Science & happiness: Does having children make us happy?

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Do you think that having children can increase our happiness or subjective well-being as scientists like to call it?

According to science having children who are up to 5 years old or teenagers makes us actually LESS HAPPY! However, children can make our life more meaningful and what’s interesting (in spite of all the stress and worries), parents live on average longer!

One of the reasons for the drop in happiness levels is that many people who have children feel less happy because they believe that if they were only more organised or could improve their work-life balance they would be better parents. They feel that this is an individual problem but nowadays it’s a bigger social issue particularly in developed countries where people seem to work longer hours and take work home.

In 2016 The Independent indicated that according to studies in the USA parents report they are 12% unhappier than non-parents. In the UK the number is slightly smaller as of 8% parents feel less happy. For Poland, the result was nearly a 5% drop in happiness level compared to non-parents. There are however a few countries where people feel happier when they have children, for example, in France, Norway, Spain or Portugal.

Researchers looked at differences between the countries to try to find out why in some countries parents are happier than in others and they found that government policies or lack of them, and less support from the government contribute a great deal to the increased cost, stress and anxiety felt, for example, by American or British parents.

It was estimated “that a middle-income American family is likely to spend $234,900 to raise a child to age 17.” If the teenager then decides to go to college, that figure may even double.

What makes parents happier in other countries? For example, in Norway or France there are more supportive family policies. In Spain and Portugal extended family networks seem to be very helpful in taking care of children.

I must say as a person who is about to start maternity leave in the UK, I feel happy but at the same time quite anxious about the lack of sufficient support for parents.

How does it look in the UK then?

  • for most women (depending on if and where they work)– very low maternity leave pay (around £500 a month) that is given only for 9 months (then you can have 3 months of unpaid maternity leave if you like)
  • only 2 weeks of paternal leave (for fathers)
  • unpaid parental leave (4 weeks a year, max. 18 weeks in total)
  • in many companies unpaid sick leave/careers days
  • no support from government in terms of childcare until the child is 2 years old
  • although the country is regarded as a developed one, in some companies taking sick leave by women during pregnancy is perceived negatively by employers because some believe that (although we assume that we all know that every pregnancy is different) “pregnancy is not a disease” and women should “get on with it!”

To compare it with Poland, mothers there receive:

  • 12 months paid maternity leave
  • 500 zlotych per month per child for parents who have more than 1 child (imagine that you live e.g. in the USA and receive $500 for every child except the first one on a monthly basis and this doesn’t depend on your earnings at all)
  • paid sick leave during pregnancy

Are you a parent or planning to become one? Are you satisfied with the support given by your government in your country?

 

 

Happy Wednesdays! So what EXACTLY does science say? – part 2

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On Wednesdays I always post something about happiness and science. Last week I described aspects which, according to science, are not related to happiness. This week let’s focus on what actually makes us happier.

According to various research findings done in positive psychology happiness IS AFFECTED by your:

  • Subjective health – which means basically how healthy you feel and what you think about your health rather than what doctors tell you;
  • Social class  – this is due to lifestyle differences and better coping BUT remember your circumstances DON’T define you
  • Optimism (naturally!) 🙂
  • Social relationships – meaningful relationships are vital for your well-being. You don’t need to socialise a lot but spending some quality time with people who you trust and who support you is very important for your mental health.
  • Extraversion. “Lucas and E. Diener (2001) have recently argued that extraverts may be more sensitive to rewarding social situations than introverts, and that this may manifest itself as greater feelings of happiness by extraverts.”
  • Being married (but as you know from part 1 of this blog post – having children may make you less happy! Anyway that’s what scientific findings say… )
  • Having engaging work 

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  • Leisure
  • Religion or spirituality

Apparently watching soap operas can increase your well-being too but… I feel I probably won’t be very unhappy if I don’t try it…

You can read about this more in Positive Psychology in a Nutshell. The science of happiness by Ilona Boniwell, which is available here . Fantastic read I must say! 😉

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What do you think about these studies’ findings?

What makes YOU happy? 

