subjective thing, and how to measure it is anything but precise. That book spends a whole chapter on why this is challenging. Basically, the author decided to tackle the problem with the law of large numbers. We have to deal with the inherent subjectivity of the topic, but if we look across large groups of people, the trends still have meaning.

What's the alternative? Clearly there are bad ways to go about finding happiness and good ways (altruistic gestures are some of the most reliable things we can do to make us happy). If the choices we make matter to the outcome, can't we study that somehow? Maybe there's a better way to go about this than what these researchers are doing, but I don't know what it is.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby morriswalters » Wed Nov 30, 2011 11:32 am UTC

You can't reliably measure happiness. First is defining the term itself. Then is the problem of defining the causes. I would assert that he can't show that his metric measures what he says it does, for anybody but him.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Yakk » Wed Nov 30, 2011 1:57 pm UTC

guenther wrote:
Yakk wrote:The method is just funny. And, last I checked, one of the state of the art ways to measure happiness (admittedly, that was a few years ago).

What other method might exist?

That isn't my problem?

I'm serious. If the best method you have of measuring X is a bad method, then drawing conclusions from your poor measure is still not very justified.

It would be like measuring speed by asking people to rate how zoomy something is on a scale of 1 to 10, and trying to deduce newton's laws of motion from it. You'll get something closer to classical Greek physics than anything actually useful. I mean, you might end up with a catapult -- a suggestion for something that works -- but if you go and take your classical Greek level of physics knowledge and tell someone that their boat design cannot work due to what you deduced in your logic, then you are being stupid.

If your measurement system is that flawed, saying what not to do is stupidly arrogant. Suggesting to try something is more reasonable -- ruling out things is not.
I know people have tried to correlate happiness with various biological signals, but which signals will you trust more than what a person says? I.e. if the signals indicate happy but the person says unhappy, will you conclude that the person is happy but just doesn't know it? Or does that mean that the signal isn't accurately capturing the person's level of happiness? I honestly don't know the right answer here, but to me it seems we can't escape having happiness indicators rely on a person's own subjective quantification of their happiness. But maybe this is just due to my inexperience in this field.

If the best you can do is "on a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you", then you won't be able to say "having children makes people less happy than not having children". Your measurement capabilities are insufficient to make conclusions of that nature. If you make conclusions of that nature, you are being dishonest.
But regardless, I suppose what really matters is that the researchers are applying the appropriate rigor.

All of the rigor in the world will simply mean you extract all that you can from the expressions of "how happy are you, on a scale of 1 to 10", which is bounded by the strength of that question.

You can use ANOVA until the cows come home, and you cannot extract data that wasn't there to start with. Well, you can, but that becomes an artifact of the extraction process...

If that "1 to 10" measure is what they are measuring, then the statistical analysis conclusion is "people with children, when asked how happy they are on a scale of 1 to 10, give answers that are lower in number than people who don't have children". The next step -- that this should be called "happiness" beyond a technical sense -- is the step that is pretty much a stretch. When Newton measures the number of lines evenly spaced that a ball goes past during one swing of a pendulum, calling that "speed" or "velocity" and saying that bigger numbers are "faster" takes effort to justify, but it ends up being pretty much true. That connection back to "faster" is what makes Physics able to say "no, that boat design won't work" rather than just "here is a suggestion for a faster boat".

Now, "here is a suggestion for a faster boat" isn't a useless kind of suggestion -- faster boats rock! So having a mud-foundation on your science doesn't make the science useless. It just means that there are certain things that cannot, in good faith, be suggested by the conclusions of the science. The popularization of this study, in particular, says "don't have children", which is a "no, that boat doesn't work" kind of suggestion rather than a "here is a suggestion for a faster boat" kind of suggestion.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby gaurwraith » Wed Nov 30, 2011 2:01 pm UTC

It's not that we remember the past through rose-colored glasses. It's that our memory of the past has lots of problems, one of which might be rose-colored glasses. Happiness is a very subjective thing, and how to measure it is anything but precise. That book spends a whole chapter on why this is challenging. Basically, the author decided to tackle the problem with the law of large numbers. We have to deal with the inherent subjectivity of the topic, but if we look across large groups of people, the trends still have meaning


Then, when you ask people if they are more or less happy after having kids, they will compare their present with kids to their rose-colored past, not the actual everyday struggle (in the past) that was their life.

