"We are not saying that parenting makes people happy, but that parenthood is associated with happiness and meaning," explained Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at UC Riverside and a leading scholar in positive psychology. "Contrary to repeated scholarly and media pronouncements, people may find solace that parenthood and child care may actually be linked to feelings of happiness and meaning in life."
Paper co-authors are S. Katherine Nelson, a doctoral candidate at UCR; Kostadin Kushlev, a doctoral candidate at UBC; Tammy English, a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford; and Elizabeth W. Dunn, associate professor of psychology at UBC.
The findings are among a new wave of research that suggests that parenthood comes with relatively more positives, despite the added responsibilities. The study also dovetails with emerging evolutionary perspectives that suggest parenting is a fundamental human need.
Recent popular accounts have painted a portrait of unhappy parents who find little joy in taking care of their children, "but the scientific basis for these claims remains inconclusive," the researchers wrote.
"If you went to a large dinner party, the parents in the room would be just as happy or happier than the guests without children," Dunn said.
The researchers conducted three studies that tested whether parents are happier overall than their childless peers, if parents feel better moment-to-moment than nonparents, and whether parents experience more positive feelings when taking care of children than during their other daily activities.
The consistency of their findings across all three studies "provides strong evidence challenging the widely held perception that children are associated with reduced well-being.
Among the findings:
As Dunn put it, "These findings suggest that parents are not nearly the miserable creatures that we might expect from recent studies and popular representations."