Do you guys watch videos on TED (tagline: “Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world”)? If not, you should — the site is filled with thought-provoking talks and discourses from some of the most exceptional people in the world.
Yesterday, TED posted a presentation given by Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman, the husband-and-wife team behind the popular websites Nerve and Babble. Their talk, titled “Let’s talk parenting taboos,” struck a chord with me because not only did they deliver it in a funny and enjoyable way, the content itself was honest and entirely relatable to where I am currently in my life.
Grisom and Volkman explores 4 truths that parents are taught by society never to admit…and why it is okay to talk about them:
- You can’t say you didn’t fall in love with your baby in the first minute
- You can’t talk about how lonely having a baby can be
- You can’t talk about your miscarriage
- You can’t say your “average happiness” has declined
Appropriately, these are all subjects I have discussed at length, or at least touched upon, on this blog.
I was particularly moved by the last topic where the couple talk about how a parent’s average happiness is likely to go down after having kids. Take a look at the chart below, where four independent studies measured marital satisfaction based on various milestones:
Taking a look at these studies, it is apparent that happiness takes a nosedive when children are introduced to the picture and does not go up again until your first child goes to college.
Intrigued by this data, Grisom and Volkman delved deeper into the studies by interviewing those who were responsible for the research. Are all parents doomed for at least two decades of misery? Why do people keep having kids if it makes them so unhappy?
What they discovered hit me hard. Here is a typical person’s average happiness over his/her lifespan:
What the graph above shows is average happiness, which does not account for moment-to-moment experiences. According to Grisom and Volkman, this is what the chart would look like if you overlay these moment-to-moment experiences:
As you can see, the chart accounts for the vastly undulating emotions that accompany childhood and adolescence, which levels off as we enter adulthood into our 20s and 30s. Or, as Griscom puts it, “it’s almost as age is a form of lithium.” Our average happiness goes up, but we lose those transcendent moments.
Then, when we have our first child, we submit ourselves to these highs and lows again…and never have the highs been any higher, or the lows any lower!
I couldn’t agree more.
As a new parent, there are times where I can’t even let out a single tear because I am so angry, so tired, and so damn frustrated. But these major lows are offset by equally powerful highs where I feel nothing but pure bliss. How every morning, the baby greets me and the new day with a smile. How holding her tight brings a surge of warmth throughout my entire body. How every night, she bursts out laughing as she enters dreamland.
And I know that these highs will get even higher as she grows older. (And the lows will get lower too.)
Seeing as the human race has continued to have children even with the introduction of birth control, I can only assume that these transcendent moments are worth the lower levels of average happiness for others too.