I'd like to know if there are studies comparing levels of happines in single/non parenting people after, say, 10 years. In Spanish there is this saying "Any time from the past was better" (roughly translated). "The good old days" they say in English... Couldn't it just be that comparing "the now" with "10 years ago" or even "20 years ago" will produce "I am less happy now".
Do we grow happier as we get older? I guess, after a certain age, not.
The going from a student life to a working one, specially when you work a job you don't really like, having a mortgage, that must affect levels of happines in a way kids do not.
Then having kids wouldn't be the more significative factor, but the stretch of time that has passed and other lifestyle changes.


What's the alternative? Clearly there are bad ways to go about finding happiness and good ways (altruistic gestures are some of the most reliable things we can do to make us happy). If the choices we make matter to the outcome, can't we study that somehow? Maybe there's a better way to go about this than what these researchers are doing, but I don't know what it is.


I don't think you can seek and find happiness. I read sometime that it is a byproduct of some certain lifestyles, and most important, that you usually find it only when you look back. It is like you feel you were happy at some moment, or you decide you were happy at some moment. A teenage summer, a childhood christmas, that month you taught your son to ride a bycicle, maybe.


There's one thing I find interesting. Sometimes I call my friend who lives in other town, and ask him how he's doing.He tells me, we are working in a new song, I bought a new amp, we are getting better at rehearsals, we saw a shakespeare play in a small beach and swam naked and got drunk, we painted a really big stencil somwhere, and had to run away from the police.

Then I get home for holidays, get to hang out with my friends and once the new song is played, once the stencil is seen, there comes boredom, oh actually he's watching at least 4 hours of tv a day, working 9 to 5 and coming back from work all pissed, the house is dirty as it gets, everybody is stoned in an unfunny way and in short, same shit, different day.

What I mean is, when we describe any long period of time, we get to the significant "milestones" and forget about the everyday grind, which is, in fact, grinding.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Griffin » Wed Nov 30, 2011 3:00 pm UTC

I'm having difficulty finding detailed descriptions of his experiments or any sort of peer reviewed supporting experiments that might provide the same evidence, guenther, do you have any useful links on hand? I'm looking but not coming up with a whole bunch.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby morriswalters » Wed Nov 30, 2011 4:43 pm UTC

Happiness is an instantaneous function. It can represent how you feel at a moment in time about a specific thing, looking back is an average, at best, of all those moments, with no distinction made of the specific cause. Were you unhappy that you had kids when you had to pay for braces, or were you unhappy because braces were expensive. Happiness isn't an average.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby mat.tia » Wed Nov 30, 2011 11:24 pm UTC

I think it really really depends on the situation... the money a family has, their cultural level, the health of their kids, the parents' ability to be good parents and have happy kids that make them happy and not troubled kids that make them troubled and so on...
I don't think you can average a result that depends on many factors with a relatively small sample.

morriswalters wrote:Happiness is an instantaneous function. It can represent how you feel at a moment in time about a specific thing, looking back is an average, at best, of all those moments, with no distinction made of the specific cause. Were you unhappy that you had kids when you had to pay for braces, or were you unhappy because braces were expensive. Happiness isn't an average.

I personally don't agree with this. Maybe happiness is different for everyone and that's why it's so hard to explain, but....
if a person I care about disappoints me, I'm sad. Not only the same instant I aknowledge the thing, but for a long time, until he/she makes it up to me, gives an explanation, or until I personally give myself an explanation. Otherwise I keep being sad.
If I do badly in an exam I worked a lot for, I'm sad. For a while. Maybe days.
If I'm in love, I'm happy, all the time. Of course there's good moments in the sad periods and bad moments in the happy periods... but they soon merge with and become the more "persistent" and "deeper" state I'm in.

