Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

Farewell, Philip Seymour Hoffman


One of my favourite actors of all time, Philip Seymour Hoffman has died aged 46 of a drug overdose, BBC News reports here, here, here, and here.  I have not seen all of Hoffman’s films, but in all those that I have, he lit up the screen with his unique persona and made an indelible impression, whether in a lead or a supporting role.

The above video is a quintessential Hoffman scene/performance from Todd Solondz’s indie black comedy, Happiness (think American Beauty a thousand times darker and more fucked up!), with Hoffman playing Allen; a sexually repressed, emotionally stunted pervert who (quite literally) gets off by calling women at random from his phone book and a man so boring that even his own shrink zones out on him.  As Empire magazine commented in their review of Red Dragon where Hoffman played doomed journalist Freddy Lounds “no-one plays snivelling and enfeebled like Philip Seymour Hoffman.”

Hoffman’s greatest performance, and the one that deservedly earned him an Oscar for Best Actor was as Truman Capote in Bennett Miller’s 2005 film, Capote, documenting the eccentric New York writer’s researching of his masterpiece “non-fiction novel”, In Cold Blood: an account of the brutal murders of Herbert Clutter and his family by Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Edward Smith in Holcomb, Kansas in the penultimate month of the 1950s.  Hoffman brilliantly portrayed both the good and the bad sides of Capote’s charismatic genius, presenting him as a sympathetic and compassionate man, while at the same time being manipulative and deceitful in his quest to obtain the truth from the two killers in a project that ultimately would leave the writer mentally scarred for the rest of his life.

Hoffman is the latest in a long line of truly great artists whose tragically early demise has secured their legendary status.

BBC News’ Obituary / In Pictures

Philip Seymour Hoffman 1967 – 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman
1967 – 2014

Having children ruins your relationships



Further to my two posts last year examining the unexpected and highly counterintuitive effects that parenthood has on parents’ personal happiness (as well as Bill Hicks’ wonderful take on matters!), my Confirmation Bias is satisfied yet further by a recently published study from the Open University on the effect that having children has on relationships:

Couples without children have happier marriages, according to one of the biggest studies ever of relationships in Britain.

Childless men and women are more satisfied with their relationships and more likely to feel valued by their partner, the research project by the Open University found.


The study, involving interviews and surveys with more than 5,000 people of all ages, statuses and sexual orientations over a two-year period, will be presented at the British Library this week.

The ellipse in the above paragraph contains one slightly inconvenient truth to my stance:

But researchers also discovered that women without children were the least happy with life overall, whereas mothers were happier than any other group, even if their relationships faltered.

But I’m a bloke; none of that affects me.  So, hey ho!

Further reading over at The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, The Huffington Post and The Daily Mail.

I’ll give the last word to The Onion’s “American Voices”:

“My parents did always tell me I was the source of their unhappiness.”

– Phyllis Ireland, Wax Pourer

Having children does not make you happy – Part 2



What would it mean for a couple to decide that they should have a child?  It probably means that they think that their own well-being will tend to increase for having brought another person into the world; it should also mean that they expect their child to have a life that is, on balance, worth living.  If they didn’t expect these things, it’s hard to see why they would want to have a child in the first place.

However, most of the research done on happiness suggests that people actually become less happy when they have children and do not begin to approach their prior level of happiness until their children leave home.

Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Happiness (London: Black Swan, 2012, p.239)

My previous post aired my personal reservations about becoming a father and the possible adverse effects such a course of action would have on my own life.  When I first read Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape at the end of last year, I read the above passage with much delight as the scientific analysis appeared to be very much on my side: parents have children because of their perception of the enjoyment and satisfaction they will of being parents.  However, the studies indicate that they become significantly less happy after their children are born and only re-attain their previous levels of happiness when their children leave home!

In the first of his two wonderful anti-self-help life guides, Help! How To Become Slightly Happier And Get A Bit More Done, The Guardian’s psychological columnist, Oliver Burkeman, states:

When you don’t have children – as I don’t, thus far – one entertaining thing to do with friends who do is as follows.  Wait until they’re gazing, lovestruck, into the eyes of their newborn baby, tucking their toddler into bed, or proudly watching their 21-year-old graduate.  Then creep up behind them, slap down a copy of the Journal of Marriage and Family, volume 65, number 3 and triumphantly declare: ‘Ha!  You may think parenthood has changed your life for the better, but, in fact, the statistical analyses contained herein, along with numerous other studies, demonstrate conclusively that having children makes people, on average, slightly less happy than before!’  Then walk away cackling.  They may never speak to you again, but that won’t matter: you will have won the argument, using Science. (Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 2011, pp. 42 – 43)

These findings clearly fly in the face of what parents say to you in everyday conversation: that having a child was the best thing that could have happened to them and it will be the best thing that will happen to you.  It is tempting to write-off the studies’ methodology as flawed.  However, as Burkeman states this is no reason to think that this attitude would skew the results against the supposed joys of parenthood: “If anything, the taboo against admitting to regretting having kids may put things the other way.”

