Should I have Kids? And if yes, how can we most enjoy our time together? Part 1

 

I have no idea how you call this in English: Roller keg?! (Rollerfäßchen?). Great game on an alpine pasture with kids: Dad just has to rest and play the starting ramp, kids are busy rolling around :-)

I have no idea how you call this in English: Roller keg?! (Rollerfäßchen?).
Great game on an alpine pasture with kids: Dad just has to rest and play the starting ramp, kids are busy rolling around. 🙂 Foto: The Woodpecker Juniors at Eckbauer, close to Munich

To my experience, the issue of “should I have kids?” and “what is the benefit of that for me” are somehow seldom openly discussed in society. At least in Germany, this seems to be a very sensitive topic that is more avoided than money, job, or whatever else is important in life.

It is also a topic difficult to address, because it is personal and there are so many sensitive areas involved (health, finding a partner, age, economic situation, etc.). Who finds this topic too sensitive for him/her at the moment might want to stop here and not read on, as he/she might find my thesis offensive or in-sensitive. But in this blog I try to address the truth, and how I see it, the truth does not care if it is offensive or not.

Anyway, as I want to progress my blog a bit away from the “money” part and towards the “art of happy living” part, there is no way ignoring such an important topic as kids. As we will see, and those of you that have kids already know, kids will massively impact on your lifestyle and happiness. I’d even say there is nothing that changes your life and your view on the world as much as becoming a father or a mom.

This post is also more directed at younger readers, I want to inspire you to dive into the adventure of having kids (which, in Germany, unfortunately is not so naturally anymore).

All right, let’s start, and let’s keep the focus on the impact of kids on your happiness:

1) Empirical relationship between kids and happiness

The major happiness research literature did of course look at the influence of kids on happiness. They typically check if a person with kids living in her/his household is more happy or less happy than a person living without kids.

Here is the outcome.

Over all, and over different ages of the kids, your happiness will be more or less the same, no matter if you have kids or if you don’t have kids.

Sorry, kids do not seem to be the key to never-ending happiness, according to these studies.
They will also not make you unhappy, even if they cause stress or because they are very costly.
However, we will see below that the current statistical picture is incomplete and misses out a central point, thus be careful to over-interprete.

Lets split happiness effect by phases of kid’s age. For two or more kids, obviously the different phases overlap, increasing the amplitude of the family-adventure-rollercoaster even more. 🙂

 

Age minus 1 until 1 year: The Happy Toddling Baby Age

About half a year before the birth of your first kid, happiness level increases dramatically.
This is due to what I call the great adventure of birth, which, even for the father, is nothing short of a true magical moment. Forget about your greatest love in life, the biggest mountain you climbed, the highest bonus you ever got. Holding your own blood in your arms the first time, in much bigger than that. Creating life (especially the first time) is an experience that nothing else in the world comes up to and (in my humble opinion) should not be missed out by anyone, no matter what the costs are. It is a moment of utter meaningfulness, an integral part of life. That’s how I ever saw it even before having kids, and that is what I can confirm, having had the luck to experience this moment now myself two times.

Happiness levels stay high until the baby is about one year old, what I’d call the happy-new-parent-effect. Yes, you sleep terribly and very little, you will hate the screaming, the diapers etc., but this is all still thrilling and new, you still feel the aftermath of the magical moment of birth, and, very important: You are still very mobile, as you can simply carry the baby around and continue to go to parties or even do fancy travelling. Time to enjoy! Definitly take a lot of parental leave in this magical phase and do some nice and extended trip with your newborn! If ou do it right, you will never forget this great time of your life.

 

Age 1 until 3-4 years: The stressful extra-rush within the rush-hour of life

Unfortunately, happiness then drops off below non-kids-same-age-persons until the kid reaches the age of 3 or 4.
During that phase, parents are in fact less happy than non-parents. Reason is simple: At kids age 2-3 your personal freedom is restricted far more than you will ever know in any other phase of your life. Of course, the kid is still there, and it will provide a lot of great moments to you. But in the same time, the little person will not stay in a cradle and sleep while you carry him/her around, but he/she wants to participate.
Which is great, but rules out a lot of activities: No party, no dinner in nice restaurants, no chilling out for hours, no big mountain tours, no skiing, no museums, no reading the newspaper, no conversation longer than one minute with your wife/husband at the table when coming back from the office.
You get the picture.
You have to care a lot, and especially if you have two or more kids and both partners work to some extend, you will enjoy an absolute minimum of time to spend for yourself, for your friends and for your partner.
This is stress. And it collides with a time where your kid-less co-workers work long hours to make a career, and you can’t or don’t want to. Plus the kid-less have way more purchase power in that phase. They will buy many fancy things, spend a lot on eating out and on crazy holiday trips, while you do only “quite holidays”, bring your own food to the beer garden and buy used stuff at eBay due to your strained financial situation (lower income and higher costs at the same time).

