Parenthood = Happiness ?

Are we biological machines programmed to pursue happiness?

When I came across the title ‘Four Sources of Happiness’ I automatically downloaded it. It’s a great compilation of speeches from fascinating scientists and researchers.

lets-talk - Parenthood = Happiness ?
Source: Daniel Gilbert’s book Stumbling on Happiness via publishers Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman

This graph appeared as part of a TED Talk by creators of a parenting blog

As you get older, you become more stable. And part of what happens, I think, in your ’20s and ’30s, is you start to learn to hedge your happiness. You start to realize that “Hey, I could go to this live music event and have an utterly transforming experience that will cover my entire body with goosebumps, BUT! It’s more likely that I’ll feel claustrophobic and I won’t be able to get a beer.

So I’m not going to go. I’ve got a good stereo at home. So, I’m not going to go.”

– So your average happiness goes up, but you lose those transcendent moments.
-Rufus founder of

And then you have your first child, and then you really resubmit yourself to these highs and lows -the highs being the first steps, the first smile, your child reading to you for the first time – the lows being, in our house, anytime from six to seven every night.

But you realize you resubmit yourself to losing control in a really wonderful way, which we think provides a lot of meaning to our lives and is quite gratifying.
-Alisa founder of

  It shows the correlation between childbirth and record unhappiness in one’s life. [You can find more information in Daniel Gilbert’s book Stumbling on Happiness or by listening to the Aspen Ideas podcast linked at the bottom of the page]. Being a new parent myself, I was naturally horrified myself. So before both you and I despair I want to share the insight that Rufus and Alisa had before I go on:

It is against this backdrop that I wanted to share Jennifer Senior’s talk. I sifted through 2 years of podcasts to find her name again and link to her message and this heartfelt video where she looks so beautiful:

Without further ado – Jennifer Senior!

My key takeaway from Jennifer’s speech:

I do think in our desperate quest to create happy kids we may be assuming the wrong moral burden.

It strikes me as a better goal (and dare I say, a more virtuous one,) to create productive kids and moral kids and hopes that happiness will come to them by virtue of the good they then do, their accomplishments and the love that they feel from us.
…and let happiness and self-esteem take care of themselves. I think if we all did that the kid would still be alright. And so would their parents – possibly even better!

I really think that this message is absent from our world today.  While it seems that there is so much anxiety and even as a new mother, I’ve felt too often that one needs to make an obligatory confession ‘to test out the reception of the truth’ so to speak. Like; ‘I worry that I am being a bad mother but I just sometimes just see how long I can sleep while he is beginning to wake up and starting to cry for milk.’ …waiting for the permissive ‘oh, sure, you should get what sleep you can and he needs to sleep through the night too!’

PS. You can listen to the ‘Four Sources of Happiness’ podcast by Aspen Ideas here.

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood
6 Reviews
All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood
  • Jennifer Senior
  • Publisher: Virago
  • Paperback: 320 pages
Stumbling on Happiness (Vintage)
72 Reviews
Stumbling on Happiness (Vintage)
  • Daniel Gilbert
  • Publisher: Non Basic Stock Line
  • Edition no. 0 (03/20/2007)
  • Paperback: 336 pages

Why can we lift the taboo off our minor imperfections as mothers?

I would love to know your opinions on this.