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How to Be Happy: Don’t Have Kids?

Amanda Tipton

Kathy Schiffer - published on 01/20/14

A recent study on the relationship between happiness and children has two major flaws.

The secret of a happy marriage is childlessness?  

That’s one of the key findings of a new study released in November 2013 by the UK’s Open University, and presented this week at the British Library. Titled "Enduring Love: Couple Relationships in the 21st Century", the study compared parents, both married and unmarried, with childless couples and found that couples who did not have children were more satisfied with their relationships and more likely to feel valued by their partner.

The study, authored by Dr. Jacqui Gabb and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, asked nearly 4,500 respondents to describe their overall satisfaction with their relationship. The results? Childless men and women were more likely to feel valued by their partner, and to rate their relationship as "very positive." But the study also found that women without children were the least happy with life overall; and mothers were happier than others in the study, either male or female, even if their relationship with their partner did not succeed.  

Women were twice as likely as men to say that their children are most important in their lives; men, even those with children, tended to rank their partner as "most important." Fathers were twice as likely as mothers to list "sexual intimacy" as important, and to cite the lack of intimacy as the greatest problem in their relationship.

To no one’s surprise, the study found that the demands of child-rearing meant that parents had less time to spend focused on their own relationship.

One aspect of relationship which the research team failed to address was the effect of spiritual commitments on the part of the individuals.  While respondents to the on-line survey are divided according to age, gender, marital status and sexual orientation, there is no question concerning the respondents’ faith. Wouldn’t belief in God and appreciation for life’s deeper meaning have a profound effect on personal satisfaction, even during times of stress? Wouldn’t the privilege of sharing in God’s creativity through giving birth to and raising a child bring an unparalleled joy to both parents, even while they are immersed in responsibilities far exceeding anything they’d experienced during the years when they were childless?

Secondly, the study neglected to consider a fact which might be obvious to long-married couples: that relationships pass through seasons, and that while there is less time for cuddling during the busy child-rearing years, couples who have made a life commitment to one another can again find deep intimacy with one another once the children are older.

But the greatest shortcoming of the research by Dr. Gabb and her team may lie in their definition of "happiness."  

Dr. Peter Kreeft, professor at Boston College, has listed three types of personal fulfillment:  The first, "Pleasure", involves the body. "Happiness", which is more than simply pleasure, is in the mind and feelings. And more than happiness, there is "Joy"–which is a satisfaction deep in the heart, the spirit, the center of the self. The Open University study seems to focus on Pleasure–the sexual intimacy of the couple–and on "Happiness" which is defined as how one "feels" about the beloved partner.

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