I am almost finished reading a fascinating book written by psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky called ‘The Myths Of Happiness‘. (al)
Any book that ruthlessly attacks self development myths is always going to grab my attention especially if its claims are supported by hard scientific data.
In ‘70 Amazing Facts About Your Brain‘ I talk a lot about cognitive biases or blind spots in our thinking and how important it is to recognize them.
It seems Lyobomirsky has helped uncover a blind spot of biblical proportions (prior research had been done with similar conclusions), and brought it into the full glare of the public spotlight.
Do Kids Increase Your Happiness Levels?
Most wannabe parents would confidently predict that having kids will make them happier, after all, why else would they want them?
And I’m sure that most parents would cement that belief by announcing that they have felt happier since having their own children.
Yet statistically speaking both groups would be wrong.
Having a family does not increase happiness levels and can actually have the opposite effect.
I have to say I wasn’t particularly surprised by the findings of the latest research, although I know many will be.
Maybe that’s because I don’t have any kids and can watch friends who do worry themselves sick over their offspring and bemoaning their lack of cash, a social life and sleep.
I recently had a client who was very unhappy in her work but didn’t want to quit (even though she could have financially speaking and scrapped by).
She felt a deep obligation to save enough money so her son would never have to worry about school tuition fees.
That’s very understandable, but at the same time I highly doubt her son will be glad his mom went through a decade of misery just so he could avoid having to take out a student loan at some point in the future.
It’s almost entirely unacceptable from a social standpoint to admit your happiness levels dropped after starting your family.
On the scale of social no-no’s it’s only slightly less taboo than giving a speech at your local Rotary Club on the benefits of Devil worship and virgin sacrifices.
Not only that, but most people wouldn’t even even admit to thinking something like this even to themselves. It’s scary, disloyal and would probably create terrible feelings of cognitive dissonance.
Therefore, I would imagine most parents will presume they’re statistical outliers or that the research is flat out wrong and it’s just another example of over zealous scientists looking to make headlines.
And they will have arrived at that conclusion by searching their memory for all the amazing times they have shared with their kids.
The first smile, the first word, the first few wobbly steps and any other number of happy events and quality time.
It’s less likely they will call to mind the first time he threw up over the carpet, the first time she threw a tantrum in the Supermarket, or in the case of one friend, the first time the little rascal shoved a screwdriver through the screen of his new plasma TV.
Not All Cognitive Biases Are Bad Things
In this respect I think some blind spots or cognitive biases can be good thing.
Even if starting a family isn’t likely to increase happiness levels, few parents actually regret the decision to do so and the vast majority love their kids no matter what.
This post (or rather the book) isn’t all doom and gloom though because what Lyobomirsky (a mother herself) does throughout is to offer solutions that will help improve your happiness levels in all areas of your life, including with your kids.
So don’t think you have to drop the kids off at kindergarten and head for the hills (without your spouse by the way, because another myth she explodes is that married people have higher happiness levels) to be joyful.
A less traumatic and expensive approach would be to buy the book and utilize the practical information within.
My only slight reservation with ‘The Myths of Happiness’ is there’s some duplication of material from her first equally excellent book, ‘The How Of Happiness’, but other than that very minor quibble I’d highly recommend it.
By the way, I’ll be making mention of the book in my February newsletter (due out this week) and sharing a super cool tip that helps you let go of the past.
I was just sent a link to this interesting and optimistic Ted talk that covers this topic if you want to know more.
70 Amazing Facts About Your Brain
- The Video
My good friend Jerry Eisinger helped me (ok he pretty much did it all) make this video trailer for the book.
It’s only a couple of minutes long and I really think he’s done an excellent job. I’d love your take if you are so inclined.
If you haven’t already got your copy, you can grab the Kindle version here or sign up for my newsletter and get the PDF version as well as 3 other of my ebooks.