Joy is an Inside Job

I heard that quote the other day and it made me smile. Happiness, despite current thought, is not some gift-wrapped package we can open after following the lead of that Eat, Pray, Love woman. It isn’t something we can depend on other people for, although other people can certainly add to our happiness. I read this article, which is all about the happiness, or otherwise, of parents. According to a number of studies, parents are much less happy than non-parents, indicating that having children has a statistically significant negative impact on one’s happiness.

I read that, and the little statistician that lives deep inside my heart refilled the lead in her mechanical pencil and sighed. Studies like this irritate me, and not just because of the implication that birthing and raising children is – surprise! – not all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. They irritate me because happiness is subjective. How does one measure happiness? On a scale from one to ten? Or are there numbers assigned to certain categories – Very Happy, Somewhat Happy, Neither Happy nor Unhappy, etc. How do you compare “happiness” among populations? It’s not like measuring your BMI or income, it’s a subjective factor that is skewed depending on the day.

I do, however, feel sympathy for people who feel they are much less happy than prior to having children. I’m not one of them, but I do understand how the drudgery of day to day life can overwhelm a person; the never ending laundry, the mess and chaos. The sheer number of hours a week I spend procuring food, preparing food, and cleaning up the kitchen is astounding. Nonetheless, I am much, much happier than prior to having kids. Of course, my pre-kid life consisted of days at which I would leave for the office at 6:30 in the morning and return home at 7 or 8 at night, spending my days at a desk in a stressful environment in which I would frequently hide in the bathroom to cry. The highlight of my week would be ordering #15 at Vietnamese Village and my dreams would be all about spreadsheets. If I had to do that now, in addition to having children, you can bet that I too would be much less happy. If my evenings were spent frantically picking up the kids and getting dinner on the table and trying, desperately, to spend some Quality Time with them before putting them to bed and starting all over again the next day, I would be a wreck.

A few days ago, I was in a waiting room with Jake. He sat on my lap, colouring a picture of a police dog while talking about elephants. Across the room was a woman with a baby, probably 6 or 7 months old. I couldn’t take my eyes off the baby, who was wiggling and flapping her arms and happily kicking her feet. She played with her mother’s purse strap, she pulled on it and chewed it and smiled a giant, gummy smile. When my boys were very small, I did miss things from my pre-kid life, notably the glamourous things like wearing nice clothes and high heels, having pricey lunches on my expense account, and using the bathroom without having a screaming, sobbing child at my feet. But the time goes so fast. It did not feel like that long ago that Jake was a wiggling, flapping baby on my tired lap, and now he sat on my lap with his feet reaching the middle of my calves, his head bumping my chin. I understand exhaustion and the frantic tedium of life with small children, but it really does go by so fast. I wanted to tell those unhappy mothers that maybe, just maybe, it’s a matter of time.

How did these guys

turn into these guys so quickly?


  1. It goes way too fast. That’s why we’re trying to slow down and enjoy our days together. Great post!

  2. This post is so eloquent. “The little statistician that lives deep inside my heart refilled the lead in her mechanical pencil and sighed” is so descriptive.

    I don’t understand how parents could be less happy than non-parents. Even considering all the effort that child-rearing requires, the joy is immeasurable. I liken my life before kids to a black and white, silent film; after kids is a color, action film. There is no comparison for me.

  3. Children do grow up very fast even before we realize it. That was why I have written a post previously on spending quality time with children; such quality time when lost will never come back; there will only be a certain time when a children will sit on the lap of parent.

    And like you, I am irritated by that kind of studies too. I truly believe that happiness is an inside job. We may not always be in control of external factors but we can always control what goes on internally. Happiness is simply choosing to be happy by making conscious effort and focusing on the happy outcome we want.

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