July 5, 2010

"A few generations ago, people weren’t stopping to contemplate whether having a child would make them happy."

"Having children was simply what you did. And we are lucky, today, to have choices about these matters. But the abundance of choices — whether to have kids, when, how many — may be one of the reasons parents are less happy."

Another manifestation of that trendy liberal theme: Choice won't make you happy.

***

This post makes an interesting pairing with the 10:13 post, which noted that suddenly and strangely:
Liberals worry about constitutional rights getting in the way of legislation, and conservatives have cozied up to the notion of unwritten rights. For that to happen, everyone has to stop focusing on the right of privacy.

73 comments:

halojones-fan said...

"Lois Nachamie [said]...I don’t mean to idealize the lives of the Namibian women...But it was hard not to notice how calm they were. They were beading their children’s ankles and decorating them with sienna, clearly enjoying just sitting and playing with them, and we’re here often thinking of all of this stuff as labor."

Yeah, you know why they were so focused on doing that? Because that's all that they had to freakin' DO. There WAS no movies, no soccer, no school, no reading, no games, no painting or Play-Doh or blocks or any of that.

I'll certainly agree that plenty of modern families forget that the purpose of activity is entertainment, but let's not run so far in the other direction that we wind up with a kid whose only available form of play is to bang on things with a wooden spoon.

Synova said...

I don't think that choice will make a person UNhappy. And that does seem to be the meme... that more choices make you unhappy.

But if someone is viewing the choices they make as the source of their happiness, they're going to be disappointed.

There may be something to the idea that when children were just what "happened", just the way life went, maybe it encouraged a determination to go with the flow.

shoutingthomas said...

Godawful, unreadable article about worthless fucking spoiled brats.

One of the negatives of an outrageously rich society is that is creates a place for these worthless spoiled brats to live.

I'd suggest that the author and subject of this article simply commit suicide and quit taking up space.

God, why are these idiots in this world?

halojones-fan said...

I think it's not so much "more choices make us unhappy"; it's more about a modern, narcissistic attitude that "I'm perfect and so any choice I make will be the right one and perfect for me". So if you make a choice and it isn't immediately satisfying, then, well, something must be wrong with the existence of that choice--because, after all, you're perfect.

*****

Also, another good quote from the piece:
"If you are no longer fretting about spending too little time with your children after they’re born (because you have a year of paid maternity leave), if you’re no longer anxious about finding affordable child care once you go back to work (because the state subsidizes it), if you’re no longer wondering how to pay for your children’s education and health care (because they’re free)...well, it stands to reason that your own mental health would improve."

That's certainly true.

halojones-fan said...

shoutingthomas: *sigh* seriously? That's the best you've got? I mean, I realize you're just planting cherries here, but try to do it with a little style.

Of course, the people picking these cherries see "Althouse" and have a "flames on the side of my face" response, so I guess it doesn't even matter. You could post the ingredients from an Oreo cookie and they'd be all "that's just what I'd EXPECT to find on that CONSERVABITCH'S HATE SITE"

Psota said...

If my college-age reading of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wolfe, and the Beats taught me anything; it's that neurotic women and faithless men have been with us at lot longer than we know, especially among the urban literati.

The spinster aunts and confirmed bachelors of our grandparents' era are now writing Big Think pieces in fashionable magazines about how their lives define ours.

shoutingthomas said...

shoutingthomas: *sigh* seriously? That's the best you've got? I mean, I realize you're just planting cherries here, but try to do it with a little style.

Yeah... seriously.

I read about two lines of this spoiled brat shit, and thought:

"Jesus Christ, maybe all out war isn't such a bad thing!"

When you get as bored, shiftless and lazy as the asswipe who wrote this article, and the subjects of this article, then maybe it's time for everything to break down in chaos, murder and warfare.

I think that this might be the way human psychology works, too.

A society that supports this kind of spoiled brat trash is headed for a nightmare.

Fred4Pres said...

Having choices does not things easier. In a way it makes things harder because you are forced to make a decision on your own. But even with rules you always have a choice and there is usually right and wrong.

