I answered a reporter's query about whether couples with or without kids are happier. She thanked me for my insights and sighed. She'd already received an overwhelming response from parents eager to voice (read: vent) their opinions about how their having children has correlated directly with the downfall of their personal happiness index. Yet, she bemoaned, the 'child-less by choice' couples were hesitant to speak up on the topic.
I considered her grievance for a while, and thought of the 'kid-free by choice' couples I knew. Many came right out and declared their desire to travel the world untethered to domesticity. Others perpetually string interrogators along with a "we'll just have to wait and see what happens," kind of response. Still, others boldly admit to a preference for channeling their finite time, energies and resources into spouses and careers. And paradoxically, as well as I (think I) know these couples, wouldn't ask them to share their much-needed, yet deeply personal perspectives to the reporter's piece. Later, I realized why.
In some cases there may be some self-loathing, or maybe some couples are conflicting. Perhaps some couples are frustrated, saddened, or resentful they cannot bear children. Maybe they've begun the adoption process but it became too emotionally exhausting and economically draining.
Regardless, many couples profess to be happy with their decision not to be handcuffed to an 18-year child-rearing sentence. However, because of all the 'whys' they constantly field, invariably, they perceive an undercurrent of societal judgment and scorn for not making the ultimate sacrifice of personal (and financial) freedom. It's complicated. I get it. Even with five great kids of my own, birthing the first one at age 30, I still struggle with the occasional yearning to fly the coop and explore the world.
Nonetheless, many couples with kids would agree that yes, ultimately, kids do bring us moments of profound joy and soulful fulfillment. Raising children does add more purpose to our lives, true. But a contribution to the daily happiness factor? Nah, not really.
Frankly, the state of being happy has nothing at all to do with having kids or not. Just like it isn't contingent upon the acquisition of material wealth. It is, however, about how you live your life. Period.
Internal satisfaction and daily happiness can be found through acts of humanitarianism, the realization of a childhood dream or by way of living our passions -- day after day. And it's definitely bolstered when we share honest and meaningful relationships with other human beings such as a significant other, family member or close friend. We find happiness in being our authentic selves and in embodying gratitude.
But here's the rub: happiness is a choice, made daily, that hinges upon our ability to see the positivity in whatever life situation we find ourselves in. It's in the cultivation of healthy habits consistent with what we deem important in our lives. (For example, after exercise I prepare a delicious vanilla-flavored, high-protein shake teeming with frozen bananas and frozen berries. Sounds silly and insignificant perhaps, but I fantasize about that smoothie throughout my entire workout. It's the prize for completion. The mere thought of that shake keeps me motivated long after my body tires, and tastes like liquid ecstasy after training.
Another happiness habit I've created is a self-imposed reward system -- treasure-box style. Like many of you, I love Starbucks. However, I don't indulge often as not to lose the enchantment. I tell myself that for every x-amount of books sold, I earn a trip to Starbucks. It keeps me motivated and keeps the whole Starbucks experience a special treat. Once I become a NYT bestselling author, I'll have to up the ante in order to keep it rewarding.])
But, really, above all else, happiness is in the knowing that no matter what life throws our way, we can handle it and move forward stronger, more confident and more resilient.
And even though I spend hours each day hiding from my kids in the laundry room (no one dares look for me there lest they get drafted to help fold), at the end of the day, it's a combination of my amazing husband, spirited brood, and the deeply gratifying work I do to help others that form the pillars of my raison d'être.
And when it comes to a shot at happiness, all people stand on equal footing if they too find theirs.