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Control, Outliers, & The Parenting Paradox

By: Michael Blankenship |

“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing.”

– Seneca

Greetings from LA and Oahu!

This week we’re discussing the benefits of perceived control, the drawbacks of focusing on outliers (like the media would like us to), and the paradox of parenting (and why meaning matters more than happiness). 

Enjoy!

Perceived Control

Do you feel that you have control over your life? 

Or maybe you can relate to Deb Knobelman when, in an article titled You Need To Believe That You Have Control Of Your Life To Be Happy, she writes

For a long time, I felt like my life was out of control, out of my hands. Every day, it felt like things happened to me that I didn’t expect or didn’t want. And that filled me with enormous anxiety. So then I tried to control external things — other people, or my physical space. I was trying to get that feeling of control back. But the ways that I was trying to do it never quite accomplished the goal. And that only filled me with more anxiety.

It’s human nature to desire control. It’s also good for us.  

Perceived control is a “major contributor toward mental and physical health as well as a strong predictor of achievements in life.” 

Conversely, and unsurprisingly, “…a belief in powerful others’ control can be related to high levels of anxiety and depression.”

So we’re happy when we feel that we have control over our lives. And we’re unhappy when we feel that other people have control over our lives. 

Makes sense. 

But here’s the dilemma, as Knobelman explains:

The need to feel control is a powerful psychological phenomenon. And we need it for positive outcomes — to be happy and healthy. But we need to feel that control from within. Because feeling like other people are in control of our life, or our fate is out of our hands, only makes life worse. And when we focus on those things, we’re looking in the wrong direction anyway. Because it’s true, we can’t actually control other people or many of the events that happen in life. We’ll never be able to change that.

What can we control? 

When something bad or unexpected happens, we can choose what to do next, how we want to feel about it, and how we want to let it impact our life and wellbeing. We can choose to move past it, move forward, instead of blaming ourselves or others.

When something positive happens, we can choose to celebrate it and enjoy it in the moment. Instead of waiting for the next negative thing outside of our control to happen. We can pick and choose our actions and our reactions to just about everything.

An so, in everything, we always have some degree of control. 

And it’s focusing on the things we control, rather than the things we can’t, that provide a much-needed sense of peace and security. 

Sometimes, the only thing we can control is our perspective.

But even that is enough. 

Outrageous Outliers

Naturally, the media likes to shine a spotlight on outliers — they’re interesting and, by definition, unusual. 

Names like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Steve Jobs will perhaps go down in history as some of the most over-discussed names of the 21st century. 

Here are just a few recent titles about billionaires…

To those titles, we’d pose this question: who cares?

We’re humans. We’re social creatures. And so it’s tempting to focus on billionaires and their toys. But we must remember that outliers are outliers — they’re extremely rare combinations of a myriad of factors (luck, skill, personality, etc. ad nauseum). 

When we focus on outlier news, our perspective might shift in a few different ways. 

First, we might start to believe that their results are probable for ourselves. Like a gambler at a casino, we follow in their footsteps believing our chances of success are equal to theirs. The guy over there just won. Maybe we’ll win, too. When we fail, we feel inadequate. 

Or maybe we skip the hopeful step altogether and go straight to the feeling of inadequacy, feeling as though we’ve already lost the lottery somehow, as though these winners have got something we don’t, and there’s no way for us to get whatever that “something” is. 

Or — and this is the best case scenario — perhaps we view these people as evening entertainment. 

Where do you fall? 

It’s important to not over-focus on outliers. 

Bring your attention back to where it matters. To your own goals. To your own dreams and ambitions. You don’t need the permission, direction, or attention of the media (or their billionaires) to live a happy and successful life. 

Do your thing. 

Let other people do theirs. 

The Parenting Paradox

In an article cleverly titled, Why You Should Have Never Had Kids (If You Want To Be Happy, That Is), Seph Fontane Pennock writes, 

Do you think having children makes you happier?

If so, think again.

Research shows (over and over again) that having children reduces happiness (e.g. Anderson, Russel, & Schumm, 1983 or Campbell, 1981), even though parents think it will make them happier.