And you know it. But going down that road is often too damn hard.

El Pollo Real said...

My problem with articles like this is that I immediately want to know if the author has children. The answer to that question colors my interpretation of the words.

rhhardin said...

I don't follow the privacy connection, or for that matter unwritten rights.

I'm still back at follow the Constitution, and what Congress can make laws about.

blake said...

There was just an article recently commenting on that survey about parents being less happy. The argument the guy was making was that you didn't have kids to be happy, but to (try to) keep you from being a totally self-absorbed asshole.

It doesn't always take, of course.

Old Dad said...

Psota wrote:

"The spinster aunts and confirmed bachelors of our grandparents' era are now writing Big Think pieces in fashionable magazines about how their lives define ours."

Thread winner!

DADvocate said...

Despite what the Declaration of Independence says, directly pursuing happiness rarely works. Abraham Lincoln may have said it best, "Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be."

What we typically call pursuit of happiness is usually hedonism. An abundance of "pleasure" won't bring happiness. Happiness more frequently results from overcoming hard times, difficult challenges, and, as Lincoln noted, the right attitude.

Joe said...

Happiness is overrated.

Life isn't fair and can be hard, sometimes very hard and very miserable. That's the way it works.

Then again, when getting paid by the word, why let reality get in the way?

DADvocate said...

"If you are no longer fretting about spending too little time with your children after they’re born (because you have a year of paid maternity leave), if you’re no longer anxious about finding affordable child care once you go back to work (because the state subsidizes it), if you’re no longer wondering how to pay for your children’s education and health care (because they’re free)...well, it stands to reason that your own mental health would improve."

Not completely true, complete bullshit. It stands to reason you've become a lazy, self-centered bum not willing to put forth the personal effort that a caring parent would gladly does.

dogzilla said...

The article felt incredibly self-absorbed. Do young parents really assume this other human being exists for their happiness? That's pretty narcissistic, isn't it? Did they think having a child would be like getting a puppy for Christmas? Jesus.

I decided not to become a parent primarily because I'd seen how difficult it was for my parents in so many ways. After raising my siblings, I'd had enough. From time to time a doubt will raise its head, but then I read something like this and think, "nah."

The twins aren't the only babies in this article, IMHO.

Flexo said...

"abundance of choices . . . may be one of the reasons [people] are less happy"

This unhappiness stemming from an "abundance of choices" -- which includes for many choosing your own moral truth, your reality, being able to "define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life" -- is basically nothing more than existential angst, which invariably leads to nihilism.

Flexo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cousin Bob said...

Happiness is a cold beer on a hot day.

Kids?

Train 'em to get me another one.

Irene said...

"Another manifestation of that trendy liberal theme: Choice won't make you happy."

This evolving theme can be used as a consoling explanation when choices evaporate.

deborah said...

I think more choices can lead to the second guessing of decisions, often leading to anxiety.

deborah said...

... and conservatives have cozied up to the notion of unwritten rights.

What unwritten rights are being talked about?

rhhardin said...

The reason that capital raises productivity is that it lets you do things more indirectly, and with more choices.

Some of the more choices will be really more efficient as well.

meep said...

I can't frickin' stand neurotics.

But, God bless 'em, they were born that way.

I just wish they'd be quiet about it.

DAMMIT Prof. Althouse, your comment thingie is giving me attitude.

Tibore said...

Why am I not surprised that this sort of article appeared in New York magazine? The only thing that's even remotely surprising is that this wasn't done by the NYTimes... but New York mag is close enough.

Fred4Pres said...

Maybe Meade and Ann should adopt Titus.

Class factotum said...

Another manifestation of that trendy liberal theme: Choice won't make you happy

Except a woman's right to choose is one of their bedrocks.

El Pollo Real said...

Maybe Meade and Ann should adopt Titus.

He does seem potty-trained these days. Maybe marriage did him well.

Schorsch said...

These studies always seem to gloss over the difference between happiness and satisfaction. Happiness comes from an uncomplicated life, satisfaction from artfully handling complication.

Class factotum said...

