Monday, October 27, 2008


Came across this paragraph in an interesting article about the brain, pleasure and happiness.

This is really rehashing the same idea that we have gone over many times before, that what we believe as true is not necessarily true, but is a useful lie that we ourselves, or those around us perpetrate upon ourselves:

Pretty much no matter how you test it, children make us less happy. The evidence isn’t just from diary studies; surveys of marital satisfaction show that couples tend to start off happy, get less happy when they have kids, and become happy again only once the kids leave the house. As the psychologist Daniel Gilbert puts it, “Despite what we read in the popular press, the only known symptom of ‘empty-nest syndrome’ is increased smiling.” So why do people believe that children give them so much pleasure? Gilbert sees it as an illusion, a failure of affective forecasting. Society’s needs are served when people believe that having children is a good thing, so we are deluged with images and stories about how wonderful kids are. We think they make us happy, though they actually don’t.

I dedicate this quote and the Wiki-blurb of William James to the rebirth of the XGH blog, may he go from strength to strength.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the dedication. i think this analysis is clearly flawed. The reason people start out happy is that they are young and their spouses are too, with few worries and cares. Later (coinciding with kids) comes more financial and familial reponsibilities, spouses get stressed, work becomes boring and miserable, mid life crisis hits and it becomes an endurance test. Finally, at old age, you retire and enjoy yourself. Kids obviously contribute to the stress somewaht, however they are the greatest joy in life.

October 27, 2008 10:30 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Sure, I'll take your word over research done by Daniel Gilbert (Harvard/Princeton) and the author (Yale) I'm sure they never thought of that. :)

October 27, 2008 10:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Feh, academics in their Ivory towers, what do they know?

October 27, 2008 12:48 PM  
Blogger Tobie said...

I read Gilbert's book "Stumbling onto Happiness" (may not be the correct translation of the title- I read it in English) and found, in general, that his studies did not always prove exactly what he said they proved. Can't think of an example, but it was generally just a bit shoddy. so I'd like to see the study itself and check to what degree they adjusted for evolution in life circumstances, wanted/unwanted pregnancies, etc. Trust but verify when it comes to Gilbert, is all.

October 28, 2008 1:38 AM  
Blogger Tobie said...

After attempting to trace back to the study from the article, I discovered that there was no citation of the actual study. Gilbert's book is a survey of a whole bunch of other researchers, so his pithy little quote probably does not mean that it was his study. Not that he didn't review it, of course, but still, I'm getting frustrated at this article.

October 28, 2008 1:46 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


You are correct about "trust but verify" (Ronald Reagan's favorite Russian phrase). I have no way to evaluate either man's research. Gilbert's book was meant as a pop culture thing, not necessarily a serious professional publication. Sometimes in the editing process enough information from the original studies is removed to make it seem like there is a logical gap.

What frustrated you about the article, just the lack of citations?

October 28, 2008 4:49 AM  
Blogger Tobie said...

Yeah, mostly just that. Also, using Gilbert's quote- which is certainly just his cool pop culture way of restating a previous source- as some sort of official backing. It just felt very...light. Which is fine, for the forum, I suppose.

October 29, 2008 1:41 AM  

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