Nattavudh Powdthavee’s overview of the research published in The Psychologist explains the discrepancy with the notorious “focusing illusion”: contemplating any major alteration in our circumstances, we overate the effect it will have.  We imagine living idyllically after making millions when in fact sudden wealth leaves most people largely emotionally unchanged:

According to Daniel Kahneman and David Schkade, part of the problem with stated preferences, or any judgement requiring the comparison of two or more alternatives, is that they suffer from inherent focusing illusion, best captured in the maxim ‘Nothing in life is quite as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it’.

Daniel Gilbert states that the “meme” of having children axiomatically making us happy is a “super-replicator”: the advancement of human civilisation depends on it and those who disagree tend not to have children so their views do not percolate down the generations

Like the Jenny McCarthy-ites who claim that the MMR vaccine leads to autism based on nothing more than personal perception and social interaction, the idea that having children will lead to personal happiness is an illusion which has been burst by the force of science.

In an excellent summary of the scientific research, Jennifer Senior writing in The New York Magazine perfectly encapsulates the “rose tinted spectacles” factor:

About twenty years ago, Tom Gilovich, a psychologist at Cornell, made a striking contribution to the field of psychology, showing that people are far more apt to regret things they haven’t done than things they have. In one instance, he followed up on the men and women from the Terman study, the famous collection of high-IQ students from California who were singled out in 1921 for a life of greatness.  Not one told him of regretting having children, but ten told him they regretted not having a family.

“I think this boils down to a philosophical question, rather than a psychological one,” says Gilovich.  “Should you value moment-to-moment happiness more than retrospective evaluations of your life?”  He says he has no answer for this, but the example he offers suggests a bias.  He recalls watching TV with his children at three in the morning when they were sick.  “I wouldn’t have said it was too fun at the time,” he says.  “But now I look back on it and say, ‘Ah, remember the time we used to wake up and watch cartoons?’ ”  The very things that in the moment dampen our moods can later be sources of intense gratification, nostalgia, delight.

It’s a lovely magic trick of the memory, this gilding of hard times.  Perhaps it’s just the necessary alchemy we need to keep the species going.  But for parents, this sleight of the mind and spell on the heart is the very definition of enchantment.

Nevertheless, parents are not immunised from these stress factors while it’s all going on.  A recent study by the relationship charity OnePlusOne (download PDF) examined the effects that the “Baby Quake” has on new parents.  The report included a survey of 1,403 parents, which revealed that ‘lack of sleep’ is the biggest single cause of relationship strain for couples who have just had a baby.  The research also revealed that two-fifths (42%) of parents who are no longer with the parent of their first child separated during pregnancy or before the child reached three-years-old.

So what does a 31 year old Henry Higgins take from these astonishing findings?  I have found no better guidance than an astonishing frank piece of relationship advice, “relationship coach” David Wygant phrases the dilemma in no uncertain terms and his advice is worth quoting at length:

Do you understand the picture I’m painting for you?  You’re with a woman who so desires to have children, but you see children as parasites.  You think kids are nuisances.  You just don’t see yourself as a father, but since she came along, you’ve asked yourself every day, “Can I do it?  Do I really want kids?  If I don’t want kids, can I keep dating her anyway?”

If everything I’ve just said resonates with you, then you are going to be miserable with children.  You’ll basically give yourself a prison sentence for the rest of your life.  You’ll give up the great car and drive a minivan instead.  Your girlfriend, who will now become your wife, will no longer make you feel desired.  You liked being the apple of her eye, but you’ll come second to the children.  It’s everything you don’t want.

The bottom line is that she wants children and you don’t.  So how do you compromise?  How do you keep her and still be fair to both of you?  Here’s the answer: You don’t compromise.  You don’t stay with her.  Unless you can see yourself changing diapers or as the guy on the airplane, apologising for your baby’s incessant crying, you’re not cut out for having kids [My emphasis].


If you don’t want children, you can’t stay with her.  You have no choice but to let her go. You have to be completely honest with her and let her find somebody who shares her vision of having a family.  You understand that her vision is beautiful – it’s what she wants out of life — but you don’t want the same thing for your life.  So there’s no way in the world you can stay together.  Because if you end up getting her pregnant and having a child with her, it’s a child you never wanted, and that’s not fair to the child, and it’s not fair to either of you.  You’re not going to want to be there as a father when your child needs you.  Either your life will be miserable, or she’ll end up a single mum, but the bottom line is that you don’t have any right to remain with her.  You need to set her free and allow her to live her life as she envisions it.

Well, I suppose then the next time I enter a lucid phase in my attitude to women in general and romantic relations with them in particular, I will tick the box on eHarmony or Matchdotcom that indicates in so uncertain terms that I am only interested in the first stage of procreation, not the last…

Having children does not make you happy – Part 1



As I career headlong into my thirties as a bachelor and with neither the hide nor hair of a member of the opposite sex with whom to grow old, I am becoming increasingly bemused at how many of my friends are lumbering themselves with spouses and rug rats.  The writer James Friel published a wonderful piece towards the end of last year addressing this very question.  Like me, Friel writes:

In the course of my life, I have loved and lost and sometimes won, and always strangers have been kind. But I have, it appears, been set on a life of single blessedness.