Happy Wednesdays! So what EXACTLY does science says? – part 1

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Sometimes, when reading academic textbooks and articles on happiness – which is called subjective well-being SWB in research literature – I was REALLY surprised by new findings. We think, for example, that having children would make us happier and then… what do we find out? 😉

Research found that happiness IS NOT related to:

  • Physical attractiveness! Striving to look as perfect as possible and spending a lot of money on clothes, make up, and cosmetic surgery does not equal happiness – this can be quite surprising for some people.
  • Age! Some of us worry about getting old to the extent that we may think that older means unhappy! There are various findings, sometimes contradictory, about this aspect but most studies emphasise that your happiness level doesn’t depend on your age much or at all!
  • Money! When you meet your BASIC needs there is not much difference between someone who is earning a low or average wage and a filthy rich person in terms of happiness! I know it may sound unbelievable for many people. Kasser in The high price of materialism (2002, available here) proved that actually desiring and focusing on the pursuit of wealth would make you LESS HAPPY! And quite often the more we have, the more we want!
  • Gender. What’s interesting is that women have a greater tendency towards being depressed… but also towards being more joyful!

I found a picture which I think may be able to explain these findings… 😉

TYPICAL DAY IN A MAN’S LIFE:

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TYPICAL DAY IN A WOMAN’S LIFE:

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  • Educational level
  • Having children! Although some clarification is more than needed here 😉 It was found that having children who are up to 5 years old or teenagers makes us actually LESS HAPPY! However, children can make our life more meaningful and what’s interesting (in spite of all the stress and worries), parents live on average longer!
  • Moving to a sunnier climate
  • Crime prevention
  • Housing
  • Objective health (what your doctor tells you about your health – how good your blood test results are, what you are diagnosed with, etc.)
  • Environment & genetics! Even if in your genes there is some coded predisposition towards becoming unhappy or depressed, if you grow up and live in a positive, engaging and encouraging environment you can actually become HAPPIER than someone who has genetic predispositions to be content!

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Happiness & science. Live 9.4 years longer!

In 2000 a huge amount of data was analysed and, after talking about happiness to 1.1m people in 45 different countries, it was concluded that on average people feel quite happy. On a scale from 0 to 10 the average score for all these people was 6.75, which is quite surprising when we think of how much time and effort and money many people put into the pursuit of happiness, how many of us complain and worry unnecessarily every day, and how many life coaches or self-help and self-development books are published every year on selling tips and techniques for boosting well-being!

A score of 6.75 I think is pretty good! What do you think?

Surely the surveys were not too straightforward and consisted of a series of questions to cover various aspects of well-being rather than asking only one question directly – how happy are you?

And we know there are LOTS OF benefits of being HAPPIER – it can even protect us against colds! Also, according to research done by Danner (results published in 2001) happiness can increase our life by 9.4 years!

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What do you think your score would be?

I think if someone simply asked us only one question about happiness the answer would depend a lot on the time of day (we feel more tired and unmotivated in the afternoon rather than in the morning). The season of the year and the weather would also affect our answer, as would our feeling disappointed, stressed, in pain, or relaxed and contented at a particular time for some reason (maybe we just finished reading or writing a book or we are terrified because we are going to the dentist?!). We may focus more on the emotion we feel at particular time than on our general well-being. We probably wouldn’t score anywhere near the maximum number. However, we actually probably should give us a very high score when we think about it for longer and remind ourselves that actually maybe we have a great family, and food every day, and a roof over our head, and fairly good health; and maybe we can work full-time while some people due to ill health may not be able to… Or maybe we have a fantastic, trustworthy and reliable friend and there are some people out there in a toxic environment that leads them to depression and even suicide.

If we try to not take things for granted and be more grateful for what we have, our happiness level increases a lot. Actually, one of the most common exercises in positive psychology which can boost our well-being is to keep a diary where we write each day a few (3-5) things that we are grateful about that day. It is proven that this works and boosts our happiness level a lot.

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HAPPY WEDNESDAYS! What can make us happier?