If you are no longer fretting about spending too little time with your children after they’re born (because you have a year of paid maternity leave), if you’re no longer anxious about finding affordable child care once you go back to work (because the state subsidizes it), if you’re no longer wondering how to pay for your children’s education and health care (because they’re free)

Wow. How can we get a money tree like that in this country? Or at least professors, teachers, and physicians who work for no pay.

Flexo said...

**The answer to that may hinge on how we define "good." Or more to the point, "happy." . . . if happiness is measured by our own sense of agency and meaning . . . for many of us, purpose is happiness - particularly those of us who find moment-to-moment happiness a bit elusive to begin with**

No wonder the woman is so confounded and unhappy -- her world view is infested with utilitarianism and existentialism. Materialistic, hedonistic, self-centered, pleasure-oriented utilitarianism and existentialism. Of course she is unhappy.

Maybe if she did not have the mind-set of seeing children as objects, as things to make us happy, and instead realized that they are subjects, human persons whom we should love, which necessarily requires a gift of self, she might begin to grasp what authentic happiness and joy are.

Donna B. said...

The article is based on the unproven statement that people generally think children will make them happy.

The only time I've ever seen/heard that statement actually made is by very lonely, very poor, uneducated, and immature teenage girls barely out of middle school who were unable to cope with the reality that they hadn't made their mothers happy.

The other unwarranted assumption is that people used to view their children as economic assets for the family farm. I'm trying to fit that with my grandmothers' telling of how they worried so much and worked so hard to feed and clothe those "assets".

Fred4Pres said...

Children alone do not make you happy. Having them, raising them and sending them off in a generally good direction can make you happy.

Or maybe just relieved.

Flexo said...

The article is based on the unproven statement that people generally think children will make them happy.

The only time I've ever seen/heard that statement actually made is . . .


But you have, no doubt, heard the converse said countless times, that children will make people unhappy, that children are a burden and hinderance. The anti-child sentiment has been expressed millions of times, even to the extent of using "children cause unhappiness" as an excuse to exterminate those children, not merely when they are still in the womb, but even after they are born. This, too, is merely a continuation of the utilitarian mind-set.

TosaGuy said...

If one digs down into it, those who embrace the concept of fewer choices makes people happier typically are only concerned about limiting the choices of others and not themselves.

edutcher said...

The right to privacy, so-called, is an example of the nonsense that is the living document concept. Woven out of whole cloth by Louis Brandeis, it is what anyone wishes to make it at any given time.

As for children making you happy, nothing will make you happy. That comes from inside.

Ann Althouse said...

Another manifestation of that trendy liberal theme: Choice won't make you happy.

But it was supposed to, especially for women. Notice all the stuff that the 60s were all about is being abandoned even by the Lefties?

Fred4Pres said...

Maybe Meade and Ann should adopt Titus.

What have they done to make you wish so horrible a punishment on them?

Revenant said...

If parents are less happy than they used to be (and I don't know that they are), I suspect a major reason is that parents today are expected to have much more control over their children -- to keep a constant eye on them at all times.

jaed said...

What Revenant said. Parenting these days - "appropriate", upper-middle aspirational-class parenting in particular - is far more demanding in both time and money than "decent" parenting was in, say, the 1960s. Everything from programmed activities and scheduling to feeding to car seats is pricier, takes more time, and is more closely monitored than in the past. This is truer in the upper-middle class stratum ("My God! You gave your child a... non-organic zucchini???"), but to some extent is happening everywhere, due to government regulation (car seats for 11-year-olds, for example), plus general expectations (your child's school will have certain expectations).

Raising children well, in itself, is probably less work than it used to be, but raising them while conforming to the new expectations - in some cases, laws - for parents is far more difficult. In my more cynical moments, I wonder whether the purpose of all these new requirements is to eventually price parenthood out of reach for anyone below upper middle incomes.

Synova said...

I agree with Rev.

It's like... you can't "helicopter" because that's bad, but you are expected to be responsible for everything your children do and everything they become. And you're supposed to watch them, every moment.