That's what makes me think that having kids would put a good basis for a happy feeling to stay there at the bottom of your belly, even when you have to pay for your kids' braces or when they stress you while you'd like to do whatever you like to do.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby guenther » Thu Dec 01, 2011 1:25 am UTC

morriswalters wrote:You can't reliably measure happiness. First is defining the term itself. Then is the problem of defining the causes. I would assert that he can't show that his metric measures what he says it does, for anybody but him.

gaurwraith wrote:I don't think you can seek and find happiness.

Both of these deal with the same sort of thing so I'll respond together. If this is true, then what does that imply about the pursuit of happiness? Does what we do matter for whether we'll be happy? It seems clear that we can make some bad choices for our happiness, and thus it seems we should be able to make good choices as well. If that's the case, why can't we characterize this process in some way? Maybe this whole "Rate your happiness from 1 to 10" isn't the best method, but then what's better? I definitely agree that this is a complicated problem, but I don't agree that it can't be done.

And gaurwraith, regarding your point about maybe the data is correlating with age, not children. Well, this sort of thing should show up when they studied people having children at different ages. If the phenomena develops ten years later for a couple that has a baby ten years later, then that's correlated with children, not age. And in fact, the article says that happiness plummets around childbirth, so it seems timed to children. At the end I describe how to find the citations for the original study if you want to personally verify that they accounted for this.

Yakk wrote:If your measurement system is that flawed, saying what not to do is stupidly arrogant.

What if people don't want a faster boat, but a zoomier boat? Then based on their description of what zoomy is, you take it to mean fast. So you build them a faster boat, but they say, "Yup that's faster, but it's not really zoomier." What is an unflawed way to capture zoominess if the person can't reliably map it to a objective quality like speed?

You describe the happiness metric as flawed, but I'd say the "flaw" is that people optimize their life around this subjective quality that's very hard to pin down. It's not really a flaw, but still, happiness is what people find important, and thus researchers have to either give up studying that, or they have to deal with the inherent limitations in their subject matter.

And I do get your point on the limitations. In fact, I'd argue that it's even more limiting that what you present. Not only is "Don't have children" not a good suggestion, I even think "Having no kids can make you happier" is sketchy advice. And despite how that article is written, the guy they're quoting states very clearly in his book that he's wildly enthusiastic about his kids and grandkids. I don't think any of this is about happiness optimization, but rather about understanding how things are working under the hood. If the day to day grind is so taxing with children, why do people consistently believe that children are a big source of happiness for them? Asking this question doesn't discount the happiness that people do derive from their kids.

Griffin wrote:I'm having difficulty finding detailed descriptions of his experiments or any sort of peer reviewed supporting experiments that might provide the same evidence, guenther, do you have any useful links on hand? I'm looking but not coming up with a whole bunch.

Try going here and searching for "marital satisfaction" inside the book. When I did this, it showed me the relevant pages. It starts with the first complete paragraph on page 242 and ends on page 245. Page 243 has a graphic showing the data that he is referencing. Page 296 has the citations for the studies behind the data.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby morriswalters » Thu Dec 01, 2011 2:44 am UTC

guenther all I mean by that is that some days your happy and some not. When you look back and ask yourself if you were glad you did it, all you can really ask is if you where happy with the outcome. I can't see how you can make a blanket statement like that otherwise. How do you separate out why you were unhappy and with what? You find happiness by pursuing other things. Happiness is a byproduct not a goal. IMHO.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby guenther » Thu Dec 01, 2011 11:14 pm UTC

So what do you make of statements like "the pursuit of happiness"? What are people pursuing if it's not happiness? Regardless of the label, is there any way to measure if someone has had more success in that pursuit than someone else? If there's no way to measure a difference, does it mean that there is no difference? Or can there be a difference that we can recognize, but we can't capture it with measurements at all?
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby morriswalters » Fri Dec 02, 2011 12:28 am UTC

guenther wrote:So what do you make of statements like "the pursuit of happiness"? What are people pursuing if it's not happiness? Regardless of the label, is there any way to measure if someone has had more success in that pursuit than someone else? If there's no way to measure a difference, does it mean that there is no difference? Or can there be a difference that we can recognize, but we can't capture it with measurements at all?


