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.
Bryan Wandel works in government finance and has studied history, accounting, and religion. He is a member of the editorial board at Humane Pursuits. Bryan’s writing has appeared at Comment Magazine, First Things, and elsewhere.