A friend of mine told me recently about a study that she had read that suggested that people with kids are generally less happy than those without kids, but that they have more overall joy. Higher highs but more frequent lows, so to speak. I looked up the study and found that, statistically, they didn’t actually find a whole lot of difference between the two groups. And I began to think that maybe the two situations aren’t even really comparable. As one of the co-authors of the study said, “I choose an orange because I like oranges. You choose an apple because you like apples. There’s no reason to think that your experiences should be any better than mine.”
I don’t really remember if I was happier before having kids. By now, they kind of seem like they have always been here. I do think getting into the car might have gone smoother. The worry was less. The laundry was less. The overall stickiness was less.
But I guess I’ll keep them, if only because they’re so cute.
Here is my effort to define Happiness vs. Joy when it comes to parenting;
Happiness can be…not having to wrestle someone into a sleeper hold in order to clip their fingernails before you can leave the house in the morning.
Joy can be…a sticky, smelly kid squeezing you as hard as they can because they are SO strong.
Happiness can be…eating food when it is warm, dinner companions who consistently use utensils and who also don’t cry at the sight of the food you have prepared for them.
Joy can be…this new game we have recently tried to instill good manners called “Bad Manners Night.” This is a hilarious thing to do. It involves a lot of burping and farting and standing up and giggling. It’s really not that different from what we usually experience.
Happiness can be…a long, hot shower. Shaving your legs at your leisure. Putting makeup on by yourself without having to pretend to put makeup on another person at the same time. And then trying to calm this same person down while you are blow-drying your hair because they have an irrational fear of the hair-dryer.
Joy can be…that look that a small person gets when they see themselves in the mirror while wearing a costume. They BELIEVE.
Happiness can be…sleep.
Joy can be…tiny warm bodies with all of their accoutrements (babies, books, stuffed animals, blankets) crawling onto your bed and snuggling under the covers and looking at you and saying, “Hi Mama!”
Happiness can be…planning your day. And it pretty much going the way you planned.
Joy can be…that unexpected moment that happens on the crappiest of days where everything is going entirely wrong and then your kid calls you on your shit and you just have to get over yourself and laugh at the absurdity of it all.
Happiness can be…walking out of the house. All by yourself. And not having heated arguments about jackets or hand-holding or the number of babies that are reasonable to bring in the car.
Joy can be…the chattiness of your kid’s inner dialogue. Like, “Hey Mom! What if clothes could transport you anywhere or what if the world was made of candy and then I would eat everything!”
Happiness can be…never finding a half eaten lollipop stuck to the side of your couch.
Joy can be…finding it kind of funny and clever that your kid figured out a way to save their lollipop for later.
Happiness can be…napping, not having to pay for a babysitter, sane conversations with your co-workers, wearing grown-up clothes, having your electronics all to yourself, not ever breaking the washer because of teeny tiny socks, and getting to say that you have never caught someone else’s puke with your bare hands.