Back when children just "happened" parents, moms!, also tended toward "go out and play" type parenting. If your kid wandered off or got into a scrape it doesn't seem like there was the same sort of assumption of parental neglect. Who could tell what a child would get in his or her mind to do? It was more or less expected, and if they were naughty enough to have it come to your particular attention they got paddled after the fact or set to chores to pay for what they broke.

In Mary Poppins the policeman brings the kids home (yes, this was supposed to indicate that something was wrong in the home) and my mom says the police often enough returned her and her sisters home and it was no big deal, really, other than that it happened sort of often. Now a person has to wonder if they'd show up at your door with the kids or to arrest you.

I also think that when people had a large number of children there was more understanding that kids have minds of their own. Now it's *all* put on parenting.

Ken Pidcock said...

When I was a kid, I thought it would be really cool to have a lot of money and live in the city. I never had the smarts to get the money, and so I didn't get to live in the city.

Every time I read one of these pieces, I thank God. It's easy enough to mock the misery of the privileged, but I suspect it's real. The pressure to conform to one's station is stronger than most of us can resist.

HT said...

I am reading the article now. First two impressions are: oh so what. Let the unhappy people have their say too. Other point is that in the book The Blue Zone, it was mentioned that having a daughter increases a parent's life by some x number of years. I can't remember, maybe 1.5 years maybe two. I don't recall looking hard for proof, but it's nice to think it's true. So there's one check mark in the Pro side.

HT said...

Oh, and there's always what Karen Walker said to Jack's mom when she just found out he was gay:

I think you're missing the silver lining here. When you're old and in diapers, a [grown child] gay son will know how to keep you away from chiffon and backlighting.

bagoh20 said...

When life is more existentially difficult, happiness is not a choice. Just like when you're poor, bending over to pick up a dollar is not a choice. You take what you can get and appreciate it.

bagoh20 said...

The problem we have is we keep forgetting we are all gonna die. I suggest writing on your bathroom mirror. Something along the lines of: "Tomorrow could be the day, loser."

Alex said...

Reproducing is required of any human. It's a big responsibility. That's why I've not done it yet. I know I would not undertake it casually.

Alex said...

Reproducing is required of any human. It's a big responsibility. That's why I've not done it yet. I know I would not undertake it casually.

Alex said...

The big question is - will Jesus come and give me a chance at getting into heaven despite a lifetime of denying him?

Dead Julius said...

This happy obsession is a totally baby boomer thing, man...

Today's elderly great-grandparent generation had to deal with terrible stuff like Auschwitz and that forced them to focus on deeper things than "happiness".

Today's under-40s never experienced the Sixties and so didn't get the whole Happy Happy indoctrination firsthand. They also grew into adulthood with the Internet, which exposes the misrepresentations of the journalist-political establishment and its manipulative use of the happiness idea.

It's the folks in between who are obsessed with the idea of happiness, along with the folks in New Age cults who use it (as religions have often done) as a tool for their dogma.

Flexo said...

Why would you want to be with Him, Alex, if you don't want to be with Him?

Alex said...

It's just that I was told that even if I totally ignore Jesus my entire life, that when I die there will be a moment that Jesus comes to me and gives one last chance to accept him as Lord and Savior. Sounds like a good deal to me. I can booze, whore, cheat and steal my whole life and still get into heaven. Sweet.

dick said...

Synova,

The one thing you missed was that parents were expected to teach their kids what was right and what was wrong and how to behave. Once they had done that it was up to the kids to do so or pay the consequences. Nowadays the kids don't seem to pay the consequences. They get a time out in their room which has a tv, a computer, and ipod, a cell phone, etc. Big whoops!

When I was a kid (before the 60's) my friends and I used to bicycle all over town when we were around 10. If we got into trouble, the info was passed to the parents and action was taken and we did not repeat (or very rarely repeated). Parents were held responsible for our actions to a degree because they had not taught us right. They proceeded to do just that.

I guess that I just have trouble with a society where the kids have to schedule play dates weeks ahead of time. That just seems so totally ridiculous to me.

Flexo said...

