UCR research shows positive link between child rearing and happiness

A series of studies conducted by researchers from UC Riverside, Stanford University and the University of British Columbia have found that parenting is associated with higher feelings of happiness and “meaning” than non-parents. The research, compiled in a paper titled, “In Defense of Parenthood: Children Are Associated With More Joy Than Misery,” is scheduled to be released in the upcoming issue of the Psychological Science journal.

Graphic by Irin Son

The UCR team includes Professor of Psychology Sonja Lyubomirsky and doctoral candidate Sarah Katherine Nelson. “Why is the scientific study of happiness important? In short, because most people believe happiness is meaningful, desirable, and an important, worthy goal,” states Lyubomirsky on her personal website.

Nelson and Lyubomirsky have worked on the project for two years now. “In our first study, we analyzed data from a sample of almost 7,000 that was representative of the United States population. In this study, we looked at three questions in particular—respondents’ ratings of their happiness, satisfaction and thoughts about meaning in life….We found that parents overall reported more happiness, satisfaction and thoughts about meaning in life than people without children,” stated Nelson in an interview with the Highlander. “The findings for happiness and satisfaction were especially strong for men and people ages 26 to 62.”

The second of the three-part survey asked parents and non-parents to rate their emotions and meaningfulness as they went about their days. “Again, we found that parents reported more positive emotions and more meaning than non-parents,” stated Nelson. The final portion asked parents to write about all of their daily activities and how they felt in each activity. According to Nelson, parents reported more positive emotions and meaning when they were caring for their children than when they were involved with other daily activities that did not involve their children.

The study’s abstract addresses the view of parents in both the scholarly realms and in depictions by the media. The study also compliments “recent evolutionary theories [that] have posited that parenting is a fundamental human need,” stated Nelson. While the research measures the happiness of parents, it does not address negative emotions. Nelson was clear in explaining that the researchers are not suggesting that people should have kids or that non-parents are unhappy. Also, it was noted that younger and unmarried parents report relatively less happiness.

“I think this paper is just a preamble to much more research that needs to be done,” she stated. “We are currently working on answering the question of when parents might be happy or unhappy. As our results from the current study touched on, certain types of parents are associated with more happiness (e.g., men) and other types are associated with less happiness (e.g., unmarried, young). We want to further investigate these questions to better address the complexities of parenthood.”

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