People need goals, sometimes goals bring moments of happiness. But happiness is a moment, not a long term thing. Why do you need to believe that we exist to be happy. That's not demonstrable in any manner that I am aware of. Biologically we exist to make mini me's. We have sufficient capacity to do more. I get a sense of satisfaction from what I do, but I'm not sure if that is happiness. I'm not sure that you can measure emotion at this point. I know that I have them, you appear to have them, but since it all happens on a level that we can't touch, my meaning can only broadly agree with yours. This is the problem with asking questions like this. What exactly is it that you mean to ask, and how do you know that it means the same to me?
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Byrel » Fri Dec 02, 2011 8:30 am UTC

morriswalters wrote:But happiness is a moment, not a long term thing.


At any given moment, we have a certain value for 'happiness.' But that value isn't (generally) principally a function of our current sensory input and thought. Instead, our current happiness is some sort of leaky integral filter of previous events. The length of the integral varies: intense passion makes it very short, while nostalgia/guilt can make it very long (and selective) indeed.

So it is true, in a sense, that happiness is a continuous function, with a value at each moment. But if you want to measure the effect of extremely long-term decisions (like child-rearing) on happiness, you have to measure some integral, either of happiness, or of the factors that generally contribute to happiness. The ambiguousness of this standard is what is generating a lot of disagreement on this issue. The parents who think child-rearing increases happiness, always point to extremely deep satisfaction/pleasure that was unavailable without kids. The way they integrate previous events, these moments are extremely significant. Parents who think child-rearing decreases happiness may experience the same moments, but instead judge their happiness with more weight given to other moments, where things aren't so hot (maybe, they're working instead of hanging with their buds). Either way, the same experiences can happen, but different people will both have different instantaneous happiness values, and different overall happiness integrals based on their definition.

And this is the key problem with simple happiness tests: if you sample my life for happiness values, you do not collect any information on how significant I count moments of extreme happiness. If you sample my life for happiness triggers, you do not collect any information on how I integrate those triggers to get instantaneous happiness. And if you simply ask how happy my life has been over a long period of time, my answer will be biased by my current happiness value.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby morriswalters » Fri Dec 02, 2011 10:42 am UTC

Think of happiness as a "rewarding" activity. Some action accomplishes something you brain wishes to achieve, your brain rewards you with a positive emotion. The trick is in this case is to understand what the brain wishes to achieve.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby guenther » Fri Dec 02, 2011 10:50 pm UTC

You both are right. It's problematic to compare one person's happiness to another persons for all the reasons mentioned. But what if we measure happiness across a large group of people, will the trends in the data contain useful information? Marketing groups think so, at least in the case of happiness with a certain product or experience. They do customer satisfaction surveys and hold focus groups, and these have all the same problems because people have different ways of quantifying the quality of their experience, and they assign different weighting values when summing across various aspects like positives and negatives. Can this be done at a bigger level where we ask about overall happiness and correlate it with different activities, different lifestyles, different environments, etc? I think so, and if we come back with clear trends then that means something. But what if the results aren't clear, or they have wild variability? Then the quality of suggestions based on that data are weaker. I don't put much stock in using articles like this to maximize happiness.

