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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How much does your self-development matter to you?

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This Christmas Santa has been very generous 🙂 to me and I’ve received some wonderful pressies, including some books I’ve really wanted to have for a while:

  • Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferris (available here)
  • Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert (available here )
  • Grit: Why passion and resilience are the secrets to success by Angela Duckworth (available here)
  • The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich by Tim Ferris (available here)
  • The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy by Chris Bailey (available here)

I’ve decided that this blog will be a good place to post books reviews once in a while. What do you think? Have you read any books about personal development, time management or motivation?

These books used to be called ‘self-help’ books and I think because of this their reputation has been somewhat damaged. Some people don’t buy them because they say they that don’t need any help with finding out how to prioritise their life or they don’t have a problem with time management and so on…

I’m glad that the industry has been changing and now these titles are called self-development’ rather than ‘self-help’ books! I’m glad that people are starting to realise how important personal growth is and that it should not be a luxury but a necessity.

Personal growth doesn’t just help to keep you sane and away from mental health disorders but it’s a lot more than that. When you do what you love, when you commit to lifelong learning and improve your skills and knowledge, you feel more positive, happy and satisfied with your life. Naturally, the more optimistic you are, the more positive your approach and thoughts, and this will have an impact on others around you too, on your relationships and on various other aspects of your life.

The happier you are, the more successful you can become.

Happiness drives performance, not the other way around.

Contrary to what many people say, investing in your own personal development is not egoistical and selfish. It’s something that makes us better human beings in many aspects, also in social terms.

I’m wondering if you are interested in such self-development titles. What book(s) have you been recently reading?

How to plan your 2018 GOALS smartly?

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Quite a few statistics I’ve come across indicate that approximately 92% of people who plan New Year resolutions give up on them within around a month! This is a shocking number. If you asked me about the stats before I found this information, I’d have thought it was more like a 50/50 or 40/60 ratio.

Isn’t that one of the most discouraging and demotivating statistics you’ve ever heard of?

What do you do to ensure that you are among the remaining 8% of people who get what they want in life?

Firstly we need to understand that our dreams are not goals, and vice versa.

Dreams become goals only if you are willing to work on them, if you specify them, write them down, prepare an action plan, and in any other way show commitment and effort; and naturally when you take action towards achieving them.

  • Specify:Think what your biggest dreams are and which ones you can and want to pursue. Think what you could do to fulfil them.

 

  • Be Realistic: When someone says, “Make sure your goals are realistic and achievable”, I think, “Well, if Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, (two American inventors, engineers and aviators) had thought what was realistic, what had been done before, what people of their time were able to do, they would NEVER have built and flown the world’s first airplane in 1903! If Einstein, Edison or Darwin had listened to others and had tried to set SMART goals (*goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time specific), then they surely wouldn’t have got as far as they did because many things that they invented or discovered weren’t thought to be realistic or achievable in their lifetimes!

On the other hand, it is commonly stressed in psychology-related books and articles that people OFTEN overestimate what can be done in a year and underestimate what can be done in 5 or 10 years. And certainly there is some truth in it as well. Surely we can do a lot in just one year BUT some goals such as writing books or becoming an expert in a chosen discipline may take more than a year.

It also depends on your circumstances, although they are not as vital as you think because even if you haven’t the resources you believe you need, you may find other ways around it to achieve your goals. To tell the truth people rarely have an ideal situation (enough money, contacts, time and so on).

  • Action plans:According to many different studies, people who write their goals down are more likely to achieve them. I didn’t know how important an action plan was before someone advised me to do it. I used to think I work hard on my goals but with the right action plan I’ve realised I didn’t put enough effort into my goals before.

A good action plan, and most of all FOLLOWING IT, is a real eye-opener!

I’ve realised that many people get frustrated and/or fail because they don’t plan any tasks with regard to their goals at all (and think, e.g. “I’ll learn Spanish when I find some time for it.” ) or make their action plans too strict. I used to be one of those people. For instance, I planned that I’d do something EVERY SINGLE DAY for the next X months or years! There is a quote I really like which says:

You can do anything but not everything.

Yes, so dream big, make sure you prepare and plan your goals well but DON’T forget that you need to have a flexible approach to it. For example, I have a four-year-old daughter and I’m going to give birth again in March 2018, and I’m sure that there will be days when I am not able to write anything.

Additionally to all these things that we can predict there are ALWAYS some things that we CAN’T predict. You may have to change your job and you won’t be able to exercise, write articles, design clothes or work on your business idea in the early mornings as you planned; or you may need to move and many of us know how time-consuming it is. Rather than getting irritated that we can’t have it all and do everything we want to, we should design our action plans quite flexibly – a good idea may be to write down what you will focus mostly on in each month of the next year and plan the month ahead only a few days before it starts. 

  • Reviews: Planning November or even April next year when life gets so unpredictable sometimes seems like a huge challenge. During the next year you may find out ways and techniques of working better on your goals (for example, you may do an online marketing course and find out how you can find more clients for your business) because we are constantly learning. You may get some good advice from others who achieve their goals or you may decide that your real passion and true goals are a bit different from what you thought they were. Therefore, it would be best if you review your goals and action plan regularly, for example at the end of every month(some people would prefer to do it every quarter).

 

  • Modifications: And the most important point – changing or adjusting your goals does not mean that you give up on them or that you failed. As long as you have grit and put passion and real effort into whatever you’d like to do it still counts! There definitely will be days when you will have doubts and lose your confidence but remember these are JUST YOUR THOUGHTSgenerated by your own mind. If you need a break, take a few days’ break, don’t think about your goals at all and then with a fresh eye and energy consider what you can improve to become more productive and effective, and to accelerate your progress.

 

I’m very interested in what you think about this and what your plans for 2018 are!