I’ve decided to create a cycle of blog posts on HAPPINESS that will always be published on Wednesdays. There are SO MANY interesting facts, data and anecdotes to share about happiness!

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I’ve noticed that in the last decade the definition of success has started to change from ‘rich and famous’ to ‘happy, healthy and with a meaningful life’. I think media and the Internet are largely responsible for this shift because we’ve learnt that celebrities’ lives are not as perfect as we used to think and that rich does not mean happy. For example, it is such a rarity to see a famous person in a successful relationship for most of their life. Like everyone else, despite all the money and success in the world, they also get sick and suffer.

Studies show that money can make you a little bit happier in some circumstances (more about this in a future blog post) but in the long-term it doesn’t mean HAPPY. For example, moving to a sunnier climate or getting nearly $10,000 more a year would make you very excited and enthusiastic for some period of time, a few weeks or months, but then it goes back nearly to its usual level giving you only approximately a 1-2% boost in your happiness level! (more info in – Christakis and Fowler’s book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives (available here).

The article What makes a life good? (in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1998) stressed nearly 2 decades ago that happiness seems to be more valuable to people than:

Pursuit of money

Moral goodness

Or going to heaven

In general most of scholars agree that 3 things/aspects can make us happier...

Before you read further try to guess what these three things are (and write in the comment if your ideas were different from what’s under the picture – let’s make the comments section an interesting place!)

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These three things are:

  1. Meaningful relationships: spending time with people who support you
  2. Finding your passion(s): doing what you love as often as you can
  3. Personal growth: it was found that grit, which by the way is believed to be more important than talent and IQ (Angela Duckworth’s book GRIT, available here), delayed gratification and emotional control can accelerate your development! (You can find out more about delayed gratification and the Stanford marshmallow experiment here: https://jamesclear.com/delayed-gratification )

I think there are still people out there who would criticise this current trend towards individualisation, towards the pursuit for a meaningful life, towards looking for and thinking about our passions, and taking care of and investing more in personal growth than ever before, because focusing on own well-being and happiness can be perceived as selfish, egocentric and more of a luxury than a necessity to some people.

However, I’m sure (or I hope…) that most of us realise that the more we focus on our passions and invest in our personal development (without going to extremes and forgetting the world around us naturally!), the more content we will be with our own life:

  • the happier relationships we will be able to create and maintain
  • the more successful we can be in different aspects of our life, such as at work or being a parent
  • and people enjoy hanging out more with happy folks, not the ones who are frustrated, angry, unsatisfied with themselves, their life and the world, right?

Actually, there was some research done by Christakis and Fowler which stressed that people can boost their happiness levels a lot by simply spending time with happy people.

And where do we find a lot of HAPPY PEOPLE? 🙂

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Personal Growth project – week 2

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In the last update I’ve mentioned that I felt that, although I have started to feel a lot more productive (by doing and achieving more tasks), I felt I clearly needed more structure, simpler plans and more time for stepping back and thinking about projects and goals to ensure that I don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Doing so should make my work more effective!

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I will tell you about my plans for blogging today. For weeks I couldn’t decide how often I want to post my blogs. I decided on creating a schedule that would make me feel organised. I’d like to post blogs in this order:

  • Productive Mondays (a lot of useful science, tips, techniques and experiments I’m learning about or using in practice)
  • Happy Wednesdays (a series of blog posts about happiness and wellbeing; a lot of interesting facts!)
  • Weekends with Personal Development (updates with regard to my Personal Growth project, research, ideas for improvements etc.)

I have a few other ideas for blog posts which I’ll just be adding randomly, such as interviews, book reviews; discussing various issues related to personal development, motivation or books. That way if someone is interested in wellbeing rather than productivity, they could visit my blog only on Wednesdays rather than keep checking what I post all the time to find something what they like.

