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And crucially, there are geographic differences. A 2016 paper looking at the happiness levels of people with and without children in 22 countries found that the extent to which children make you happy is influenced by whether your country has child-care policies such as paid parental leave. Parents from Norway and Hungary, for instance, are happier than childless couples in those countries—but parents from Australia and Great Britain are less happy than their childless peers. The country with the greatest happiness drop after you have children? The United States
Raising children, then, has an uncertain connection to pleasure but may connect to other aspects of a life well lived, satisfying our hunger for attachment, and for meaning and purpose. The writer Zadie Smith puts it better than I ever could, describing having a child as a “strange admixture of terror, pain, and delight.”
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