Married…with Children — the secret to happiness?

It’s more than just the Chicago-set sitcom that introduced us to Christina Applegate. It might just be the key to happiness. Sound obvious?

Let’s backtrack:

We all assume kids make us happy. We remember birthday parties and piano recitals and afternoons in the park. And if memories fade, there are always home movies and bronzed baby shoes and hard drives full of pictures to remind us that parenthood is an unparalleled joy and privilege.

Right?

And yet for years, research has repeatedly told us that the opposite is true, that having kids actually decreases a married couple’s happiness. Fewer nights out with the gals, fewer tee times with the guys, stress about babyproofing and bills and bullies — it all adds us. Not that it stopped anyone from having kids, but nearly all the existing research pointed to one reality: Having kids makes parents less happy.

But an news tidbit out of Scotland last week has added something new to the debate.

An article published last week in the Journal of Happiness Studies (to which I’m now seriously considering a subscription) says that having kids makes a married couple happier. Combing through 15 years of data from the biennial British Household Panel Survey, researchers found that:

Contrary to much of the literature, our results are consistent with an effect of children on life satisfaction that is positive, large and increasing in the number of children.

That last part? It means the more kids, the better — up to three. (Kind of makes you wonder what it is about that fourth kid.)

It’s also worth noting that for single people, kids decreased happiness. Most (though not all) single parents did not plan on going it alone, and as anyone with kids knows, it’s a pretty heavy load to bear.

No survey will change the fact that most of us want to have kids. Chalk it up to instinct, social norms, or one too many Lifetime movies — we’re wired for family. The birthday parties and piano recitals and afternoons in the park cloud over the terrible two’s and chicken pox and the specter of college tuition costs.

(For a parent’s take on what it’s all worth, check out Walter B’s Oct. 13 post, What is a parent’s return on investment?)

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