Herbietown - Being a Parent SUCKS

Being a Parent SUCKS

Stumbling on Happiness Marriage Study

Required Reading at Tuck (doesn’t do much good)

This chart is from a book called Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. It says “As the four separate studies in this graph show, marital satisfaction decreases dramatically after the birth of the first child and increases only when the last child leaves home.”

It was required reading for a leadership class at my business school.

The premise of the book is fascinating. It basically says that the thing that separates us from the animals is the ability to think about the future. To imagine the future. Yet we are terrible at imagining what will make us happy and therefore we are generally unhappy.  The author finally concludes by telling us the secret to happiness. I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, on what separates us from the animals – the whole thing made possible by that section of our brain called the frontal lobe.

The first brains appeared on earth about 500 million years ago, spent a leisurely 430 million years or so evolving into the brains of the earliest primates, and another 70 million years or so evolving into the brains of the first protohumans. Then something happened – no one knows quite what, but speculation runs from the weather turning chilly to the invention of cooking – and the soon-to-be-human brain experienced an unprecedented growth spurt that more than doubled its mass in a little over two million years, transforming it from the one-and-a-quarter pound brain of Homo habilis to the nearly three pound brain of Homo sapiens.

Very cool. Now we also know that imagination, planning for the future, and anxiety are inextricably linked and all part of this what-makes-us-human thing. We’ve used this ability to plan to form societies with laws and justice, to farm, and to create cheeseburgers.

So, we evolved the frontal lobe, gained the ability to plan, and separated ourselves from the animals. So far, so good.

Now, what is the secret to happiness?

According to the author, it is control. The more control you have over your life, the happier you will be.  It doesn’t matter what you do with that control, it’s the fact of the control that matters.  If you are the captain of the ship, you will be happy. It doesn’t matter where you steer that ship, you’ll be happier than every other crew member because you’re in charge.

He goes much, much further than that, though.  He says that because you will be terrible at predicting what the ship will find when it gets where you’ve steered it, it doesn’t even matter what you do with that control.  In other words, it doesn’t matter where you steer the ship.  So long as you have control, you will be happy.

The writer spends like 12 chapters trying to convince the reader that this is true, that we are terrible at predicting the future. That it isn’t the places we go that matter, but the fact that we choose them ourselves.  Apparently my professor found it so convincing that she didn’t feel the need to photocopy that section of the book. I only have Chapters 1 and 13, so I just take him at his word. We suck at predicting the future. Fine.

But you can’t just say “Be the captain” and leave us hanging entirely. So the author tacks on an epilogue – one my professor felt obliged to include, that says there is one rational way to find out where to steer your ship. Only one way. To ask people who are currently doing what you are contemplating doing, and ask them how they feel right now. That’s the best indicator of how you will feel if you choose that path. Not how they felt when, not in the past tense. Not how they expect to feel in the future.  Find someone experiencing it right now, and ask that person how they feel right now.

He is very convincing.

And that leads me back to the chart at the top of this post. I bet that’s how those “studies” were conducted. If you ask a parent how they are doing and whether they are happy with being a parent, you usually get a nice warm response like “there’s nothing better than my little guys, I love them so much.”

But if you probe a little deeper, if you find them a babysitter and take them out for drinks, say, you will find a different story begins to emerge.

Basically, parenting sucks.

It really does. Parenting is the worst thing imaginable.

You give up ALL your freedom. You give up ALL your money. You give up ALL your time. And you devote it to these little creatures that couldn’t be more unappreciative. And they’ll never really be appreciative of everything you do, not really.

You know this because you know how you feel about your own parents. And while you are respectful and happy that they raised you well, you aren’t constantly gushing with the kind of overflowing thankfulness that they really deserve. You just aren’t.  You’re more than likely finding ways to blame them for your unhappiness.  Sorry, but it’s true.

Why should you be thankful?  You didn’t ask to be born. They’re the ones that decided to start a family, and now you’re here. It was their choice.

The worst part about all of this is how much you love your children. That’s definitely the worst part. Because you love them unconditionally, with every cell in your body. You love them so much it hurts like hell. You love them so much that you literally ruin your life for them.  You ruin your life because you love your children.  Yikes.

Only 18 more years….

That’s what the science says, anyway.