But instead of just asking, "How can we be happier?", we can also ask, "What factors play into people's feeling of happiness?" So this is more about understanding rather than optimizing. One example is a study where people were shown various art posters and told to pick one to bring home. Half were told that they could return and exchange it for another poster anytime they wanted, and the other half were told that once they made their decision they were stuck with it. Naturally people prefer to keep their options open since it will give them more chances to optimize their decisions for happiness. But this extra freedom can actually rob us of our happiness: the group that was able to return their poster were less happy with their choice. (Here's a link that talks about this and about Gilbert's explanation on why this happens.)

Of course we can pull nuggets of wisdom from studies like that, but in practice how effective is that advice at improving people's lives? It's hard to say. But if we set aside happiness optimization, we are adding value in our understanding of how we make choices and how our perceptions and environment shape our feelings of happiness. This is what I find fascinating. Do kids make us happier? Personally I think it's more interesting to ask why we believe kids make us happier. One day maybe we'll get better at building faster boats out of stuff like this (to reference Yakk's post), but there's value right now even if we don't fully know how to capitalize on it.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby distractedSofty » Fri Dec 02, 2011 11:48 pm UTC

guenther wrote:But what if we measure happiness across a large group of people, will the trends in the data contain useful information? Marketing groups think so, at least in the case of happiness with a certain product or experience. They do customer satisfaction surveys and hold focus groups, and these have all the same problems because people have different ways of quantifying the quality of their experience, and they assign different weighting values when summing across various aspects like positives and negatives.

I think this example is interesting, because how many times recently have you been told by someone "You'll get a survey about this phone call, I don't get credit for less than a 10."? Or the surveys themselves: "How was the service on a scale of 1 to 10? Nine? What didn't you like?" It seems that 1-10 surveys have definitely crept up to only actually having two answers: "10" and "not 10". If they want to measure satisfaction with a yes/no question, why don't they just do that?
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Byrel » Sat Dec 03, 2011 2:05 am UTC

distractedSofty wrote:I think this example is interesting, because how many times recently have you been told by someone "You'll get a survey about this phone call, I don't get credit for less than a 10."? Or the surveys themselves: "How was the service on a scale of 1 to 10? Nine? What didn't you like?" It seems that 1-10 surveys have definitely crept up to only actually having two answers: "10" and "not 10". If they want to measure satisfaction with a yes/no question, why don't they just do that?


:D I remember a lot of discussions in undergrad about how to fill out the faculty effectiveness surveys. Basically, it asked you to rate the professor' performance in a given class on a five-point scale, on ten different criteria. Some people, like me, rarely gave less than a four to any teacher (ignoring the occasional horror, who might get a TWO in some categories.) There were others who ran a more balanced system, and still others who almost never gave a five at all. (After all, it's not like this guy's Feynman or something!)

I finally noticed that there were strong cultural correlations for these performance metrics. Indian and Arabic students tended to fit in the well-balanced category. Midwestern americans, tended to fit in the positive bias category, while eastern Europeans usually had a negative bias in their rankings.

This is the problem with any subjective judgement; what do you take as the endpoints. How good does an essay have to be to warrant an 'A' grade? As good as Emerson? Or simply a couple std. deviations above the mean of students? Or a couple std. deviations above the mean of the general population? It's like those pain estimation questions at some clinics: Is your pain: A Twinge? ... Moderatetely painful? Seriously painful? Mildly agonizing? Totally excruciating? What exactly do these levels mean? Just give me a choice from 1 to 11, that's good enough for me... http://xkcd.com/670/

To bring this back to happiness, we have to ask what we measure our long-term happiness with respect to. The happiest moment of our lives? I'll guarantee you my average happiness will get a low rating! Or should a 1 indicate the worst moment of my life? If both of these, you lose all sensitivity in the measure. As we don't provide a reference, and let people pick their own, the data will only be meaningful if we can assure similar (or narrowly distributed) references across the sample.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby guenther » Sat Dec 03, 2011 8:50 am UTC

Byrel wrote:To bring this back to happiness, we have to ask what we measure our long-term happiness with respect to. The happiest moment of our lives? I'll guarantee you my average happiness will get a low rating! Or should a 1 indicate the worst moment of my life? If both of these, you lose all sensitivity in the measure. As we don't provide a reference, and let people pick their own, the data will only be meaningful if we can assure similar (or narrowly distributed) references across the sample.

