For Daniel Gilbert, author of the book ‘Stumbling on Happiness’, people’s delusions about children continue to prevail because they manage to effectively get passed on from generation to generation, unlike the belief that children make us unhappy (1). Gilbert calls this trend the ‘super-replicator’ tendency. It operates on principles similar to Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest. Those who believe children make us happier reproduce and pass on this mentality to other generations, while those who believe the opposite to be true, have fewer or no children. As a result they will not pass on their manner of thinking to their offspring.
Let’s, however, not forget that we are critical thinking beings. Clearly having children cannot be broken down to the focusing illusion. Powdthavee agrees. To begin with, he states that perhaps people are fully aware that parenting is a tough job, but that they choose to have children anyway. This is because they believe that relatively rare, but positive, experiences such as the baby’s first words or academic achievement will compensate for all the tough times as well as increasing their happiness levels. It is true that such experience give a boost to people’s levels of happiness, however, it is not as long lived as people tend to anticipate. The author thus emphasises that this manner of thinking is a delusion in itself. As a result, when parents are asked about how happy or satisfied with life they are, they will usually say parenthood is hard because their frame of reference is usually the difficult and tough times that occur more often. This is because the positive experiences are very rare and are usually overpowered by the more often difficult times.
Powdthavee seems aware of the hardships that come with parenthood. Are we then to believe that such a person is an advocate for the ‘no children’ concept? On the contrary, with brutal honesty, the author and many others like him conclude their articles with remarks expressing their intension to board the parenthood train despite implying that parenthood is a barrier to happiness.
(1) Powdthavee, N. (2009). Think having children will make you happy? The Psychologist, 22 308-311.