Alex, it is true that the thief crucified next to Jesus was saved in his last breath. And the laborer hired in the final hour will receive the same pay as he who came on at the beginning of the day.

But you cannot scam God.

rhhardin said...

I found an airplane was rather nice.

You outgrow it, is all.

My vast resulting experience hanging around the airport was that families never like airplanes. It's always the guy hanging out at the airport with the other guys.

Sometimes they fly somewhere.

I myself liked practicing stuff.

One day long distance bike riding seemed more entertaining, and that was the end of that.

traditionalguy said...

Children are the fascinating gift that lets us love another man/woman at ages 3...6...9...12...15...18 and on out into a world where they can re-do what we just enjoyed doing. If people are interesting at all, then children at those ages are VERY interesting indeed. Narcissim is a mental illness that blinds folks. If you have it, like this writer seems to, then get treatment early and often so your beautiful people you call your children can have a real Father and a real Mother in their life!

Michael said...

"This happy obsession is a totally baby boomer thing, man... Today's elderly great-grandparent generation had to deal with terrible stuff like Auschwitz and that forced them to focus on deeper things than "happiness"."

Go read a book or see a movie of the period, and you'll quickly realize that they didn't worry about "happiness" not because they were too busy, but because they started drinking at lunchtime and didn't stop till bed. It's only us neo-Puritans who have to think about happiness cold sober.

Troy said...

Children make you happy -- and the costs are negligible -- at least according to these guys.

http://www.threedonia.com/archives/25909

Matthew said...

Personally, I don't see a correlation between choice and happiness. I've seen guys stuck in a combat zone who, although obviously stressed, looked happy. I also know parents who are constantly busy and quite happy.

I do think there's a correlation between freedom and happiness, and all of the aforementioned people freely chose to burden themselves.

I've yet to see a happy narcissist, and I suspect that's because we're all very small and quite mortal.

Maybe the secret to happiness is to be free, accept the fact that we're just not that important, and make the best of it. I've seen a lot of successful approaches to "making the best of it". The only consistent feature seems to be strong relationships with other human beings.

Milwaukee said...

Once upon a time, there was the idea that the love a couple shared was a gift from God, and children were a manifestation of that love and a blessing from God. Then a husband supported his wife, and she did the homemaker thing, which really is hard work. It was the feminists who trained each other that being a homemaker and mother was an unworthy task. Now our society has eroded wages to the point that a single income family is going to have a hard time financially. Unless of course the family accepts that "This is what we have, so we will live on this."

Choice, meaning abortion and other birth controls, provide a means for people who are interested in their own lives, and keeping those lives neat and tidy. So they can do all that neat stuff because they don't have children. Don't have a spouse then, because they will probably just drag you down, unless you find one that will bankroll your projects will few expectations in return. There are pockets of society where women raising their children and being homemakers are honored. I'll bet they aren't unhappy with their choices.

former law student said...

The one thing you missed was that parents were expected to teach their kids what was right and what was wrong and how to behave.

The one thing I remember was that preachers' kids were the wildest.

A generation ago, I asked a young woman if she was ever going to have her own children. (She had married a fellow almost twice her age, with adolescent sons.) She said, no, raising teenagers once was enough. Hearing "Mrs. Jones, this is the police, we have your son," got old really fast.

When my mother was really fed up with us, she wished that we someday would have children as bad as we were. None of us reproduced.

Liz said...

I'm a young, educated, married professional who will be starting a family soon. I'm anxious about what it will be like (i'll admit it for fear of being called a narcissist!) But, I recognize that the anxiety mainly comes from the fact that I don't have kids around me (fear of the unknown), AND also because of this anti-children sentiment--- which comes from people who are parents themselves!

I'm originally from Canada, so I can tell you that even in a socialized system this sentiment still prevails. All of my Canadian friends are thinking about children, yet anxious at the same time because of such messages...

“They’re a huge source of joy, but they turn every other source of joy to shit.”

Ever see the movie Idiocracy? Will we be watering our lawns with Gaterade in 100 years because of attitudes like this?

blake said...

