Happiness and the eudaimonist

All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting

As a rule, most studies show that mothers are less happy than fathers, that single parents are less happy still, that babies and toddlers are the hardest, and that each successive child produces diminishing returns. But some of the studies are grimmer than others. Robin Simon, a sociologist at Wake Forest University, says parents are more depressed than nonparents no matter what their circumstances—whether they’re single or married, whether they have one child or four.

As far as gauging what people want, happiness is the indicator chosen by these studies. Fulfillment equals the end of tension and the end of tension equals joy! Clearly, though, while many people want children, the data do not come through for their happiness (on average).

Aristotle’s conception of eudaimonia, as is well known, involved an interconnected web of “the good life” that included duties, political involvement, rational undertakings, and familial responsibility. The holistic painting was the key, in which it might not be truly apparent that someone had eudaimonia until even after death, when they were rightly honored from a full perspective. All of these “ethical” activities emanated from a social and political nature, and used mankind’s unique characteristic of reason.

Empirical social science may or may not be able to approach this kind of analysis, but what should be most clear are the following: the fulfillment of desires may lead to happiness, but not necessarily eudaimonia; stated goals should line up with human nature, or else any happiness produced will not fit into the web of eudaimonia; the best life will end up desiring the best things (eventually). On this last point, we might wonder whether some adults who desire children, but lack happiness when they have them, simply have yet to learn to love bringing up children. Which of course does not diminish their love for their children – it emphasizes, rather, the process necessary for that love to express itself in relationship … a relationship that produces happiness by its activity, and not just its existence.


  • July 6, 2010


    Tony Woodlief recently weighed in on this topic a week or so ago. His thoughts were much along the same line as yours:

    I wonder if we ought to re-examine our commitment to happiness. It seems to me that there’s possibly some merit — if we persevere and have the sense to learn from it — in the other-orientation that is (good) parenting. It’s fine to go through life happy, in other words, but I suspect we also want to go through life without becoming big fat self-absorbed jackasses. Children really help in that regard.

    You can see his full post here

  • July 6, 2010

    Salome Ellen

    As a mother of six, ages 17 to 27 (full disclosure: one of them is a contributor to this blog) I read this post and the linked article with interest. I especially appreciated the phrase “(they) have yet to learn to love bringing up children.” I suspect that our culture’s propensity to confuse “happiness” with “pleasure” is part of the reason. Parenthood has many moments which are not pleasurable. Changing a messy diaper, or disciplining a recalcitrant teen, have no “fun” component. But when I did these things, it made a difference to remember that being a parent was my calling, and what I was designed for. And in truly fulfilling one’s purpose in life, one finds happiness, and eudaimonia, I suspect, as well.

  • July 8, 2010

    Dear Bryan, «

    […] think I agree with your general inference, as I read it: namely, that true human fulfillment (the Aristotelian “good life,” or […]