My tip:

Great fun with kids: Watching movies / comics from when you were young.

Great fun with kids: Watching movies / comics from when you were young.

Make the best out of this time, try to spend as much time as possible with your kids to take part and enjoy their development. Remember that better times will come and later you will have ample time for yourself and all your Egotrips again.
Make clear at the job that family is priority, and if this is not accepted (which in Germany unfortunately is often the case) don’t care but make family priority anyway, or think about changing job, even if this creates additional stress for the moment.
Concerning money, read the chapters on frugal living, and always remember that the link between money and happiness is through relative wealth. Simply surround yourself with people on your (now lower) spending level and everything will be fine. Often this will mean that you spend more time with other families, and less with your kid-less friends, but that’s life. And no-one says you have to burn the bridges. One day it will fit better again.

 

Age 4-13: The Long Stretch of Family Happiness

After the age of 3-4, there comes the long stretch of family happiness, as I’d call it. It is a phase where parents are most happy, and happiness level rises significantly above non-parents. Woodpeckers just entered that phase (hooray!!), and it is in fact a great time, because now the kids are old enough to care for themselves in basic things (they can dress, they can go to toilet, they can say what they want, they can eat more or less properly) and they are now able to participate in activities that are also thrilling for adults (well, this is my view as a man at least):
You can do cycle tours with the 5-year-old, you can do the first mountain tours, you can start skiing together, you can buy a telescope and explain the stars, you can go to technical museums, build fancy sand castles or model cars, erect a fire, repair the car together, you can sleep at the mountain hut with other families and have a full fledged pillow fight, you name it.
And slowly you have more time again for yourself and your partner, as the kids accept a baby-sitter, sleep out at friends, are able to play an hour alone from time to time etc.

My tip:

Enjoy!
And spend as much time with your kids as somehow possible. This is the time to build the basis for a life-long relationship with your kids and simply have fun with them.
Your career now is ruined anyway (who cares?) and you adapted to having less money. You will have a large and ever-expanding circle of other families as friends by now that will make for great buzzing family gatherings. You will have plenty of time for non-family-adventures later in your life, so don’t worry if there is a still less of activities with your kid-less friends in this phase. It will come back.

You now also have sufficient energy back to sort our some things in your life that you might have postponed during the extra-ruch-hour-phase. As finding a new job (That’s what Woodpecker did a month ago and finaly got rid of his “uninspiring” old boss. Hooray again! …extra post to come on this topic).

You could also sign up for a cereal advertisement, because in this phase, you most likely will have that family-happiness-glow they want to see. 😉

 

13-17: Puberty or: Oh no! My son/daughter starts to develop an own opinion!

The stretch of family happiness apparently goes until the age of 12 or 13, until puberty. At that time, happiness research suggests that times get more rough again as conflicts with the kids will emerge, and on average parents happiness drop significantly. I cannot say anything on this, as Woodpeckers boys are 5 and 3 only, but from what I observe, actual happiness of parents differs widely in this phase, very much depending on the relationship they have with their kids.

Age 5: Hooray, mountaineering with the boys now available! And little Woodpecker even overtaking his dad in the deep snow. Grrr.

Age 5: Hooray, mountaineering with the older boy now available! And little Woodpecker already overtaking his dad in the deep snow. Grrr.

Thus my tip (its more a guess at this point of time, but I’ll tell you in 7 years 😉 ):

I think the more time you spent with your kids during the long stretch of family happiness, and the more you are able to develop common interest and activities, the easier it will be during puberty, because the common activities keep the connection.
E.g. Woodpeckers neighbour is very much into wild-water kayaking, and was able to infect his boy as well, many years ago. The boy is now 16 or 17 and they still do many boat trips together and apparently have a very good connection which in turn is strengthened by their common activity.
This should be the way to go through this phase with hopefully a minimum of collateral damage, I’d say.