And I haven’t minded.  Or rather, I realise, I haven’t minded enough.

I had a comparatively solitary upbringing.  I had to make do with my own company and now I have become used to it rather well.  I can undertake solitary activities without feeling an overwhelming sense of loneliness: reading, writing, watching films (either on DVD/Blu Ray or at the cinema – I regularly go to the cinema on my own) and a variety of physical exercise.  I am also trying to get into meditation and mindfulness.  Maybe one day I will take Sam Harris’ suggestion of being an atheist who can still have amazing “spiritual” experiences in consciousness by going off to a cave and meditating for years on end.

I have never really understood why so many other people seem to think that finding “The One” and having children is the apex of human existence.  No matter how pretty and interesting the lady, no matter who well we get on together as friends or as lovers, no matter how passionate the sex, invariably I get bored with the monotony and routine of a relationship.  I begin to resent my partner for impinging on my free time and generally find that I have better things to do.  However, I am facing increasing stigma from those who do give the pretence to be happily shacked up.  Friel continues:

They look down from the high castle of coupledom, protected from such a fate. But if I were to ask: “Why have you settled for him?  Why are you stuck with her? Were you so afraid of being alone?” such questions would be thought rude, intrusive.

Last week a friend of mine went on a date.  A foolish thing to do.  The man she met had been married three times and had a child by each wife.  An example of emotional continence I’m sure you’ll agree.  And he asked my friend, single and childless, why she had failed at life.

It was a shortish date.  Failed at life?

An even greater bugbear for me is the issue of having children.   I did not have an abusive childhood at the hands of my parents by any stretch of the imagination, however, I always wondered from a very early age why they decided to have my older sister and I since so much of their time with us was taken up by shouting at us.  I did not enjoy my school education whatsoever.  This topic is for another blog post for which I am researching extensively, but I could not in good conscience send a child to any school knowing full well the potential humiliations and brutalities that awaited them there.

When I was 11 or 12 years old, one of my cousins who was in her thirties at the time and had just had the first of four children breastfed him directly in front of me in a restaurant.  Without warning, she exposed her breast to me in public place.  My instinctive feeling was one of deep embarrassment: I did not know where to look.

When I was travelling in New Zealand and Australia in 2006 and 2007, I stayed on small farms and worked for my room and board.  Along with feeding sheep and cattle and mucking out stables, I had to look after the farm owners’ children.  With the exception of one sweet little two-year old boy who was mercilessly bullied at the hands of his older brother, I did not take well to any of them.  Furthermore, I could not see what enjoyment the parents did garner from their children as they seemed to spend so much time disciplining them and had little or no free time or money to themselves.  The experience made it vastly less likely for me to have children myself.

Since that time, I have ended relationships on the issue of parenthood.  I fail to understand why it is such a deal breaker for women.  At least two of my close female friends in their mid-thirties have ended what seemed like otherwise perfectly happy relationships because their partners at the time either did not want children or did not want any more children on top of those he already had from previous relationships.  Now they have no one, yet they are not so comfortable with being single as I am.

I have told two women that I wanted to have children with them.  The first time was in an effort to get back with a girl I before my June 2010 layoff as I realised I had taken the blogging way too far and let it interfere with my personal life.  We had split up six months earlier on the very question of having children because I didn’t want to go there.  When I told her we could get married and have children if that’s what she wanted, I was not in my right mind and now I am glad that my efforts to get things back on track with her failed.

The second woman was already married (!) and had a daughter who was then two and a half years old.  She had been dropping hints about wanting another child as practically all of her other “mummy-friends” had given birth to a second child by the time their first was two and she felt left out by the disintegration of her marriage.  I sensed at the time, and I know for certain now, that I was not being honest either with her or myself: I was simply telling her what I thought she wanted to hear in an effort to woo her away from her hellish hubby.  I also believe that I was attempting to atone for the failure of my previous relationship on the children question.

Society damns people who remain childfree as “selfish”.  Selfish?  Surely the main reason why people decide to have children in the first place is because of the enjoyment they perceive they will have in being parents.  Where does the child’s view fit into all of this?  This dark, nihilistic, existentialist thought is for another post, but I firmly believe that some people’s lives are so hapless and miserable that they are not worth living.  Life is very hard, even for those who have many material advantages.  I saw Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry recently and his character, Harry Block, a typically Allen-esque neurotic, depressed, sex addicted writer quoted Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex to a hooker as an explanation for his depression: “To have never been born is perhaps the greatest boon of all.”  Perhaps those who choose to remain childfree are not so selfish after all.

There is also the terrifying matter of what kind of child you will bring into the World.  A morbid and perverse thought though this may be, but think of any psychopath, despot and mass murderer from Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot to Harold Shipman, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold: they were once cooing bundles of innocent joy in their parents’ eyes and arms.  Lionel Shriver explores this shocking concept in relation to the upbringing of a future high school mass murderer in her novel, We Need To Talk About Kevin, and its equally compelling film adaptation starring Tilda Swinton and Erza Miller.

Having removed the personal issues of relationships and parenthood from my chest, my next post will examine the scientific research on the topic.