By Arnold Kling
I just got Arthur Brooks’ new book Gross National Happiness in the mail. Brooks quite rightly points out that happiness research doesn’t really do much to support conventional liberal policies, and he gives it a right-wing spin, as far as the data allow. But the data don’t allow much celebration of the happiness-value of children:
…If two adults in 2004 were the same in age, sex, income, marital status, education, race, religion, and politics — but one had kids and the other did not — the parent would be about 7 percentage points less likely to report being very happy.
Brooks points out that…
researchers have collected data on how people — particularly women — experience life with their children. And what emerges is that the enjoy almost everything more than they enjoy taking care of their kids.
So now we are going to use “happiness research” to evaluate the decisions my wife and I made twenty years ago.
Or, think about going back in time. Suppose that you go back and measure my instantaneous happiness when I’m with my daughter and she is puking her guts out. My guess is that it would probably be pretty low. But I choose to be with her when that is going on, rather than do something else that would make me “happier.” In the long run, I’ll be happier that I tried to care for and comfort my daughter when she was sick than if I went out dancing instead.
I might even speculate that if none of our daughters had ever gotten sick or been troublesome to care for, we might be less happy today. Dealing with those problems makes us happier. Not in the sense of being happy because your headache has gone away, but happy in the sense of having pride in being able to overcome challenges and help others.
“Happiness research” is baloney sandwich to begin with. But the longer the time interval between the action and the emotional reaction, the more bogus it becomes. Which makes it particularly ludicrous to suggest using “happiness research” to evaluate whether having children is a good idea or not.
I honestly cannot think of a single positive contribution that happiness research has made that would justify all of the pathetically stupid articles, books, and blog posts that it has generated. It is painful watching otherwise intelligent people make fools of yourselves by invoking it. Please stop.