Tonight, after a couple of duds regarding our movie streaming choices I finally settled on this: The Nature of Existence.
Basically this guy goes to all different types of religious leaders and asks the big questions such as:
1. Why do I exist?
2. What is our purpose?
and so on.
As I’m a big fan of these types of documentaries, books and philosophies this was all pretty run of the mill for me and I’d heard it all before. But one statement really stuck out for me and I felt like writing about it.
The thought came from Harvard psychologist Dr. Daniel Gilbert whose documentaries I’ve really enjoyed such as This Emotional Life. The question was “Is having children part of our purpose?” I recognized Dr. Gilbert and as I’ve enjoyed his work before really listened to what he had to say.
His main points
1. People tend to be a little less happy when they have children compared to people who do not have children.
2. Recent studies show that when you’re interacting with your children, you about as happy as when you are doing housework.
3. The fact of the matter is that our day to day lives with our children are rough, they are difficult.
4. However, when we reflect on our lives having children sends our feeling of happiness shooting up into the stratosphere.
5. It depends on what you want out of life. Do you want to enjoy yourself 23 hours of the day but when you reflect on your life you realize it may not add up to very much. Or do you want one of those lives when 23 hours in the day you are toiling, working hard….. but then take a deep breath and look at the whole thing and say, “Wow, here I am fulfilling my purpose as a mammal.
Very good points but seeing life a bit different from most I’ll have to disagree. I will not however disagree in the way many might in that they convince themselves that having children is such a joy and are afraid, and think it wrong to say that not having kids may have been better.
For me, I’ve had the great opportunity to frankly have a lot of fun up until I was 30. After a while, the search for something fun becomes a bit tedious in itself and even when you do find something “fun” the enthusiasm will eventually wear off and it becomes run of the mill.
Take for example my time in Tokyo, Saigon and San Francisco. Parties, sight-seeing, beaches, restaurants and so on. All of these things become ordinary when you’ve experienced them over and over and over.
It is not that having a baby will provide simply another source of enjoyment that would, like the others, simply become routine but rather you simply decide that this is what you want to enjoy and having a baby will provide enjoyment in return in a way that parties, beaches and restaurants cannot.
Let me take a step back for a moment though and reflect on how he says it is akin to doing housework. I used to not enjoy housework very much but now I do. Let’s take doing the dishes for example. It is a routine task that must be completed daily.
One day I decided that I would enjoy doing the dishes as it gives me a bit of time to think while completing a necessary chore. Further, we humans like a bit of routine in our day and having a tray of clean dishes gives me small feeling of accomplishment in that everything is in order.
Not only that, but these dishes helped sustain our lives by providing a transport for the food which we just ate. So it is not just dirty dishes I see but rather necessary items to help us stay nourished and enjoy another day.
Perhaps this seems a bit outlandish but looking at it from a sort of Zen perspective, cleaning the dishes must be done and provide a moment where one can actually meditate a bit. Part of Zen is the cultivation a deep sense of responsibility through self-discipline.
Well, part of my responsibility is to clean the dishes and as I discipline myself to do them in a routine manner daily along with a few minutes of meditation and feeling of accomplishment my happiness actually increases.
So, my questions for Dr. Gilbert would be:
1. Why do certain things make us happy?
2. Can we change what makes us happy?
3. Isn’t it all just a state of mind?
I have shown how I can turn doing the dishes into something enjoyable so now on to caring for a baby.
When I look around at others with kids I cannot help but wonder if for many it is simply something they feel they must do. When we are young our lives are directed in that we go to school, then supposed to go to college or get a job, then get married, and having kids just seems like the next logical thing to do.
Or perhaps for others, it really does add a bit of meaning to their lives. Once college has been completed and then marriage I wonder if some people seek a bit of meaning in their own lives by having children. Now you have a little baby that obviously must be cared for, and is considered quite important in our society so it works out well in terms of adding meaning.
I thought about all of this and asked myself the same question as well as would I actually be happier not having kids.
I thought, I pondered, I pondered and I thought. As for trading my parties, travels etc for having a kid it was quite easy. The parties and travel had become mediocre and I could have given them up to embark on a serious regiment of reading and would have been just as happier if not more-so. Living in a foreign country is exciting for a while but then becomes simply “normal.” Parties on the other hand actually provide no value and even harm which comes with a hangover.
So why did I decide to have a baby?
Well, perhaps the answer is just a bit selfish. I enjoy being around other people, sharing my experiences, learning about them and simply having external contact. For me, being around people is energizing, exciting and much better than simply being alone all the time.
I think as humans we crave human contact. And if I had the choice of vast sums of money with no friends vs. many friends and no money I would definitely choose the ladder.
This is not to be mushy, gooey or anything like that. I simply realize that this is what makes me happy and so I choose to pursue it.
Well, one of those individuals I enjoyed being around so much eventually became my wife. Again, very selfish of me but now I get to have her around 24 hours a day and share ALL of my experiences with her. In fact, they have become our experiences and I much prefer doing things with someone I very much enjoy than to doing them by myself.
Having a baby, just added one more to this equation. Sure, he may not be doing much than burping up and pooping on me now but in a few years we’ll get to go experience things together and that is fun for me.
Actually, I gain a bit more pleasure introducing others to something I find enjoyable and to see the look on their faces than simply doing the thing by myself. Living in San Francisco I would much prefer driving down the coast, or going to a winery with someone who has never done it before than to do it by myself. This increases the enjoyment!
Returning to my family, they are always around and always people I can rely on to go experience something enjoyable.
When I see my wife smile and baby boy smile I get a very big high and sense of enjoyment that simply doesn’t compare to me trying to make myself smile. Their smiles make me automatically smile.
Further, having a kid is like having your very own mini-me. I have to laugh at some of the traits in a 3 month old that I have in myself. For example, I can be stubborn and when he is breast feeding he can sometimes be cranky, feed a bit, pull away and yell out for no apparent reason as though he is fru
strated and then go back to feeding again. This made me laugh because I too can be moody.
Or, when he is trying to make his arms and legs work in order to crawl, gets frustrated and yells out. Yes, I know the feeling of getting frustrated when trying to accomplish something.
But most of all, his smile is exactly like mine. When he smiles I know he is mine, I am his and we are connected. He is a little member of my own personal tribe that until now I have only let two other people into. A fourth will be soon coming and that will be a dog who will also be mine and expected to join me on beach walks, watch the sunset and like me occasionally annoy the neighbors.
Yes, having a baby is a lot of work, but I simply use the same principals I apply to doing the dishes. Changing diapers, getting him to sleep can be very Zen-like and holding him in my arms provides a great sense of happiness to me that parties, travel and restaurants do not.
He is my “person,” and my wife is also my “person.” These are the people I will share secrets/experiences/life with and it feels very good having them with me 24 hours a day. It beats doing things on my own by a landslide.