This phenomenon is known as ‘The Parenthood Paradox’ or ‘Parenthood Gap’.

It’s true. Many studies show that parents are less happy than their childless friends. 

For parents, the reasons are obvious. And Pennock lists the following…

  • time demands
  • energy demands
  • sleep deprivation (potentially starting a vicious circle)
  • work-life balance disturbances
  • financial burden

So… why have kids? 

Or if you do have kids… are you totally screwed? 

That, it turns out, is actually the real question that Pennock sets out to answer. She writes, 

I can hear you thinking… but there’s got to be an explanation for why we’re making children, right? Otherwise, we would never have gotten this far as a species!?

Right.

And there is.

Because as emotionally taxing as having children may be, it has also proven to be a great source – if not the most powerful source – of life satisfaction, self-esteem and meaning, especially for women (Hansen, Slagsvold, Moum, 2009), even though men are a lot more likely to view childlessness as disadvantageous (Blake, 1979).

And aren’t those things (life satisfaction, self esteem, meaning) more important than momentary happiness? 

Most people think so. 

Do you remember Robert Nozick’s thought experiment of the Experience Machine?

He asked people to imagine a machine that would provide them with only pleasant experiences as soon as their brain was hooked onto it. Let’s say it’s a machine triggering dopaminergic and endorphinergic activity in the brain without building habituation or tolerance and without side-effects.

Would you choose to be hooked onto that machine?

Most people said “no” even though, rationally speaking, it would make sense to do so. That is, if your goal is to maximise happiness for yourself, which is the case for hedonists and certain types of utilitarians.

She continues, 

The real paradox is not the Parenthood Paradox, but why people seemingly strive for personal happiness even though they would choose meaning and/or life satisfaction (subjective evaluation of one’s life as a whole) over personal happiness when push comes to shove.

The solution? 

The solution is to avoid falling prey to the illusion that happiness results from meeting your ideal version of life.

Rather than holding on to an image of what a happy life should look like and comparing it to your current life, you can allow life to unfold with unexpected moments of happiness.

Having children will not make you happier, nor does not having children.

It is not what life offers, but what we believe that life should offer that prevents us from experiencing happiness.

Extra Stuff

Here is some other random stuff we found interesting this last week!

Books We’re Reading

Here’s what the tribe is currently reading (let us know books you’re loving and we’ll include them in future emails!)…. 

  • Best Self by Mike Bayer — “By working through each of the Seven SPHERES of life—Social, Personal, Health, Education, Relationships, Employment and Spiritual Development—Best Self is an accessible and interactive book that distills all of Coach Mike’s wisdom into a compact, focused guide that will ignite anyone’s desire for change.”
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson —  “There are only so many things we can give a f**k about so we need to figure out which ones really matter, Manson makes clear. While money is nice, caring about what you do with your life is better, because true wealth is about experience. A much-needed grab-you-by-the-shoulders-and-look-you-in-the-eye moment of real-talk, filled with entertaining stories and profane, ruthless humor.”
  • 12 Rules For Life by Jordan Peterson — “Dr. Peterson journeys broadly, discussing discipline, freedom, adventure and responsibility, distilling the world’s wisdom into 12 practical and profound rules for life.”

This Week’s Image

Reuters

“A Ukrainian serviceman peers out of a tank at a position in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, on June 11, 2022.” via The Atlantic

This Week’s Riddle

Here’s this week’s riddle — the answer is at the bottom of the email!

I belong in the month of December, but not in any other month. I am not a holiday. What am I?

This Week’s Journaling Prompt

Take some to answer this question in a journal. 

Have you been focussing more on the things you can control or the things you can’t? 

What would it look like for you to spend more time focussing on building an optimistic outlook and more a positive perception? 

This Week’s Challenge

Make a list of the things you want to get done today. Then get each of those things done. Do it again tomorrow. If we approach each day without a plan, then we plan to fail. Practice scheduling things that are important to you — whether that’s work, play, or relaxation. 

Until next week, 

Mike & Alec

Riddle Answer: The letter “d”

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