Although I’m still working full-time in admin (I’m in the 3rd trimester of pregnancy so a few more weeks and I’ll be on maternity leave!), I manage to get up early quite often (around 5:30 am). However, not to overdo it, I think it is important to take a day off from all tasks and goals once in a while, even if we enjoy them a lot 😉

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According to sleep experts, early risers are more optimistic. Going to bed earlier and getting up earlier means that your body is more in tune with earth’s circadian rhythms, what leads to more restorative sleep. Most successful people get up as early as 4-5 am! They feel that they have more time for exercise and family life. Morning people also tend to spend their first (quiet!) hours on goals-setting and planning. Recent studies also have revealed that those who get up early are more likely to anticipate and minimize problems what’s very useful, for example, in business field!

What time do you get up and what time you’d like to get up every day?

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Have a great productive day folks!

 

Busier than ever before

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Some people say that being busy is an illusion and it is just a matter of choices and priorities. What do you think about it? I agree only partly with that.

People with fewer responsibilities have more choice with regard to arranging their activities, and thus it’s easier for them to find time for things that matter to them. But there are also working parents or single, working parents who study and these are probably the most extreme examples where the lack of time is a real struggle.

Studies show that on average a working parent has only around 2 hours a day for himself or herself. Due to lack of energy this time is often used for watching TV or using Internet.

“Every day we get 24 hours to live our lives in a meaningful way. But once you account for all the obligations each of us has, there really isn’t much time left; a paltry two and a half hours for most of us, to be exact.”

(The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey)

It’s impossible to compare or judge everyone in the same way—everyone has a different lifestyle and circumstances but my point is that being busy is not always only a matter of priorities. My priority is my family and work but even so I don’t think that personal development is just a luxury. It is something of a necessity to keep one sane and happy and maintain or improve one’s well-being—and what’s most important, it doesn’t need to be very time-consuming.

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I have the impression that every year I’m getting busier than the year before. It started a few years ago when I was doing my first degree (psychology) and I needed to work. Fair enough—that’s manageable. My psychology degree was distance learning but I missed the traditional (full-time) way of studying.

That’s way after a year I also enrolled for a business-related degree, this time full-time. I was doing both degrees while working in a medical centre as a receptionist and stop-smoking advisor. Most of the time I had to do full-time but I was given flexible hours which was super helpful. In my spare time I took part in different projects, wrote articles and helped organise events in my city. All these tasks kept me busy.

Then my husband and I decided that we’d like to start a family and while pregnant I was finishing the full-time degree, doing another one and working. I switched to part-time work but still, I felt really active and busy.

The real challenge to carry on with my interests and personal growth came when my daughter Nathalia arrived in this world 4 years ago. I didn’t sleep much for the first few months but soon I had to continue to study my distance-learning degree, and after the maternity leave I had to go back to full-time work as well. That was a very difficult time for me. I’ve managed to complete both degrees while working, looking after Nathalia and occasionally getting involved in some research, events or projects, but it was a real challenge. This was the time when I started to divert my attention more to articles and books related to work-life balance because that’s where I started to struggle. I learned a great deal and managed to improve my situation, especially when the degrees were done!

My hobbies are time-consuming so I’ve often felt that I struggle to find time for it. I started to familiarise myself with the topics of productivity and time-management.

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This New Year will be even more challenging than my previous years, I guess, because we’ll welcome our second baby to this world! I can’t even imagine how much my life will change but I know that maternity leave isn’t a straightforward period in a woman’s life especially with two small children. I know that I’ll be in a ‘zombie mode’ a lot, without being able to sleep and think straight sometimes. I know that I’ll have a lot on my plate and will need to take a break from kind of … everything if possible for a while.

On the other hand, I know that after some time, if I organise myself well and create a good routine, I will be able to manage my life well. I believe that having a family doesn’t have to stop us doing something for our personal development, such as reading, for example. Personal growth doesn’t need to take a lot of your time and it doesn’t mean that you need to start a new course or a degree.

Looks like 2018 will be full of joy (BABY!) but also big challenges (see previous blog posts about personal development project for 2018).

I’ll probably feel busier than ever before again but, well, I know I can try to manage this in different ways.

How busy do you feel on average? 

How do you find time for your passions & personal growth?