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An important lens through which happiness should be looked at is children. It is commonly thought that children are a source of happiness and joy. However, thanks to a number of the U.N. sociologists, it was recently found out that in most cases, families experience a drop in their general levels of happiness and satisfaction with life after giving birth to a child (Helliwell, Layard, & Sachs, 2016).
The report states that “a negative relationship between parenthood and life satisfaction” was discovered; this relationship “turns positive only for older age groups and for widowers” (Helliwell et al., 2016, p. 6). However, it might be stated that such a reduction in the level of happiness should be expected. Indeed, a baby needs a significant amount of attention, and parents may often be overwhelmed by the number of chores that they have to cope with from the moment the child is born.
In addition, the child often demands much additional spending, which also adds difficulty to the parents’ situation. On the other hand, another study found that the birth of a child is associated with the loss of spousal love, and the decrease in the total level of happiness is stated to be the result of this; however, it is partially compensated by the positive and altruistic feelings towards the baby that the parents experience (Grossbard & Mukhopadhyay, 2013).
In any case, it can be summarized that small children often might reduce the level of happiness instead of increasing it. On the contrary, perhaps this is what happens in the short term; in the long term, if the children are properly brought up, they often may bring a great deal of joy to their parents.
Another essential lens to look to view happiness through is a person’s job. It is often considered that a job plays a significant role in one’s happiness. Indeed, it is possible to state that most people spend a large amount of time working. Even if one works eight hours a day, the job takes one-third of their time on most days of the week; in addition, there are many persons who have to work more than 8 hours a day, and who have more than five working days a week. Therefore, it is only logical that the amount of satisfaction from work has a strong effect on how happy an individual is.
Whereas one might assume that it is necessary to have a well-paid job as a white-collar employee in a solid company to feel happy about it, it is not always so. Of course, having such a job may significantly add to the employee’s satisfaction, but it is also possible to be happy while carrying out more difficult effort-requiring duties. An example is a story of Liso, a South African person who came to the U.S. in order to earn some money (Orner, 2008).
Her family in South Africa had a significant amount of debts they had to pay off, and she illegally migrated to America hoping to find a better life, as well as to help her family to deal with the debt. The life in the U.S. turned out to be extremely difficult, and the protagonist had to change a number of jobs due to different adverse circumstances; for instance, in some cases, the conditions of labor were completely intolerable; in other cases, apart from providing poor labor conditions and low pay, Liso’s employers attempted to make her pray to the same god as they did.
However, the woman was able to find a job which she grew to like; she started working as a nanny. Despite the fact that she was paid $400 a week for spending her whole days and nights with the children, which is approximately two dollars and some cents an hour (a sum that most people would not agree to work for), she felt relatively happy because she liked the children she looked after and was also able to send some money home (Orner, 2008).
Thus, it is possible to be happy even while doing a job which is difficult and badly paid; although, of course, chances that an individual will be happy about their work are much greater if the conditions of labor and the pay are adequate.
Adverse General Conditions of Life and Unhappiness
It is also important to consider the meaning of happiness through the opposite lens, that is, by taking into account the perceptions of the unhappy. In some circumstances, it might even happen that a person does not feel completely unhappy while living in terrible, degrading conditions and doing a difficult, unpleasant job.
There is a number of examples of such cases in Orner (2008); one of them is that of Mr. Lai, a man who was forced to free from his homeland, China, due to the legal policy which demands that families have no more than one child. After his wife had got “illegally pregnant,” Mr. Lai’s family was visited by law enforcers, and they had to illegally flee to the U.S. in order for the wife not to be subjected to compulsory abortion and/or sterilization.
In spite of their hopes for a better life, life in the USA turned out to be more severe for the immigrants than what the family had at home. They became separated, and Mr. Lai was forced to work as a cook in numerous restaurants in order to be able to send money to his family. The labor conditions were usually degrading and terrible, and in many cases, he was not paid for his job simply because the employers had the power to take his money, but he could not protect himself due to his status as an illegal immigrant.
However, the man stated that he did not feel particularly unhappy about his life in the U.S. Perhaps he simply adapted to the harsh conditions; having become something like a routine to him, these conditions do not cause him much suffering.
From this case, it is possible to conclude that, in order not to be completely unhappy, a person does not always have to live in exceptionally good conditions. Perhaps this is simply because the brain becomes accustomed to the general routine and launches some preservation mechanism, stopping perceiving it as something outstandingly terrible and clinging to the positive feelings instead. The unhappiness, therefore, becomes chronic rather than acute. Clearly, though, no one should be placed in such degrading, unfair circumstances, being forced to slave away and still barely make ends meet rather than live inadequate conditions.
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Therefore, it should be stressed that happiness is a complicated phenomenon, and it is hard to define the term comprehensively. Many instances of those phenomena which are often considered its elements often may lead to a decrease in the level of happiness instead; at the same time, an individual might get accustomed to difficult, even profoundly adverse circumstances. In any case, it is paramount to uncover the most often occurring elements of happiness and promote them, simultaneously attempting to address the conditions which contribute to the unhappiness of individuals, even if this unhappiness is chronic rather than acute.
Grossbard, S., & Mukhopadhyay, S. (2013). Children, spousal love, and happiness: An economic analysis. Review of Economics of the Household, 11(3), 447-467. Web.
Helliwell, J. F., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. D. (Eds.). (2016). World happiness report 2016, Volume 1. Web.
Orner, P. (2008). Underground America: Narratives of undocumented lives. San Francisco, CA: McSweeney’s Publishing.