The data would be more meaningful if we could get people to apply consistent standards.  But that doesn't mean it's without meaning otherwise.  If we let people pick their own baseline, will they do it in a completely arbitrary way?  What process is going through people's heads when they come up with a number?  My thought is that since we're not very good at applying rigorous algorithms, people just pick based on how they feel.  Or in other words, the algorithm is however our brain amalgamates experiences into feelings.  Certainly this has a lot of variability from person to person, but maybe our processes aren't all that unrelated.

Also, nothing stops researchers from defining baselines like with the pain scale.  In fact, one could experimentally measure if explicitly adding these baselines improves the results.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby morriswalters » Sat Dec 03, 2011 9:26 am UTC

When I think about this I find that I have a hard time thinking that we can say anything meaningful about happiness. If happiness is an emotion than it is biochemical in nature, then it follows that it is the product of some type of behavior. But at any given moment in time how do you separate out the thousands of different things happening at different times scales which provoke it. Summing up those responses for any given behavior would seem to be next to impossible. A metaphor that strikes my fancy is to think of it like lightning bugs on a summer night when you were young. Hundreds of flashes in the dark, but which bug for which flash?
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby guenther » Sat Dec 03, 2011 4:52 pm UTC

Well, I don't know if it all boils down to behavior. Environmental or social factors that are beyond our control can have an impact as well. But I agree that it's the sum of lots and lots of things. How do we discover the role of each individual piece? Well, a lot of people have opinions on what makes them happy, or what events in the past were very significant. So that's gives a starting point. Also with careful experiments, researchers can isolate individual pieces like with the study where people choose art posters. It's not an easy process, and to make it harder, the answer is probably not as simple as "Do X to be happier". We don't regularly consider divorce and losing a job to be happy events, but many people will describe them as the best things that happened to them because it opened them up to better things. I definitely think it's complicated, especially if we just think about everything all at once. But researchers aren't just doing that; they're studying different elements in isolation to try and piece together the big picture.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby Byrel » Mon Dec 05, 2011 2:57 am UTC

guenther wrote:The data would be more meaningful if we could get people to apply consistent standards.  But that doesn't mean it's without meaning otherwise. 


This is kind of what I was thinking WRT a narrowly distributed standard. Certainly we all have amazingly similar psychologies, so this is quite possible. On the other hand, I really don't think my standards would be remotely consistent over time. Like you said, I'm liable to pick on the basis on how I feel at the moment. That could introduce a serious amount of noise to the data.
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby setzer777 » Wed Dec 07, 2011 6:58 pm UTC

Mighty Jalapeno wrote: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.


Ha, sometimes I wonder where evolution went wrong that I feel so averse to having children. It seems like that is the one desire (aside from the desire to not die) that would be most strongly imprinted on us. I wonder what causes some people to completely lack that desire?
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Re: Does having kids really make you less happy?

Postby mister k » Wed Dec 07, 2011 8:54 pm UTC

setzer777 wrote:
Mighty Jalapeno wrote: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.


Ha, sometimes I wonder where evolution went wrong that I feel so averse to having children. It seems like that is the one desire (aside from the desire to not die) that would be most strongly imprinted on us. I wonder what causes some people to completely lack that desire?


Well to be fair, theres two different impulses- theres having sex, which is a desire most humans have, and raising children, which is a desire quite a few humans have, and most women have. Our bodies assume that sex will produce the children, and haven't quite cottoned on to the whole prevention scheme yet. If I was to randomly speculate, I would suspect that populations with lots of women would see men with weak desires to raise children, and lots of men as one with strong desires to raise them- in the former theres lots of mates to get pregnant, in the latter theres less choice, so the children one does produce would need to be protected. These are all just guesses, of course.
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