 

Well, and the kids get out of the house.

There is no indication of happiness research on this phase. It is a pity, because it plays an important role, and might tip the “neutral happiness effect of kids” to a positive side.

I think there are two effects:

First you have to let go. I guess that might not be easy and you might find it difficult to go back to your empty-house-kid-less-life after so many years of chaos and life and action around you.

But then I also think that – given you were able to build a good relationship to your kids – there is an additional happiness boost to come:

Staying in good contact with your now grown-up kids, spend time with them, see them develop and later on care for the grand-kids. Finally, there hopefully will be somebody there to look for you from time to time when you get old, and to keep you up to date on how the world evolves when you are no more so connected with what is going on (Don’t flatter yourself, this time will come for each of us).

This is the part still missing in happiness research. I think all of this might add another injection of happiness to those with adult kids and might tip the balance to the positive, but I don’t know.

In the end probably – as so often in life – a lot depends on the relationship you are able to form with others, in this case your kids. As with the relationship to your partner or to your dearest friends, the relationship to your kids hold enormous potential. But you have to build it! This will take time, time, time.

So, in a nutshell: If you do it, do it right!

Next part we will shed light on kids’ impact on your economic situation (- – -) and on their impact on your philosophical/metaphysical situation (+++).

Cheers,

Woodpecker

Work and Happiness – Does a Promotion make you Happier?

The price: A beautiful autumn friday off and a hike to Kloster Andechs / Bavaria. The cost: Not exactly helping your career in Germany's companies that pay for presence rather than for output. Well, so be it.

The gain: A beautiful autumn friday off and a hike to Kloster Andechs / Bavaria.
The cost: Not exactly helping your career in Germany’s companies that pay for presence rather than for output.
Well, so be it.

You know that feeling?

You thought that – after years of practising – you are a downshifter down to the last bone.
You did your budgets, killed off any unnecessary spending. You internalized the idea of time and social ties being the most valuable ingredient in life instead of money or luxury. You are able to enjoy the simple things, you learned how to walk through a department store without being attracted by all the fancy superfluous stuff there in the slightest bit. You can enjoy a camp holiday as much as a holiday in a 5* spa hotel. You even learned to accept the strange material needs of others without any envy. And so forth.

In one sentence:

You thought you made it! Break out of the worlds material preoccupation and exit the never-ending rat-race. Continue reading

On Kids and Happiness

Kids are great! The boys of the Woodpecker clan on a autumn hike to Kloster Andechs.

Kids are great!
The boys of the Woodpecker clan on an autumn hike to Kloster Andechs near Munich.

A question you are likely to come across in your younger years is:

Should I have kids?

And if I write “should I have kids”, I do NOT refer to a moral or social responsibility, I refer to YOUR wellbeing plus the wellbeing of the potential kid.
Not more. Continue reading

Thinking about Money – Important but Unhealthy?

Maastricht - a beautiful little dutch city and home to the Treaty of Maastricht, leading to the unification of Europe. Good place to not think about money.

Maastricht – a beautiful little dutch city and home to the Treaty of Maastricht, leading to the unification of Europe. Good place to not think about money.

Yesterday, Woodpecker was coming back from a business trip to the beautiful country of Netherlands.

On the way back – due to bad connections – I had a very long cap-drive plus a long wait at the airport. (Including a police control of our cap on the Autobahn…did we look that much like weed smokers coming back from a happy trip to liberal dutch cities?!)

I was accompanied by a colleague working in a London office and we had a good extended chat on life, work and everything while driving and waiting.

Anyway, I observed that this lady had a really bad habit: Continue reading

Envy – a most frequent but unhappy emotion

Your friend owns a plane and you don't? How to avoid getting jealous... photo: Woodpecker in Costa Rica. No, not my plane, but cool pic anyway, isn't it ;)

Your friend owns a plane and you don’t? How to avoid getting jealous… photo: Woodpecker in Costa Rica. No, not my plane, but cool pic anyway, isn’t it 😉

Let’s have a look at Envy today, an emotion that is deeply connected to (un)happiness.