I've received seven responses in my e-mail past RH's, but I can't see anything past RH's comment here on the blog.

Weird!

wv: refawk

If it's not fawked enough the first time...

blake said...

Blog owner deletions?

Ever see the movie Idiocracy? Will we be watering our lawns with Gaterade in 100 years because of attitudes like this?

It's got electrolytes.

It's what plants crave.

JorgXMcKie said...

I don't know about happy. That would seem to imply some unhappy just for contrast, else how would you know when you're happy.

I go for content. For me that means adjusting to the situation as you find it and making the most you can at the time.

I just got back from a long distance trip to meet for a few hours with a lot of family. Around 30 people at a holiday dinner. Probably 7-8 kids between 5 and 16, and two babies, age 4 months and 5 months. Adults from 20-65.

Everyone played with the babies, and everyone talked with the kids, and everyone seemed to be having a real good time.

I simply can't imagine 'family' gatherings without kids, and I can't imagine life without family gatherings.

I know not all have 'happy' families, but I feel sorry for those who don't even want to try. This dinner was the highlight of my year.

kkollwitz said...

My wife & I have 5 children & 2 grandchildren. One daughter recently snuck out for some wee-hour mischief, and had a bad fall which caused a subdural hematoma. Out of the hospital now after brain surgery, she's a mess, and we are worn out watching/managing her between visits to numerous rehab therapists. She is sometimes suicidal. Am I happy about it? No. Would I trade my life even now for anyone else's? No.

Life is about love, not happiness.

ElcubanitoKC said...

That is why they love Apple: only one kind/brand of device and/or choice of network. They don't really have to think, just to pretend to be"creative."

Oligonicella said...

My greatest joy in life is my daughter and now my grandkids. I cannot grok those who see their kids as burdens.

Red A said...

"If you are no longer fretting about spending too little time with your children after they’re born (because you have a year of paid maternity leave), if you’re no longer anxious about finding affordable child care once you go back to work (because the state subsidizes it), if you’re no longer wondering how to pay for your children’s education and health care (because they’re free)'

Funny, those societies all have birth rates at below replacement.

Michael said...

Happiness is a byproduct of engaging in virtuous, productive activity and living your life according to good standards. Trying to pursue happiness as it's own end is folly.

Self-esteem should really be self respect, and it should be based on your ability to live up to well-founded principles.

Larry J said...

I don't follow the privacy connection, or for that matter unwritten rights.

I'm still back at follow the Constitution, and what Congress can make laws about.


And

The right to privacy, so-called, is an example of the nonsense that is the living document concept. Woven out of whole cloth by Louis Brandeis, it is what anyone wishes to make it at any given time.

Try reading the 9th Amendment:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Just because the Constitution doesn't contain a laundry list of every imaginable right like the EU Constitution tried to do, the 9th Amendment states those rights do in fact exist. It is, in fact, a presumption of liberty.

chuck_mayhew said...

Isn't propagation of the species, i.e., procreation, normal? It's what people [and other species ;-)] DO. A biological imperative, nes pas?
Where's the 'choice'? It's in your self-centered, ego-driven mind. That's where. That's WHY such drivel as this article even exists.

Sokmnkee said...

I'm glad that modern medicine made birth control effective enough that we didn't have to have children, which was our choice, albeit an admittedly selfish one.

I spent most of my childhood watching everyone's kids. I was the babysitter by default because I was the only teen girl in the neighborhood. I didn't get asked to. I was TOLD to. It sort of soured me on having kids.

I do love children in that I want what's best for them: a good home, education, good parenting, etc. However, I love them from afar. I want no part of that gig myself.

kkollwitz said...

"Self-esteem should really be self respect"

Self-esteem is socially-grounded; self-respect is morally-grounded. Small wonder we constantly hear about self-esteem in the MSM, with nary a peep about self-respect.

Mej said...

A good book on this very topic: http://www.amazon.com/Paradox-Choice-Why-More-Less/dp/0060005696/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1278444558&sr=8-1 I found it somewhat redundant while reading it, but I cite it frequently, so it certainly got its point across.