Monday 26 September 2016

Are big families really the happiest of all?

What does four kids look like? Silence is rare, the food bill is always dearer, school runs can be chaos and you can kiss goodbye to that sports-car dream. Dad-of-four Harry Wallopp explains why he wouldn't have it any other way

Published 05/06/2015 | 02:30

Harry Wallop and his four children Alexander (11), Felix (9), Celia (6) and Arthur (2)
Harry Wallop and his four children Alexander (11), Felix (9), Celia (6) and Arthur (2)

Ah, is there anything more cheering than a piece of research that confirms your long-held biases and life choices?

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Eurostat, the European-wide statistics agency has published its annual report into happiness across its member states.

Once again, Scandinavia tops the tables, while the impoverished states in south eastern Europe - Greece, Croatia, Hungary and particularly Bulgaria (whose inhabitants must be weeping into their shopska salata) - are at the bottom.

It's done on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being wrist-slitting miserable, and 10 euphoric.

Irish people are among the happiest. While the EU life satisfaction average is 7.1, Ireland scored 7.8, only behind Denmark, Finland and Sweden, who all scored 8 Bulgaria is on 4.8.

But one of the most intriguing details to emerge is that families with three or more children are far more likely to be very happy than families with just one or two children, than single parents and also spinsters and bachelors.

Those with three or more children rank their happiness as 7.4 on average, with a large minority of those (28pc) saying they are "highly happy". A single man below the age of 65, in contrast, scores an average of 6.6.

I am pleased, if slightly surprised, by this research. I spend a lot of time responding to sharp intakes of breath when asked how many children I have. I have four.

Most people just gasp, "ooh, that's a handful", while quietly thinking that my wife and I are bonkers.

Yes, four children is a handful.

It is also highly inconvenient and expensive. You can't squash four children across the back seat of a car - an ugly seven-seater is required; you can never, never find the correct PE kit; the bill after the simplest lunch at Nando's or a burger chain makes me weep; and trying to physically coral this number of offspring out of the house on any given morning requires the skill of an air traffic controller.

But my wife and I are not a mustard pot short of the full cruet set. We are, in fact, pretty happy.

Very happy? We probably are. This will sound insufferably smug, I know.

Now, of course, a large number of children may not be the cause of your happiness and satisfaction in life.

Correlation and causation are not the same thing. The link could, for all we know, be between life satisfaction and Catholicism, which takes a dim view on family planning - though the below average happiness scores in Italy and Spain suggest that is probably not the case.

Having three or more children makes everything a group activity. I was one of two children and spent long tracts of my childhood rather bored, while my sister had her head in a book.

With us, there is always a playmate, a distraction, someone to catch a ball or help find your shoe. Someone, even, to argue and fight with. I've never liked silence, and in our household, it is banished by default.

My only serious theory as to why large families may be happier is because instances of selfishness should be lower. Me, me, me can not flourish in such a crowded environment. Sharing is a daily activity you just have to get used to.

No man is an island. John Donne might not have meant they should be part of a four-child archipelago, but, hey, it works for us.

Irish Independent

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