And to be honest, an emotion that was haunting Woodpecker much more than he liked in the past. (Today it is slowly getting better though 😉 )

So I decided to put some thoughts in it, some might be of interest for you (and don’t say you are never jealous, I don’t belief it).

Types of Envy

Material envy

Envy on:

Money, Spending, Status symbols, Cloths, Housing, Vacations (cost of), Career.

Obviously, if at all, this is the type of envy that you as a downshifter will feel from time to time seeing others, because these are the things you don’t have to their extend (although based on your own decision).

Quality of life envy

Envy on:

Freedom, Straightforwardness, Independence, sovereignty, Courage to speak open without fear, Unconventionalism, Vacations (duration of), time, time, time, time.

This is the sort of envy that many average happy people will feel when the see you as a downshifter. Because these are the things they don’t have to your extend.

The cloak of envy

Envy often comes in a cloak, typically it is

  • feeling mistreated by the world
  • complaining about “having no luck”
  • complaining about others only achieving something “because they had luck (or the right connections etc.)”
  • feeling that everybody is stupid but unfortunately they don’t listen
  • feeling exploited (I am the only honest hard-working guy, all others are lazy, bludgers, tricksters etc.)
  • and others.

But why should you care at all?

Envy is clearly a negative emotion, an emotion that not only urges you to approach others in a negative and destructive way, but also an emotion that inflicts direct unhappiness. Envy will cloud your senses and your intellect and will lead you to wrong conclusions both on yourself and on the world around you.

Most important:

An envy person can never be truly happy and vice verse.

Enough reason to find out how to get rid of this thing.

Drivers of Envy

The intense of jealousy on others material “better off” being comes in different intensities, dependent on your age, your happiness and on your progress on the downshifting ladder.

Impact of Age

Research clearly shows that envy increases all the time with your age.

The reason is straightforward:

  • As a young person, people who are better of, have a more thrilling live or are more happy are seen as an example, a role model, something you can easily achieve yourself if you want, because, well, you have time, you have all the world full of opportunities laid out in front of you, and you are boosting with self-confidence. This is not a realistic view of the world, but anyway it is a healthy one, and it is an important part of the generally overwhelming optimism young people display.
    And their optimism is good and important for both themselves and for the whole world, so please dream on if you are young, and dream BIG!! And in case you are older, please don’t enforce too much of the “tough reality” on young people! The world needs their fresh thinking!
  • Getting older, things start to look a bit different. You will (have to) pick your path, and whatever path this is, it will bring advantages and it will come with certain disadvantages. You will see, that luck plays a role in life. And you will realize that there are certain things that will be harder or impossible to achieve given the path you are on. Still, there is a chance to change that path, at least in theory.
    At that point you should honestly reflect on your path, over think if you are on the right track and check if you are willing to pay the price in form of the disadvantages of a given path.
    Do this check frequently no matter what!
    Because the danger of the mid-life is that you are so tied up and busy in this rush hour of life that you forget to step back and see the whole picture. A lot of people do this mistake, and one day they wake up with the alarm clock of their body sending them a fierce signal, in form of a depression, a midlife crisis or even a heart attack.
  • Getting more older, things are even more locked in. You made a lot of decisions, your time and energy are getting shorter. When you now see areas of life where others are better of, there might be a nagging feeling deep down within you, that maybe you should have decided differently in the past. At that age many people try to bury this difficult confrontation with their own past errors and will not understand that their envy (or from their perspective: their rightful and reflected criticism) is merely a symptom of their own regrets. Obviously not a good way to happiness but yet very common.
    Be careful, for at the end of this road lies a sad and embittered person.
    The way to avoid this is to accept, to make peace with yourself, peace with your past and with the world. A world that you will be less and less able to change the older you get. So better learn to live with it.

Impact of Happiness

Very clearly, happy people are less envy.
A happy person is self-sufficient, optimistic, self-conscious and lives in the best of all worlds. So why should he/she be jealous?

OK, most of us will not be at that stage yet to feel happy every waking hour.

However, you can use the anti-correlation of happiness and envy to check your current state:

Do you feel envy (or mistreated by life and society) often?
Then currently you are not truly happy.
Check why!

Because the unjustness of the world is not the source of your unhappiness as you might think, but your feelings of envy are a symptom of your unhappiness or of your deep regret.
Good news is that both regret and envy can be overcome, while the world will stubbornly stay as it is no matter how much you complain or try to change it.

Impact of your Downshifting proficiency

At the beginning of your downshifting career, and after a certain short living euphoria when taking the downshifting decision, there will be a phase where you are more prone to material envy than before.

Obviously, you still have your old peer group and suddenly you fall back in material terms. Not because you are inferior or less clever, but because you decided so. Anyway, they still have it: The expensive car, the luxury holiday, the brand-new house etc.

When you are an apprentice in downshifting, it will take time for you to really understand and accept for yourself that after all, less expensive housing, less expensive cars, less expensive eating out, less modern cloths etc. do not have a big influence on your well-being.

At a more advances level, four things happen:

  • You understand that your decision to downshift comes with a price, the price is less consumption.
  • You understand that less consumption is no problem at all, because your material needs adapt over time and will still be more than satisfied.
  • You understand that you are more than compensated by having more time, feeling more free, in other words: You are living more! Your initial envy will turn into pity with those that are dependent on status symbols.
  • Your peer group will slowly change as your contacts to work-drones are likely to suffer whereas your contacts to other downshifters will flourish.

Not yet there or having a fall-back to nagging jealousy?

No problem, here is a method how to quell it:

Just imagine as lively as possible how it would be to really change position with the person you envy.Imagine you get the chance to be him NOW and forever.

What do you say?
In 99% of cases you would reject I guess. Right you are, but no need to envy obviously then.
And the 1%: You either met Dalai Lama or another truly happy person. OK, envy him, learn from him, and understand that these people will do anything to help you find happiness as well (this is the nature of truly happy people).
If it is a normal person you would seriously swap your life with then you are in big trouble and you must really start from scratch to think about your path or even get some professional help to consult you.

How to avoid others being envy on you

Most important thing:

Keep a low profile.

As a downshifter, avoid to boast with your 5 week vacation trip, the sheer amount of time you spend on nice things outside your job, your constant state of non-stress. Remember: You are challenging other’s concepts of life if you are too bossy about your way being the best.

Second thing:

If you tell, then tell the whole story. Tell the price you pay (less consumption, less career, less status symbols). And tell that this path is open to everybody. Therefore the envy of others will change in curiosity, and they might start to see you as a role-model.

Or they will say: Crazy guy, giving up on this precious thing called career and status, how stupid.

Their choice!
Important thing is to stop them getting a negative attitude towards you, because especially at your workplace you don’t want that.
Simply because you are there so rarely that you don’t want backstabbers running around the office while you enjoy your day at the lake or in the garden! 🙂

Cheers,

Woodpecker

Germany: Finally some Progress in getting away from the “Growth” Dogma

Ranking of different politic areas in Germany. German only, click to enlarge. Transaltion see post.Source: FAZ

Ranking of different politic areas in Germany. German only, Translation see post. Click to enlarge.
Source: FAZ

Hurray – politics slowly, slowly seems to understand that we were worshipping the wrong golden calf for the last 25 years!

At least in Germany (and to my knowledge this is triggered by an EU initiative), there is a new committee at work to research alternatives to GNP as the sole measurement for “growth”.

And, you will not belief it: Happiness and life satisfaction are slowly getting into focus!

Continue reading

Depardieu: A potential case-study in unhappiness?

I'm affraid this poor guy is in for some stormy time in his life - and it's his own fault I'd say.

I’m afraid this poor guy is in for some stormy time in his life – and it’s his own fault I’d say.(Coastline at Cap Creus, Spain)

Maybe some of you know the case of Depardieu:

He is a very successful French actor who made a fortune in France and now left the country due to the imposture of a very high tax-rate on extreme incomes beyond 1 mio EUR (1,3m USD) annually. Actually first he moved to Belgium to avoid French taxation, and now – as for some reasons it seems to be difficult to stay there – he was given the Russian citizenship by Putin.

He accepted and now is following through with his threat to leave France – one of the most beautiful countries in the world – in protest against the French tax rate and in favor of a few unnecessary extra bugs – for Russia.

I do not want to discuss the political issue of tax rates here, but my point is another one:

Obviously here we observe a nice case of a person that solely maximizes income against other values.

Continue reading